As companies develop plans to get employees back into the office, hiring managers grapple with a host of problems. Are they asking for vaccines or are they just asking staff to get them? How should hybrid schedules be set and does innovation suffer if people continue to work from home?
Katy Milkman, professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and author of the new book How to Change: The Science of Getting From Where to Where You Want to Be, addressed these and other questions. She entered the Town Hall of CNBC’s Workforce Executive Council on Thursday to help CHROs find the best ways to make lasting change and bring people on board with new ways of working as we all move forward.
Choose a concise strategy around vaccines
As the United States moves closer to herd immunity to Covid-19, virus variants and a total death toll of over 600,000 are increasing reluctance to return to the office. Milkman said companies should adopt a clear vaccine strategy to address concerns.
There are a number of strategies companies can pursue regarding vaccines, Milkman said. On the one hand, it is legal for companies to require vaccinations before returning to work.
Morgan Stanley recently announced that employees will be required to provide proof of vaccination while JPMorgan is pushing for vaccinations, but also requires employees to record their vaccination status on a company portal before returning to the office.
With mandates as an option, a number of companies including American Airlines, Kroger, and Target continue to incentivize employees to get vaccinated through cash prizes, paid time off, and transportation to vaccine sites.
When companies are uncomfortable with mandates or incentives, Milkman says they can take a “gentler approach” by using communication strategies to promote vaccination. One approach is to emphasize that vaccines belong to the employees. When people feel like something is theirs, they are less likely to give up, she said.
“Just announcing that a vaccine is reserved for you can significantly increase vaccination rates at a very low cost,” said Milkman.
Be transparent about your return to work decision
While companies like Dropbox allow employees to continue working from home, others like Apple and Bank of America expect their employees to be back in the office by September.
Whatever plan a company chooses, Milkman said it should be transparent to its employees about how decisions are made and why the final decision was made.
“The best course of action is to find out what is best for your business, in terms of communicating with empathy, clarity, and the ability to speak to people,” said Milkman.
Allow employees to express their opinions
In response to Apple’s decision, employees protested the return to work plan in early June, calling on the company to allow teams to decide on individual plans.
There are two key factors in how employees react to decisions made, Milkman said. One factor is whether or not they make the decision and the other is whether or not they think the decision-making process is fair.
“One of the elements that will affect whether we think the process is fair is the feeling that my voice has been heard,” said Milkman. “Was I interviewed? Was I asked for my opinion? You may have made a different decision, but at least you heard me and other voices in the organization were part of that decision.”
Google originally planned to get all employees back to the office by September, but later changed its plan to allow more employees to work from home or away from the office. Other tech giants like Twitter and Facebook are giving their employees the ability to continue working from home.
“The emotional response people have to such a decision is determined more by the fair trial than the outcome itself,” said Milkman.