should I move in with coworkers, should managers not use a “busy” status, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Should I move in with coworkers?

I am a 20-something in my first job out of grad school, and because of the low-paying industry I work in plus the high-cost-of-living area, roommates are a must. My company is made up mostly of other women in my general age bracket and stage of life, and I’m friends (or at least very friendly) with several coworkers. I’m particularly close friends with Stevie, who is roommates with another coworker, Alexis. The three of us know each other from grad school, and they lived together before Stevie got a job at our company.

Stevie and Alexis are planning to move in a few months, after their original final roommate ended up finding other living accommodations, Stevie asked if I’d be interested in moving in with them, knowing that I’ve been thinking about moving as well. I like them both and think we’d get along well as roommates, but I can’t shake the feeling that living with my coworkers would make it hard for me to ever fully separate work life from home life.

For what it’s worth, Stevie and I work in the same department at different levels (although neither of us has any supervisory authority over the other whatsoever and likely never will) and Alexis works in a separate department that we work with fairly closely. Our company as a whole is pretty chill and conflict-free, so I don’t anticipate any problems with any of us having workplace issues or disputes that we then bring home with us, and Alexis and Stevie have obviously made the coworkers/roommates thing work, but I still feel unsure about whether merging my work and home life in this way is a good idea.

I wouldn’t do it if you have other options. It might end up going fine, but if it doesn’t, you’re inviting all sorts of problems.

Things that can happen when you live with coworkers: You can’t get away from work talk, even when you’re desperately burned out. You can end up taking on other people’s work battles as your own, when you otherwise wouldn’t have (whether it’s a beef with a colleague or a chilly relationship with a manager). You can end up ineligible for promotions or certain assignments because you can’t have any authority over them. They may share things about your personal life (or health or so forth), even unintentionally, that you don’t want shared at work. If you have an issue with them at work (like if they’re not pulling their weight or you need to criticize their work or participate in an investigation about them), it will hard to keep it from affecting things at home. If you have an issue with them at home (cleaning or overnight guests or noise or not paying rent or so forth), it will be hard to keep it from affecting things at work. If one of them gets fired or laid off, things can get very awkward, especially if they’re angry about it. And on and on and on.

Or none of these things might happen and it might work out fine! But why take the risk, when your living situation and your work situation both have such a major role in your quality of life?

2. Should managers not set their online status to “busy”?

What is your opinion on managers putting their status as “busy” in Skype? My manager tends to do this several times a day and some people have said it does not make her seem approachable.

Managers need blocks of time to concentrate just as much as other people (if not more, given the number of interruptions they often get). It’s smart time management to block off chunks of time and let people know when you’re not available for interruptions.

If she’s always marking herself as “busy,” that’s more of a problem — but if it’s just here and there throughout the day, that’s normal. And actually, even if it’s all the time, she might just prefer not to use Skype to communicate. I’d look at how accessible she is in general. If she’s impossible to get ahold of (by whatever method) when you really need her or you rarely have contact with her, those things are problems and will rightly make her seem unapproachable. But asserting some control over her own time, while being reachable some of the time, should not be a problem. (Although if people feel it’s causing problems, they should raise that with her.)

3. My coworkers don’t wear their masks correctly

I work at an essential engineering business of less than 50 people. A couple weeks ago, management finally decided that everyone in the building must wear a face mask. Personally, I was relieved. However, to my horror, a handful of senior-level people wear their masks incorrectly, so that the mask only covers their mouth. Their nose is completely exposed to the air. They do this because either they think the masks are uncomfortable or because they say they cannot breathe in the mask. Some people at the company even pull their mask down below their chin so that they can talk to you “better” or more clearly.

Most people seem unfazed by the select few who wear their masks incorrectly, but to me, it is aggravating. Would the ADA protect the people who claim they cannot breathe in the mask by allowing them to show up to work with an improperly worn mask? Or should my employer tell these senior-level people to stay home? No one at my company is authorized to work from home.

Your employer should require everyone to wear face masks and keep them over their noses and mouths when they’re around other people. If someone can’t do that for some reason, your employer will need to work with them to find an accommodation that will work (which could be working from home, or could be putting a plexiglass barrier in their work area, or all sorts of other options).

I’d suggest speaking to your HR department or whoever in your company at a senior level seems to be taking the virus most seriously. I’d also suggest that when you have to talk to someone whose mask isn’t in place, try saying, “Could you put your mask over your nose and mouth? It’s slipped.” If you feel you need it, feel free to add, “I have high-risk loved ones I’m trying to keep safe.” If they decline, then say, “I’m going to back up so there’s more space between us” and then do that.

4. I’m furloughed and colleagues are linking me to support I don’t need

I was furloughed from my entry-level position at a media company at the start of April. I don’t have any hard feelings about the furlough per se: I was the most recent addition to the small team, part of my responsibilities could only be done in office, which is not possible under our city’s stay-at-home orders, and our main project has completely stalled because we can’t access the public locations necessary for our work. Once these locations open again, I fully expect to come back to this job.

Thankfully, I’m part of the fortunate group making more money on unemployment benefits than I did at my job. I never thought I would call myself fortunate for being on unemployment, but times are strange! It’s a difference of over $200/week, and it’s made a huge difference in my finances. I actually have savings now!

But my coworkers and managers have expressed worry for me, linking me to food bank services and such. This includes my manager, who is responsible for determining what everyone is paid and when we can work. She turned down my prior request for a raise, stating (correctly) my pay is average for the industry and the position I’m in — but of course, our industry is notorious for low pay at the entry level. With this situation, I don’t know how to tactfully express to my team that I’m doing better than ever, especially since the other people furloughed were paid much more than me but now make less on unemployment. I also don’t want my manager to think I’m bitter about my pay or that I expect a raise if I return … though I would definitely accept one if offered! Do you have any advice for this brand new pandemic problem?

You don’t need to give details about your situation! It’s enough to just say, “Thank you” or “Thank you, that’s really kind, but I’m doing okay.” If you want, you can add, “I’ve got a safety net, so I’m okay.”

With your boss in particular, though, I’d just say “thank you” and leave it at that. You don’t want her to feel less pressure to bring you back.

5. Being a hospital patient when you work in the hospital

I’m a healthcare provider who works mostly out-patient, but we regularly provide in-patient services (daily for our office, several times per week myself). With the vast majority of the hospital staff, there’s barely face recognition, but within my area, there’s much more familiarity. I have a medical condition that will require surgery soon (“soon” relatively speaking, given COVID) and that has some overlap with my field. It’s a relatively minor surgery, with probably a same day discharge, one night max. I’ll have the standard “outfit,” open back hospital gown, who knows what kind of tubes, catheters, etc. I don’t know the exact process, but could likely involve some treatment from that staff I work with.

Any recommendations on etiquette … or saving face? I know the staff to be highly professional, but it is a very personal, and kinda awkward scenario.

I think this is where you fall back on “they’re all professionals, have seen this a million times before, I am not a coworker to them right not but a patient like all the rest” … and yet I would still be feeling all the same squeamishness that you are. I don’t know that there’s any way around that! People who have been in this situation yourselves, what say you?

{ 480 comments… read them below }

  1. All Outrage, All The Time*

    OP1 – I wouldn’t live with a co-worker. Especially not two co-workers! I did it once and wouldn’t do it again. It was 25 years ago and I still remember it! (Of course, who knows what horror stories she is telling about me?) You really don’t know someone until you live with them. If they aren’t a great housemate, you might be able to live with that, but if they aren’t a great housemate AND you live with them, it’s going to be intolerable. Plus, what if the company does layoffs and you all lose your jobs at once? Spread the risk.

    1. Door Guy*

      I did it once as well, and I second that it shouldn’t be done. We weren’t even professionals, but both worked part time at the same restaurant. We were friends for several years before we moved in (with 2 other friends) and the whole reason I even applied at that restaurant was him telling me how great it was.

      All of Allison’s advice about what could happen was spot on – it was hard to get away from work talk, getting wrapped into his problems, and when I couldn’t take it any more and put in my notice, he got mad at me because his “promotion” from cook to server was delayed as he was tapped to cover my station until a new cook got hired and trained. I also found out from the general manager that any time roommate had a complaint about anything, (and he was a complainer) it had become OUR complaint because suddenly “[door guy] thinks so too!” Thankfully roommate had worked there longer than me and was already a known complainer (persnickety is the word GM used) so he was just reaching out to me to hear my side.

      1. The Rural Juror*

        I lived with a coworker from a restaurant where we both worked when we were in college. I met her because I was picked to train her for a week and we became friends, then eventually roommates. You’re right that it was tough getting away from talk about work. Another cherry on top of the situation was that she started dating a coworker of ours, who luckily I was on friendly terms with, and he started staying over often. So we had 3 people under one roof whose main thing in common was the restaurant…and the restaurant’s other staff and drama and management and everything in between.

        I was lucky to get a new job at a high-end steak restaurant near campus where it was very competitive to get a position and there was only turnover when people graduated and moved on. It was a highly sought-after place to work for students because they were only open 3 days a week, but you could make the same amount (or more) money than working 5-6 days a week at the restaurant where I had been previously. I was a bad student because because I was working a lot of hours to afford my living expenses, so having that extra time meant I could study more (and not lose my partial scholarship).

