Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Why Many People Still Don't Want to Go Back to Work

Work-life balance and fear of illness are among the leading reasons.

Key points

  • Many people are now retiring in their 50's due to lessons learned from the pandemic.
  • Work-Life Balance and other lessons learned from the pandemic has made working in an office less attractive.
  • The pandemic has had a significant impact on the work force and certain groups are more affected.

There is some new research available revealing why many people might not want to go back to work after the pandemic and are even seeking to retire in their 50s.

One reason is the continuing fear of contracting COVID-19. A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that nearly half of American adults are still "somewhat" or "very" worried about contracting the virus themselves or having a family member contract it. This fear is causing some to hesitate about returning to work.

A second reason is the increased emphasis on work-life balance that emerged during the pandemic. As people were forced to work from home, many discovered they preferred the flexibility and lack of commute while others who have had more time to spend with their families have realized the importance of balancing work and family responsibilities.

A third reason is the ongoing economic impact of the pandemic. Many people who lost their jobs or had their hours reduced remain uncertain about their financial future. This uncertainty may cause some to hesitate about returning to work, as they may not be able to find a job that pays as well as their previous one.

The mental health impact of the pandemic continues to influence workers' decisions as well. The stress and isolation of the pandemic took a toll on the mental health of many, and the idea of returning to work may add to that stress. A study by the American Psychological Association found that more than half of American adults reported symptoms of depression or anxiety during the pandemic.

A study by McKinsey & Company found that women have been disproportionately affected by job losses during the pandemic, with their employment falling by 4 percentage points more than men's. This is likely due to the fact that women are more likely to work in industries hit hard by the pandemic, such as retail and hospitality. Additionally, women are more likely to have primary caregiving responsibilities for children, which can make it more difficult to return to work. Low-wage workers were also disproportionately affected by job losses during the pandemic. A study by the Economic Policy Institute found that low-wage workers were more likely to work in industries that were hit hard by the pandemic and so they were more likely to have lost their jobs. These workers may be hesitant to return to work because they are concerned about not finding a job that pays as well as their previous one or not finding a job at all.

A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) indicates that job insecurity and lack of work-safety measures continue to drive reluctance to return to work. This study suggests that employers providing more stability and security to workers, as well as improved safety measures, may help alleviate some of these concerns that workers may have about returning to work.


Kaiser Family Foundation. (2020). Americans' Views on COVID-19 Vaccines. Retrieved from

American Psychological Association. (2020). Stress in America 2020: A National Mental Health Crisis. Retrieved from

McKinsey & Company. (2020). The COVID-19 gender gap: A deeper dive. Retrieved from

Economic Policy Institute. (2020). Low-wage workers are disproportionately likely to be laid off during the COVID-19 recession. Retrieved from

National Bureau of Economic Research. (2020). Job Insecurity and the COVID-19 Pandemic. Retrieved from

More from Barton Goldsmith Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today