our boss pushes us to share how we’re doing emotionally at team meetings

A reader writes:

In our weekly team meetings, my supervisor has started having everyone answer the question, “How are you doing emotionally and mentally?”

On one hand, he seems to mean well and be genuine in his concern. On the other hand, I have several invisible illnesses that pre-date this madness and I’m very touchy about sharing anything remotely resembling private health information with an employer, especially when it comes to mental health, because I have always been made to regret it and it’s none of their business unless I need reasonable accommodation. Obviously, none of our mental healths, collectively, are okay. Right??

For more context, I was permanently remote before all this, but the rest of my team wasn’t all remote. So some of them might be friends or have bonds closer than person on the other end of the phone, but to me, these are people I have an 18-month contract to work with and have met many twice.

Other people have been sharing about their kids or their struggles to set up their new remote office and I’ve just been going with a quick “fine” and then changing the subject, but I’m starting to get some pushback like, “Okay, but really, how are you?”

Do I really have to share my feelings? And if my feelings are “everything is on fire and I’m worried about death at every moment,” how on earth am I supposed to phrase that to my manager in a way that doesn’t alienate everyone? I can’t imagine what Emily Post would advise under the circumstances.

“How are you doing emotionally and mentally?” isn’t an appropriate question for group work meetings, for all the reasons you cite.

And when teams do inquire into how people are doing personally, “fine” needs to be an acceptable answer. Pushing for more when someone has made it clear they’re not up for sharing more is boundary-violating and obnoxious.

Since you’re dealing with a manager who doesn’t realize this, here are two options:

* Vagueness, but longer: “I’m hanging in! Stressful times, of course … but doing okay. Getting by! Looking forward to this all being over. Wish I could go to sleep and wake up in January, haha.” You’re still saying nothing, but there are more words, which can make people feel you’ve given more of an answer.

* Modified honesty: “Well, I find my mental health is better when I don’t dwell on the situation too much” (unspoken words here: with you) “so I don’t have a ton to say, but I’m hanging in. It’s good to connect with everyone.”

Note that neither of these options are that yes, you really have to share your feelings. You get to decide what you do and don’t share, and your manager is being rude.

{ 255 comments… read them below }

  1. AdAgencyChick*

    “You’re still saying nothing, but there are more words, which can make people feel you’ve given more of an answer.”

    THIS. I’ve been using this a lot lately.

      1. OP*

        It feels weird and very preschool but I suppose social norms are all up in the air now. Empty small talk devoid of meaning vaguely relating to my life it is! Updates on my cats for all! They are … still alive! Currently asleep! Etc

        1. Marshbilly, not Hillbilly*

          Yes! My boss and coworkers know my cats by name and they are an easy distraction. :-)

        2. old curmudgeon*

          Especially if you have video conferences and can arrange to have a strategically placed cat-butt facing the camera just as the question gets to you….

          “Cats are great, one has diarrhea but hopefully won’t have any episodes during the meeting, how are y’all doing?”

        3. Kimmy Schmidt*

          Cats are always perfect for social norm fillers.
          “My cats are so happy to have me home!”
          “I think my cats are going a little stir crazy, one turned my couch into a scratching post”
          “I can definitely tell it’s getting warmer now that my cats are shedding”

        4. Eleaner*

          WFH means I’ve been alternating between the cats and which herbs are trying to die on me.

        5. Them Boots*

          My cat is great for this! She loves to stand up & stroke my face with her tail a few times, curl up, stand up & stroke, change to new curl up position, stand up & stoke…you get the idea. Since the Zoom feed is on my face, it looks like a disembodied furry calico tail randomly shows up to caress my face. NO ONE has been able to maintain a line of thought in the *face* of that! (& all i have to do is tense my thighs one at a time for her to stand up, so I really take advantage of the timing/redirection opportunities this creates!) Speaking of, time to feed the beloved beast ;-)

        6. Sparrow*

          For what it’s worth, I consider this 100% normal and acceptable even when we’re not in the middle of a pandemic. As someone with a long history of depression, my honest answer to “how are you feeling” is rarely something people actually want to hear, and I definitely don’t want to share it with coworkers.

          My approach now isn’t really different from my normal approach, which is a vague answer often followed by something personalish that doesn’t feel private. Like, “Oh, you know. I’m doing about as well as you could expect, I imagine. I have recently started working out at lunch time instead of after work, which has been a good move. I was having a hard time sitting in front of the computer all day, and it’s really helping to break things up a bit.” It works really well for me, because they feel like they got an answer and I can often use the follow up to segue into another topic.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I also have some casual acquaintances who over-ask…. and yes, the more words help. I highly recommend a play-by-play of the shopping list: “I scored a bulk pack of toilet paper AND 10 pounds of flour yesterday!” That got a good laugh, so my acquaintance had their their conversation, without me going into too-much-information territory.

    2. Sara without an H*

      I once had a colleague who was extremely good at being warm and wordy, while conveying no real information. It was like watching a squid disappear in a cloud of its own ink.

      1. KWu*

        Literal LOLs at “You’re still saying nothing, but there are more words” and “watching a squid disappear in a cloud of its own ink” both! I envy that person’s skill, I get stuck just due to being too literal often.

      2. NeonFireworks*

        I have developed a bizarre knack for this. If you talk a lot, with enthusiasm, and with confidence that suggests that you expect the other person to find the response acceptable, they usually buy it unthinkingly. My most nosy coworker gets lots of words out of me that add up to very little.

      3. mananana*

        Love the squid analogy — and will claim that as my super power. I have worked with the same people for 10+ years, and many have ZERO info about me. Yet they will all claim that I’m friendly and outgoing. What they don’t realize is that I’ve mastered the art of turning the conversation back to them without revealing much of substance about myself. I protect my privacy AND make them feel valued.

  2. Princess Deviant*

    I love how Alison has fantastic scripts for difficult conversations. I’ve used loads of them with situations that don’t have anything to do with work. And she’s so kind in her phrasing. Thanks Alison!

  3. willow for now*

    “’fine’ needs to be an acceptable answer” – exactly! We have executed the thrust and parry of an opening conversation and we should now get down to business.

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Yup. I disagree with Alison’s scripts here. If they push after “fine”, I’d go with “really, I’m fine.” You don’t need to recite a dissertation to get pushy people ff your back.

      1. Ann Onny Muss*

        Yeah, but then you risk getting “Really? You don’t sound fine? Is something bothering you?”

        1. Marillenbaum*

          True–which is itself pretty rude, but the sort of people who behave this way believe they are physically incapable of bad manners. Usually, when I get push back on “fine”, I talk about something that could reasonably affect my mental/emotional state, but has basically no stakes– “It’s a rough morning, but I’m better now that I have my coffee!” or “Glad it’s finally sunnier!”

          I’m an extrovert with some social anxiety (yikes), so in cases like this I channel the most banal workplace persona I can imagine (her name is LouAnne, and she works in Payroll), and roleplay as her until I can focus on the actual work content of the meeting.

          1. Mongrel*


            We have a Mental Health policy at work (even in the before time) and watching one particular group thinks it means we should be happy sharing everything all the time gets really tiring.
            Luckily my professional interactions with them are near zero so everything gets filtered near the recycle bin.

        2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*


          Providing boundary pushers with long explanations (even if vague) allows them to keep pushing. Shut it down with short responses that can not be open to interpretation. If that seems rude, so be it. They’re being rude by not letting it go.

        3. Tabby*

          “Yes. Being repeatedly asked this question.”

          (I’ve said this a time or two with persistent ‘how are you really’ askers. It typically works for others to realize their pushiness is irritating. Well… you also have to have a certain level of… erm… ‘attitude (of the cheerful gives no cares variety) for this to be effective.)

  4. ExcelJedi*

    At some point I would just say, “everything is on fire and I’m worried about death at every moment,” and wait for the fallout.

    Not usually – but these days, I don’t really have the patience for people like this, and it’s starting to show.

    1. Doctor Evil*

      Frankly, this answer works far better than you might imagine. It’s quite the icebreaker, everyone laughs, most people answer with some variation of “Same” and pretty much everyone realizes it was a stupid question to begin with.

      Not that it’s inappropriate to check in once in awhile, but as you quite correctly note, there are varying degrees of comfort in sharing one’s mental status and a public meeting is not the time or place for that regardless.

      1. OP*

        I worry that anything vaguely negative will just result in more follow up. Questions about what they can do, when they can’t do anything since I’m a contractor and also I don’t need anything done since I have the whole mental health explosion thing down more than most neurotypical people? Plus, now seems like a bad like to be like, lol, Bruce Banner style, my secret is I’m always upset so no worries, I got this.

        I have had decent success with, “Ya know, okay considering”

        1. Aggretsuko*

          My therapist said to say I’m doing as well as can be under the circumstances.

          But seriously, I try to ignore when someone asks if I’m okay (I’M NOT I’M NOT I’M NOT) or if everyone is doing well, blah blah blah. Obviously you can’t do that, though.

        2. Quill*

          Pre-plague, I had good results playing obvious workplace difficulties for laughs. For example, “how are you?” in my lab days might be met with “up to my eyballs in petri dishes” or “I’ll be better when Excel stops crashing!”

          Currently I don’t think you need to be a particular comedian for something that is both noncommittal and tonally cheerful to go over well.

          1. Batty Twerp*

            Or, genuinely as happened to me today: “Well, Skype hates me, so, yeah…”
            Pretty much covered how my day had been going in the seven hours preceding the call. The other people on the call (my manager and others further up the heirarchy than me) laughed, commiserated, and we moved on.
            Now, two people on that call *do* know that I’ve had some mental health issues recently, and neither of them considered pressing the matter.

            I think it was offering the opportunity to commiserate, and in turn deflect the spotlight elsewhere that probably worked here. Especially commiseration about something comparatively inconsequential (oh no, I can’t IM a coworker, versus people I care about are poorly/at risk of getting seriously ill). Because I dont think anyone is really “fine” right now, but we all know computers have minds of their own and they don’t play nice, and it’s something we can legitimately complain about, without getting unnecessarily touchy-feely.