        Our household drama happened when my roommate and her boyfriend both started pressuring me to get them jobs there as well. I was lucky to get my job and was new with no footing to recommend other people, but they just kept insisting I should do something to get them hired on as well. I brought them home applications and told them they needed to take them in personally, that I couldn’t hand in an application for them, and they both got huffy and made it seem like I was somehow holding them back. Basically, they both refused to act like adults and take agency over themselves. Then they were somehow surprised that I wanted to move out when the lease was up. So – long story short – don’t live with coworkers.

    2. Jill of All Trades*

      I had a horror story from rooming with a coworker as well. We were in different departments, but it was a small company.

      Basically, it was so bad that I moved out of that apartment in the middle of one of the worst winters on record for my region. My landlord said she’d never seen anything like it, and all I could say was, “Yes, it’s that bad.”

      For some people I can imagine it could work, but I’m never taking that risk again unless the alternative is me being homeless.

    3. Blueberry*

      Yes, this. My roommate and best friend told me about a job opening at her employer, and I took it — and working together while living together nearly broke our relationship. It was just too much, for all the reasons Alison describes. I’m glad we survived but if I could do it over again I would have moved out while taking the job.

    4. schnauzerfan*

      My roommate and I met in college in the ’70s. I went back to my hometown after graduation. Got a job. She moved to my city. Moved into my house. Got a job. Years passed. We went to grad school together. She had a sabbatical, I left my job. Came back for Christmas. Her job offered me a temporary job after graduation, which became permanent. That was in August of 1987. We still live and work together. Our work is in the same building, she now supervises the whole team, but I report to the grandboss as a sop to nepotism. It can work, it has worked well for us. There are drawbacks as AAM mentions and they shouldn’t be taken lightly. I wouldn’t choose to live with someone I just “knew from work” but we were friends first and both of us are low drama, conflict avoidant people.

      1. TootsNYC*

        My aunt, who is retired, is still best friends with the fellow parochial school teachers she shared a house with.

    5. Quill*

      Don’t move in with a coworker. I can see how this arrangement might work if they never had to interact at work because they were in such different departments, and I can see how this arrangement could work if they’d moved in together prior to working together, but… nope. You cannot set boundaries fast enough for this one.

      1. Techie*

        As the flip side to this, I’m currently living with two coworkers (tech) and it’s been actually really great. The key thing is that we’re all in different teams that don’t really interact (large company), so we’re able to get help and advice from each other professionally without worrying that news will trickle back to our respective bosses and cause problems. Since we all see different things in our day to day and pool our info, we can get a better picture of what’s going on in the company and of company norms.

        It’s really been invaluable for us as fairly new employees, kind of like group mentorship.

        Of course, it helped that we knew each other and were friends before moving in.

        1. Quill*

          See, you’re separated enough at work that you basically aren’t coworkers. You just work for the same company. :)

        2. Not a Girl Boss*

          “We knew each other and were friends before moving in” can be really key. So many times people SEEM totally normal and reasonable, and turn out to be raging lunatic psychos. I’ve had several such unfortunate roommates in my life. That’s bad enough when you have to break a lease to escape… but when you work with them, you can’t just un-learn and detach from that knowledge.

    6. Anon for this*

      OP1: I did this a long time ago. It was my first office job. At first it was great. We were friends beforehand. We saved money on carpooling. We got along great. We would commiserate with each other after work. Everything was fun.

      Then one day, it wasn’t. You need separation in your life. It was hard enough for me to learn office norms without constantly being with a roommate who was also a coworker and a friend. It took us like 10 years to get over the fissure that inevitably developed.

      If you can avoid this, I would.

      1. OP #1*

        Thanks everybody for your thoughts! You’ve reinforced some of the worries I’ve been having.

        I hadn’t taken the layoff thing into consideration, which is definitely something I need to keep in mind. My company had a rough 3rd and 4th quarter last year, and we had to lay off a few employees. We were just starting to recover when COVID 19 hit, and though we’re doing pretty well right now (some of our products are ones that people are finding themselves more interested in right now as they look for things to keep busy during quarantine), we’re not sure what the future of the company will look like the longer this goes on and the more it affects our ability to produce more products. It’s unlikely that Stevie, Alexis or I would be let go if they were to do another round of layoffs, but you never know, so thanks for putting that consideration back to the forefront of my mind!

        1. NowI'mHungry*

          Something else to consider is that if your company does have more layoffs, they may also shuffle people into different positions or merge roles. So, it’s definitely possible that all three of you could end up on a team together, which could lead to all of the issues that Allison described.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          It could definitely be a problem if no one can pay any of the rent.

          Also, I want to thank you for the use of Schitt’s Creek names in your post. That made me smile. :)

          1. Bébé*

            Same! I started reading it thinking, well there’s no way Stevie would ever agree to live with Alexis….

        3. TootsNYC*

          if layoffs come, it might be a bad thing to have all of you out of work at the same time.

          Happened at Enron–lots of married couples working there, and when it all went south, both members of the household lost their jobs. it’s not quite the same as roommates but still…

          (also a problem to have much of your retirement savings invested in stocks with your employer–if it tanks, you lose both savings and salary)

    7. TiredofThis*

      I also would strongly urge you not to. I did it because I live in an extremely expensive city, needed to move quickly, needed roommates, and she did too. It started fine but did not end find. If someone is a not great roommate that’s fine when you get away from them during the day. If someone is a not great coworker you get away from them by going home. But when someone turns out to be both, well, it’s a disaster waiting to happen. I moved out of that apartment months early and just accepted paying double rent for a while.

    8. hayling*

      I encouraged a coworker to move into my (very small) apartment building when there was an opening, and came to regret it. For one, her boyfriend turned out to be a jerk, and I would have to keep from rolling my eyes at work when she would coo about him. Then she took a new role at work that made her a bit adversarial to my team, and it was a bit awkward around the building. Wished I had kept everything totally separate.

    9. LifeBeforeCorona*

      OP1, Just don’t. Mainly because you are younger and haven’t developed the skill set yet to navigate personal and work relationships with a degree of experience as in knowing what battle to pick. Combining them is not good. Several years ago we had two roommates who also worked together. They had a blowout fight in their personal life and brought it to work. They refused to speak to each other and refused to work together which meant juggling shifts with accusations of favouritism and they dragged other co-workers into the mess. It ended when the manager told each one separately to behave professionally or reconsider their job.

    10. Bella*

      Interesting that people are mostly against this – I lived with a couple different co-workers at my first job and it was the best living experience I ever had, probably! It was great that we all had this same huge group of friends, since most of my friends were through work. We all had similar schedules and could walk to work together or get rides from each other.

      I think it depends on a lot of things though- I think it was easier to do at 25ish than at 30 when the stakes in my career are a little higher, and it depends on your personality, their personality, the job and the company itself, etc.

      1. Door Guy*

        None of us are saying it can’t work. What we are saying is that there are a whole heap more issues that can stem up from this. It can be hard to work with a friend if you’ve had a falling out, now imagine being stuck with them all day every day because you see them at work, and you see them at home.

        Again, you can luck out and have a positive experience, but it’s a risky gamble that you will like both someones work side and home side.

    11. pamplemousse*

      Yeah, even if you know them and like them as coworkers and have no reason to believe they’d be bad roommates, I’d advise against it — it just enmeshes work and life a little too much. A few potential situations informed by having a few very close work friendships — none of them serious enough to write to an advice blog about, but all kind of awkward or uncomfortable, and avoidable by not living with your coworkers:

      -You become friends with a coworker who rubs the roommates the wrong way, and now it’s weird to have them over when they know him as Bob from Accounting Who They Don’t Like
      -Someone gets a better raise than someone else, and now they’re buying nicer beer every week, and it’s awkward since you think the other person deserved a raise too
      -Your roommate really likes your boss, but you’re having a tough time at work and need to vent about him
      -You’re interviewing for a new job and have to travel out of state or dress up for a Zoom call. Maybe you’d tell your work friends about this at some point anyway, but now they know very early in the process.
      -Someone gets promoted to be a manager and suddenly you have weird labor-management divisions in the house, or your roommate is suddenly also your work friend’s unreasonable boss (all bosses are, at some point, unreasonable)
      -You know every time your roommates call in “sick” but are actually working on their tan in the backyard

      It also just narrows your world, and will likely make your workplace and work problems seem more core to your identity than they actually are. It’s nice to have people around who don’t know everything about your job, either to help you keep it in perspective or just to talk about something else over a drink once in awhile! My best roommates were people I either had loose social ties with — a friend’s roommate’s sibling, a coworker of a friend of a friend, etc. — or who were polite strangers, depending on whether you want a friendly chat over a drink a couple nights a week or just someone who cleans up the kitchen and won’t steal your leftovers.

      1. Not a Girl Boss*

        “It also just narrows your world, and will likely make your workplace and work problems seem more core to your identity than they actually are.”

        100% this.

    12. Not a Girl Boss*

      Four hundrething this. I got a close friend from college an internship working with my mom, and, then since I also had an internship in the area, we lived together for a summer.

