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i4cp Survey: 71% Say Trump’s Push to Return People to Work is “Reckless”

President Trump announced Tuesday during a Fox News virtual town hall discussion that he wants to see the U.S. economy up and running by Easter Sunday (April 12)--a goal he has since continued to reiterate publicly.

But a significant majority (71%) of those surveyed shortly after this statement by human capital research firm Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) say they believe Trump’s stance is “reckless and puts employees’ lives at risk.” 

“It’s clear that in the trade-off between employee lives or economic health, companies overwhelmingly choose the well-being and safety of their workforce,” said Kevin Oakes, CEO of i4cp.

While the response to Trump’s stated ambition of returning everyone to work in mid-April was an emphatic “No,” another 9% of the 444 survey respondents said “Yes, let’s get back to normal…we’ve overreacted,” while 20% said they didn’t know, or provided write-in answers.

Comments ranged from “Let's take things a week at a time” and “It's too soon to tell” to “Most of our workforce can work virtually, so we are already working and don’t need to ‘come back to work.’”

Others pointed out that President Trump’s words simply represented an aspirational goal, not a policy directive, and that even if a formal decision were to be made to reopen businesses at the federal level, many state governors would presumably not change their “shelter in place” or other restrictive orders.

Employee REaction

It’s understandable why President Trump wants to see businesses to reopen as soon as possible. The global economy is facing a recession; 3.28 million Americans filed for unemployment last week alone, shattering previous records set during the Great Recession in March 2009 and the downturn in October 1982. Those at greatest financial risk are those already in low-paid positions.

Right Time Trump

However, most epidemiologists caution that the risk to American lives by returning to work too soon is enormous. Using a new model published by the New York Times on March 25, “returning to normal” by Easter Sunday suggests that 117.4 million people across the U.S. could conceivably contract the coronavirus between January and late October (with 24.7 million at the peak on June 3) of this year.

More than 1.2 million people would die under these conditions and 116 million people would recover. The interactive model can be adjusted by “length of intervention,” and the Times cautions that these numbers offer a false precision due to the lack of understanding of COVID-19 well enough to model it exactly.

“Anyone advising the end of social distancing now needs to fully understand what the country will look like if we do that,” cautions Dr. Tom Inglesby, a health security expert at Johns Hopkins University quoted in the Times article.

“COVID would spread widely, rapidly, terribly, and could kill potentially millions in the year ahead, with huge social and economic impact.”

The i4cp survey also asked respondents their opinions of how employees currently working from home might react if they were asked by their organizations to return to the office on Monday, April 13, in light of advice from health experts that the health threat is far from over. The responses varied:

  • Over a quarter (27%) said worker response would depend on whether schools, childcare, and/or eldercare facilitates were reopened
  • A third (37%) said employees would do so, but reluctantly, citing health concerns
  • Nearly 22% suggested their employees wouldn’t do it, choosing to remain at home

Overall, the majority of survey respondents indicated that regardless of any aspirations at the federal level, mandates at the state and local levels, the challenges introduced by closures of child/eldercare facilities and schools, and guidance by healthcare experts, would be the true bellwethers of a return to normalcy. When asked, 95% of respondents said they believe their organizations have been taking the right approach in response to the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

Doing the right thing is important, says Dallas Mavericks owner and entrepreneur Mark Cuban. “How companies respond to [the idea of sending employees back to work by Easter] is going to define their brand for decades. If you rushed in and somebody got sick, you were that company. If you didn’t take care of your employees or stakeholders and put them first, you were that company.”

Brand reputation or not, it’s clear the effects of social distancing, especially as it relates to businesses, are having a major impact. In line with a survey conducted by i4cp last week, 96% of organizations report that the pandemic has affected productivity, with 42% saying it has had a high impact.

Download the full survey results – due to the global health and productivity crisis affecting everyone, i4cp is making all related ongoing research publicly available.

Visit i4cp’s Coronavirus Employer Resource Center for additional research, discussion forums, useful resources, and next practices organizations have implemented to weather this unprecedented situation and support their workforce.

Kevin Oakes
Kevin is the CEO and co-founder of i4cp. He is a world-recognized thought leader on the topics of corporate culture, the future of work, and learning, and is the author of the bestselling book Culture Renovation: 18 Leadership Actions to Build an Unshakeable Company.