Your workplace had more influence on your pandemic behavior than you realized

It isn’t always easy for companies and managers to convince their employees to comply with new protocols and rules. However, regarding COVID-19 safety precautions, a new study finds workplaces and employers held some serious sway.

Researchers from Washington State University report that safety precautions put in place by employers often influenced workers’ COVID precautions and considerations while off the job.

The direct effect your employer had on your pandemic behavior

More specifically, people working for companies that reacted to COVID-19 accordingly and implemented both daily health checks and the option to work from home if feeling unwell also avoided other public places (stores, gyms, etc) if feeling ill.

Additionally, a similar relationship was noted for mask-wearing and other CDC-encouraged safety behaviors like social distancing. Employees working for companies that embraced these tactics were more likely to wear a mask and social distance while off the clock.

“The workplace COVID-19 climate had a direct effect on shaping employee attitudes towards the personal, preventative health actions that the CDC recommends,” says lead study author Tahira Probst, WSU psychology professor. “Public health officials and employers should be aware of the impact that organizations and workplaces can have on stemming the tide of the pandemic. It’s not just that employers have an impact on transmission that occurs within the workplace, but they are also influencing those same employees’ attitudes and behaviors outside of the workplace.”

Over 300 working adults were surveyed on multiple occasions to reach these findings. The first surveys were distributed in October 2020 (to get a general sense of COVID protocols), followed by another in December 2020 (to assess attitudes toward CDC guidelines).

The last survey was completed in February 2021 and inquired about safety habits outside of the workplace. The average participant age was 40 years old, and the majority of surveyed workers were Caucasian (76%). For what it’s worth, 67% held at least a college degree.

Across the board, all three measures showed signs of being linked together. Workplace tactics had an influence on workers’ attitudes toward pandemic safety measures, as well as whether or not they ventured out in public while feeling under the weather.

The US’ problematic “always available” work culture has been in place for decades and is well documented at this point. And, while it should have happened regardless of a global viral pandemic, COVID-19 has forced many employers to take a more sensitive approach to sick days and remote work. This research just goes to show how vital a role employers can play in encouraging everyone to stay safe. 

“One of the more enduring consequences of the pandemic might be that organizations not only offer more sick leave but also encourage employees to stay home if they’re sick,” Probst adds. “Frankly, prior to COVID-19, a lot of our culture has been: ‘unless you’re gravely ill and can’t get out of bed, you should be at work.’ That behavior spreads diseases and ultimately reduces productivity. We’re hopeful that the pandemic might institute a re-thinking of this norm moving forward.”

Ironically, tons of companies spend countless hours and dollars trying to figure out how to better connect with their employees. This research is proof that what happens at work, and perhaps more importantly work culture, has more of an impact than many managers may believe.

The full study can be found here, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.