      Well, turns out, he was a terrible employee.
      And that just made the mom-friend-me triangle dynamics even weirder, and effectively ruined our friendship. I ended up feeling a weird sense of obligation to make sure he got up and out the door on time every morning, etc etc etc.
      He was a fine roommate, but I could never just *relax* around him again.

    13. lilsheba*

      Yeah….I lived with a co worker once for just a few months because it turned into a disaster right quick. I had been laid off from a good paying job, and had to take a job in a call center which paid way less, so I needed a roommate. I picked someone at work, in the new job, because she had gone to every single day of training, she seemed like a great co worker, she was serious about her job, and it seemed like a good choice. Oh boy. She turned out to be a horrible slob in the bathroom, didn’t flush MOST of the time. It was nasty. And she stole food that me and my daughter bought for us. She would do things like eat an entire bunch of bananas in one day. We did find out that if we labeled our food with our names she would leave it alone. So we labeled everything. Pain in the butt. Then she quit going to work. Couldn’t pay the rent. I turned off her access to the wifi and told her she either had to pay up or leave. She left. And left that room a disaster, and left me with a bed bug infestation that took months to resolve.

    14. Mama Bear*

      I had a roommate who ended up as a same-level coworker. One of the problems was that I was privy to their flaws, both at home and at work. When things fell apart (not that they always do) I was caught between them feeling like I should always back them up at work but not actually wanting/doing so, and needing them to pay the rent. I exited that roommate situation as soon as I could. They were a problematic roommate AND coworker.

  2. Escapee from Corporate Management*

    OP1, I had co-workers as roommates I my first professional job and it was fine. One of them remains a close friend. What worked?

    1. We had a non-work roommate. That gave us an escape when any of us did not want to talk shop.
    2. We were all at the same level and none of us were in the same department.
    3. We shared a townhouse, not an apartment, so there was always room to “escape” if needed. We each had our own bedroom, too.

    Things to keep in mind if you go down this path.

    1. hmmm*

      My best roommates I ever had worked at the same company – but we were not in any way in parts of the company that overlapped. It was nice to be able to have general work conversations without having any horses in the same race. I don’t think I would want roommates I worked directly with.

    2. 867-5309*

      I worked for a global marketing agency in NYC and many of the younger staff were roommates. During my entire time with the company there wasn’t once an issue that elevated to workplace frustration.

    3. Jeff Bell*

      I too had a good roommate experience with coworkers who were not in my immediate group.
      Even the landlord worked at the company.
      I saw it as much more likely to work out than a random stranger.

    4. AcademiaNut*

      The size of the employer and separation at work makes a big difference. Sharing an apartment with someone in the same group or physical office, vs someone in a totally different department that’s nominally the same employer (I work for a research institute that of several thousand people – people outside my own department might as well work for a totally different employer).

      Length of employment matters too. If it’s a short term contract – summer internship, co-op position, postdoc – you know that it’s going to end at a set point.

      In any event, one thing I would strongly recommend in more open ended cases in particular, is to discuss how ending the arrangement would work. In one case, I was sharing an unfurnished place with another post-doc (same campus, different department). We shared the cost of joint furniture, but kept ownership of individual items (he owned the TV, I owned the couch, etc), and agreed on two months notice for moving out. When one of us moved to a new job, the other had the option of buying out the common furniture, and could make decisions about whether to look for a new roommate, or end the lease.

      1. doreen*

        The arrangements that worked at my employer were either time -limited or part-time. In one case, two people both frequently traveled to another city and decided to rent and share an apartment rather than stay in hotels. They weren’t living there full-time and it was pretty common for only one to be there at a time. In another case, four newly hired people shared an apartment- they had been hired to work in one location and expected to be transferred “home” within six- 12 months. As they got transferred, they recruited newer hires to take over the lease.

        1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

          That was semi-true for us. We were all just out of college, expecting to go to graduate school in 2 years.

      2. TootsNYC*

        discuss how ending the arrangement would work.
        Every contract should spell out how you would break it.

    5. robot*

      OP1, it may make sense to also consider the pandemic in your planning here. Depending on your exact timeline and the situation in your area, you may be forced to be spending a lot more time with these coworkers than you normally would, and roommate relationships have been strained for a lot of people due to different risk tolerance. You didn’t mention your industry so I’m assuming you don’t expect to be hit with substantial furloughs or job loss, but everyone working at the same company increases that risk.

    6. Theme Park Technical Writer*

      Yeah, this is common in theme parks, but you still have to have some distance between you. If you’re in the same small department and sit next to each other in an office, or if you work at the same store for the same hours, it’s going to feel stifling. If you’re both in Attractions but one of you works at the Jungle Cruise and the other works at Indiana Jones, or if you’re both in Foods and only have overlapping venues once or twice a week, that’s going to be completely different.

      I also know some people who are roommates now after working directly together ~10 years ago but who now only somewhat interact at work, so if it does feel like those boundaries would be blurred now, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will be that way forever.

      1. Princess Zelda*

        Yeah, I was coming down here to say the same thing — when I was an intern at a theme park run by a rodent, I was roommates with 5 other girls who worked at the same theme park, and 3 of us were in completely different jobs (I was merchandise in one park, another was foods, and two were character performers). The two girls who worked at the same hotel in the same area didn’t get along well after about 3 months of seeing each other constantly, and it really cribbed our style.

        1. Theme Park Technical Writer*

          Oh man, the Rodent University Initiative housing is a whole story in itself. I am not with the rodent but a lot of friends are and did that, and they have similar stories of going nuts when they had to work with their roommates.

      2. LJay*

        Also, the theme park that I worked at for about a decade operated with “professional” norms more like you would see in a restaurant than at a normal office.

        A lot of it was because during the season a lot of the staff was teenagers including having teenagers supervising teenagers. And with international students on property who were also on the younger side and some of whom like to throw parties and invite their other coworkers (since those were the only other people they knew or really had access to in the country).

        But even in the non operations departments like HR, Loss Prevention, etc there were a lot more romantic relationships and roommate relationships between coworkers than I’ve experienced at any of my other jobs. Heck, I worked in the same department as my now-ex for 5 or 6 of those years, in the same job position, on a shift that overlapped for 5 hours a day, reporting to the same manager.

        (Honestly I don’t recommend it. We broke up after we left that employer and moved across the country so we didn’t have to deal with breaking up while working together. But even being so removed it’s clear that that people have taken sides and I’m not the side that they’ve taken and it kind of hurts that my relationship with people that I worked with for a long time and got along with great while I’ve worked with them has been so affected by something entirely non-work related that happened years after I stopped working there. It’s been long enough now and I’ve moved into a different field entirely so I’m not worried about tangible effects on personal references, but still sucks that it’s part of my previous network that I can’t really draw on anymore. Also, he and I had very different management styles and that led to disagreements in how we treated and related to our staffs that I don’t think would have been as serious if we weren’t in a relationship and lived together.)

        1. Theme Park Technical Writer*

          I’m sorry that happened to you. I only had one serious in-park relationship and two short-term casual things in the ~10 years I’ve been at my park, and was lucky to have a professional relationship with them afterward. You really can connect everyone at those parks on a giant web based on romantic relationships, though.

    7. Alice Addison*

      I lived with a coworker and it worked out great! I would say that we were already at the “close friends” level before we decided to live together, but the only issue that would sometimes come up is that when you have someone to vent to about work you tend to do it. So we could be quite negative at times if we were frustrated with the office

    8. Bee*

      I work in an industry that’s very similar to what OP1 describes (lots of young women, low pay/high COL), and I know a lot of people who live with coworkers! I can’t say it works for everyone, obviously, but plenty of them seem to be happy with the arrangement. It helps a lot that it’s an industry that draws a very specific type of person – many of the people I’ve met at work are exactly the kind of people I would want to befriend if I met them elsewhere.

    9. PeanutButter*

      Yes, one of my best housing situations was with a co-worker. I was a tech, she was an RN in the same ER. What worked:
      1. We were at vastly different stages of life. She had two adult children, her own house, was in her 50’s. I was mid-20s going back to school for my second degree.

      2. Very similar lifestyles at home (both quiet introverts.)

      3. We worked well together, but usually worked different shifts.

      4. There was an end date. Going in we both knew I would only be staying 1.5-2 years while finishing my degree. Also, while she stated that she was fine with me having friends or one night stands over, I knew she probably really wasn’t but was trying to be fair. So I voluntarily put some parts of my life on hold or only went out to other’s places while living there. She was also a vegetarian and I voluntarily limited the amount of meat I brought home or cooked in the kitchen.

      Long story short, we are still great friends. But it took a lot of purposeful forethought and some sacrifice (on both our parts I’m sure, not just mine) to make it work.

    10. knead me seymour*

      I have also successfully had coworker-roommates. In my case, the employer’s location was such that it was pretty common. It helped that we had a lot in common outside of work and we put in a house ban about shop talk early on. But I do think that if you have other options, it would probably be wise not to combine your work and living situation if you can help it. It puts a lot of extra pressure on those relationships.

