Dutton, Caza offer advice on how to manage employees’ anxiety about returning to work

July 26, 2021

Photo: Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels

Center for Positive Organizations (CPO) core faculty member Jane Dutton and CPO Research Advisory Board member Brianna Caza are quoted in the Harvard Business Review article “Help Your Employees Who Are Anxious About Returning to the Office.”

The article gathers advice from experts on middle management and workplace compassion about how leaders can help ease the transition back to work. Their recommended strategies include:

  • Find out how people are feeling
  • Allow for ambivalence
  • Offer flexibility
  • Explain the “why”
  • Consider experiments and pilot programs
  • Don’t make promises you can’t keep
  • Be compassionate

“The message should be one of flexibility, flexibility, flexibility,” Dutton says. “There have been many sources of pain (during the past year), not just the pandemic but also the struggle around racial justice and politics. We can’t assume we know how traumatizing it’s been for people.”

Caza says it’s normal for people to have positive and negative emotions simultaneously. So, instead of encouraging employees to “look on the bright side,” managers can harness workers’ ambivalence about returning to work to help them build resilience.

“Leaders who model ambivalence can create a culture where people adapt and pivot more easily,” Caza says.

Dutton is a CPO co-founder and the Robert L. Kahn Distinguished University Emerita Professor of Business Administration and Psychology at the University of Michigan.

Caza is an Associate Professor of Management at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She received her PhD in Organizational Psychology from the University of Michigan.