As economies continue opening up and more and more companies return to the workplace, a lot of employees are looking forward to improved relationships and collaboration, and many anticipate better leadership. But a significant proportion of workers is just as concerned that the quality of their organisation's leadership has actually worsened, according to the findings of a new survey by The Conference Board.
The survey, conducted among US office workers in mid-March, found that 82% of respondents are comfortable returning to the physical workplace and that health and safety concerns - including mental health and well-being - are relatively low. Exposure to COVID-19 is the main worry (26%). Meanwhile, on-site workers are noticeably less concerned about the deterioration of their mental well-being (14%) than remote workers (23%), echoing ongoing worries about lack of socialisation for those working remotely.
However, that rosy figure looks rather skewed when broken down by seniority and demographics. Individual contributors are twice as worried about COVID-19 exposure than senior leaders - bringing up the sharp divergence in safety between an open office setup and the private offices that senior leadership is far more likely to use. 29% of individual contributors on site worry about their mental well-being compared to 13% of people at vice president level. And women and younger people at all levels are more concerned about these factors overall than men, although it's less clear whether this is because the workplace is inherently riskier for some people or whether these groups are simply more conscious of the risks.
The Conference Board survey also highlighted a form of polarisation in the effect the pandemic has had on the quality of leadership. Even though half the respondents said that the overall quality of leadership had improved, especially in areas such as managers being genuinely caring about employees and the organisation's articulation of its mission and purpose, 23% also said it had worsened. And individual contributors were more than twice as likely to report worsening leadership than the leaders themselves, underscoring the perception gap already raised by other findings.