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Employee confidence in a safe return to the workplace drops

  • 42% of workers feel “positive” about going back to work after November’s lockdown, compared to 49% in June
  • Half of British workers feel optimistic about a return to working “as normal” post-vaccine 
  • 61% of employees said a vaccine would make them feel safer at work 
  • Risk of infection remains the biggest concern for a return to work for those not feeling positive
  • Young workers are the most concerned about their mental health when returning to work
  • 26% of those who’ve been working said their job had changed as a result of Covid, but they had not received training 

The proportion of British workers who feel positive about returning to work after the latest lockdowns across the UK has fallen to 42%, compared with 49% in June, research from Aviva shows. 

Aviva’s Employee Back to Work Index1 showed a slight dip in confidence that bosses would make the workplace safe to return to for employees. Of those employees who have not been on site during the most recent lockdown (either furloughed or working from home), 58% said they were confident their employer would make the workplace safe, compared to 61% in June. 

Top concerns of employees returning to work after lockdown are infection from colleagues (32%) or customers (26%), although these levels are lower than recorded in Aviva’s June Employee Back to Work Index. Employees in the Construction (59%) sector were the most positive about returning to work, while among those not feeling positive, Teachers are most concerned about infection from colleagues (44%) and Retail workers are most concerned about infection from customers (37%).

November’s top five concerns cited by employees returning to work, compared to June

  November June

Infection – by colleagues / customers

32% / 26%

44% / 33%

Social Distancing - Failure to adhere to social distancing rules in the workplace



Mental health concerns



Having to return to work/office - despite personal concerns over infection/would prefer to continue working from home

21% / 21% 

29% / 24%

Confusion over social distancing rules at work



A shot in the arm

News of a vaccine provided a welcome cause for increased optimism, with 50% of those surveyed saying they felt upbeat about the impact a vaccine would have on their ability to return to working normally. One-in-four (25%) respondents were not sure yet about how a vaccine would affect their work, while 25% said news of a vaccine did not provide them with optimism about returning to working as normal.

Safety, as ever, remains paramount. Sixty-one per cent of workers who’ve been working through November said a vaccine would make them feel safer at work, while 12% said they would still have concerns for their health, despite a vaccine. For 21% of workers, news of a vaccine did not change how safe they would feel at work, while 6% were unsure of the impact it would have.

There were variances in how employees feel by age, industry and region. For example:

  • 73% of employees working on site through lockdown said their employer made changes to improve their safety and the safety of customers. This rose to 82% in the travel and transport industry and 80% in the retail sector. Both industries have been hard-hit by the pandemic, and this research suggests that businesses in those sectors have paid extra attention to implementing measures to make staff and customers feel safe.
  • Of those who’ve been working through November, the most optimistic industries regarding the impact of a vaccine on the workplace were the architecture, engineering and building sector (59%) and the travel and transport industry (58% - compared to 50% across respondents from all industries).
  • The North East was the most optimistic region when considering the impact of a vaccine, at 61% optimistic.
  • 30% of workers aged 16 – 24 are not optimistic about the impact of a vaccine on the workplace, compared to just 13% of workers aged 55 and over – the latter being the most optimistic age group at 58%.
  • Among those not feeling positive, young workers (16 – 24) continue to be the most concerned about their mental health when returning to work, with 27% citing this as a concern versus 21% amongst all age groups.


For those workers who were furloughed, training is an important part of their return to work. However, Aviva’s study found that 45% of employees had not been offered training to ensure they were able to continue to perform their job safely. Training after any prolonged absence is essential to ensure the safety of the employee, as well as that of colleagues and customers.

This is especially true for those businesses that have adapted their operations in response to the pandemic. However, Aviva’s research found that one-in-four employees (26%) said that while their job had changed, they had not been offered any training. Such changes to business operations bring with them new risks, which need to be assessed and understood, and employees trained to be able to continue to operate safely.

Patrick Tiernan, Managing Director of UK Commercial Lines and GCS, Aviva, said, “As we approach the end of a very difficult year, we must remember that dealing with the impact from Covid-19 will extend over a much longer horizon. What began in March as a fundamental change to how we all work has, largely, been accepted as “the new normal”. Businesses will have to continue to practice good risk management to minimise the spread of the virus and keep us all safe. 

“For those who are returning to the workplace after a period of absence, it’s important that they are provided with adequate refresher training as well as an understanding of Covid-19 safety procedures. As businesses have changed at pace in response to the virus, it’s important to remember that these new ways of working bring with them their own new risks, and hence the need for appropriate training. 

“News of a vaccine gives us reason to look forward with great hope for a much brighter 2021. However, we must retain the agility we have shown this year to prepare for and react to the unexpected.”


Erik Nelson

Motor Insurance and Compensation Culture, Fraud and Data

1 All data is taken from a survey of 2,012 employed adults (aged 16+) across the UK, conducted by Censuswide Research from 27 November – 1 December, 2020, on behalf of Aviva. Censuswide abides by and employs members of the Market Research Society which is based on the ESOMAR principles.

Notes to editors:

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