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Work in the time of COVID-19: social norms and pluralistic ignorance

Kreuter explores shifting attitudes surrounding work behaviors in employees and supervisors

In an article published in the Journal for Labour Market Research, Faculty Associate Frauke Kreuter and her collaborators examine shared and misaligned attitudes about pandemic-related work behaviors.

The economic and social crisis caused by the pandemic raised new challenges for organizations seeking to manage competing interests, such as keeping employees healthy while cultivating productivity. As organizations made changes to accomodate these concerns, the normative attitudes underlying common work behaviors shifted as well.

Kreuter and colleagues explored these shifting social norms within a large-scale (N=4609) representative sample of German workers. They focused on attitudes toward five behaviors that buffered the effect of the pandemic and / or imposed costs to the employee or employer, "the assignment and compensation of short-time work, the opportunity to work from home [with and without children], and the sharing of private information on employees’ vacation destination with the employer".

The authors posed three research questions:

  1. Are there social norms?
  2. To what extent are attitudes shared between employers and employees?
  3. Is there evidence for pluralistic ignorance (i.e., a difference between respondents' attitudes and the attitudes they expect others to hold)?

First, they found overall collective agreement for the normative statements, indicating the presence of social norms within groups. Misaligned attitudes between employers and employees are often a source of conflict in the workplace. To this end, the group found evidence for misalignment across all investigated attitudes. Specifically, employers were less likely to support positions benefiting the employee, and vice versa. Lastly, respondents tended to overestimate support for the short-time work and work from home attitudes and underestimated support for disclosing vacation destination.

This work shows that supervisors and employees are aware of the attitudes and norms, though they are not always shared. Examining these attitudes has implications for understanding the motivation underlying personnel decisions made by supervisors, as well as any possible conflict resulting from those decisions.


Abraham, M., Collischon, M., Grimm, V. et al. COVID-19, normative attitudes and pluralistic ignorance in employer-employee relationships. J Labour Market Res 56, 19 (2022).