A majority (83 per cent) of Canadian benefits plan members have at least one concern regarding returning to the workplace, including commuting time (44 per cent), people who don’t follow public health safety measures (42 per cent) and working/interacting with co-workers who aren’t vaccinated against the coronavirus (38 per cent), according to the 2021 Benefits Canada Healthcare Survey.

Other concerns cited by respondents were crowded workplaces (29 per cent), having to be at work at a certain time (25 per cent), workplace dress codes (25 per cent), taking public transit (23 per cent), decreased control over work hours (17 per cent) and not easily being available for members of their household (17 per cent). Another 17 per cent of respondents voiced no concerns.

Read: Webinar coverage: Is flexibility key to a successful return to the workplace?

“There is still so much uncertainty and people want to be able to ease into their return,” said Jason Traetto, an advisory board member and director of benefits, wealth and recognition programs at Rogers Communications Inc., in the report. “Employers can also provide an extra layer of protection through rapid testing. It’s an extra expense, but hugely appreciated.”

Meanwhile, 68 per cent of plan sponsor respondents expressed at least one concern about home-based employees returning to the workplace. The top three concerns cited were re-establishing the workplace culture (37 per cent), balancing the needs of a hybrid workforce (33 per cent) and employees not following public health safety measures (25 per cent).

Although employers can mandate employees’ return to the workplace, just over half (52 per cent)  expressed concern about the subsequent impact on their attraction and retention efforts. More than two-thirds (66 per cent) agreed they’ll do their best to accommodate employees who prefer to work from home, while 23 per cent strongly agreed.

Read: 57% of Canadian employers planning return to office by early 2022: survey

Employers in white collar sectors were most likely to agree (80 per cent) with this statement; however, 19 per cent of employers disagreed and 16 per cent didn’t answer. Having said that, 51 per cent of plan sponsors agreed they’ll eventually have to mandate the return of more employees to the workplace, with this number increasing to 64 per cent for public sector employers. About a third (34 per cent) disagreed and 16 per cent didn’t answer.

For the most part, plan members who can work from home were open to adopting a hybrid work schedule, with 41 per cent indicating they’d like to continue doing so two to four days a week. While fewer than a third (28 per cent) said they’d like to work almost exclusively from home (about five days a week), only seven per cent indicated they don’t want to continue remote working after the pandemic. These results are essentially flipped from last year, when 22 per cent reported working from home two to four days a week and 52 per cent doing so about five days a week.

However, plan sponsor respondents reported that their organization would like 45 per cent of their workforce to continue to work from home after the pandemic, down from their estimate of 58 per cent, on average, who were working from home during the past year.

Read: 56% of Canadian senior managers expect staff to fully return to in-office work post-pandemic: survey

Additionally, more than half (55 per cent) of plan sponsors agreed they anticipate different health and wellness challenges due to more employees working from home, including mental-health claims from stress/isolation (68 per cent), anxiety among employees about returning to the workplace and not knowing who has been vaccinated (65 per cent), identifying employees struggling with mental-health issues (62 per cent), musculoskeletal issues from poor ergonomics (51 per cent), increased obesity (40 per cent), inclusive programs/services for a hybrid workforce (38 per cent) and chronic pain (28 per cent).