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US vs. UK employees: How do they feel about returning to work?

Every workplace is as unique as the people who work there. This is why, when it comes to reopening, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. For a smooth transition, companies need to understand employees’ work preferences and concerns. And, for global companies, it’s critical to understand differences from one location to the next. 

To help companies with US and UK workplaces get a head start, we surveyed 1,000 people in each country. We asked about their expectations regarding workplace safety and flexibility, and what will influence them to return. 

We found many similarities, but some differences as well. Here’s a look at how Brits and Americans feel about returning to workplaces, and how companies might cater their plans to each group.

Americans are more concerned about their safety at work

Most people worry about their safety when it comes to returning to workplaces. Of folks in the UK, 59% expressed worry about returning which jumps up to 66% of people in the US. Americans’ heightened concerns could also be due to the fact that they’re spending more time there. Of US survey respondents, 52% were back to working on-site full time compared to 43% of Brits.

The gap between the groups narrowed when it came to relaxing COVID measures. Fifty-nine percent of those in the UK voiced concerns about employers rolling back safety measures too soon compared to 61% of people in the US.

The Brits are more enthusiastic about requiring vaccines

In both countries, a strong majority want employers to require vaccinations for employees to return to work. In the UK, 70% of respondents felt that employers should make vaccines mandatory to return to workplaces. In the US, this fell to 62% of respondents, despite higher concerns around safety.

Thus far, US authorities have provided more protection for companies who choose to require vaccinations than those in the UK. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) says that employers can mandate workers get the coronavirus vaccine. That said, they must not violate provisions in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The UK government hasn’t said if employers can or can’t require vaccines. Rather, UK officials encourage companies to focus on incentivizing employees to get vaccinated.

Whatever route your company takes, it’s important to focus on creating workplaces where employees feel safe. This could mean enforcing capacity limits, asking employees to certify that they’re healthy, or spacing out workstations.

Americans and Brits want hybrid work, especially UK women

When asked how many days they’d like to work remotely versus from a workplace, just around half of the respondents said they prefer hybrid work. In the UK, 53% of people wanted to work from a workplace 1-4 days per week, compared to 48% of people in the US.

Although women in both countries expressed a stronger preference than men for hybrid work, this was especially pronounced in the UK. Sixty percent of female UK respondents wanted a hybrid work arrangement compared to 47% of UK men. In the US, the split was more even with 51% of women wanting hybrid work compared to 46% of men.

Nearly half (47%) of US respondents said they would likely leave their job if it didn’t offer a hybrid work model once the pandemic ends. Among UK respondents, this number jumps up to 55%, indicating that Brits want to hold on to their newfound flexibility.

Both expect hybrid work will bring more work-life balance

Just as Brits were more likely to want a hybrid work week, they were also more likely to see the personal benefits of hybrid work. Of UK respondents, 70% said that a hybrid model would result in personal benefits compared to 56% of Americans. When it came to the benefits of hybrid work, work-life balance came out on top in both locales. Forty-one percent of UK respondents and 34% of US respondents listed increased work-life balance as a benefit of hybrid work.

Seeing UK employees’ penchant for hybrid work, companies should look for ways to offer more flexibility to workers in the UK. This could mean fewer required days in the workplace and loosened expectations about arrival and departure times. 

Brits want to work together, Americans want to avoid bad weather

When it comes to deciding whether to work remotely or from the workplace on any odd day,  different factors weigh on Americans and Brits. 

Workers in the UK want to know who else will be on-site before they head to the workplace. Fifty percent of UK respondents said knowing their boss or co-workers were on-site would sway them to go in too. This was the second most common reason for US workers, yet only 37% listed their boss or work friends’ presence at the workplace as a reason to go. As a workplace leader, you can help employees coordinate when they’ll work on-site together. Make it easy for employees to share their workplace schedules and when they’re on-site, to encourage others to join them.

Before they choose where to work each day, Americans more often said they’d consider the daily forecast. Twenty-eight percent of US respondents said that the weather would influence where they work compared to only 16% of Brits. With this in mind, workplaces in the US should expect more variance in foot traffic based on the time of year and weather conditions. 

Understanding your employees’ needs and attitudes—wherever they work—is critical to supporting them to do great work. Keep local differences in mind when creating your return to work policies. That said, it’s clear that most employees want the basics: safety and flexibility at work.

Get more insight into how people across the world are thinking about returning to work. Explore the results of our US Return to the Workplace report and UK Return to the Workplace report.

About the surveys

Envoy partnered with independent research firm Wakefield Research to conduct both of the surveys referenced in this article. For both surveys, Wakefield Research surveyed more than 1,000 adults ages 18+, employed full- or part-time through an online survey. The US survey was conducted between February 8th and 16th while the UK survey was conducted May 7th and 12th. The data was weighted to ensure an accurate representation of full-time and part-time employees, ages 18+.