As Americans Begin to Redefine the COVID-era Workplace, Study Suggests It May Never Be Business as Usual

As Americans Begin to Redefine the COVID-era Workplace, Study Suggests It May Never Be Business as Usual


Alicia Stetzer


[email protected]

Analysis of 4 Core Employee Personas Offers Guidance for Redefining Workplace of the Future

NEW YORK, July 28, 2020 – In a new study by global communications consultancy Ketchum, nearly two-thirds of American workers (63%) say the COVID-19 pandemic has caused them to dramatically reevaluate their professional priorities. Reflecting significant shifts from just a few months ago, employees say they now favor such criteria as personal health, workplace safety and company values over traditional benchmarks like salary and career advancement.

Ketchum’s study, Work Shift 2020: How Crisis Culture is Changing the Priorities of the American Workforce, shows that more than half of American workers today (52%) believe feeling safe at work is more important than being promoted, and one-third (33%) agree feeling safe is more important than either salary or career advancement. Company values continue to rise in prominence, as 79% of American workers say an employer’s values are more important to them now than pre-COVID, and three-quarters (74%) believe their company’s diversity and inclusion values are more important now than they were before the pandemic. Additionally, nearly half of American workers (42%) say their company’s values are more important to them than being promoted, and one-quarter (25%) believe their employer’s values are more important than their own career development. Nearly half (42%) report that having the ability to work flexible hours is more important than receiving a promotion.

“Our study shows value shifts across the spectrum as Americans adapt to a coronavirus landscape and crisis culture, and it’s especially interesting how Americans are reevaluating the very concept of employment,” said Tamara Norman, partner and managing director of Ketchum’s Employee Communications & Engagement specialty. “More than ever, employees are a company’s No. 1 stakeholder and their most influential ambassador. If employers can redefine their reengagement strategies more precisely for diverse employee needs, it can be a powerful tool for advancing the future of the workplace.”

Ketchum’s study indicates employees are fairly evenly split on their comfort level in going to their workplaces (55% comfortable, 45% uncomfortable) and in their level of engagement with their work since lockdowns began (50% are more engaged, 50% are less engaged). Fifty-eight percent say they are more likely to request to work remotely more often as a result of COVID-19. The survey also explores topics related to employment in the COVID-19 economy. Seventy percent of employees concede they are torn between the desire to progress in their careers and feeling grateful to have a job, potentially suggesting a feeling of guilt given the sharp increase in unemployment rates.

The attitudinal and behavioral differences between office workers and non-office workers are also explored in the study. Office workers are more than twice as likely to be working fully remotely as a result of COVID-19 (57%) compared to non-office workers (27%). Somewhat surprisingly, working remotely correlates with discomfort about returning to on-site working, as office workers are 14% less likely to feel comfortable going to their workplace compared to non-office workers. The pandemic also has caused office workers in particular to reassess what they value at work, as they are significantly more likely than non-office workers to report that sick and vacation time benefits (89% for office workers vs. 76% for non-office workers) and flexible hours (86% for office workers vs. 80% for non-office workers) are now more important to them as a result of COVID-19.

By analyzing the data points and grouping similar responses, Ketchum was able to categorize COVID-era American workers into four distinct employee personas. Each group has key attitudinal differences that employers will need to address as the workforce reassembles in the coming months:

  • Ready Resumers are prepared to pick up where things left off and have not shifted their values as a result of COVID-19. They are most likely to feel comfortable in shared spaces today and least interested in wearing masks in the workplace. They are least likely to lobby for remote work arrangements. Ready Resumers are most consistent in their priorities and have changed little since the outbreak of the pandemic.
  • Values-Conscious Advancers are ready to reengage and are open to exploring their new normal in the physical workplace. Since the pandemic began, their values have shifted dramatically: they have grown to care more deeply about health, safety, job security and corporate purpose, as well as diversity and inclusion.
  • Static Sustainers are content to watch and wait as the COVID-19 crisis plays out. Satisfied with working remotely, these employees place less value on feeling connected to coworkers and earning promotions than the average American worker. While their satisfaction with remote work and relative lack of value disruption suggests their needs are easier to manage, employers should be aware that Static Sustainers are also distracted and less engaged with work.
  • Anxious Evaluators are the least engaged at work today and most worried about the effects of COVID-19. On average, Anxious Evaluators have seen many of their professional priorities become dramatically more or less important as a result of COVID-19, and they have come to place a higher value on health and safety. They are still evaluating the situation and are not ready to return to the workplace just yet, though their engagement is not dependent on physical presence in the office.