            1. Marillenbaum*

              This is an especially good one–talking about your caffeine addiction (real or imagined) is the ultimate in generally inoffensive workplace chitchat. It’s a small vulnerability that is so common other people feel they are relating to you, without being seriously personal.

              1. coffee*

                I love this. Use it all the time. As far as they know, my life revolves around coffee.

        3. Seeking Second Childhood*

          I bet a Bruce Banner/Hulk reference like that might go over great. “It feels like a discount version of Bruce Banner …my secret is I’m always upset. But I don’t get the Hulk superpowers.” (two second pause) “Right now I’m really hoping you’ve seen The Avengers or that makes no sense.”
          That’ll ricochet you right into a movie chat — about the movies if they saw it, about what they prefer instead of superhero flicks if they have not.

          1. OP*

            Alas, our group is not that informal. If I had a younger cohort, that would be great!

        4. fhqwhgads*

          I have had success deflecting by alternately discussing weather or food. For example:
          -It finally stopped raining so I’m pretty jazzed about that.
          -I’m really glad I have central AC with the heat this week.
          -I got a grocery delivery slot less than a week out so I’m looking forward to that.
          -I finally got the eggs/bananas/avocados/name a food that’s frequently out of stock lately in my grocery delivery so I’m excited about that.
          -I made lemonade from scratch and it was really delightful.

          None of it has to be true, but also none of it is remotely consequential. Or interesting. It will not spur follow-up questions, but may spark people to say similar commiserating things. If the people you’re working with respond to the above with “but how are you really?” you’re dealing with inconsiderate assholes who can’t read a room.

        1. OP*

          Spinning my daily struggle to be alive into humor for the sake of strangers seems like a big ask right now but true.

          1. une autre Cassandra*

            If *that* isn’t the truth. There’s something extra galling about having to spin our personal reactions to an unprecedented crisis into something digestible and pleasant so other people feel okay

          2. Quill*

            Ooof, yeah.

            I’m more likely to be deflecting from chronic pain or generalized anxiety, which I’m a lot more used to, so… easier for me to fluff something up.

          3. Eukomos*

            Yeah, humor is great for when you really need to control the perceptions of the people you’re talking to (like if you were selling them something or they somehow held your fate in their hands), but for day to day interactions it’s not necessary to put that much work in if you’re not feeling it. “I’m holding up as well as can be expected, thanks for asking” should be plenty here.

    2. StrikingFalcon*

      “Well my current life goal is to survive to the end of the year. So far it’s going well!”

      1. Pomona Sprout*

        “How am I feeling? Stressed. But I haven’t murdered anyone in their sleep yet, so I feel like I’m managing it okay.”

    3. SK*

      A co-worker of mine has taken to just replying “bad!” in a cheerful tone whenever we’re asked how we’re doing. I respect it.

  5. Magenta Sky*

    “Okay, but really, how are you?”

    “More and more frustrated at people who can’t take subtle hints.”

    1. OP*

      This is often where I’ve gotten in terrible professionally before, believing people when they say they want the truth. Hence my personal stance that I don’t do exit interviews. There’s literally nothing got me to gain and only an awkward talk where they insist they want to know what they can do better, despite not asking it caring while I was there. I once used the phrase, “offensivi cavalier about wasting my time” in one and while it get great in the moment, it did neither party any good.

      1. Artemesia*

        No one cares about you (well your mother probably does and your partner if you are partnered — but few others). These questions are a ritual dance and you are not required to bare your soul anymore than the answer to ‘how are you’ is ‘well except for the terrible diarrhea, I am doing okay.’ You just need some polite blah blah blah. ‘Staring into the apocalypse day after day is getting old’ might work — or Alison’s string is perfect gibble gabble for this ritual. Truth should be expressed only when it is is in your interest to do so.

        1. OP*

          I get that no one cares. What I don’t get is why push when no one cares. Why pretend that people care and put me in awkward position when I am now compelled to lie? Social norms are supposed to have scripts.
          “Hi, how are you?”
          “Fine, how are you?”
          “Okay now the real thing”

          “Okay but really how are you??” is such a weird double bluff.

          So now it’s at cats and sometimes a note about something I baked. Although I do wish I could be allowed to just be fine when, under normal circumstances, no one has ever at this company even asked how my day is going.

          1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

            Don’t you just want to blurt out “what do you want me to say?” But of course, you can’t.

            1. Quill*

              I usually have to restrain my impulse for sarcasm instead, but I’ve been on the edge of asking that one too.

            2. Magenta Sky*

              You could, however, turn it back on them.

              “How do you really feel?”

              “What do you mean? I said I feel fine. I’m confused about why you’re confused by that. Can you explain what you want?”

          2. Aggretsuko*

            Because they’re supposed to PRETEND to care, so we have to put on a show about it. They pretend to care, you pretend to be ‘”fine,” and the ritual is officially done with.
            But yeah, nobody actually wants to know, it’s all an act.

            1. Magenta Sky*

              Some managers feel a need to exert their position, too. If you don’t put enough effort into a meaningless answer to their meaningless question, they fear you’re taking them seriously as a manager.

              1. managers*

                I’m so glad someone came in to jump on this. There’s a power difference involved. It always feels uncomfortable to me, like they are using their position to make you talk about something you otherwise would not.

            2. Jules the 3rd*

              “But yeah, nobody actually wants to know, it’s all an act.”

              This is not my experience. I do not mix home friends and work friends, but there’s still a level of sincere care and support from people at work.

          3. Legal Beagle*

            The manager probably feels some responsibility to care for employees’ mental health during a stressful time, but is going about it really, really badly.

          4. Mockingjay*

            In our team meeting, we have to provide a professional best and a personal highlight from the preceding week. I’m not the type that overshares, so I usually come up with something bland for the personal – went out to dinner (pre-COVID), read a book. It’s not my favorite part of the meeting, but it lasts only 30 seconds.

            A few weeks ago, the guy running the meeting (teleconference) said, “Let’s do something fun, since no one’s really having best moments right now. How about everyone tell what shows you’re currently binge watching?” Instant mood revival. There were interesting choices – Proper, fussy Fred is a Game of Thrones fan? Never saw that coming!

            If you need some inspiring topics without delving into your soul, you could say, “Not bad. I’ve been watching __ show, and it’s pretty fun/scary/suspenseful.” Next week could be cat videos on YouTube.

            Your coworkers might be relieved and come up with similar stuff.

          5. Jules the 3rd*

            They want you to say you’re ok convincingly, so they don’t worry about you, and so that they feel you value them a tiny bit.

            That’s why people do the social dance – they want to connect, pleasantly, with other humans. ‘Fine’ doesn’t connect, it’s usually a shield. The extra work of additional verbiage shows that while you’re still shielding some bits, you care enough about the other person in the conversation to do work. That ‘care enough’ can then be the pleasant connection.

            Says the woman who counts her social pleasantries to make sure I’m up to the level that seems to be ‘quiet but nice.’ It’s work, but as Alison says, it’s part of what they pay me for.

    2. Escapee from Corporate Management*

      I hate it when people assume the first thing you say must be untrue. I also hate it when bosses think they are also buddies or therapists. So combining the two must be hellacious.

      1. Amethystmoon*

        Exactly. What if we really are doing fine? Well, fine enough for the circumstances.

      2. AAM the initials*

        I am sooo tempted to responded with “I’m fine and I have a therapist in the case that I’m not fine, thanks!” when I get pushed on it.

    3. LGC*

      Hot take – take him less literally, LW. That is, probably answer with something slightly more than “fine,” but less than “my world’s on fire, how ’bout yours?” Mention something low-key about your day!

      From what you said in the letter, it sounds like the rest of the team is answering his question as if he just asked how things were going. I think you can safely take their lead – since other people aren’t talking about their mental health, I don’t think you have to, either. (If everyone else WAS talking about their mental health: you still don’t have to talk about yours, but then it gets more awkward to get out of that situation.) And yes, this sucks and is intrusive, and by all means people should keep their grumbling about how you’re not really fine to themselves.

      1. OP*

        When I’m being pushed to share, I’m not sure how to take it less seriously. People are sharing their family situations and who they know who is sick and generally sharing as if we are friends. Given that the team was likely friendly for the in the office staff and I was always remote, I am not part of that friendliness. I am also the only queer and childless person so i don’t feel comfortable sharing my family challenges, since that, again with mental health, singles me out at the weird one.

        So what’s normal and safe and boring but real to share? It’s a lot to process.

        So I just talk about my cats now.

        1. Aggretsuko*

          Cats is entirely appropriate to talk about.

          I don’t even have any pets, so I just talk about craft projects.

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            This is why I think so many people are talking about sourdough starter … it’s both pets AND a craft project. And it deflects so nicely.

            1. Mongrel*

              And an XKCD comic (https://xkcd.com/2296/)
              I’m firmly in the dislike sharing category and have long deflected to shows\movies I’ve watched recently and with the lockdown have started suggesting webcomics & You Tube channels that I enjoy.

        2. Not For Academics*

          Ah, so here’s the context missing in the original letter.

          It’s okay to just say “Fine” and when they say, “No really, how are you?” to say “No, really, fine.”

          Repeat as necessary.

          1. allathian*

            That’s tough to do, though. For it to work, you need to say it in a light and cheerful voice, not easy when you’re really feeling frustrated and annoyed at the question. For most people, I bet it’s easier to deflect and talk about something innocuous. Like cats, crafts or whatever. Lots of suggestions here.

        3. Third or Nothing!*

          I for one would enjoy listening to pet updates from coworkers. But there had better be pictures! :)

          1. Jules the 3rd*

            My employer has Cat and Dog slack channels. My cat and dog kinda like each other, so I post the same pics on both.