    11. Loz*

      Wait….”We each had our own bedroom too”. I always thought the term “roommate” meant “housemate”. Are there really arrangements where people actually share a bedroom!?! (non-romantically of course)

  3. Bowserkitty*

    OP1 nooooooooo. All it takes is one weird incident. I was going to move into a house with two of my best coworkers back in college and somehow within months there was a falling out, so I was really happy we never went through with it.

    Also, I enjoyed the subtle SC reference with the names in this one.

      1. knead me seymour*

        I think Stevie would probably be an adequate roommate, but Alexis would be a real nightmare.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Worst I heard of was when one man thought it was a romantic relationship when a female co-worker took the empty room in his 3-person/3-bedroom rental. She moved out within weeks.

    2. MistOrMister*

      Years ago I moved in with a former coworker that I had stayed friends with after changing jobs. We got along really well pre-living together and seemed like we’d be a good fit. It ended up being an utter nightmare. He was really controlling and difficult. I was so glad he decided on his own to leave after the first year because I was honestly scared he would do something destructive if I told him he couldnt stay once his lease was up. There are plenty of people who live with friends and it works out, but if it goes bad, it is likely to go really bad. And then not only will you need a new living space, you’re out a friend as well…

    3. TimeTravlR*

      Thanks for nudging my memory (only one cup in right now)… I kept thinking “Alexis and Stevie,” why does that sound so familiar? LOL Love love love that show!

  4. MissGirl*

    OP1, I was roommates with coworker and it went mostly well. One big reason it went well was that we were in two separate departments that did not have a lot of overlap. We were free to come home and complain about our various problems without having to get defensive or reactive. It can be awkward if you’re frustrated with your manager and your roommate understands the manager’s side. Or if your roommate is part of your work problems. It was nice having someone at home who understood your work issues and could sympathize.

    The part that didn’t go well was when she was laid off and I wasn’t. She was, understandably, angry about the situation. I was, understandably, still loyal to my company. I had to be careful not to defend the company while she vented about the situation. Eventually, she sold the house and we both moved out. It was difficult to lose my cheap housing while also worrying about my job security as layoffs were ongoing.

  5. jman4l*

    OP1-what type of mask are they wearing? N-95 masks can cause breathing difficulties depending on a person’s health. Normally to wear those at work would require a medical exam and fit test in normal times per OSHA

    Even if both of you are wearing masks, you should try and keep 2 meters away anyway. The homemade and surgical masks aren’t designed to keep virus out and N95 must be fit tested and worn correctly.

    1. Retail not Retail*

      None of us have n95 masks and it is hard to get people to wear them. Even the one who brings them up more than me wears his improperly. And takes masks as an excuse to get in people’s space.

      I told my manager I didn’t feel safe sharing a vehicle in the park if I didn’t have to because people aren’t following the rules. He asked me who and I said you aren’t, it’s down around your chin! (He told me not to accuse people of things.)

      Masks are uncomfortable! It’s hard to arrange them right to not torture your glasses. The first time I wore this mask to actually do physical labor, I about fell out from the heat.

      But if masks are inconvenient maybe we shouldn’t be opening.

      1. EPLawyer*

        You WILL sound like Darth Vader wearing a mask. They do interfere with breathing. That’s kinda the whole point.

        They are not recommended for those with breathing issues for that reason. But if you do not have a breathing problem and just find them uncomfortable, tough noogies. We are trying to save lives. No one is asking anyone to storm the beaches at Normandy under heavy gunfire. We are asking folks to wear a little mask to try to prevent the spread. 6 feet and a mask is not that much effort to put forth.

        For the glasses fogging, I found a perfectly simple solution — put mask on, then put your glasses on top. It holds the mask closer to your face too. The only part I don’t like is the top of the mask is really close to my eyes then. But I put up with it.

        1. Maskmaker*

          If it’s a cloth mask and you can do basic sewing or know someone who can, adding a skinny pocket on the inside of the mask over the nose with a piece of bendable wire in it, will hold the mask to your nose and cut down on glasses fogging.

          1. The Rural Juror*

            My mom made masks for our family. She put a rubber-coated paper clip in the bridge of the masks to help with the fit. Unfortunately, I still haven’t found a comfortable way to wear it. For some reason the whole mask wants to travel up and the ends of the wire end up crowding my eyes. I’ve been wearing my blue light filtering glasses with it so the weight of them will keep it down. Luckily I don’t have to leave my house for work much, but there are some errands I have to do where I need to wear it. When I’m in the grocery store I’ve found myself using one hand to steer the cart and one to hold the mask closer to my chin. I think part of the problem is she made all the masks to size for the people in our family who have beards…like my dad and brother. I’m a woman with a smaller face and it’s just too big for me! It’s not a huge problem, and obviously safety is more important that slight discomfort, but it does get annoying! Maybe I can sew one or two of the pleats down…

          2. Elizabeth West*

            Check a garden center for the plastic-coated twist ties used to tie up plants. That’s what I got. Fold them over and they work well, plus you can launder the mask. Pipe cleaner wire rusts (if you can even find any pipe cleaners right now).

        2. peachie*

          For glasses fogging, I rubbed a tiny bit of dish soap on the lenses with a tissue until clear — works like magic!

          1. pancakes*

            Yes – my friend had this problem and saw lots of people online recommend washing the glasses with soap and water first. He said it works really well!

            1. Amethystmoon*

              Will try, but I’ve tried the tricks like putting some folder paper in the glasses, it doesn’t really work. Yes I’ll wear my mask to the store, I’ll wear it outside, but unless they force us to, I’m not going to wear it while driving alone in my car because then I’ll be a road hazard. (Single and no one else to drive me.) Also not going to wear it while typing unless forced to since I do data entry and they would be getting on my case about typos. So far, literally no one but the warehouse people wear masks at work. I have not seen any office people wearing them this whole time.

                1. Amethystmoon*

                  Hmm, I called my stepmom & grandma on Sunday for Mother’s Day, and that was actually something my stepmom suggested. But I told her I would be the odd one out at work, so we will see what they do. The warehouse workers handle actual products that go to the store, so I can see why they’re required to wear masks and gloves and we’re not (yet).

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  To clarify, public health experts say you don’t need to wear a mask when you’re alone in your car or alone in your home, etc. I can’t speak for what your stepmom might be suggesting :)

            2. peachie*

              I honestly didn’t expect it to work well/at all, but I thought I’d give it a shot while my tea was steeping. Lo and behold!


              (Unfortunately, since I disinfect my glasses after I go out, I have to re-do it every time… Still, worth it to be able to see!)

      2. Shirley Keeldar*

        I’m so sorry your manager is ridiculous and unreasonable. It sounds like you’re not going to get much support from him, which is maddening….but maybe you can stick to your guns about not sharing vehicles and backing up quickly if someone removes their mask. Ugh. Wish there was better advice to offer.

      3. Ray Gillette*

        I’m starting to get a conditioned reaction to people who use the word “accuse,” because it always seems to come up in the context of “How dare you ‘accuse’ me of doing a thing I’m literally doing right now?”

      4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        If these are surgical masks, I am less sympathetic to the idea that it’s ok to wear them improperly because they’re uncomfortable. Masks are uncomfortable and impede your ability to speak, but wearing a mask improperly in the ways you’ve described is little better than not wearing a mask at all.

        I don’t think the ADA is an issue, here. If someone has other breathing issues that mean they cannot or should not wear a mask, usually the accommodation would not include allowing someone to wear it incorrectly.

    2. Mazzy*

      Thank you for this, I have a couple N95 left but don’t use them because of this. I find it weird that I have such issues with them but I see people walking around in them like they’re normal and not intrusive. It feel like breathing through a blanket or something and not something you can keep up except for short bits of time

      1. RecentAAMfan*

        You do get used to them. The N95’s are definitely more restrictive. If they’re fit properly (as in having been officially “fit tested”) then the air is only coming in and out THROUGH the mask, not from the sides, above or below.

        1. cheeky*

          You get used to them, but that’s partly because of all the accumulated carbon dioxide you end up rebreathing- not great for cognition.

          1. WinStark*

            No. Claiming hypercapnia from N95s is misinformation. If that happened, medical personnel would all suffer from it.

            1. JustaTech*

              Seconded. I’ve worn a surgical-type mask for 7+ hours at a go and while it’s uncomfortable and fogs your glasses or goggles, it doesn’t build up CO2. Air moves through fabric just fine.

              Which is not to say that some people don’t have breathing issues with masks. But it’s not a build up of CO2.

        2. Nesprin*

          Speak for yourself- if you have asthma or any sort of cardiopulmonary dysfunction they’re very hard to cope with.

          -signed I’m high risk and would like to wear the n95s but can’t walk and wear one at the same time.

      2. A*

        If you’re not using them, please consider donating them to healthcare professionals. In my area they don’t have any. My best friend is a nurse working with COVID-19 positive patients, and she only has disposable masks and gloves. There is a dire, dire shortage.

        1. Venus*

          I looked it up, and there are also different types of N95 masks. I was very excited to find some in my home that had been used for construction projects, to deal with mold, and when I looked at donating them online I discovered that our local area only wanted two specific types (N95 masks (1870+ or 1805)).

