Our latest Covid Secure Monitors survey: "Mostly it is as if there isn't a pandemic at all."
Before Christmas, we surveyed our "Covid Secure Monitors" panel comprised of 220 workers from across the UK. We received 60 new responses over the last month, many of which paint a worrying picture of companies and managers failing to keep workers safe and putting profit above their well-being.
We had responses from people working to maintain airplanes and the railways, working in hospitals and care homes, as funeral directors, teachers, pharmacists and cleaners, lab technicians, emergency responders and many more. Here's the picture they painted of what it's really like to go to work during a pandemic.
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Where people work and how safe they feel
Around a third of our respondents work in offices, a fifth in shops, one in ten work in schools with the rest spread across the NHS, factory and food preparation.
70% of participants either never stopped working at their workplace, or have returned fulltime to it, with a further 15% splitting time between the workplace and home. Only 15% left their workplace when the pandemic started and are yet to return.
Most people feel uncertain about their safety at work, with fewer than one in ten rating themselves as being "completely" safe going to work versus one in five reporting feeling "not at all safe" at work. The majority of respondents scored their safety between 5-8 (out of ten), though, as you might expect, workers in shops and factories felt less safe than other groups.
Knowledge about workplace covid secure" risk assessments
Two thirds of respondents knew about their employers covid risk assessment, but a quarter did not know whether one had been put together, and one in ten thought their employer hadn't done one at all (and are therefore breaking the law).
Most employees hadn't been consulted about the contents of the risk assessment and the safety measures implemented by their employer, with only a quarter saying they'd been asked about it. More worryingly, only half said their employer had proactively shared the risk assessment with them. A similar number said they didn't know where it had been published, either in the workplace or online.
Are workplaces observing hygiene and social distancing rules?
Almost all workers surveyed reported that their workplace provides hand sanitiser, but only a narrow majority reported regularly touched surfaces and toilets being properly cleaned.
Being able to completely follow social distancing rules is rare. Only a quarter reported their workplace making it possible to maintain the recommended 2m spacing and only a third say there are signs placed to remind people of the rule.
What about support for people working from home?
For those able to work from home, employers are generally not providing the equipment needed by a 2:1 margin. Only a third report their employer's communication as being "good" and a majority don't think they're getting sufficient support for their mental health.
The above findings all show how, nearly a year into the pandemic, many employees feel their employers haven't sufficiently adapted their workplaces to make them safer, nor are they providing the additional help and support they need to work during such a stressful and unusual time.
In their own words: What did respondents say about their workplaces?
Some respondents do say their employers deserve recognition for the effort they've put in to try and protect staff.
"Social distancing in employee areas is good. Sanitizers and coverings are readily available. No issue with time off work either sick or isolating."
Others highlight physical changes in the workplace, noting "sanitation sites at all entrances and by the lifts" as well as "a maximum of 10 staff in the office across two floors, all pre-booked and monitored by the Office Manager" and "fresh air being pumped in from outside, so we don't use the internal air".
Other changes noted include "allowing meals at workstations to prevent overcrowding in the canteen" and even "daily mental health emails" and even weekly virtual "pilates sessions" being offered at one office.
But that's far from the whole picture...
Some respondents found "nothing" positive to say about their employer's Covid response, while others said they "weren't being treated with respect - it's all about profit".
Many respondents noted a lack of consistency:
"The depot where the offices are is "covid secure" apparently. Yet the vehicles aren't (out of sight, out of mind?)" [They] "Seem to be supporting office workers ok, but blue collar less so." and: [They're] "Providing a safe environment for customers but not staff."
Another respondent called out how the divide between management and staff lets things slip:
[They're] "Taking advantage of management working at home but having frontline staff at work... so management has less interaction and use working from home as excuse for not dealing with issues"
There were many hygiene-related issues - "No handwashing soap for the last three weeks!" and "[The office] is not cleaned effectively" and "[they are] not enforcing people wearing masks when they walk around the office".
And lots more related to social distancing:
"I work as a driver transporting children with special educational needs. I'm accompanied by a special passenger assistant and we transport 4 children in a 7 person vehicle. There's no chance to socially distance and when we talk to management, we experience veiled threats regarding our employment."
"We are not able to distance as the space is too small and we hotdesk. It is not cleaned effectively and the few instructions given to staff are not followed and management turn a blind eye."
In shops, there are "Too many customers in at once. Not closing aisles when too busy." and "Managers wait until the shop is busy [only] then they will try and do something about it."
Overall: "Scared. Just waiting to get ill."
Some respondents, particularly those able to work from home, told us that work kept them busy and has "been helpful to my overall mood."
Others seem resigned to the way things currently are, telling us "I would not mind going to work if sufficient steps had been taken to protect me and colleagues." and "at least I have a job at the moment."
But the vast majority report feeling "stressed" or "anxious" about going to work, worrying that they will get sick and "infect my family with Covid19".
Importantly, a respondent working in a factory reminds us that there's much more employers can do.
"[I] would feel safer if the company took social distancing seriously and obeyed the law... to ensure the health and safety of their employees."