        4. circuit*

          I have success just mentioning the first small thing that comes to mind and leaving it at that:
          “The water in my building is shut off this morning!”
          “It’s so sunny today, I’m going to work outside for bit”
          “I’ve been doing [repetitive work-related task] for so long that I see it every time I close my eyes”
          People really don’t ask beyond that. I think sometimes they’re just using the check in as a conversation starter so if you can just come up with a topic fast then they’ll take it from there — I don’t think that’s entirely relevant to your situation but is definitely a thing I remind myself of often!

        5. Reba*

          Yeah, you got cat updates, you’re golden!

          I know it’s not for everyone but I am genuinely grateful for pet updates.

        6. Koala dreams*

          Cats are a pretty good friendly topic. They usually do weird things too, like sleep all day or sharpen claws on the new sofa, so you can add a little bit of interest. Grocery shopping troubles, news diets, baking disasters also seems very popular topics nowadays. I give updates on the leaves outside my balcony to family, that might work for co-workers too?

          “Sometimes I wish I could sleep all day like my cat does. Baking went bad because I ran out of ingredients. The leaves have gone from light green to dark green, so that’s something I guess. How are you today?”

        7. Jules the 3rd*

          I find that mentioning something safe that I wish would happen goes a really long way. Lately, I’d probably use:
          Looking forward to warmer weather!
          Waiting for the rain to end, my flowers are full up.
          Dreaming about x food take-out tonight.
          Hoping my internet and power don’t go out again.
          Waiting for the next season of / episode of [tv show]

          Google answer to ‘safe topics of conversation’: Weather (check); Sports (nope); Food (check); Entertainment (check); Family (nope for OP); Work (nope); Travel (hahahahhahahhaha no).

        8. CircleBack*

          Cats are a perfect “general update about my family situation”! Whenever I get a question about how I’m doing, I talk about my dog. “How are you today?” “It’s warm enough to leave the windows open, so my dog has been saying hi to every car.” “How are things working from home?” “My dog seems to think I’m available to walk her at any time of day now.”
          People rarely ask follow up questions (except about my dog, of course).

      2. Sacrificial Pharmacy Tech*

        “My world’s on fire, how ’bout yours”

        That’s the way I like it and I never get bored!

        Please tell me I’m not the only person who sang it…

        1. Mockingjay*

          See, I read the OP’s letter and immediately REM started running through my head.

        2. Third or Nothing!*

          You’re not, and now it’s stuck in my head and I can’t get it out.

        3. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

          I’ve said the following in an all-staff meeting check-in about how I was feeling” “Scared and stressed due to the crisis, and the demands of working from home while school is closed and my child is home-schooling”

      3. JSPA*

        Yep, I think it’s more a prompt to share things that you feel are appropriate to share (or have a work component, like “ugh, I hate being slow finishing X, but there are three of us on one slow internet connection.” Also, to do your part in making people feel that “we’re in this together.” The problem with “fine” isn’t that it doesn’t bare your soul; it’s that it’s a) manifestly not true for most people and b) it’s rather curt.

        Surely there are thousands of options between zero percent honesty and disclosure of private medical information?

        “I was remote anyway, so I’m not really feeling oddly cut off, but of course, the overall situation is stressful for everyone” puts “fine” in a relevant context, and gives a tip of the hat to everyone being under stress.

        or share and ask for input on some frankly minor annoyance.

        “I’ve been wondering if anyone has any tips for [intentionally sprouting veggies / using extra sourdough starter / something to do with black beans besides soup and chili] because I’m bothersomely [surrounded by unintentionally sprouting veggies / faced with an excess of starter / bored out of my mind with my recipes].”

        Give people a chance to briefly connect and support in small ways that could be mutually affirming.

        “A minor irritation likely shared by others” summarizes the ideal goal. Sure, if they’re closer friends, they may mention a sick or at-risk family member, but remember, that’s likely because the rest of the team has already heard about that family member in other circumstances. You don’t need to go that deep, because you’re not already naturally at that point with them.

    4. Richard Hershberger*

      “Okay, but really, how are you?”
      “Really fine.”
      Repeat as needed.

  6. gmg22*

    Would your manager be open to some feedback about how to reframe a question like that? On a recent team meeting, our manager invited people to share coping resources that they are finding useful. I didn’t find it intrusive — most importantly because everyone wasn’t obligated to answer — and it steered the discussion away from “Tell us your private feelings!” and toward “Let’s collaborate on how to help each other out right now.”

    (That said, when a colleague who has escalated his already difficult, heavy-handed behavior since we began WFH dived in to deliver a pious little mini-lecture about how he finds music to be such a comfort during this time and is so enjoying hosting Zoom open mikes, etc etc etc … I had to hold back my desire to unmute and share some, um, feelings about the perils of poor self-awareness and hypocrisy.)

    1. OP*

      As the only contractor on this team, I’m fairly sure no one cares what I think about the working situation. I’m gone in August, they don’t include me in many meetings because they’re for employees only. The rest of the team seems reasonable cohesive with me as the temporary add on so, I doubt I have much pull here.

      1. gmg22*

        Is that larger situation OK with you so you can keep your head down and get work done, or does it feel like a second-class status that is frustrating? Having been the temp/contractor in a past job where it felt like the latter, I hated it and it made me mad and definitely affected my work (which was THE SAME WORK that employees were doing, the only difference was my status in name/title). But if you’re good with the overarching status quo, then understood that you would prefer to just have a good script to politely deflect.

        1. OP*

          Oh yeah, I’m done in August and I’m just keeping my head down and trying to not to accidentally share that I feel life has no purpose or joy and is devoid of all meaning, especially since our servers are so slow on the vpn so my life is now watching a loading wheel spin, taking even the small satisfaction from work away from my life!

          Being a second class citizen at work used to bother me but, hey, I get overtime and they don’t and my time is almost up so I’m just making it through now.

          1. JSPA*

            Depression is for your therapist, not your coworkers.

            Slow servers and the limits of a particular VPN, on the other hand, could be exactly the sort of thing to bring up. Maybe someone is running something on the servers that they don’t need to be running. Maybe someone has an optimization that’s speeding things up.

            “My upload / download speed using our servers and VPN is number / number. Is it this bad for everyone? I find myself wondering if there’s anyone doing anything that’s not 100% work-necessary, like using video when audio would do, that might unburden the system and save me from staring at a spinning ball for WAY too much of my day.”

            Intellectually, you know that that anyone would find it a time-suck to be stuck with the spinning ball more often than necessary, right? Even if, from the pit of depression, it feels personal, or feels like your mood and the problem are intermingled, or that they’re some sort of joint failing, or that this is about “letting things get to you.”

            Pulling “the general problem” loose from “the problem that’s too much about me” could be a more broadly helpful exercise.

          2. kt*

            Yeah, I think this is not quite a work thing. I think this is bothering you because you’re depressed and it underlines it, and work isn’t helping.

            Do you have a therapist? This is a lot to deal with. It sounds like a lot of things are coming together, from pandemic to personal, to contribute to you feeling very cut off, distant, and unsupported. From some of your comments it sounds like you feel othered on many levels and that is very hard.

            We, the AAM commentariat, are cheering for you & want to support you — but it’s an anonymous forum. You need some real people to talk to as well. I hope you can find some direct support for what’s going on right now because it sounds multifaceted.

            Virtual hugs if you’re the hugging kind, & you’ll be in my thoughts.

      2. nonegiven*

        How about. “I’ve been happily working from home for [time frame] and except for the increased prying for personal health information by people not subject to HIPAA, I’m doing FINE.”

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          HIPAA only applies to healthcare professionals, not nosy coworkers.

    2. AnotherAlison*

      TBH, I don’t find this less intrusive, other than folks are invited to share, not forced to share. We have company mental health resources, and links are on the home page. I want to be told that, and that’s about it. We do share working-at-home resources and have a Teams site set up for that. It’s a place to ask for headset recommendations or “how-to’s” about Teams, not like sharing advice on meditation or exercise for coping with stress. How will my sedentary coworkers or people who think it’s irresponsible to go outdoors feel about my park jogs*? I don’t know, but I don’t think anyone needs to be told that it’s a nice break to get some exercise and leave the house. Now, no one talks about anything virus related in regular meetings, and it’s refreshing.

      *going to parks has always been allowed in my state/county

      1. gmg22*

        I’m realizing in hindsight that I might have found it a little more intrusive than I thought, given that my reaction was mostly “That #@$%, who does he think he is all holier-than-thou about the healing power of music.”

        An individual check-in where your manager asks if there’s anything you need help with (which should happen normally, not just during a pandemic, but ideally especially so now) is one thing, but a team meeting where there’s a round-robin about emotions/coping, or anything related, runs the risk of feeling more performative than anything else.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          Ha! I think I would hate your coworker.

          My manager has done individual check-ins every few weeks, and he’s the type of manager you can always be completely honest with. Today I found out that he’s moving to a different division, though. I’ve worked with him for almost 6 years, and I’m bummed about that.

  7. BuildMeUp*

    Are your coworkers getting pushback when they talk about their kids or wfh setups?

    If they aren’t, it sounds like the issue is with the length of your reply and not what you are (or aren’t) actually saying. The question is annoying, but you might be able to get away with throwing out a sentence or two that doesn’t actually have any substance to it.

    1. OP*

      I know talk about my cats more. So benign and irreverent to my emotional state. “The cats are so glad to have me here!” Is now my go to. Talking about kids is what my manager does and I suppose it’s possible other people care to hear about them. Who knows!

      1. Rebecca1*

        I really love hearing about people’s pets, in all honesty. I have had to stop myself from derailing many work calls, because I want to keep asking questions about everyone’s animals.

  8. Dino*

    Next time your “fine” is followed up by more questions I’d 1000% say something like “Well everything is on fire and I’m worrying about death at every waking moment, so I’d prefer to leave it at “fine” if you don’t mind.”