“We are seeing new drivers of employee engagement emerge with our clients in North America and around the globe. An employee’s need to feel heard is magnified like never before, and they are craving more human, frequent, transparent, two-way communications with their company and its leaders,” said Lauren Butler, senior vice president in Ketchum’s Employee Communications & Engagement specialty. “Given employees’ diverse attitudinal changes over the last few months due to COVID-19 and social unrest, messages must be tailored to benefit all types of employee personas versus a one-size-fits-all approach.”

Employee Personas Diagnostic Tool
As part of its employee engagement services, Ketchum has created a new diagnostic tool to help companies understand how these personas match their employee base and dimensionalize how employee priorities have shifted as a result of COVID-19, coupled with social injustice issues. The short survey compares employees against the existing data of general population responses and provides needed context for organizations looking to realign with their teams. The quantitative outputs of the diagnostic are paired with specific recommendations for internal communications and strategies for increasing engagement.

The four employee personas are based on whether respondents fall above or below average on two metrics:

  • Employee openness to reengage: How comfortable American employees feel going to their workplace. The further along on the axis, the more comfortable the personas are with the idea of working in a physical workplace.
  • Employee redefinition of values: How much the importance of various personal values has changed in response to COVID-19 (e.g., importance of health, salary level, feeling intellectually challenged at work). The further along on the axis, the greater the change in values (and the greater the magnitude of change).

“Companies must prepare now to reinvent the future workplace, because that reinvention is already underway among their employee base,” said Butler.

To download the Work Shift 2020: How Crisis Culture is Changing the Priorities of the American Workforce infographic and learn more about how Ketchum is helping companies with employee engagement, visit

About the Work Shift 2020 Study
The Work Shift 2020 Study is based on the results of a nationally representative online survey of 3,883 Americans aged 18+, conducted by Ketchum Analytics and fielded June 14 to 23, 2020. Base sizes vary for specific questions; the most common reduced base sizes are n=1,054 Americans in the workforce (margin of error ± 3.0%) and n=811 currently employed Americans (margin of error ± 3.4%). Margins of error are calculated at the 95% confidence level.

About Ketchum
The winner of 105 Cannes Lions and PRovoke’s Global Creative Agency of the Year, Ketchum is the most creatively awarded firm in our industry. We’re equal parts human-centered and business-focused, empathetic and intelligent. As a global communications consultancy, we combine the deep industry and specialty expertise of boutique firms with global reach to find unexpected connections that lead to lasting relationships and work that matters. For more information on Ketchum, a part of Omnicom Public Relations Group, visit

About Omnicom Public Relations Group
Omnicom Public Relations Group is a global collective of three of the top global public relations agencies worldwide and specialist agencies in areas including public affairs, marketing to women, global health strategy and corporate social responsibility. It encompasses more than 6,300 public relations professionals in more than 370 offices worldwide who provide their expertise to companies, government agencies, NGOs and nonprofits across a wide range of industries. Omnicom Public Relations Group delivers for clients through a relentless focus on talent, continuous pursuit of innovation and a culture steeped in collaboration. Omnicom Public Relations Group is part of the DAS Group of Companies, a division of Omnicom Group Inc. (NYSE: OMC) that includes more than 200 companies in a wide range of marketing disciplines including advertising, public relations, healthcare, customer relationship management, events, promotional marketing, branding and research.

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