Global Workforce Culture Survey preview: COVID’s impact
on U.S. employees

On March 2 the Harvard Business Review issued a “wake-up call” for employers to prepare for the spread of coronavirus. The article appeared  just three days after what was thought to be the first COVID-19 death in the U.S., and when just 100 infections in the nation had been found. So, in the following days, did employers across America wake up?

A first look at data from the 2020 CultureIQ Global Workforce Culture Survey shows that while most employees felt their companies were responding to the crisis – and that those actions led to more positive feelings about company culture–there was a dip in employee views of safety and agility in their workplaces  compared to data from our prior 2018/19 survey.

COVID landscape during the survey

By March 6, employers, like Twitter, Microsoft, Apple and Facebook, did wake up early – closing offices and asking employees to work from home. Governments were much slower to act. On March 16, San Francisco became the first city to issue a to shelter-in-place order, a full 5 days after the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic.

Our data shows that well after that, American businesses were taking some measures to support their workforce, but were still not fully awakened to the coronavirus threat, and that the slowest-to-act firms have taken a hit to their cultures (not to mention a potential hit in health and financial risks).

Our survey of 2,000 working American adults was conducted from March 20-April 1 – a critical time when the first states issued stay at home orders (March 20), major retailers and malls closed up shop, and when health officials estimated the soaring number of infections could cost up to 200,000 American lives.

A glimpse at survey findings

Despite the dire circumstances during the survey period, our data showed that worker motivation and belief in leadership actually increased over the last survey period:

  • 86% of employees said they were able to maintain a healthy work/life balance (up 6 percentage points from data taken in 2018/19
  • 72% said their work gives them a sense of personal accomplishment (up 7 percentage points from 2018/19)
  • 73% said senior leadership acts in ways consistent with what they say. 73%, (up 6 percentage points)
  • 83% said they’d be willing to put in extra effort to help their firms meet goals (a 4 percentage point increase)

Helping others helped culture positivity

In measuring how positively employees viewed employer actions during the crisis, employees’ belief in their company’s purpose and mission went up significantly when companies provided help to customers and their communities – even more so than when they provided personal benefits to employees themselves.

If employees perceived that their firms were providing food, supplies or other aid to customers and the community, that boosted their view of the company’s mission and purpose by 16 percentage points. That was a bigger boost than:

  • Providing more generous sick time or PTO to allow employees to care for themselves and family (+14)
  • Assisting with finding childcare (+12)
  • Implementing new policies or procedures to protect our customers (+8)
  • Implementing new policies or procedures to protect employees (+6)

And significantly, despite some diverging views on workplace culture between hourly workers more likely to be exposed to the virus and workers more likely to be doing their jobs remotely, both were more positive about their work experience when employers showed concern for employees and customers during the crisis.

But safety red flags emerged

However, some data showed employee perceptions that that could be red flags, especially as employers mull sending more workers back to their places of business:

  • Just 54% of workers said decisions impacting their jobs were made without delay (a decrease of 4 percentage points from 2018/19)
  • Slightly more – 56% – said their work groups dedicate adequate time to planning for future changes (another 4 percentage-point drop)
  • Though 67% of workers felt that safety was a priority with immediate supervisors, that also marked a 4 percentage-point drop.
  • And only a little over half (53%) felt that conditions at their firms made it safe to challenge the status quo (a 5 percentage-point drop from 2018/19)

Significantly, 7% of respondents indicated that their organizations had not taken new steps to address the pandemic, and that it was “business as usual.” While a small percentage, if you consider that around 129 million American adults are employed, that 7% adds up to about 9 million people whose employers were not taking actions to protect or support their workforce during a time in which pandemic numbers were rising steeply.

Not surprisingly, employees at these firms reported a substantially less positive culture (down 14 percentage points) than employees whose firms had taken action.

A business opportunity 

“Our survey shows that this unprecedented crisis provides an opportunity to rally employees around a higher purpose and get work done,” CultureIQ CEO Tony Jaros says. “When leaders meet that opportunity with clear direction and support, they’ll help build the strong culture that companies need to get them through the unpredictable months ahead.”

“Having leaders show concern for employees is clearly associated with a more positive work culture,” adds CultureIQ Principal Strategist Paul Mastrangelo, one of the designers of the survey.  “And doing so may be most important for leaders of employees who have been on the front lines during the COVID-19 outbreak, exposed to other people not because of choice, but because of necessity.”

“Now is the time to show your people just how important they are to your business, but also to your mission for customers and the community,” Mastrangelo says.

More insights to come

We’ll be posting more reports, data and stories about our Global Workplace Culture Survey on the website, including global survey results, insights on the COVID-19’s culture impact, the rising need for dignity and purpose in the workplace, what the pandemic teaches the world about the need for agility, and how employees’ exposure to the virus affects their perception of work culture. Watch for these on our site, email newsletters and on social feeds.

CultureIQ  Global Workplace Culture Survey data derived from interviews of 2000 Americans ages 18-70 (full- and part-time, both hourly and salaried) was taken from March 20-April 1. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3-4%.

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