52 Percent of Americans Anxious About Returning to In-Person Workplace, Poll Finds

A majority of American workers contacted for a recent Eagle Hill Consulting survey told researchers they have increased levels of anxiety about the thought of working in person amid the rapid spread of the COVID-19 Omicron variant.

The Virginia-based consulting firm on Wednesday released the results of its early 2022 survey, which was conducted by Ipsos.

The Omicron variant "has rattled employees while upending return-to-workplace plans," according to Melissa Jezior, president and CEO of Eagle Hill Consulting.

In-person workplace anxiety survey
A new survey found 52 percent of American workers reported an uptick in anxiety about in-person work environments amid the COVID-19 Omicron variant spread. Above, a person works on her laptop at the Bank of America Winter Village in Bryant Park amid the pandemic on March 14, 2021, in New York City. Noam Galai/Getty Images

"Beleaguered employers and workers were hopeful that 2022 would mark a return to some sense of normalcy, and this setback is discouraging," Jezior said in a Wednesday news release. "The key takeaway from Omicron is that the virus is still in control, and employers must be in a perpetual pivot mode should another variant emerge."

The Omicron variant was first reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) in November and was identified by the WHO as a "variant of concern" Nov. 26. Less than one week later, the first confirmed U.S. case was reported in California, and cases of Omicron were confirmed in all 50 states before the end of December.

The consulting firm pointed to Johns Hopkins University's COVID-19 data dashboard, which noted the last week has seen new reported cases averaging about 800,000 per day in the U.S.

The Omicron variant's rapid spread in the U.S. has contributed to a rise in new virus cases and prompted public health officials to revisit recommendations on mask use and indoor gatherings in efforts to curb spread of the virus.

Dr. Lynn Bufka, the senior director for practice transformation and quality at the American Psychological Association (APA) and a licensed psychologist, said in a statement shared with Newsweek that any one person's anxiety levels during the ongoing pandemic depend on a wide variety of factors.

"Adapting to all this uncertainty is stressful and how anxious anyone is likely depends on many risk factors—including personal or family risk for an adverse outcome, general anxiety about health, ability to have any control over relative safety practices (e.g. physical distancing, mask wearing), juggling needs of children and work responsibilities—as well as the potential benefits of being in-person such as social contacts, opportunities to collaborate, and so on," Bufka said.

She continued: "Employers, managers, and supervisors should be mindful of their own anxiety but also make efforts to support their staff by providing adequate safety measures, taking employees' concerns seriously, and determining creative solutions to meet both individual and professional needs."

Many employers have offered their staff members who are able to complete the tasks of their jobs from home the opportunity to do so throughout the pandemic, though some have said they intend on returning to in-person work environments once the threat of the virus has diminished.

According to the Eagle Hill Consulting survey, about 55 percent of American workers said they think employers should reassess their return-to-work plans in light of the Omicron variant's spread. About 63 percent of workers told researchers they believe Omicron will impact them while they are in an in-person workplace setting, and an additional 5 percent said they believe it will impact the company for which they work.

The survey was conducted from Jan. 5 to Jan. 7 and included 1,001 workers across the country, according to the firm's news release. It is one of many conducted over the last two years that pointed to elevated anxiety levels in connection with the thought of returning to in-person interactions, both in the workplace and in other social settings, in a post-pandemic future.

According to the results of an APA survey released last March, about 49 percent of Americans told researchers they felt "uneasy" about resuming in-person interactions about one year after the pandemic first prompted lockdowns in the U.S.

Updated 1/19 at 6:20 p.m. ET: This article has been updated with comments from Dr. Lynn Bufka of the APA.