Mask Appeal

To mask or not to mask? That is the question.

The answer is pretty simple, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention based in Atlanta: Employees in the workplace should wear a mask to minimize the spread of the novel coronavirus as much as possible.

But if your workplace is anything like society at large, there will be those who don’t want to wear a mask. And when that happens, how will you handle this awkward face-off?

“It’s important to understand what’s going on psychologically when employees don’t wear masks,” wrote Dustin York in an Aug. 28 article for TLNT, a website dedicated to talent management and human resources issues. “Once you’re able to understand this, you can then adopt an approach that can get reluctant employees to observe safety guidelines.”

Some workers may agree that the COVID-19 pandemic is problematic, but feel at the same time that wearing a mask limits their personal freedom. In addition, employees may resist wearing masks because not wearing masks used to be the norm, and it’s easier to say “no” to change than “yes.” In short, change brings uncertainty, and uncertainty is scary.

“While, legally speaking, employers can essentially coerce employees into wearing masks for safety reasons, doing so wouldn’t create the inclusive workplace culture that many companies nowadays seek to establish,” York wrote.

So, what to do? York recommended a technique called the Behavioral Change Stairway Model, which incorporates five components — active listening, empathy, rapport, influence and, finally, behavioral change. Determine the employee’s reason for his anti-mask stance — say, for example, the CDC guidelines are hurting the economy — and try to influence him from that perspective.

“You could subsequently remind your people that whether they believe in wearing masks or not, your customers and business partners do,” York wrote. “Wearing masks would therefore be good for business.”

This puts the emphasis on a positive value (good business) rather than what the employee deems a negative value (change).

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