          1. The pest, Ramona*

            Also there are many counterfeit N95 masks out there (like the one I had for construction projects). You can look them up on line.

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I have asthma and have a really hard time wearing an N95. That said, I do wear them when I need to, and I try to wear them correctly. But the damp feeling of humidity and the claustrophobic feeling (for me, it feels like having a pillow over my mouth) can be especially difficult.

    3. I'm just here for the cats*

      Its not just the n95 masks that have issues. I wear homemade mask and have asthma and it can be hard to breath and suffocating.

      1. Aquawoman*

        I don’t have asthma but I find them hard to breathe through and get short of breath easily when wearing them. Back when I had panic attacks, that feeling of not being able to breathe may have triggered one. I also have auditory processing issues–the masks make it worse by muffling speech and not allowing me to see the person’s lips moving, which helps me. And they trigger hot flashes. If I had to do it all day, it would be miserable.

        1. Aquawoman*

          Afterthought–I just intended this as that there are a whole lot of health issues involved; asthma is obviously more serious than a hot flash!

        2. hayling*

          The first time I wore a mask to the grocery store I felt like I was having an anxiety attack! I realized I had to concentrate on breathing really deeply.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            I felt more anxious when I didn’t have any. I still am. I see everyone as a walking fomite.

      2. Rainy*

        Masks are a known problem for people with breathing issues, which is why the state requirements mostly have exceptions for people like us. I wear a mask if I have to go in somewhere, but on the way there I can’t, because I can walk or I can talk if I’m wearing a mask, but I can’t do both at the same time, or within ten or so minutes of each other.

      3. kittymommy*

        This is what happened to me on Saturday. I only have N95 mask(s) and wore it to Trader Joe’s and I started having trouble breathing. I had to periodically put a finger in the bottom of it underneath my chin just to get a couple of fresh breaths and not hyperventilate.

    4. Neosmom*

      OP3 – I am in the exact same situation. I sit in a front desk with a lobby (fortunately only one day per week). I have my mask over my nose and mouth all day (except when eating lunch). I even have a glass with a straw so I don’t have to remove my mask to take a sip.

      Yesterday five different people sailed past me with their masks only covering their mouths. And one of these was the person who sends out the reminders to all about proper health safety. If this continues, I am going to request a plexiglass barrier. There is no way for me to move backward if someone comes too close.

      1. LizB*

        A plexiglass barrier seems like it would be very logical for your position! Similarly with grocery store cashiers, if you have to work at fixed station with people coming up to talk to you, it’s an easy way to reduce risk.

        1. nonegiven*

          My grocery store put in the plexiglass barriers. They have also opened only every other checkout so the customer isn’t too close to the cashier behind them. They also have arrows on the aisles to make them one way. Unfortunately, when people are in line for the checkouts, there is no way to exit some of the one way aisles.

      2. kt*

        Plexiglass would be great — just ask for it now! This could be going on for a long time, and the plexiglass is easy to clean, enforces some space (someone can’t lean over at you), etc.

        1. ...*

          Yeah we installed these quickly once we knew we’d re open! now our receptionists and sales reps have an extra layer. It seems like it can happen fast

        2. Mama Bear*

          It’s also becoming so commonplace that your office shouldn’t balk and if they do you can point to everywhere else that has them.

    5. Abogado Avocado*

      OP3: I hear your worries and would suggest asking your employer (through HR) to consider setting up portable HEPA filtration units throughout your offices. Portable HEPA units are used to create negative pressure wards in hospitals and, in you offices, will help filter the air and trap the COVID-19 particles that those who cannot wear masks may be expelling.

      Because your firm is an engineering firm, the engineers are likely to be familiar with these portable HEPA units, which are used on construction job sites to filter out particles as a result of sanding, taping and floating, etc. This seems to me to be a reasonable accommodation in light of the risk posed by those who cannot wear masks due to preexisting health conditions that make breathing through a mask problematic, health-wise.

    6. Mama Bear*

      I’d talk to whoever sent out the statement that you needed to wear masks. They could reiterate how to wear them and offer tips for fit. We have a few new interns and if I know their managers, I’ll say “by the way…” Different kinds of masks fit differently. I have a mask of a type I don’t normally wear today and I remembered why it’s my “backup mask”. People should be encouraged to 1. wear them, properly and 2. find one that works for them. Disposable? N95-ish? Cloth? Straps or ear elastic? There are tons of options. Bent wire nose pieces are also very helpful, as are toggles to adjust elastic that’s too big (can be bought online) or ear savers if the elastic is too small/your head is big.

  6. I coulda been a lawyer*

    Another thought for OP1 – I would worry about all of my roommates relying on the same company for income, especially if everyone is entry level and more susceptible to being laid off.

    1. Mid*

      That was my first thought as well. My partner and his roommate/brother work at the same company and learned the hard way that they could both be laid off at the same time, even though they work in different departments and have different seniority levels.

    2. TechWorker*

      I mean, I get this is a concern, but regardless of timing most people can not afford to support their housemates while they look for a job – a whole months rent payment for someone else is just nowhere in budget. So either you get another job or you have to move out and find a replacement or break the contract.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        This is true, but I suppose in some cases you might be more likely to get away with telling the landlord that 1/3 of the rent is going to be late, rather than all of it?

  7. 867-5309*

    OP5, My mum is a nurse and she has cared for family, friends and coworkers in the hospital. Honestly, when she gets into “work” mode, she sees them as patients needing her professional care not, “I saw tubes sticking out of Susan’s backside.” It’s easy to say don’t give this a second thought but if you can, don’t give this a second though.

    One caveat: My mom is an excellent nurse who takes her duty of care and privacy seriously. If you have concerns about a specific person who perhaps isn’t as professional as the others, then the great thing about working at the facility is you can often subtly (or not-so-subtly) ensure you’re being cared for by the people you want. It sounds like that is not the case for you but I wanted to mention it.

    1. Awesome Possum*

      Total agreement – your physical body is completely divorced from our work/friend relationship. I am not a nurse, but a full-time caregiver for both the elderly and disabled. I have seen *horrendous* things in dear friends, things neglected that became infected and unspeakable in polite company. I’m compassionate and sensitive, and with emotions I’m a total “spaghetti lady” (everything is interconnected and over-analyzed and no compartmentalization). But as soon work/your physical body come into play, I am “Waffle Woman” (totally compartmentalized, nothing in any compartment touching anything else). I guess it’s like looking at a car for me – fascinating to study and learn about, zero relevance to whether you’re a decent person. Heck, the more messed up a body is, the more I learn and am fascinated by what I learn. Of course, this may just be me and my personality. And it’s highly likely that I’m telling you stuff you already know from personal experience.

      I would recommend leaning hard into Alison’s many previous comments about enjoying awkward stories and imagining life as if you were in a quirky novel or comedy of manners. Are you comfortable enough with your colleagues to pull a harmless-and-totally-silly-prank? Can you paint a funny joke or comment on your arm (for when your colleagues takes your vitals)? Can you schedule delivery of their absolute favorite take-out? Is there anything you can do, thoughtful or outlandish, that would create a story for them to tell – one that completely changes the storyline from you-in-an-open-nightgown to our-colleague-has-great-taste-or-a-great-sense-of-humor. Find a way to create a different story than the one you are imagining they’ll have in their heads – maybe something wild, decorative, or delightful. This will bring joy and a great story to your coworkers, and totally take the spotlight off of your reason for surgery and any lasting thoughts about that.

      Alison has often recommended leaning into our inherent awkwardness, and enjoying humans as unique creatures who can actually be embarrassed. As someone who is very easily flustered/embarrassed by my own failings, this advice has helped me a lot. If there’s a fun-but-chill way you can celebrate the awkwardness, or a blessing you can distract them with, that’s the way I would go.

      Also see Rainbow Unikitty for an agreeing comment below.

      1. RosieB*

        I’m not sure about this advice, in your position OP, I’d try to make myself as un-memorable as possible and not draw attention to myself. Not sure if this is the right word, but I would be as blase about it as I could, and just not think of it awkward. Your medical situation will not be a new experience for your colleagues, and I can guarantee they will be as nice and professional as they can. Think of how you would react if roles were reversed!

        1. Awesome Possum*

          I appreciate the response. As a caregiver (not a nurse) who works more certain demographics, I can see that it might not work for everyone. A lot of the business-oriented advice is fascinating and helpful to me, bcoz it’s so opposite of the work environment I’ve had all my career.

      2. Queen Esmerelda*

        I’ve been on both sides of that coin, and honestly, it was really nothing. Everyone was professional in both circumstances and I didn’t feel uncomfortable or weird in either.

    2. RabbitRabbit*

      It depends on how much you trust those colleagues to be professional, but I’ve personally never had problems either. Plus you have the benefit of knowing who you’d prefer to be the one working on you versus the one you want kept off your case. ;)

      Not everyone can be this blase about it, but I once underwent a transvaginal ultrasound while chatting with the ultrasound specialist about the imaging capabilities in my department vs theirs.

      1. Elemeno P.*

        If anything, I feel like transvaginal ultrasounds are LESS awkward if you’re having a chat during them. I chatted with my technician about how she can’t go cloudgazing anymore because all she could see were uteri.