  9. Artemesia*

    People who wish to preserve their privacy have to learn to not be sharp and defensive e.g. a clipped ‘fine’ comes across as passive aggressive or hostile, whereas 30 words of babble as suggested by Alison comes across as a response.

    Same technique with a gossipy relative who you know will bray your business all over the family; you are voluble but say nothing. 5 minutes with gossipy relatives about your cat and her antics and another 5 about what you are trying to decide to plant in your garden feels like conversation without exposing your soul.

    It is a technique everyone needs but especially people prickly about people inquiring into personal things. Remember no one really cares about you — this is a ritual and your goal should not be to provoke curiosity which being defensive does.

    1. OP*

      With family, I’m confident returning the awkward to the sender. “What an odd question, auntie.” Long pause with eye contact.

      At work, that’s less of a possiblity. And yes, I have mostly been talking about my cats now.

      I don’t think I’m being sharp, I’m using my best business fake give a damn voice, but helping humor and enable people who are violating boundaries feels inherently wrong. Surely a happily intoned, “fine!” should suffice but alas no.

      1. BRR*

        I don’t believe Artemesia is talking about returning the awkward (sorry if I’m messing up what you were getting at!). As Artemesia says, it’s a ritual and the ritual’s rules are set up by others here and there’s a minimum amount you’re expected to participate in the ritual. However, you’re allowed to be vague/outright lie. I can’t count the number of times I’ve said something along the lines of “I’m doing as well as can be expected.” There’s a little more substance to it than fine.

        Also I 100% think your manage shouldn’t push or even ask the question to begin with, but this is your office culture and sometimes you have to go through the motions.

        I’m a little vague on the actual quote but another way to think of it is sort of like in Showgirls; a man asks Nomi for a kiss and she replies something like “you wouldn’t want a girl to smudge her lipstick.” It’s having a friendly response in your back pocket and if Nomi just said “no” or “go away” it wouldn’t have gone over as well.

      2. Batgirl*

        To lots of people the word does suffice as ‘fine’, lol, and so it should. I do think it’s so beloved of passive aggressive people, that some people are trained to push past the word ‘fine’ because it’s a word that doesn’t mean anything. That’s ok though! It doesn’t mean you’re hiding feelings that you’re dying for someone to pry out of you. In fact a good script may be to spell that out though “Honestly, there is not that much to say unless you want the lowdown on my home organizing/laundry/Netflix watch list.”

    2. Me*

      Eh. My ex boss was very nosy and he did need and get a pointed I do not discuss private medical matters at work.

      My standard answer at work is “Fine.” It’s neither sharp, defensive or passive aggressive. Sine people don’t really care and it’s just a social ritual, Fine should be, well just fine in most cases.

      There is a time and place for directness.

      1. allathian*

        The trouble is when that doesn’t work in a particular office culture. I’m with you, it should work, but when it doesn’t, other strategies are necessary to get past it.
        In the OP’s case I’d be tempted to say, “You don’t really care so why do you keep asking?” But it wouldn’t be a good look to do that.

        I do think it’s a shame that the OP is treated as less than a full team member because they’re a contract worker. We don’t have contract workers as such, but occasionally we have people on a temporary contract working with us, for example maternity leave is 9 months and parental leave can continue until the child’s 3rd birthday and you can’t legally be laid off or fired during this time (the employer pays for the first three months, after that it’s social security and about 80 percent of salary). Sometimes it happens but the employee can be entitled to full pay for all the time until the kid turns 3 even if the parent intended to return to work earlier. So we have long-term temporary workers with us, and except for job security and the way vacation days are calculated, they’re treated the same as everybody else. Often temp positions have also led to them being employed “permanently”. Firing is difficult and expensive, and as they’ve already shown their mettle on the temp contract, they’re worth retaining.

    3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Alison’s scripts are too much IMO. And you can say “fine” without sounding like an annoyed teenager. A cheerful “fine” should be enough, and if the co-workers are pushy, I’d go with “really, I’m fine”, again in a cheerful tone. If it’s a ritual, and a “fine” is followed by further inquiry, that crosses the line from ritual to being nosy.

  10. Heather*

    Oh boy. I’ve been checking on with everyone at team meeting but it’s more like “how’s everyone doing? Do you have everything you need to work from home?” Fine is totally an acceptable answer and I have no expectation that people will pour their hearts out in a team meeting, but now I’m wondering if even asking how everyone is doing is an ok thing to do? Maybe I should save this for 1:1 meetings? Or Make sure that it’s framed very generally.

    1. Why isn’t it Friday?*

      I think that’s totally fine. You’re framing it as “do you have all the supplies you need.” That places your question within the appropriately professional sphere and out of the emotional/mental health sharing circle that OP’s dealing with.

      1. OP*

        Exactly. You’re asking a work question at work, not a group therapy sharing feelings question. You’re good.

        1. Why isn't it Friday?*

          Added to the fact that you’re accepting “fine” as an answer. You’re good!

    2. Guacamole Bob*

      Yeah, my department has been pretty good about checking in with each other at different levels, and I’ve been trying to do that with the one person who reports to me, too. It’s not “please pour your heart out to me” but I do want to know if someone is burning out or so stressed and anxious that their productivity is tanking so we can reassign some work or so socially isolated they’d really like more video calls or so sick of video they’d like to stick to email or what have you. One of my colleagues had to do a pretty demoralizing work task related to the pandemic (which public services will we stop offering, kind of) and it really burned him out for a few days in a way that our manager found it helpful to know about.

      My manager shared a small bit of his own burnout last week on a one-on-one call, and I chatted with my report this morning about how taking a day off felt good and helped her disconnect for a 3-day weekend. We can each choose how much to share and when, and no one should be pressing if someone doesn’t want to share, and we aren’t each others’ therapists or even close friends, but not everyone finds anything besides “how are you?”, “I’m fine” to be too personal for the office.

  11. Generalistless*

    My husband’s supervisor asked how his essential delivery staff were feeling about all of this, so he replied “full of existential dread and extremely fearful that they will contract and pass the virus on to their loved ones.”
    She did not appreciate the candor. However, they implemented hazard pay for warehouse and delivery staff shortly after. Then the office staff working remote got upset because ‘they were also dealing with a more stressful work situation.’ I hope there is never another company wide event, because I cannot trust myself to not read them for filth.

    1. Sacrificial Pharmacy Tech*

      I want to throw something very heavy at the remote office staff right now. That is well deserved hazard pay and I’m hoping you both stay healthy!

      I feel the same way about my company’s remote district office who have decided that cutting the budget is appropriate when we are one of the only places besides grocery stores allowed to be open in my state right now and therefore slammed all day every day.

  12. Megumin*

    Apparently my voice has “resting bitch face” because sometimes when I just say “I’m fine,” my coworkers respond with “it sure doesn’t sound like you’re fine!” So I would go with the “more words, zero content” option – that works for me, even if it’s just “I’m doing alright today, thanks!” That lets me end on a somewhat more chipper note.

      1. Megumin*

        They’re pretty good coworkers most of the time, but I guess what I consider a “neutral” tone sounds a lot more woeful than I intend!

        1. Jack Russell Terrier*

          I get this too sometimes – from enough different people that I’ve come to the same sort of conclusion.

        2. allathian*

          Me too. I’m usually happy to share things I have going on with my coworkers, but I don’t always want to depress them with a tale of woe. So I sometimes have to force myself to sound a lot more cheerful than I’m really feeling to deflect further questions.

    1. Sara without an H*

      Women, I think, are more likely to be monitored for tone. It’s a nuisance, but “more words, zero content” (love your phrasing) will usually solve the problem.

      1. BRR*

        Yes, that’s exactly it! They’re hungry and want to meal, you need to give them a snack and not just a nibble. The snack does not need to be good, nutritious, or filling.

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I have RBF and no poker face, and my former manager told me once that I also have no poker voice. I probably would have gotten in trouble if I had to deal with your colleagues. I don’t respond well to people trying to get in my business. Saying “it doesn’t sound like you’re fine” is akin to a stranger telling me I need to smile.

      1. OP*

        Right, I can’t think what I’d say in response to you don’t sound fine but it would for sure not be polite because wow, do you want a note from the intonation police?

    3. Avasarala*

      I think that’s also how “fine” sounds. I’ve rarely heard someone say “I’m fine” when they meant “I’m happy.”

  13. Lexi Lynn*

    My boss used to do this, but he stopped after I got chirpy about how great my home setup was and how much more productive it was than the mediocre equipment I have in the office. I think he’s (reasonably) afraid that I’m going to demand 32″ monitors before I go back to the office. You could babble about how collaborative everyone has been and how impressed by how everyone has pulled together during this challenging time.

  14. WorkPlaceNerd*

    I agree with the answer (as I almost always do!!), but is there not at least a little bit of leeway during these Covid times? You are no doubt allowed to go with “fine,” but I know that answer could backfire on some employees whose bosses will then go offline and ask again, “What’s really bothering you?” You almost draw more attention to yourself by not sharing at least something.

    We’re not all share-ers, but some of us are, and honestly, I like a workplace that cares about how I’m feeling. How else are they supposed to be proactive in addressing burnout, especially now. I do agree that it is a delicate balance re: workplace and emotional boundaries, but to me, some of this is allowable these days.

    1. OP*

      I’m a contractor, my feelings aren’t their problem and, if they were, there is literally nothing my boss can do about it. I get no pto, there is no eap, there is nothing to “support” me. There’s just me and my coping skills and my distaste for small talk.

      Even now, especially now, mental health is important but still private. Do people wanna know about clinical depression? People sure as hell didn’t wanna hear it before this pandemic and pretending mental health stigma is gone somehow won’t help me. I’ll just be labeled the crazy person who awkwardly overshared when we just wanted to hear how everyone is baking now!!

      They’re allowed to ask,I just resent being pushed to give a honest answer when, like most business situations, people don’t want a negative honest answer.

