A “Control Enthusiast”’s Guide to Workplace Uncertainty

I once referred to myself as a “control freak” in front of a friend.

“Don’t be so hard on yourself,” she said. , “You’re not a control freak; you’re a control enthusiast.”

What a brilliant reframe.

As a loud and proud control enthusiast, I’m the first to admit that I hate all of the uncertainty we’re still experiencing two-and-a-half years after the onset of Covid – around work, school, the economy and pretty much everything else. 

Whenever I speak to clients these days, the number one topic of conversation is the return – or lack of return – to the office. People want to know whether I recommend “three-two” (three days in the office, two days at home), “four-one,” “remote-first” or a dozen other variations on hybrid work schedules.

My answer isn’t a satisfying one, but it is the truth: 

There is no one-size-fits-all solution. 

Employers and individual managers have to consider multiple factors when deciding the best workplace policy. My best advice is to focus on what you can control and what you do know, despite an uncertain environment. Here are some tips:

Be As Transparent As Possible

In a time of uncertainty, leaders need to be more transparent with employees in order to build and maintain trust. Recent research from Future Forum reveals that employees are certain about one thing: Knowledge workers who felt their employer wasn’t forthcoming about future of work plans were more than three times as likely to say they’d “definitely” be seeking alternative employment.

As an individual leader, even if you don’t control company policy, be transparent about what you do know.

For instance, if you have a standing Wednesday morning meeting, make that event the centerpiece of your week. Start it with a teambuilding ritual, make sure everyone has an opportunity to contribute, and start and end on time. Do what you can to make that meeting something that people can rely on. Remind people why the meeting is important and what greater purpose it serves for your team or organization. 

Don’t Just Assume — Listen to People

It’s easy to make assumptions about groups of people, including along generational lines. We might assume that all millennials want to work from home, for example. But making decisions based on those assumptions can alienate millennials who would prefer to work at the office. (And they do exist, believe me.) 

If you base your decisions on assumptions generational or otherwise, people may be afraid to voice an opinion they believe to be at odds with everyone else’s. They might be more likely to self-monitor and act in a stereotypical way because they believe that’s what’s expected of them.

Accept Some Chaos

Try as we might to create stability, we should acknowledge that there’s a lot we simply can’t control. When we accept that some aspects of work are going to remain up in the air for the foreseeable future, we can focus on finding the places where we can implement more control. This will take a lot of trial and error, and that’s okay.

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Lindsey is a globally recognized career and workplace expert and the leading voice on generational diversity. She has spoken for more than 300 audiences including Google, Goldman Sachs, Estee Lauder, Stanford and Wharton. Lindsey is the author of four career and workplace advice books, and her insights have appeared in media outlets including The TODAY Show, CNBC, NPR, the Harvard Business Review and the Wall Street Journal.


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