        1. KarenK*

          I had my first transvaginal ultrasound earlier this year and I have another coming up. The thing that unnerved me was when then technician handed me the probe and asked me to insert it! The shock must have shown on my face because she then asked if I wanted her to do it. I said, “Yes, please.” Somehow, it was more embarrassing to do it myself than to have the trained technician do it. Heck, we have internal exams all the time. They never ask us to insert our own speculum!

          1. RecentAAMfan*

            I think this is one of those things (like comments from healthcare providers that are helpful or not) where not everyone appreciates the same approach. I’m definitely in the “insert my own probe” camp!

            1. Amy Sly*

              Yeah, I can see where folks would have very different preferences on that issue, particularly ones who have had to overcome trauma.

              The thing that surprised me was the “sleeves.” After a second’s thought, it makes total sense why they’d use it, but a giant box of condoms was not what I was expecting in the exam room.

              1. delta-cat*

                Oh gahhh yes, that was my reaction the first time too. First thing I noticed. A big pile of condoms sitting on top of the ultrasound machine. It’s one of those mental images that I’ll be ruefully snickering over until I die.

          2. Environmental Compliance*

            I had no idea that they’d offer to have you insert your own probe. I’m also in Camp Gawd No You Can Do It Thanks. I have no idea why it feels more embarrassing to do it yourself. Like, I have no shame with pointing out weird moles on wherever, as I have a lot and I get paranoid, but for some reason the insertion part feels weird to do myself, personally. I can totally see that others would prefer to do it themselves, though!

            Things I have learned today, lol!

          3. ...*

            AHH TV ultrasound flashback!!!! I’ve had a couple and never had to do it myself goodness. I believe once me and the dr chatted about our favorite bridges during it. HAH. Life.

    3. Environmental Compliance*

      Same. My mom is also a nurse, often ends up caregiving for family & offering advice for friends. She also was a huge support during my surgeries. She’s often mentioned “work mode” vs “home mode”. We talked about this a bit when my dad’s parents were very ill, and she was very involved in their care.

      She also was the person I insisted on having in the room when the nurse for my surgery couldn’t get my IV in. I have incredibly small, wiggly veins, and she was *digging around* and at first tried to put the IV in the arm where I was having surgery. In the elbow. I was having surgery on…the elbow. *facepalm* It was the hospital where my mom was working at the time, and she raised a bit of hell to get someone who actually knew how to put in an IV. Almost did it herself, which I have only semi-jokingly asked her for later IVs.

      It makes sense though – you’re “on” or “off” work. I find that I work the same way – “at work” EC is very different from “at home” EC. You separate it out. It’s okay if you know that person, they’re a professional, they’re there to do their job, and their job happens to be you this time around. And if you have concerns about professionalism re:patients, well, chances are that you would have already seen this and honestly it should have been flagged to a supervisor at that point. *shrug* I realize though that I draw a very, very hard line for that kind of professionalism (whether patient, student, someone whose home was condemned…).

    4. KimberlyR*

      I’ve worked in healthcare and I’ve been a patient in my department (ER.) You do have to change your mindset to be one of “I barely know these people. I don’t work here. I’m just a patient.” But literally everyone who took care of me was professional as can be. And I was able to subtly request the nurses that I knew to be the best and/or the most professional. Also, knowing how the process works definitely helps with the frustration regarding the wait times and stuff like that.

    5. DataGirl*

      I work in a hospital and am a frequent patient of multiple departments due to chronic health issues. Despite working for a system with tens of thousands of employees, it’s not uncommon for me to run into colleagues at appointments, and I once spent 3 days inpatient where multiple colleagues were either treating me or stopping by to visit. It is sort of embarrassing at first, but they have always been completely professional. Even those who saw me with tubes everywhere, in a gown, not having showered in a couple days and looking an absolute wreck have never treated me differently. Just play it as cool as possible and when necessary, remind yourself that they are professionals, subject to HIPPA, and they don’t want to cross lines any more than you do. Good luck with your procedures.

    6. Blueberry*

      Yes, this. OP#5, both times I worked in a hospital I was a patient — the first time I worked in an ER and I fainted at work, and my coworkers whom I’d been working with that very day picked me up and checked me in. It’s just life. It’ll be fine.

      Plus, at my second job we had an unofficial rule that hospital employees automatically got upgraded to private rooms rather than having roommates. So it might not be so bad at that.

    7. Marzipan Dragon*

      I work at a nursing college. While I’m not in a student contact position my coworkers have some very interesting stories of hospital visits since the students are not yet professionals and you never know what the reaction may be to a student seeing you vulnerable. Or your own reaction to knowing the student only got a C in the procedure.

      1. MD to be*

        I’m a medical student, and at our affiliated hospitals there are policies that we can’t have other med students as patients, and others affiliated with our school are always asked if they’re OK with having a med student they might know on their care team.

    8. schnauzerfan*

      My roommate was recently very ill and hospitalized for several weeks. Worst roommate she had was someone who worked at the hospital (pre-Covid) Roomie claimed that every one who’d ever worked with this gal popped in to visit, to bring little goodies, to kibitz with the other caregivers. I’m sure you’d never be that patient, but I finally had to raise heck with the patient advocate to get my Roommate a new roommate. They moved sociable lab tech to a private room for the rest of her stay.

    9. Hats Are Great*

      I taught medical ethics at a local nursing school for several years, with the result that by the time I started having babies, I’d taught close to half the nurses who worked in L&D and maternity, including a bunch of the nurse-midwives!

      It was never weird. They were all professional and kind. Most would comment that they enjoyed my class and were glad they got to see my baby, and we’d chat a little bit if I responded in a similarly social fashion. But when shit was going down or I was tired or cranky or in distress, they were just polite and professional.

      I was catheterized by a lovely girl who had been a bit of a mess when she was in my ethics class, really struggling with nursing school and feeling miserable about everything. Eight years later, she was a confident and competent professional who didn’t even blink while smoothing catheterizing me in an emergency situation. And trust me, if I can have former students messing around my genitalia without being weirded out, you will be FINE.

  8. Vic tower*

    OP 3, you should ideally stay 6 feet away even wearing masks, but it’s reasonable to make a bit more of a point about it when they refuse to wear theirs correctly.

    OP 5, I’d talk to the doctor in charge of your treatment and the nursing co-ordinator of that area ahead of time. It’s very reasonable to ask what personal stuff will be done by whom and the nursing co-ordinator may even check to see if there’s someone you’d prefer (or veto) as your primary care provider. I hope all goes well for you and that your workplace makes you feel “at home”.

  9. ES*

    To OP2:
    At my company, our Skype profiles default to busy when we’re in meetings/calls/appointments on our Outlook calendars. If your manager has a lot of meetings, it may show up as busy for that reason and she might have no idea. Even so, she might literally be unapproachable because she has to be in meetings.
    (And FWIW I block out several periods each week for focused work and uninterrupted reading, and it’s absolutely critical to my effectiveness. If people think I’m unapproachable during those times… good, that’s the point.)

    1. Avasarala*

      I also use my calendar for reminders and it marks me busy during those times. If the manager was always busy I would assume she is not always busy, if that makes sense.

      1. I’m a Loner Dottie, a Rebel*

        Yes- I’m my experience with Skype and Teams (and another one we had before Skype that is blanking on me) it was integrated with people’s calendars so it was automatically changing statuses throughout the day. I think it’s helpful as an indicator of how fast you can expect a response- if it’s red or yellow you won’t expect an instant response. The only one that keeps me from actually sending a message is the red with a white bar over it indicating that the person is in a meeting and is sharing their screen. Don’t want to say something embarrassing for an entire room to see!

        1. Batty Twerp*

          “red with a white bar over it” is Do Not Disturb.
          It can also be set manually, and with an exceptions list (I have one person that I absolutely must be available to talk to during a specific period every Wednesday. They don’t always message me, so I will set my status to DND if I’m in heavy “thought” work, knowing that this person can contact me in an emergency, but no one else can interrupt my flow.

          (“interrupt my flow”?! I can only apologise…)

      2. Environmental Compliance*

        ^This. I set up compliance reminders in my calendar, and it always pulls through to Skype and flags me as ‘busy’, often for the entire day. I’m not really busy legitimately for 8 hrs straight, it’s just a due date that I wanted extra flagged.

        In most my jobs ‘busy’ was just a notifier that you should message first, then call. It’s not a “don’t contact me at all whatsoever, am unavailable completely”.

      3. dragocucina*

        If it’s an Outlook calendar you can tweak that. When setting the reminders you can set tentative, free, busy, or out of the office.

        1. winter*

          Yup, I always set my reminders to free so people can still send me invites for that time.

    2. Allonge*

      This! Part of it may well be automatic. If someone is not very skilled at managing their calendar, it may be worse (e.g. if they do not decline meetings, block time for full weeks, months etc.). In this latter case it may be worth addressing, but that depends more on the relationship if that is wise.

      Also: why, why, why would anyone want to contact their boss regardless of the boss’s actual availability? That is for emergencies only, as in “building is on fire”. I very much appreciate knowing when my boss is (not) available for a quick call, that is what the system is for (and closed doors, when we are in the office).