      1. Marillenbaum*

        I think the key here is keeping your resentment out of both the content and tone of your response. It’s real, it’s justifiable, and it’s absolutely not going to get you what you want in this situation–privacy and minimal scrutiny until you leave the meeting and the workplace.

        Aim for a full sentence, delivered with a neutral-to-positive tone. Things like “The weather is [whatever], and I’m [enjoying it/glad not to be out in it]”, or “The cats are [whatever they’re doing], which is nice.”

      2. allathian*

        Given that your employer doesn’t have a system in place to support you, this is really tough. You have my sympathy.
        Do you have any 1:1 meetings with your boss? If you do, perhaps you could try and spell things out for them.
        “When you ask me how I’m doing in our meetings, I really wish you’d accept my answer when I say fine. I’m doing as fine as can be expected now. As a contractor I don’t have access to your support systems like PTO and EAP and I’m only trying to do my job as well as I can.”

      3. Batgirl*

        I’m wondering if they are pushing you for a response more than the others (skeevy, since asking is literally all they can do for you, but it does nothing except make them feel they’ve done something and forced you to reassure them) or if they are asking everyone in the same way and including you in that ‘dont leave anyone out’ type of etiquette (thoughtless, because it makes you feel like an extra-outsider because the question can only benefit the others).

    2. Aquawoman*

      Manager here. I do that by opening up myself. Not like “I broke down crying this morning” but maybe that I’m getting cabin fever or the other day, one of my reports called and I answered the phone with “I just want to warn you I am ready to bite someone’s head off,” (with the half joking tone and pre-existing relationship being important on that one).

      1. WorkPlaceNerd*

        I think there’s probably a divide between a contractor dealing with this and full-time in-house staff. I can picture it getting a little weird if the person you’re reporting to is asking for your feelings when you’re just trying to complete the project.

        But with in-house staff, I would imagine this type of banter is a weekly if not daily occurrence. To me, the alternative is some strange, cold workplace where your boss never “checks in” with you. Can bosses overdo it? Sure they can, but this time has made everyone a little more vulnerable.

  15. Absolutely Not*

    I would be so, so tempted to answer with some incredulous sputtering followed by “Well how do you THINK I’m doing???”

    I mean really! The question might be well-intended, or obliviously tone-deaf, or both, but does anyone think any of us are actually doing well with they way things are going these days?

    I’ve been forced into weekly family Zooms so “we can all see each other” and it’s so hard to slap on a smile and pretend I’m enjoying them when I’m exhausted, anxious, and hopeless. I can’t imagine the same thing happening in a work situation.

    1. OP*

      Right?! I’m doing my job and getting what needs to be done, done. The rest is my own concern, I can get by right now but adding in more social performance so we can all pretend everything is fine is just exhausting.

      Then again, I agree with David Mitchell so maybe I’m just a grumpy grump https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_LiDTKEF1ek

    2. Sacrificial Pharmacy Tech*

      I feel this. I understand that some of my patients are genuinely concerned about my coworkers and me and mean the question well, but at the same time, I don’t want to say “Being exposed to potentially covid positive people all day long with not much to protect me besides a mask and a little bit of hand sanitizer, knowing that if I get sick, it’s highly likely I’ll die.”

      So I stick with “Hanging in there” or “Still here” or something else similar.

      Weekly family Zooms sounds terrible. I’m glad my family sticks to sparing phone calls and regular texts instead.

  16. Dancing Otter*

    You could say something about being used to working from home, so that’s not so much of a change. Then something innocuous about hearing birds/seeing greenery out the window/having more daylight (unless it’s been raining for a week) being nice. Aaannnddd… pass the baton to the next person.

      1. une autre Cassandra*

        If you’re sharing cool cat and bird updates I don’t know what the hell else they expect!

    1. hayling*

      I was thinking the same thing – instead of talking about how you feel, talk about something that happened, a family member you talked to, something you saw out your window, a TV show you watched, etc. If you say it right, it sounds a lot like emotions but doesn’t actually reveal anything.

  17. limoncello day*

    I had a recent (I think) similar experience – I am an essential worker in an industry that has seen a lot of shut downs, but we haven’t stopped working. I am the main “front line” of my company, so I have to explain our situation – which saw a lot of chaotic change at the beginning, but less now (and even the “less” is still a lot) – again and again all day, to not always understanding people (or understanding coworkers), on top of the rest of my duties, which have become more complicated as people WFH. Our management is VERY laissez-faire, and I’ve never really worked in an environment like that, so it has been a LOOOOT of change for me, even before all this.

    Anyway, it all amounts to a lot of stressful situations that I can’t always depend on upper management to mitigate, due to their own situation (my boss’s wife just gave birth to premature twins – who are thankfully healthy and huge to my knowledge, for premies), but he’s still working in the office, and his job already pulls him in a lot of different directions. So recently I took a mental health day, when I woke up almost shaking about the idea of going in to work and explaining reality over and over to a**holes – ahem, I mean our wonderful customers and coworkers. I told our HR that I wasn’t feeling well, but that it wasn’t COVID-related, I just needed to take a mental health day. I had to pass on to a coworker a task that I was expected to get done pretty early in the morning, and told my coworker that I wasn’t feeling well, but please execute blah blah… She texted back to ask if I was ok, and I told her I was fine, just dealing with some stress. She and I confide in each other about when we’re stressed out, but we’re both really careful about TMI stuff.

    So I don’t know who exactly told my grandboss (not the one whose wife gave birth, but the one other boss), but when I returned the next morning, I sh*t you not, he walked into the room where I work alone and asked, “Well how was your mental health day?”

    Yall, it didn’t matter that he had good intentions; for one thing, when other people later asked about my day off, or said something like, “did you enjoy your day off?” it just sounded tinged with judgement. I immediately had regretted saying that was the reason I took off, and I thought I had handled everything in a way that wouldn’t “get back” to me. I thought at the time, and still do, that I would NEVER ask about a coworker’s unexpected absence, but I might say something like, “Hope everything’s ok!” in a cheerful manner and then switch gears to work. This current company is very “family” oriented, and even though I still believe everything was said/done in a well-intentioned manner, it was awful and cringy for me to experience, and backed up some opinions I already had about their professionalism.

    I’ve decided not to address it, for now, as for one thing I’m still fairly new to this company. I’m a big believer in ‘you don’t get points for intention.’ So just as my boss didn’t mean anything by it, it has really tainted my professional view of him, and of course makes me wary about how information gets passed around behind my back. And just as I intended to give relevant information about my absence, but not say something I would regret, I did ultimately do that. I don’t think it will affect my standing here, but I’m going to work on being seen as a work-oriented person, going forward, and hope that that makes a bigger impression, in case anyone does hold some judgement.

    1. OP*

      This is why I always say I have a migraine or am just, “under the weather.” People sure are bad at not making people regret sharing about their mental health, good intentions or not.

      1. limoncello day*

        Yup. A few days later my grandboss brought me a chocolate bar, but left it on my desk while I was at lunch. Later when I asked if it was him, because he does sometimes offer to “grab something from town” for me when he goes out and I wanted to thank him, he asked if it “had helped” at all. (side note – how is it possible that someone can make you cringe, and think they are adorably out of touch, and be grateful for their thoughtfulness while resentful for their thoughtlessness, all at once??)

        I could be more angry, but in a way, it does make me feel validated in my perspective of professionalism dos and don’ts, and how I would have handled the situation differently in his position, on top of how I will make different choices about how I make an emergency call out of work.

      2. Aquawoman*

        Please don’t use migraines as an excuse; it is so hard for people with migraines to be believed.

        1. OP*

          I actually get migraines. I also have other things that cause me to miss work. But a migraine is a thing that I can say that people understand and is a one day event that doesn’t prompt any follow up. If people are going to be so weird as to force me to share the reason why I am using sick time, I feel no compunction about not telling the exact truth.

          1. allathian*

            Agreed, given that you have one-day migraines. My bestie can get a low-level migraine that lasts more than a month! Granted, she’s not totally incapacitated for all of that time, but she says she feels really disjointed, like she’s not inhabiting her own body. When she gets one of those, she’s also really uncoordinated and refuses to drive.
            I had migraines in my teens and twenties. One day when I was 13 my parents got home from work and found me kneeling on my bed and banging my head against the wall. I had a severe one-sided migraine and couldn’t stand the asymmetric pain, so I had to try and make the other side of my head hurt just as much. That got me both a migraine and a concussion. They got me to the doc ASAP. This was in the 80s so there were no migraine-specific meds…
            I still occasionally get auras, but usually not a headache.

        2. Batgirl*

          I seriously doubt that people who think they know more than you do about what’s going on in your head can be either ruined or salvaged by the efforts of others

    2. PollyQ*

      Taking a mental health day: very often a good idea.
      Telling work that you’re taking a mental health day: almost never a good idea.

      “I’m not feeling well” is all you should ever need to tell your employer when you’re taking a sick day.

      1. limoncello day*

        In my most recent job, this was actually – not encouraged, that’s not the word, but definitely not looked down on. It was an EXTREMELY stressful position, and company policy was that you had to divulge specific information about your absence, not necessarily to your manager, but to a position above them. I think then it would be passed on as just an absence/etc, but the “HR” people had the cause of your absence. The reason for this was that the job involved working around prepared and unprepared food, so you were required to report fever/vomiting/etc, and if you just said “I’m not feeling well,” there would be more questions to figure out if you could be contagious anyway. So, sure I could have said in those instances I had a migraine/etc, but as someone put it above, there can be issues with that too. On top of that, we had a really close knit team and amazing management who told us flatly that we were very welcome to take mental health days, as it was recognized that it was needed sometimes due to the pressure of the job.

        I do fully realize you won’t find that atmosphere everywhere, but that previous job was also my first job in this part of the country, where views on mental health are a bit more flexible than other places I’ve lived before. So my judgement at the time came from thinking that it was a location/culture thing, as well as just general time passing and people being more open to talking about mental health.

