Planning your post-COVID-19 return: 8 kinds of attitudes about risk 

Some employees are more comfortable with risk than others. Understanding these eight types of personal attitudes toward risk can help you plan for a smoother return to the office 
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Slowly but surely, non-essential workers are starting to transition back to the workplace. Under the guidance of public health experts, many people are adjusting to the idea of rejoining colleagues with whom they have interacted only virtually for months.

For some, the new normal of remote work raises questions: What is a workplace? Does it make sense for people to be physically present if the risk of the virus persists? Do people get more work done at home or at the office? What does “engagement” mean if the physical boundaries of work have changed?

Employees’ perspectives on returning to the workplace vary widely. While some are eager to trade the Zoom portal for the water cooler, others remain fearful about being around others, despite physical distancing measures and increased sanitization.

[ Read also: High EQ leadership: 10 ways to put your people first during the pandemic. ]

Much of how an individual feels about returning to the workplace depends on their risk disposition.

Much of how an individual feels about returning to the workplace depends on their risk disposition, which provides insight into how and why people process risk. Originally conceived for financial investing, the Risk Type Compass (RTC) helps us understand how people approach topics like decision-making and organizational change initiatives. In the age of COVID-19, it also helps us explore people’s attitudes about returning to the workplace.

8 attitudes about risk  

Based on a taxonomy called the Big Five personality traits, the RTC provides eight primary risk types (an additional risk type, called Axial, identifies people who have no natural tendency for any of the primary types). Following are descriptions of each primary risk type to help you understand what your employees may be feeling as they ponder a return to the workplace.

1. Wary

Individuals with a Wary risk disposition focus on controlling situations and eliminating uncertainty. To engage the Wary individual, provide as much information as possible up front about the measures being implemented to ensure safety. Wary individuals adhere to rules and follow procedures, and they may become upset when others do not follow suit. They do not like unnecessary changes and may struggle with variations in processes that may increase risk or otherwise affect safety.

2. Prudent

Those with a Prudent risk disposition don’t necessarily avoid risk, but they want to understand as much as possible about changes and the reasons behind those changes. Their tendency to follow rules and processes can draw their focus away from bigger-picture issues, and they may be critical of others who fail to follow rules to the letter. Prudent individuals play it safe and may be among the last ones to return to the workplace.

3. Deliberate

Calm and systematic, the Deliberate risk type is rational and unemotional. Their need to understand the details of any change can create obstacles to efficiency. While they are not necessarily opposed to taking risks, their sense of detachment can make them seem aloof and uncaring, and they may appear to minimize or disregard the emotional aspects of a situation. Deliberate types are measured and consistent and tend to struggle with last-minute changes.

4. Composed

People with a Composed risk disposition have a high level of risk tolerance and may be perceived as unruffled by almost anything. Confident in their opinions and perspective, they are generally comfortable in situations others might consider challenging or uncomfortable. They tend to hold strong opinions and may seem to minimize other people’s concerns. They may also be dismissive of information that contradicts their view. Keep this in mind as you introduce new information, and make sure your sources are credible as you plan.

5. Adventurous

Generally positive and open to new ideas, Adventurous types are highly adaptable and likely to transition back to the workplace with ease. Adventurous individuals tend to believe strongly in their own perspective on matters, and they are particularly good at estimating risk and reward. As a result, they may view some return-to-work safety measures as unnecessary and disregard them. In such cases, intervention may be necessary.

6. Carefree

Rather than worrying about returning to the workplace, Carefree risk types may find the change in routine exciting (at least initially). They may be eager to reconnect with colleagues and minimize or even dismiss risks, thinking (openly or covertly) that safety precautions are unnecessary, ineffective, or overdone. Carefree individuals tire quickly of bureaucracy and may ignore things they don’t perceive as valid. Their tendency to ignore rules or processes and dismiss others’ concerns can frustrate their less risk-tolerant colleagues.

7. Excitable

Individuals with an Excitable risk disposition look for opportunities to improve existing situations and processes, so they may see the return to the workplace as an opportunity to explain how things could be done differently. They may also be tempted to bend or break rules that they feel don’t suit them – for example, they may adhere to physical distance requirements until these become problematic in some way. To get the best from an Excitable type, support innovation when possible but make sure it doesn’t result in broken rules.

8. Intense

Committed and loyal, Intense risk types follow processes and procedures closely. They are likely to be vocal about their concerns but will accept rationales and rules. Their strong desire to avoid errors and mistakes may make them risk-averse. Intense individuals will probably be willing to return to a well-prepared workplace but will push back strongly if they feel that the organization has fallen short of safety measures.

Try to include as broad a range of personalities and perspectives as possible in your return-to-the-workplace strategy.

Crafting your return strategy

How can all this information help you form a return-to-the-workplace strategy? The simple advice is to try to include as broad a range of personalities and perspectives as possible in your plan. For example, for every Adventurous or Carefree risk type, a Wary or Prudent type can help balance the discussion.

Keep in mind that this approach should focus on how employees are likely to react to the transition process. Consider all of the risk types as you work with staff members to plan the transition.

Remember that all risk types are equally valid, and the most effective groups generally include a mix of different types. Also, consider the range of characteristics within each category – one individual might be a “mild Prudent” and another a “strong Adventurous,” for example – the stronger an individual’s orientation, the more pronounced their behaviors will be.

[ Are you leading culture change? Get the free eBook, Organize for Innovation. ]

Drew Bird, MSc, MA, and author of "The Leader’s Guide To Emotional Intelligence," is a coach, trainer, facilitator and speaker. He is founder of The EQ Development Group. Over 20 years in the IT industry has helped Drew understand first-hand the opportunities and challenges senior leaders face in this complex field.

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