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New SHRM Survey Identifies Key Factors Affecting the Return to Work

Alexandria, Va. —A new survey released today from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), evaluates how individuals are assessing key factors in deciding whether or not to return to the workforce, found that 37 percent of U.S. workers reported feeling indifferent about returning, while 20 percent of all respondents who are not working said the opportunity to work remotely would motivate them to return to the workforce.

There was a talent shortage a year prior to the pandemic. Seven million jobs were open in December 2018, but only 6.3 million unemployed people were looking for work. While the pandemic impacted the talent shortage in various ways, now that the country is recovering, businesses are back to facing a similar situation. Several factors have contributed to employee attitudes to returning back to work.

"Our research findings provide a clearer picture and showcase a number of factors driving employees to think differently and more holistically about their lives as they consider returning to the workforce," said Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, SHRM president and chief executive officer. "As organizations look to the future, they are prioritizing efforts to focus on improving the talent challenges from the past year."

Other key findings include:

Of workers who have returned to work and of those not currently working, respondents showed mixed feelings about their return or potentially returning to work:

  • 21 percent said they felt anxiousness.
  • 18 percent said they felt grateful.
  • 15 percent said they felt hopeful and optimistic.
  • 14 percent said they felt happy and elated.
  • 37 percent said they felt indifferent about returning to work/possibly returning to work.

Workers who returned to work since the beginning of the pandemic and those who are unemployed but not retired felt generally mixed:

  • 27 percent said they had mixed feelings about returning to work/possibly returning to work.
  • 26 percent said they only felt positive emotions, 32 percent said they only felt negative emotions, and 15 percent felt indifferent.

There are multiple factors playing into why employees are not reentering the workforce and businesses need to reevaluate how they approach dealing with the talent shortage. The HR profession is at the forefront of real change, both societally and culturally.
Looking exclusively at those who are not working and not retired:

  • 18 percent of respondents said nothing would compel them to return.
  • 23 percent said that the available jobs are not in their field of work interest.
  • 17 percent have concerns over recent workplace requirements (e.g., vaccine mandate / lack of mandate, mask wearing requirements / lack of requirements, etc.).
  • 17 percent said they haven't been able to find a job that pays enough for them to start working again.
  • 12 percent said that there are not enough opportunities to work remotely (either full-time, part-time, or as needed).
  • 9 percent said they have chosen to learn new work skills or want to pursue a different career path.

When asked about what, if anything, would compel them to return to the workforce, 27 percent of all respondents who are not currently working said that if their savings ran out or ran low, it would motivate them to return.

A sample of 948 Americans were surveyed using the Amerispeak Omnibus, NORC at the University of Chicago's probability-based panel designed to be representative of the U.S. household population. The survey was administered from January 27 – January 31, 2022. Of those surveyed, 174 indicated that they were currently employed but had been unemployed at some point since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic (about March 2020).  333 indicated they were not currently working, and of those, 68 indicated that they were currently not employed and not retired, and 265 indicated that they were currently retired. Those who were a part of these groups were the primary focus of these results. All data was weighted to reflect the U.S. adult population.

About SHRM
SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management, creates better workplaces where employers and employees thrive together. As the voice of all things work, workers and the workplace, SHRM is the foremost expert, convener and thought leader on issues impacting today's evolving workplaces. With 300,000+ HR and business executive members in 165 countries, SHRM impacts the lives of more than 115 million workers and families globally. Learn more at and on Twitter @SHRM.  


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