        Side note, because I can’t write a short comment EVER : It’s annoying that people hear “mental health” and equate it with “problem.” Mental health, to me, is about focusing on behavior before it becomes a problem, and mental illness describes behavior that has become problematic.

        Oh well, live and learn.

  18. She's One Crazy Diamond*

    Sort of related – my team has meetings every two weeks, and ever since the meetings went remote, my manager has authorized my colleague to quiz us all about different stories from our past, one being something crazy that happened to us, and another being things we can’t believe we did. I mean, maybe their lives have been boring, but I have C-PTSD and have struggled with addiction and I just find all of this so wildly inappropriate. Why can’t we use meetings to, I don’t know, discuss WORK?!

    1. Meg*

      oh nooooo that sounds like a terrible idea! The first things that pop into my head aren’t traumatic or problematic memories for me, but they’re things I don’t need my coworkers to know about me. No one I work with needs to know that I was chased off the roof of the student union building by public safety in college, or any story where I was drunk….I just don’t understand what they’re going for with that. The intersection of work appropriate things and things I can’t believe I did is…..nonexistant?

  19. Kiki*

    My strategy is to give a lot of details about something that doesn’t say much about me, if that makes sense. So people feel like they know quite a bit about me, are comfortable talking with me, and like me as a person, but actually they just know a lot of details about my pizza preferences.

  20. Makingthemostofit*

    Is the pushiness the issue here? I have been asking my team in 1:1s how they are doing and now worried I am crossing a line.

    I have been using this as an opening for my team to voice concerns about work/life balance – for example if they say “I’m doing okay but it’s hard to manage my kid’s zoom meetings throughout the day” I will suggest we can work on an alternate work hours schedule if that would help. Should I just be more direct instead? “Is there anything I can do to help support you working from home right now?” Etc.?

    1. OP*

      One on one is different. This is a team weekly meeting with 15 people who are all told that, in alphabetical order, we must share how we are.

      In a one on one, I could be like, I have everything I need to manage my work right now and/or I require more flexibility on Tuesdays when I have a mental appointment or whatever it is.

      “Is there anything I can do to help support you working from home right now?” Sounds very nice. I don’t think you’re overstepping the line as is now. “How are you doing” in a one on one could easily just mean re:work and not re:FEELINGS

  21. Always Late to the Party*

    I definitely hear OP’s concerns and think Alison as usual gave great advice for their specific situation.

    But I don’t think it’s ridiculous that OP’s manager is asking the question. We are all living through something traumatic right now. We are all coping as best we can. Why not make some more space for vulnerability and feelings in the work place? Must we really all continue to work pretending that we aren’t all freaking our every minute of every day? Making space for your employees to feel their feelings sounds like caring and compassionate leadership to me. There may be folks trying to balance lots of priorities whose only opportunity to check in with themselves emotionally is when the boss asks.

    Of course, you lose this if you force people to have a “satisfactory” answer to that question, because if the space is truly safe for people to share, it needs to be safe for them to opt-out as well.

    Professional norms as we know them are dead. Why not take an opportunity as we re-form them to inject a little more compassion and empathy into the place we spend the majority of our waking hours?

    1. Joielle*

      I just wonder how the manager envisions the rest of the call going if someone is really NOT fine at all. What if the answer to the question is “My parent died overseas this week and I can’t go to the funeral because of travel restrictions.” Tons and tons of people have a story like that, or will before the pandemic ends. That’s pretty devastating, and a weekly team meeting is really not a good time or place to deal with that on an emotional level. I support the idea of a more empathetic workplace, but I’m not sure how that would play out in a practical sense.

      1. Always Late to the Party*

        That’s a good point! I guess I’m just feeling ridiculous working “as normal” when nothing is normal. It feels really silly not to acknowledge that we’re all facing unprecedented challenges.

        There’s definitely more subtle ways to do that. Like acknowledging the quirks of working from home “I’m lowering my voice as my coworker/spouse has informed me I am *too loud*.”

        I would hope someone who is really *not fine* would be able to take some time away, although also acknowledge people may use work as a way of taking a break from feeling the feelings.

        1. Mainly Lurking (UK)*

          I think it’s OK to ask the question once (in a one-to-one setting), but the issue here is that the manager is not letting it go when the response is ‘Fine’, and DEMANDING a more detailed answer in front of a group of people.

          1. OP*

            Right, ask away so the sharers can share but leave us introverts alone. But some people legit had someone they know die, ignoring that many people aren’t and can’t and won’t be fine but demanding a statement of fineness seems unforgivablely obtuse. And if I’m not fine, I have many people who aren’t my direct reports with whom I can actually be honest.

        2. knead me seymour*

          On the other hand, there are lots of people who appreciate the fact that work allows them a temporary sense of normalcy and a bit of an escape from everything that’s out of their control. Personally, I would find it really stressful to sit through regular meetings where everyone discusses how afraid and upset they are, even in a low-key way.

          I think it would be more appropriate for a manager to acknowledge the circumstances by being as accommodating and flexible as they can, and making sure employees are comfortable talking to them about anything that might make things easier for them. And I think managers should let employees set the tone for how much they want to share.

    2. LGC*

      I think the problem is exactly that – the boss is creating the expectation that you be vulnerable in meetings, which OP is responding to with a “MOST CERTAINLY NOT.” To be honest, the question itself as asked is problematic – for starters, it sounds like the boss is probing about the employee’s mental health, which is really dicey.

      I think that if he were to handle it better, he could say that he’s open to people talking about any difficulties they’re having. That way, it’s at least a passive invitation versus an active one.

    3. Grapey*

      “Why not make some more space for vulnerability and feelings in the work place?”

      In this example, it’s because most people don’t want to listen to someone be goaded into tears on a group chat.

      I’ve sat with my coworkers in person when they got bad news at work or were just overwhelmed and needed a coffee break; poking at feelings intentionally during a group meeting for a whole team to see feels different and cruel.

      1. cmcinnyc*

        Ah, this: “poking at feelings intentionally.” It may not be intended this way, but it’s like goading a bear. Never a good idea, never.

    4. Tabby*

      Why should we be forced to volunteer our feelings in a work environment? I do not want to share personal feelings with people who are not my buddies, PERIOD. That’s a no sir, no ma’am for me. It’s very inappropriate, and invasive.

  22. Jedi Squirrel*

    My vagueness is “Oh, you know, just waiting for the Enterprise-C to back through that time rift so that everything goes back to normal.”

    I’m such a nerd.

    1. Always Late to the Party*

      “Desperately trying to timeline hop to the reality where the highlight of 2020 is Bernie Sanders being re-elected, how are you?”

      1. Quill*

        As a fellow resident of what is apparently the mirror universe, can I come with you?

        1. Jedi Squirrel*

          By all means. Make it so!

          Yeah, goodness, it really does seem like the mirror universe.

  23. Detective Amy Santiago*

    Does this advice work for those of us who genuinely are fine? I mean… obviously, I have the same existential dread that most people are experiencing, but as someone who has had a panic disorder for 20 years, it’s really nothing new. I’m an introvert and honestly do not mind being home 24/7 at all.

    1. Joielle*

      Same here! I’m fine, honestly, or at least the same level of fine I was before all this. The other day I said something like “Oh, you know, going nowhere, doing nothing!” and it was well received. I mean, it’s literally true, and people can relate. They can draw their own conclusions as to whether I find that to be a serious problem or not :)

    2. gmg22*

      Vagueness or modified honesty would seem to do the trick regardless of what your actual feelings are, I think. I’ve read interesting stuff about how the psychology field is finding that people with high anxiety levels are actually doing better than average in this situation — the anxiety has a purpose and somewhere to go. Anecdotal evidence among my friends and family seems to bear that out, and I’m experiencing it too to a degree, though it waxes and wanes — I go through phases of being very, very easily irritable. But all my only-child introvert skills are certainly bearing me up at the moment.

      1. OP*

        Right?! Everyone is now in my world now. Welcome to mental illness, you’re indoors and you both love and hate it! I’m so well prepared for this because of anxiety, it’s like my brain has been preparing for this my whole life and is finally validated!

    3. Lyudie*

      My go-to lately has been “As well as can be expected under the circumstances! How are you?” and it seems to go over well while saying very little…given my severe anxiety and depression, I am about as well as one would expect of someone with those conditions during a pandemic.

    4. different seudonym*

      Heh. Solid question. I too have weathered this situation really well, for similar reasons. I have held off on telling all but one of two friends that it’s been perversely good for me, mostly because a therapist I know reported that many were truly undone and spiraling, so it seemed possible that I could hurt someone unintentionally. I usually deflect questions by giving engaging anecdotes, like the wonderful delivery lady who just stood in the street and yelled my name when there was an error in my address.

    5. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      And at the risk of sounding super-privileged…once we got over the initial adjustment period of uncertainty, it’s worked out quite well for us so far (knock on wood it stays that way.) Lots of people are suffering and we’re just…not.

      I’d hate to rub that in, so I’d likely say “it’s fine,” and not draw attention to my good luck when others are struggling. It’s rude and insensitive.

  24. Joielle*

    Another problem with this is – what if someone’s really not fine at all? What if they just had a death in the family, or a close friend is sick or about to lose their house or something? I don’t doubt that the concern is genuine, but a weekly team meeting is really not the time or place to be asking. You sort of HAVE to lie or be vague, even if you do have the kinds of problems that the boss probably wants to know about (or thinks they want to know about). Otherwise, what – you get an impromptu group therapy session with all your coworkers? Or an awkward silence? How does the boss think the rest of the call is going to play out??

    I could understand it more if it was a one-on-one meeting – at least then there would be the opportunity to share more emotions if you wanted to, without derailing a team meeting that presumably has a business purpose. I personally still wouldn’t share much, but at least the context would make more sense.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      This is such a great point.

      I really don’t want to be awkwardly listening to a coworker break down in tears during a work meeting.