      Last but not least: if your boss is a greater mess at scheduling than I am, ask for weekly check-ins. That too takes the guessing / approachability out of the equation. If you have a hard time getting answers, address that, not their Skype status.

      1. I'm just here for the cats*

        Allonge, I get what you are saying but why would you not want/need to contact your boss unless it was an emergency. You should have access to your boss. Maybe not all the time but they need to be approachable. In my job I have to contact my boss to actually work. It really depends on the position.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          But do you need that contact *now*, or is it typically things that can wait an hour or so?

        2. Allonge*

          That is not what I meant to say, sorry. I do want access to my boss. But it is very rare that it needs to be immediate access AND without consideration to what boss is doing (what I would be interrupting). That is for the building on fire scenarios.

          For everything else, I will wait until boss has time for me or at least I am not interrupting their meeting with the grandboss.

        3. Yorick*

          Right, but you can’t have access to your boss at all times. Send an email and ask for a phone call or video meeting.

      2. Spencer Hastings*

        Yeah. I generally prefer email, but when I do need to call someone, I like to check their status (if they’re busy/DND, I’ll do it later).

    3. Corporate Goth*

      Yes, this. Unless you actively set it otherwise, Skype is automatically integrated with calendars.

      Alison, I do think that’s significant enough info to be worth updating the answer.

    4. Catalyst*

      All of these things 100% – I am a manager and unfortunately with the work from home situation there are days where I am in meetings for 6 hours a day so I am automatically set to busy for those 6 hours (I hate it as much as my staff do, I am over meetings) . I would also like to point out that I see a lot of instances where someone clicks on the button down on the tool bar to bring up the program and doesn’t realize that if you click one of those little buttons you are changing your status. This is something I mention to all of my new staff because it took me months to figure out why it would be randomly set to DND or away.

    5. snowglobe*

      If Skype is showing busy because of an appointment on the calendar, if you click on the down arrow on the person’s contact card, it should open up and will tell you how long the person will be busy. It will say something like “busy for the next 42 minutes”.

    6. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

      I agree. “Busy” status can be a good thing to help you manage your time. I often keep my status at “busy” because some coworkers seem to think that “available” means “I’m bored. Please give me some of your work to do.”

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        If I didn’t know better, I’d say you worked with my mother, who always asks “are you busy?” if she calls me at work. I’m usually not too busy to talk for a minute, so I’ll tell her I’m not, and then she’ll ask why I’m not working. :-/ (I’ve finally learned to say “I’m working, but I can take a minute.”)

    7. Threeve*

      I think setting Skype to busy is basically the equivalent of shutting your office door (if you work in an office where doors typically stay open.)

      It’s perfectly fine–even expected–to need some uninterrupted time, but if you leave it that way constantly it does make you seem unapproachable.

    8. LJay*

      Yeah, this was what I was going to comment.
      My work operates the same way. And really sometimes I can message or text or email while in blocked meetings and sometimes I can’t so it’s not really a reliable way to see if I’m available or not.

      1. Extroverted Bean Counter*

        Same with my organization. On my team specifically we tend to treat “busy” indicators as more of a guideline rather than a true “do not disturb” (that’s what the DnD status is for). You wouldn’t IM someone with a “hey you want to catch lunch later?” while their status is busy, but you might IM “I’m trying to submit Time Sensitive Thing but the link is broken, can you send me the URL you have?” Regardless, it’s assumed you likely won’t get an answer right away.

        Because a lot of times it just means you’re mostly concentrating on something (likely in a meeting) but you may or may not still be able to shoot off a quick response.

    9. knitter*

      When I read that some co-workers thought their boss was unapproachable due to the “busy” icon, my first thought was that they must expect the boss to be always available. In this case, I’d suggest the boss has better communication in order to manage expectations. When I managed staff, I tried to send a weekly email with my availability. I think the skype default adds a new wrinkle, but I think one way for this LW to manage up is to ask their boss to communicate around availability as moving to virtual work is changing workplace norms.

    10. dragocucina*

      Oh, yes. Actually being busy. It’s not just working from home. I was conducting a series of interviews and had my phone set to Do Not Disturb. The number of people coming to my office because my phone was just going to voice mail started to make me stabby. Exacerbated by not looking at the daily schedule that showed me conducting interviews.

      The same thing is happening now. My calendar shows I’m in a meeting and everyone can see my status as busy. I’m also in the midst of doing cost analysis for database purchases. I’m going to show myself as busy during an hour here and there so I can meet my deadline. It doesn’t stop people from calling.

    11. Mama Bear*

      Same. I expect my boss (at the director level) to be “busy” a lot. Do Not Disturb is usually more deliberate. If I see either, I email the person and they respond when they can.

  10. Turquoisecow*

    OP1: I’ve become friendly with coworkers who weren’t exactly fabulous at their jobs – either they didn’t have the skills or they slacked off or whatever. I know it reflected badly on me if management saw me having lunch or speaking casually with them because I had a manager who kind of subtly told me that. If those coworkers complained about their terrible boss but I felt like the boss was being reasonable, it made the friendship kind of awkward.

    I’m not saying your coworkers are at all like this, but if you’re known to be roommates it might be something to consider. You could get drawn into social/political things like grudges or feuds your roommates are having because they expect you to take their side even if you have no knowledge of the situation.

  11. Not A Manager*

    OP4 – Why do you need to discuss your finances or your unemployment with your co-workers or manager at all, even obliquely? When they link you to services, respond with “thank you so much for thinking of me,” or “thanks so much, looking forward to coming back to work soon,” or whatever.

    I don’t see any upside in hinting at extra income, whether it’s supposedly from parents or savings or the federal government.

    1. Wehaf*

      Agreed. You could also suggest that the company create a webpage with resources for those who are furloughed, and that updates and links go there; it would be easy to frame this as a way to make sure *everyone* has access to this information.

      1. OPNUMBER4*

        We’re way too small for that kind of digital infrastructure– but we do have an email chain started by another woman who was laid off which is serving the same purpose!

    2. Adele*

      My thoughts, exactly–and I even thought the same phrases. Besides, it makes other people feel good to think they are helping in even a small way and it also maintains the connection between you. Both those things may give you some added good will when work gears up again.

      And, OP, you may be feeling flush now, but none of us knows what the future may bring, especially now. I don’t mean to be negative, but these are resources you may find you will need in the future if you aren’t back to work as soon as you expect to be. In fact, if you are currently eligible for food stamps or other assistance, you might consider taking advantage of that so you can build up even more of a cushion.

      1. AKchic*

        With the additional federal monies, OP4 may not be eligible for other assistance.

        However, a “thank you for the resource reminder. I’ll be sure to let other people know if I hear of anyone needing it!”

        Whether the boss and coworkers believe OP4 needs or may at some point have a need of the resource is moot. It could very well be that they are all passing the information around to ensure that *anyone* within the company’s friend circle has that knowledge as well. Of course, they may not be communicating any of it well, and I could very well be reading a hamfisted attempt at community-mindedness where there isn’t any.

    3. nnn*


      I know that when interacting with people socially, we do tend to want to them to think we’re doing okay financially. But this is an employer-employee relationship. If they think not being paid is a hardship for you, there’s no benefit to disabusing them of that notion.

    4. MK*

      Yes. Frankly, there seem to be enough people being jerks about those who make more in unemployment (making it about others getting an unfair advantage than them being underpaid in the first place) that I don’t think it’s a good idea for the OP to reinforce those attitudes. If these expressions of support were a one time thing when she first got laid off, say thanks and leave it at that; if it’s something vague, like sharing a link in social media, I would simply ignore them. If the OP keeps getting emails and feels they need to respond, try to shut it down politely.

    5. Amaranth*

      Agreed. I’ve also run across some low level resentment in a few cases, from people who are frustrated that they are working full time and having to risk exposure, while making less than some folks who are ‘hanging out at home.’ Its a lot more complex of course, but I’d recommend against sounding like getting furloughed is a treat.

    6. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      There is particularly no benefit to disclaiming hardship when LW is in receipt of the additional $600 which is temporary. When that ends, she will be down ~$500 and may need to tap back into those new savings. Perhaps the coworkers and manager are mindful of how long the furlough is likely to last.

      1. OPNUMBER4*

        If my co-workers (particularly my manager) think they know how long I will be furloughed, I’d love for them to tell me! Probably the most frustrating part of this is ALL I’ve gotten from my old work is worries, so sorries and the occasional link to help/services, but no communication whatsoever about returning to work.

    7. Alex*

      I can’t speak for the OP, but I know when I was younger whenever I was offered advice/help/resources I’d feel obligated to either use ir, or justify why I didn’t need it. It may be that OP is feeling similar – the suggested support is coming from those higher in the food chain than she is she feels she needs to explain why the support offered isn’t needed.

      But.. if that is the case, OP4.. you don’t need to explain anything! Just say thanks, and move on. If it’s ever followed up on and someone asks if you found it useful, you can respond pretty vaguely “there were some good tips/I looked into it but most of it wasn’t applicable to my circumstances”, or similar. You don’t need to go into the details, especially not with co-workers. If you want to stop them sending resources, you can always address that as a bigger picture thing – “thanks for thinking of me but I’m doing OK and find the repeated links anxiety-inducing” (or whatever, I’m sure there’s better wording for that).

