The new Covid-19 omicron variant has businesses scrambling to predict its impact on the workplace, with 19 U.S. states reporting positive cases. Though this has caused some companies to rethink their return to office protocols, many offices are still hoping to reopen as early as January 2022.
Omicron paired with the tight labor market has put pressure on business owners to do whatever it takes to retain their employees and instill a sense of workplace safety. However, a new study from the Cleaning Coalition of America (CCA), an organization that supports and celebrates America's cleaning professionals, shows that nearly half of survey participants – 43% – are still worried about returning to the office. CNBC Make It spoke with Josh Feinberg, President of the CCA, to discuss what workers expect to feel more comfortable in the office.
According to the survey, which included 1,600 U.S. workers, when asked to rank their greatest impediment to returning to the office, respondents point to Covid infection rates first (35.2%) and vaccination rates second (17.4%). While cleaning practices weren't a major priority for employees pre-Covid, 66% of U.S. workers find it extremely important now. For 62% of employees, simply seeing sanitation professionals regularly at their workplace would make them feel safer.
Feinberg says that for many survey participants, the issue is with "peace of mind" while at work.
To feel safe returning to their offices, employees are stressing the importance of adequate cleaning and disinfecting practices in the workplace. The vast majority of respondents, 89.9%, believe workplace cleaning protocols are very or somewhat important, with 93.4% of vaccinated and 82.2% of unvaccinated respondents agreeing.
According to respondents (38.3%), improper cleaning at their workplace might even lead to them changing jobs. Feinberg says that visibility and cleaning frequency is among the top concerns for U.S. workers.
"If you go back pre-Covid, you don't see very many cleaners during the day, most of our industry cleans at night. Since Covid started, the trend we're seeing is visibility. Switching from night cleaning to day cleaning, so that they can visibly see that it's being done. People also want to see high-touch areas being cleaned frequently, like doorknobs, elevator buttons, and bathrooms."
Though the risk of infection from touching a surface is low, according to the CDC, the most reliable way to prevent surface transmission is washing hands. Hand hygiene plays a major role in the CDC's layered approach to reducing Covid exposure, which also includes ventilation improvements, physical distancing, and wearing protective masks.
Survey respondents made it clear that their concerns aren't just about Covid, but about general health and hygiene in the office. When asked what message they'd like to send to their employer about cleaning, one respondent said "cleaning and disinfecting is important in any workplace to prevent any infection, not just Covid." Another respondent wants employers to ensure the office is as clean as their homes, saying "we live here, too."
"It's not just about the cleaning and the science of it. For many people, it was 'going to work and seeing a professional cleaner relieves my anxiety,'" Feinberg says. "We saw a recurring theme of there being an impact on mental health just as much as physical health."