      1. OP*

        Right, that’s part of the problem. I am often not fine. I am sometimes muted because I’m crying. My best friend is sick and I can’t see them without putting my parents at risk. I’m queer and not out at work because no one has ever given me a reason to feel comfortable sharing so what can I even share if my partner is ill? How do I explain who the people are who mean the most to mean in a quick polite, no one actually cares how you are?

        Lots of people are not okay right now, do they really think I’m gonna bring up my Big Talk at the monday morning 15 person meeting?

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          I’m so sorry. I hope you have a good support system outside of work.

          1. OP*

            Thanks! I have a good support network of people who have nothing to do with my job and are lovely!

        2. Old Admin*

          OP, please accept my (gentle, non invasive) Internet hugs.
          That really struck a note with me.
          I’ve had wannabe psychologists at work try to drag out personal issues who then were shocked when strong reactions ensued. ’nuff said.
          Put on your personal armor and don’t let the bee ess get at you. It’s an irritating but unimportant aspect of work.
          Sending good thoughts your way! And to your cats!

  25. animaniactoo*

    “You know, the world is crazy out there, but I already worked from home so this is not as much of an adjustment for me. Part of keeping myself professional while wfh is not bring my personal stuff into work conversations and I’m concerned that if I start doing that here, get used to doing it, then I’ll have problems reverting back to my “professional norms” when it’s not the whole world wfh anymore. I’ll come off like that batty person who doesn’t know how to separate their personal life from work, that’s what really scares me!”

    and then on other days, you can do the “still hanging on to the professional norms by the skin of my teeth! but no, really, I appreciate the concern, this is just my thing.” “Hanging in there. I’ve been waiting to hear how Jane’s knitting project is going!” (divert the attention to someone else!) and so on.

    And if they push you, you can just deadpan them. “Well, the neighbor was making too much noise, so I went over there and strangled them last night and I’m currently researching how to dispose of the body before somebody finds it. Anyone have any tips?

    1. OP*

      Haaaa, maybe I can just go full surrealism and hide my honesty that way. “Oh, you know, planning a coop” “Doing okay, forming an armed militia of knitters to remove the patriarchy, the usual”

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        Love it!

        (fyi for you: if you meant a political takeover, it’s spelled “coup”. And also an armed militia of knitters has happened! (Okay, it was fictional. It was in an Oz book, and they were led by General Ginger I think.))

        1. OP*

          But what it my hostile takeover involves building homes for many chickens?!?!? (just a typo, whoops)

          1. kt*

            I liked “planning a coop” — I’m a member of a co-operative (co-op) that’s lovely & functional :)

  26. Wahoo*

    We had the same question at this morning’s team meeting… the first after learning a coworker and I had been laid off.

    I bit my tongue very, very hard after sharing that I was “tired.” I was not in the mood to share my emotions.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      See, I’m the opposite right now. I’m more than willing to talk about my mental health now. But I also get that some people don’t want to hear it or don’t want to share.

      I’m sticking with my normal everyday “How are you?” If they want to share, that’s fine. And if they want to treat like they would under normal circumstances, that’s fine too.

      I hope you’re doing okay.

  27. Mary*

    Can someone suggest phrasing to ask at a staff meeting? I want to show concern, but not pry into people’s personal lives. One staff member does talk a bit about how he’s doing personally (A family member is sick). Others make general responses. If I don’t ask how people are doing, does it seem uncaring?

    1. OP*

      “Do you have all the support you need, given the current situation? As a reminder, we have these resources available and I am happy to talk one on one with anyone who needs further accommodation in these times. Let us know, we’re happy to work with you. And now, onto business” would suit me just great. Others might have a better idea.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        I would go with this.

        If these are all your direct reports, are you also talking to them one-on-one periodically? Should be like the normal “how’s your workload/staffing/resources?” discussion with just a little extra informal discussion that you might have with drop-ins and coffee machine convos in the office. Just open the door enough that people can express concerns if they have them.

    2. Not For Academics*

      “I care about all of you and I want to show you that I have concern for you. But I don’t intend to pry into your personal lives. If you would like to talk about how you’re doing, I’m here for you.”

      1. James*

        I suppose it depends on the company culture. If my manager said this (any of them), I’d be very, very concerned about the manager, my department, and my job. To suddenly state “I care about all of you” and “I’m here for you” when, to be blunt, they never really were before (they’re good managers but tend toward the “Personal problems are your problem” school of business management) would make me wonder whether I’m being fired tomorrow, or if I at least have time to put some resumes out…

        1. Not For Academics*

          Of course it has to be genuine, and history would prove it. It sounded to me like Mary meant it.

    3. Alton*

      I think the best thing is probably to just avoid putting pressure on everyone to respond. Some things I would suggest:

      – Saving the questions for the end so that people feel free to leave if they don’t have anything to share. Ie, “I think that’s it for our agenda, but you’re free to stick around for a few minutes if you want to chat or talk about how you’re dealing with things right now.”

      – Briefly share something first to break the ice and avoid an awkward silence. Ie, “Does anyone want to share about how they’ve been doing or what they’re doing to adjust right now? I’ve realized that I really miss my desk setup at work, so that’s been challenging for me lately.”

      – Framing the question broadly enough so that people don’t feel pressured to share really personal stuff. I’m not comfortable sharing much about my personal life in work meetings, but sometimes I like commiserating about stuff like adjusting to changes in my work routine.

    4. AAM the initials*

      I think part of what makes this sound hollow is when employers aren’t doing anything to help – they’re just saying things to act like they’re helping.

      So when an employee says “You know, I’ve actually been panicking and my anxiety was pretty under control until before this and it’s been flaring up again,” and the employer says, “Is there anything I can do?” It sounds disingenuous because what the employer could do is: provide better health care plans, cover a higher percentage of health care plans, offer an IEP, allow for flex hours, allow for higher vacation rollover, give people an extra day off just because, provide a budget for home setups / let people bring their setups home, etc, etc, etc. BUT, the employers hasn’t done that and the employee is expected not the ask so the employee will have to say “No, I’ll be okay” and the employer gets to feel good about having done everything they can.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        I’m not contradicting anything you’re saying, but I just want people to know that some companies actually do everything you’re saying they should do.

        My company covers 82% of our health plan, offers an EAP, allows flex time and is extra flexible now (like allowing work 5 am-9 am and 6 pm-10 pm), allows 2x annual vacation accumulation, provides dual monitors and a docking station if you want it at home and is flexible with other home office supply/equipment needs. Our office is open because our company is classified essential, but they want everyone to work from home. If you must go into the office, they have a lot of extra EHS protocols in place.

        To me, they’re doing great. If someone tells their manager they’re having some mental health issues, I’m not sure what the employee could realistically expect other than referral to the EAP and working with them to schedule PTO and shift their workload if they can’t do it right now.

        1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

          It’s also not entirely disingenuous. Both the manager and the employee work for the same crappy company with the same crappy benefits setup, if that’s part of the problem. I’ve been there, managing staff who had no benefits or PTO. I had the same lack of benefits or PTO, so I understood it! But I would do what I could, to the extent that was possible and sometimes that involved fudging things a little around the edges, to do the ethically right thing to help out an employee who needed it.

    5. MCMonkeyBean*

      I think the best ideally is to make some caring statements (rather than questions) that allow for a response if anyone wants to say anything, but doesn’t demand one in case people would rather not share.

  28. bunniferous*

    To me, it would be all about the unspoken context. Are they asking because they want to make sure you have the support you need to do your job, or are they being nosy? Where I would have the problem would be as the OP stated, them not taking fine for an answer. I am a cheerful sarcastic so I would absolutely be fine with some of the smart alek responses mentioned upthread. (Humor is how I cope with the crap of life so YMMV on this.)

  29. Lalouve*

    I worked at a place where every single meeting started with ’let’s go round the table and see where we all are right now.’ And there I was, loving discussions of my feelings about as much as Batman does, and being expected to share something – anything – personal.
    No group of people have ever known as much about my garden as those co-workers did. They must have thought I had no other interests.

  30. Granger Chase*

    Sounds like this topic of conversation should be “employees only” so you can get out of it as a contractor (;
    All jokes aside, as someone who also has been struggling both mentally and emotionally with what’s going on, it does suck that we can’t just say we’re “fine” or “okay“ or “alright” and leave it at that. Much like “no” is a complete sentence, these responses should be too when it’s just to a social nicety and not a genuine feelings check.
    I agree with the suggestions to add an extra sentence or two about something personable but not personal (aka stuff people like hearing about but that doesn’t divulge much info about yourself). Sounds like you’re doing this with your cats already which is great!

  31. Aggretsuko*

    What I want to know is if someone answers, “I am genuinely NOT OKAY, NOT DOING WELL, IN DIRE DISTRESS,” how is your work going to respond? Especially if they genuinely don’t have the resources to help, or don’t care, or will penalize you for that kind of response.

    They just want to paper things over with smiles so they don’t have to deal with it.

    1. OP*


      My guess is an awkward pause and then perhaps a conversation about ending my contract early.

    2. Alex*

      My manager started asking us about our feelings last week.

      Some people in my group were feeling bad.

      She gave them the thumbs up sign. (This was all done in our group Slack channel).

      I truly don’t understand the point. I mean, I get that she wants to show she “cares” but what is she going to do about it? She is not a therapist. She is not a vaccine developer who can fix the problem.

      I think managers who start something like this aren’t thinking it through the end. It truly doesn’t matter if we’re feeling sad or glad, there’s not much a manager can do to fix problems that do not originate at work.

  32. zinzarin*

    If this were me–with my recognized slightly-evil streak–I’d demonstrate for them why this shouldn’t be a topic for work meetings. I would engineer a vivid breakdown that wavers between embarrassing and terrifying, ending with a teary and abrupt sign-off to the Zoom call, with no work being done the rest of that day as I “recovered” from my traumatic break.

