how companies can generate enthusiasm

As companies make plans to get workers back to the office, human resource managers face a plethora of issues. Do they force vaccines or do they just encourage employees to get them? How should hybrid schedules be decided and does innovation suffer when people continue to work from home?

These questions and many more were addressed by Katy Milkman, professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and author of the new book, How to change: the science to get from where to where you want to be. She joined CNBC Executive Workforce Council ”s Town Hall on Thursday to help HRDs find the best ways to make lasting change and get employees to embrace new ways of doing business as we all move forward.

Choose a concise strategy around vaccines

As the United States moves closer to collective immunity against Covid-19, variants of the virus and a total death toll exceeding 600,000 increase reluctance to return to the office. Milkman said companies should choose a clear vaccine strategy to alleviate concerns.

There is a range of strategies companies can adopt when it comes to vaccines, Milkman said. On the one hand, she said, it’s legal for companies to require vaccinations before returning to work.

Morgan Stanley recently announced that it would require employees to show proof of vaccination while JPMorgan would require vaccinations, but also require employees to register their vaccination status on a company portal before returning to the office.

With optional mandates, many companies such as American Airlines, Kroger and Target continue to incentivize employees to get vaccinated through cash prizes, paid time off, and transportation to vaccination sites.

If companies don’t feel comfortable mandating or pushing, Milkman said they can take a “softer approach” by using communication strategies to encourage vaccination. One approach is to emphasize that vaccines belong to employees. When people feel like something is theirs, they’re less likely to give it up, she said.

“Just communicating that a vaccine is in store for you can dramatically increase immunization rates at a very low cost,” Milkman said.

Be transparent with the return to work decision

While companies like Dropbox allows employees to continue working from home, others like Apple and Bank of America expect employees to return to the office by September.

Whatever plan a company chooses, Milkman said it should be transparent with its employees about how decisions are made and why the final decision was chosen.

“The best practice is to figure out what’s best for your business and, in terms of communication, to do it with empathy, clarity and the ability to have conversations with people,” Milkman said.

Allow employees to express their opinions

In response to Following Apple’s decision, employees began protesting the return-to-work plan in early June and urged the company to allow teams to decide on individual plans.

There are two key factors in how employees react to decisions that are made, Milkman said. One factor is whether or not they like the decision, and the other is whether they think the process for reaching the decision is fair or not.

“The things that influence whether we think the process is fair include the feeling that my voice has been heard,” Milkman said. “Was I questioned? Was my opinion asked? Maybe you made a different decision, but at least you heard me, and other voices within the organization participated in this decision.”

Google originally planned to bring all employees back to the office by September, but then changed its plan to allow more employees to work from home or away from the office to some extent. Other tech giants like Twitter and Facebook are giving their employees the choice to continue working from home.

“The emotional reaction of people to a decision like this is driven more by a sense of the fairness of the process than by the outcome itself,” Milkman said.