Getting Ready for RTW: Human Resources is Downstream from Human Behavior

John Whitaker Culture

I’m almost getting the hang of it. The “it” referred to here is the podcasting game, something I played kick-the-can with for almost eight years before finally making a commitment in 2020 (shout out to Pat Flynn). So while this year has been 10 months of a crotch-kick when looked at from a macro-level, there have been some personal developments that I can be proud of. New job, new number looking at me from the scale, and an honest-to-God podcast published and available on multiple platforms.

One outcome of going through the process is I was forced to crystallize a message I’ve been unable to harness for way too long. For me, whether I was in a recruiting role, strategic role, consultant, or leadership position, I’ve always tried to determine motivations causing behaviors whenever dealing with people. In a nutshell, that is what this career is all about – not the policy, procedure and regulations that fill up a lot of our available headspace.

Case in point is the current state of COVID and its impact on our workforce. I feel safe making the assumption that most of you have moved your employees to a remote environment when possible. What may have originally seemed like a stop-gap remedy is now a full blown lifestyle. To complicate matters, not every company is prepared (or, in some cases, willing) to make a full-time commitment to that scene. There will be a time in the very near future when an unofficial culture and an official culture come to head.

Put aside what the CDC or Executive Orders prohibit or restrict and think for a minute for the time when we receive the “all clear” message. It takes roughly 21 days to establish a new habit; many of us have long since passed day 100, much less 21 – our habits are engrained. To call people back to the office, fully vet your response to the human behaviors that will manifest as a result:

  • Fear – Many employees will still be watching CNN meaning fears will continue to be piqued. Start informing employees now and start informing them frequently; how we are prepared, how we will protect you and your family.
  • Resentment – It’s coming, you know it is. If productivity has not suffered, can you answer the question “And you’re bringing us back why?” You may have handled the pandemic response masterfully, but that’s ancient history now. I like working in sweatpants, getting an extra 90 minutes a day without a commute, eating lunch with my wife. You want to take that away from me now?
  • Jealousy – My company will have some positions required to be in a live working environment even if we become more liberal with other roles. You may decide to reward those employees in different ways than remote employees. Find the balance between the two populations to avoid the pettiness that sometimes forms between the “haves” and “have nots.”

These are a few of the emotions that will be driving behavior as we approach that day. When drafting your new PPE policies, return-to-work requirements, etc. don’t forget to align a communication plan that speaks to the very real fears and concerns that lie beneath the surface.

Looking upstream, you can see them coming.