  33. Parcae*

    My team is doing a version of this, and I’ve found that negative statements invite more probing and concern than I really want to deal with at 9AM before I dive into the TPS reports. So I’ve just been offering a random positive observation from my week (it was sunny yesterday and I took a nice walk! I had a video call with my friend last night! I made brownies and they’re delicious!). As long as I have *something* to share, no one seems to notice that I’m not really answering the question. Work gets edited, surface level stuff. Real emotions I save for my real loved ones.

    1. allathian*

      How’s the rest of the team? Are they sharing random positive observations, too?

      1. Parcae*

        Total mix. At least one is visibly frustrated by the exercise, which I don’t think helps her reputationally, although I sympathize. Some are honest (I think), saying positive things one week and negative things the next. And still others are relentlessly cheerful– which might also be honest; I couldn’t say! I’m one of the world’s natural Eeyores, but I know not everyone works that way. I think I’m winning the prize for “most banal,” but it doesn’t seem to be too obvious. Whatever works!

  34. Dragoning*

    My grandboss has been asking us about our biggest personal challenges in our department meetings and I’ve been responding with, basically, “Cool, y’all get to hear about my sleep schedule weirdness now, because it’s utterly meaningless”

  35. Pitabread*

    Like the police, anything you tell your boss can and will be used against you. The only person they care about helping is themselves. So don’t let yourself be drawn into these conversations at all, just say as little as possible and stick to it.

  36. Clementine*

    If you don’t have cats or dogs or children at home, you can also do a bit of diversion rather than answer the question. A few suggestions, but I’m sure others have more.
    * I’ve been looking at some online museum exhibits and it’s really interesting. Happy to send you some links if you like.
    * I’m branching out with my fermentation. I’ve been looking at jun lately.
    * I’ve been catching up on some old TV series. Amazing the topics they covered in those days. Did you ever see “Car 54, Where are you?”

  37. TootsNYC*

    OK, this is my Unpopular Opinion

    People take these sorts of things WAY TOO SERIOUSLY.

    There is always an unspoken “that you are willing to share with us.”
    an unspoken “That is appropriate to get into at work.”
    And unspoken “That any of us could help you with.”
    People won’t say all those words, because those are a lot of words. But believe me, they are there.

    You do not have to answer every question put to you, and you do not have to answer questions with “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”
    If there is something you don’t want to share, DON’T.

    What is the surface thing that’s going on? What aspect of “how you are doing, emotionally and mentally,” are you willing to share with people? If there’s nothing, then say, “I’m doing OK, but I appreciate your asking.” And stop.

    Nobody wants a dump of all your deepest emotional secrets, no matter how sincerely they ask that question. Use the social skills of “I’m fine, how are you?” that you’ve hopefully been developing all along.

    1. TootsNYC*

      And OK, I see that he’s saying, “no, really, how are you?” In which case, I suggest you blandly repeat the exact same wording you said the first time.

      But no, you don’t have to reveal everything.

    2. LGC*

      I had a response that either got eaten or went to moderation, but…basically, this. (Although I think I was a bit less blunt!) From what it sounds like, the rest of the team isn’t taking the boss at face value, so I don’t think OP is obligated to. It’d be fine to answer with a low-grade answer about how their day’s going.

      (This, of course, does not make the supervisor’s question okay, or that OP is wrong for being put out by this question. It’s just that there’s already a solution.)

      1. TootsNYC*

        I agree, the supervisor should be picking up the cues and dialing back.
        And the OP is right to not want to share, and right to object to pressure. But….
        the world is going to do things you don’t like. Deal with it. You want help with wording, sure, but why all the “I have all these personal things, I don’t have to share them, do I?”
        Isn’t that answer obvious?

  38. Dasein9*

    My go-to when I’m being questioned about something I don’t want to talk about is to give just a little bit of TMI with regard to something related. Obviously, keeping away from toe fungus and other such conversational extremes would be wise in a professional setting, but maybe responding with a little too much detail about how your last cooking adventure or video game quest came out would curtail this a little. Just kind of bore the asker out of probing again?

  39. nnn*

    Since you get this frequently, here are some other options that you can intersperse in your responses:

    – Sometimes you can answer “How are you doing?” by referring to the day of the week. The can be either positive or negative. (“Ugh, Monday morning” or “Had a nice restful weekend”)

    – Sometimes you can refer to the weather, either positively or negative. (“Grey and rainy” or “I have the windows open and I’m enjoying the petrichor!”)

    – Sometimes you can refer to things you have seen, and sometimes you can turn it into a redirecting question. (“I’m enjoying seeing all the flowers blooming when I go out for a walk. Anyone know what those purple flowers people plant alongside tulips and daffodils are called?”)

    – Sometimes you can refer to hot beverages. (“I’m still on my first cup of coffee” or “I’m enjoying a delicious cup of Earl Grey tea”)

    Lots of words, no information, sounds open and engaged.

  40. LGC*

    I had a comment written, but I think it got vaporized (it happens). But…like, OP, I think you already have a solution provided by your coworkers! Don’t answer the actual question he’s asking! Your supervisor is being a weirdo and asking “how’s your day been” while sounding like the world’s worst psychologist.

    I’m making a few assumptions here:

    1) Your objection is to talking about your mental and emotional health, not so much light personal details.
    2) You’re getting pushback specifically for just replying with “fine” and a quick pivot (which should be fine).
    3) Your coworkers are not getting pushback for talking about their kids and their home office.

    In that case, it seems like…you’re taking him literally (which is reasonable because he’s literally asking that), when I’m not sure if he wants a literal answer. It’s a bit like a political debate – where you answer the question you want to be asked, not the question you’re actually asked.

    That said, if you’re just a really private person in general (I looked at the comments and it seems like your main objection is to talking about your mental health), then I’d find the lowest-stakes thing possible and mention that, or…just say, “(thanks, but) I’m a bit uncomfortable/shy/whatever.” You’re managing the other person’s feelings, which…I know is problematic for NUMEROUS reasons, but it kind of feels less abrupt to the other person. They should respect your boundary, since you’ve stated it, but you might need to state it more clearly.

    (I’ll usually put in the “thanks, but,” but it’s not strictly needed.)

  41. Atalanta0jess*

    FWIW, I find “Wish I could go to sleep and wake up in January, haha” to be….a concerning statement that would have me a bit worried about someone. I’d strike that one from the list of neutral sounding things, personally. The rest I love and think are great, as is the overall strategy.

  42. PsychologicalSafetyisNotInappropriate*

    Has no one here heard of psychological safety? While I certainly agree that no one should be pushing for detail when this person clearly feels uncomfortable, there’s research supporting this practice. Psychological safety leads to high functioning teams.

    Just because something is traditional doesn’t make it inappropriate. Sounds to me like this manager is an actual leader.

    The real issue here may just be poor cultural fit.

    1. allathian*

      The OP is a contractor and doesn’t have access to a lot of support that the employees do.
      There’s no such thing as psychological safety if being totally honest could cost you your job.

    2. Anonybus*

      Personally, I find psychological privacy is an important part of psychological safety for me, and I have always hated it when coworkers or supervisors went digging for evidence of trouble in my personal life. But your comment does make me wonder if people are genuinely reading or hearing “leaders get people to open up to them, and here’s a series of techniques to position yourself as a leader and a fixer”. It’s the sense I’ve gotten in more frustrating interactions with people who couldn’t accept “ I’m fine” as a response to asking how I’m doing, but I’ve never been sure.

  43. Koala dreams*

    Vague answers are fine. You could also see if you can opt out of these meetings, either on the basis of being a contractor and these meetings being more appropriate for actual employees, or for health reasons (“I find I don’t have the emotional bandwidth right now to discuss everybody’s health situation this often, I’m flooded with crisis news as it is. Is it okay if I join you after the health discussion part?). If opting out doesn’t work, then you might be stuck with vague answers.

  44. StellaBella*

    OP – you have my sympathies, completely. In the recent contract I finished, our marcomm team had the following setup: Thursday afternoon, the admin would slack individuals to do a checkin on how they were doing emotionally and overall that week. And she would record, in a spreadsheet, each person’s reply. Then at the Friday meeting we had to reiterate this feeling. If it was not super happy-skippy-wow-great-everything is amazing… there was ‘concern’ that the person was being a negative Nelly. Also, the only man on the team was excused from the Friday meetings, too. I hope others’ advice to be vague and neutral or positive are going to help you. I was a bit too honest two times after a friend of mine had died (to which the manager said to me, ‘you knew it was coming tho, so, why are you so sad?’) – and I ended up on the manager’s shit list. So, be warned.

  45. Erin*

    My work does something similar, where we’re encouraged to share a “rose” and/or a “thorn.” Since going remote, we’ve been asked to share something positive only (since obviously we all have some thorns right now). But you can be totally as personal or not as you want. Something like, “My plants are coming up” is a 100% acceptable answer. There’s no pushback.

    I’d suggest picking something positive and light to focus on. “I’ve been starting my mornings with yoga.” “I’ve been rewatching one of my favorite TV shows.” “I cooked my favorite meal for dinner last night.” 

    And then if you get that pushback just deflect with one of Alison’s suggestions or something similar. “It’s tough, but I prefer not to dwell on it.” “Of course it sucks being stuck at home, but I’ve been taking lots of walks.” “On the positive side, I’m enjoying getting back into cooking.” No one needs to know if there’s a dumpster fire in your head. 

  46. Kate H*

    My team does these meetings daily, complete “How are you doing?” It’s the trade-off for us being allowed to work from home so no matter how annoying it gets, we just get it over with and move on. “All right” or “Hanging in there” or “Fine” are all appropriate answers. If you have something more that you want to throw in once in a while (“I read this great book” or “Binge watched this Netflix show all weekend” or “Tried to teach myself how to bake bread”) then that can help, but if you don’t want to share more, don’t feel pressured to.

  47. Mouser*

    With questions like this, I mentally add “in a work context, of course” at the end. I try to frame my answer from a work lens instead of my overall mental health.

Comments are closed.