Dealing with Cognitive Dissonance
Cognitive dissonance can be dealt with in three ways:
In many cases this is easy. For example, not wearing a tie to work (even though you have always believed that wearing a tie was important) would probably be belief that could be easy to change. On the other hand, if an employee believes that they are better off working from home, and their belief is supported by measurable increases in performance, they are going to find it a much harder challenge to simply switch off this new belief.
To decide, “Ok, I’m just going to keep working from home, then” is a simple solution for cognitive dissonance, but in many cases it simply might not be possible. Employer’s or work demands may require employees to actually be at the workplace for any number of practical or policy reasons. This takes the worker back to square one with increased anxiety triggered by continued cognitive dissonance.
Change of Perception
This is the most complex of the three solutions, but possibly the best option. In the work-from-home dilemma, this would require a worker to take a fresh look at the dissonance and rationalise their dissonant behaviour. They might rationalise that it is actually more social to go into the office, or that they miss their favourite sushi bar, or any other combination of ways to think the dissonance away and change their perception. This is easy to articulate in theory, but realistically it is hard to do—especially for the employees who have had a positive experience working away from the office.
It is safe to assume that we will all emerge from the COVID 19 experience changed in some way. The scenario we have been looking at is just one of the many aspects of working life that we will have to tackle in the near future. However, this one will be an early challenge for organisations, managers, teams, and employees. As I said earlier, some will want to be back at the office as soon as practical, while others will drag their feet slowly back.
The best way to tackle this issue is to collaborate by bringing it out into the open and discussing it now. Don’t wait till the first Monday back to “normal” to have a tearoom chat about how everyone is feeling about being back at the office (or still at home). There are practical ways to gauge the views of teams and individuals and start working on a solution that most closely matches the expectations of your workforce. You could use that feedback to explain how and why you designed your post-COVID-19 workplace. Talking and being listened to in a meaningful way will be key to ensuring that the fallout from the post-COVID-19 world is reduced as much as possible. On the other hand, not doing anything and hoping that people believe that the “old ways” are the only way will lead to unnecessary anxiety, stress, and a potential missed opportunity for workplace transformation.