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Agreed. Younger me used to personalize too much. “Oh, you think my finances are tight?” sigh. Older me does not care so much. Okay, I don’t care at all.

        I’d recommend just saying, “thanks” and letting it go. Here is why: At some point she might send you a link to something else that you would actually use. Helpful people can actually be helpful at some point. You don’t really want to turn off that flow of information.

        If it helps you can frame it as maybe she will send something that will be helpful to someone you know could use it. So while you don’t get any benefit from the info, a person you care about finds the info super helpful.

        A lot of this stuff can be framed as, “I am one link in a chain of links”, so you pass stuff along to other people. I have done this with household items and clothing that is in good shape. “If you can’t use it, maybe you know someone who can.” Generally, I can find someone who is very happy to get the item even if they intend to give it to someone else.

        I do think that once you share info with others it will help to complete your circle so you don’t feel uneasy about receiving the information.

    8. bananab*

      Yeah, agreed; plus I wouldn’t be taking much comfort in being flush right now. That savings might serve only to weather tougher times ahead. I’d be glad for the help, pushing it away will come off poorly.

    9. iambrian*

      I’m a retiree and started working at a local donation centre four days before they laid us off (as I said to my wife, “I picked a lousy week to quit retirement”). Last week I revived an email from the “employee coach,” asking if I need help navigating the various funding options, and a bunch of other questions, including would you like me to make phone contact with you.
      I replied:
      “Thanks for this. I am fine. I get a pension and have been playing at being retired the past 18-months, so the “new normal” is pretty normal to me. Please don’t worry about me, I would just be taking away time and energy someone else might be in real need of.”
      Just let them know you’re fine, there is no need to worry about you.

  12. Lady Heather*

    OP5 – just because the hospital only provides these gowns doesn’t mean you can’t bring pyjama pants!

    I actually read a study once that linked those gowns to all sorts of evil, mainly: more inactivity because patients don’t want to walk around/get out of bed (which is linked to longer recovery times), feeling more ill (in the definition of illness being the subjective experience of disease) and being more passive/experiencing lack of agency.

    If your hospital allows it, you can also bring a maternity gown. Those are sold on Amazon etc for mothers during delivery, and they basically have all the buttons of a hospital gown and all the privacy of pyjamas.

    I personally don’t feel comforted (and I do feel patronized) by a medical person saying “There’s no need to feel unconfortable, I’m a doctor/nurse, I see naked bodies every day!” because.. well.. I’m not showing my naked body to strangers every day, and my discomfort has nothing at all to do with how often the other person sees naked people, or whether their interest is personal or professional. (And for a doctor/nurse to say differently is not only ludicrous, but also arrogant, patronizing and invalidating.)

    1. Awesome Possum*

      Hi Lady Heather, I’m really interested in your comment. What sort of comment from a medical professional *would* ease your discomfort? From personal experience, I never intend to patronize – I have simply been using the best tool I know of at my disposal to communicate: “Your body is not a buffet that we’re going to gawk at, but simply a machine that we are seeking to fix, and we have no desire to single you out or embarrass you.”

      1. Lady Heather*

        Thanks for asking.

        First, the problem I have with the ‘It’s alright, I’m a doctor’ comment is that.. my discomfort has everything to do with the fact that I am naked with a stranger, and nothing to do with the stranger. When a doctor say ‘There is no need to be uncomfortable because I am not’ (which is essentially what ‘it’s alright, I’m a doctor’ and its variations mean) it’s invalidating the fact that I am uncomfortable because I am naked with a stranger watching me. ‘It’s alright because I am a doctor’ is a logical fallacy – that they are a doctor does not make it alright, because whether or not they were a doctor was never the problem.
        That makes it invalidating and patronizing. And it assigns feelings to me I don’t have – specifically, the notion that my discomfort is related to their (lack of) profession and not to the state of my dress. Which is just plainly rude and dismissive.
        Also, by ‘fixing’ my discomfort with reminding me they’re a doctor, they pre-emptively cut down any attempts to come to an actual solution. Maybe I want to have a towel or a blanket to cover the bits that aren’t being examined. Maybe I want, as a commenter describes below, a second gown to wear as a dressing gown to cover my behind. Maybe I only want to be undressed for the parts of the examination that I need to be undressed for – and not for the eye/ear part of the examination.
        That’s agency, that’s dignity.

        What is a helpful comment? Something that doesn’t imply ‘I’m a doctor SO it is alright’. Something that implies ‘I’m a doctor every day, but you’re not a patient every day, so while I might not notice your nudity, you probably will feel uncomfortable and if there is anything I can do to minimize that, please let me know’. Something that empathizes with the actual experience of the patient.

        My best experience with nurses was when I had to shower with supervision after a surgery. They didn’t even say anything – just a sideways sympathetic smile of ‘this sucks, doesn’t it?’ with a bit of ‘I’m sorry I have to do this’ before they diverted their attention to the shower tiles right next to me.
        (I had known those nurses for a few days already – such subtlety might not work if you’re a new face.)
        And she was sincere, which helped.

        Something like ‘As comfortable I am with undressed patients, as uncomfortable I am when I am a patient myself – I’ll try to make this as easy as possible, please let me know if there is something specific you think would help’ can work, if it sounds natural to you and to the dynamic you have with your patient. If you’re not that verbose – once, when a doctor announced a rectal exam and I sighed with a sarcastic ‘yippee’, he replied with “It’s not my favourite thing to do either”. Which was the perfect response – and that doctor didn’t have much of a bedside manner. (Plus, if he had said ‘I’m a doctor, this is just a part of my job that I don’t have positive or negative regard for’ I wouldn’t have believed him!)

        1. Harper the Other One*

          I have been very lucky that the few times I’ve needed more extensive medical care, both doctors and nurses have been great about acknowledging that. Even something as simple as “I know this is uncomfortable (and cold)” goes a long way! It’s also great when people offer what they can to help you feel less exposed – telling you that they only need access to part X so you can drape a blanket over the rest, that kind of thing.

        2. RecentAAMfan*

          I have a feeling some people would think “it’s not my favorite thing to do either” is a terrible offensive thing to say. I’m not sure there’s any script that would work for everyone.
          And all the stuff about limiting what’s exposed etc is standard practice (in properly run clinics). No reason to have private bits exposed unnecessarily.

        3. Not So NewReader*

          Hard agree!
          As far as what to do-
          Offer me something to cover myself with. Many times I am just plain COLD, this is especially the case if I have an injury that is being treated. When I say I am cold, offer me something.
          Don’t leave me sitting there for an hour half naked waiting to see the doc.
          Like LH said, don’t make me put a gown on to check my ears.
          Don’t “attack” me. One appointment I went to, three people walked in the room. One grabbed my arm and did BP, one stuck a thermo in my mouth and a third jammed a scope in my ear to look at my ear. NONE of them introduced themselves, nor did they indicate what was coming up next. They spoke with each other but did not address ME.
          Simply acknowledge that you know I would like to get back into my clothes ASAP.
          Understand that without clothes there is a higher sense of vulnerability. Just because it is normal in your world to be half naked, does not mean it is normal in my world.
          Look me in the eye.
          Tell me what you are doing to make things move along faster and/or easier.
          Don’t look at my wound and just say, “Oh! yukky!”, I already know that. Instead, say something to the effect of, “Oh we can get this fixed up for you!”
          Above all else LISTEN. So I had been laying on a BOARD for 7 hours waiting to see a doc. But this time my clothes were attached to my wounds because of blood. They decided to cut my clothes off of me. Yeah, I said, “Don’t just yank….” and you know what happened next, they yanked. Peach. Now not only am I sore from the wounds, sore from laying on a hard surface for 7 hours, everything is bleeding again, but I am also naked in front of people who did not even bother to introduce themselves . I don’t know their names and they have no name tags. And, of course, don’t make fun of me trying to walk because I am stiff from laying on a board for seven hours. Remember I am in PAPER clothes at this point and feeling pretty messy on top of everything else. Instead, tell me it is okay to be a little stiff, encourage me to take some deep breaths and perhaps point out something I can hang on to while I try to get myself straightened up so I can try to walk. Ask me if I would like a little water, because at this point in the story I have been laying there for 9 hours and no one has offered me water.


          1. Blueberry*

            Oh my GOD the people who treated you were wildly unprofessional in so many ways (they didn’t introduce themselves?! They MADE FUN OF YOU?!?) I am so utterly sorry.

          2. Lepidoptera*

            If they didn’t wash their hands before touching you they also were negligent in infection control.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              Dang. I missed that. It was many years ago, but you are right. I cannot remember them washing their hands.

        4. The pest, Ramona*

          Lady Heather, you nailed it. My first visit to a male doctor (I had only female physicians til then) I was very uncomfortable baring my body. He dismissed that feeling. I was internally infuriated. The (female) PA gave me a very sympathetic look, which gave me a small bit of comfort…

      2. DyneinWalking*

        I think there is nothing medical staff COULD about this. Because the problem is inherent in the situation – you cannot separate them whatever you do.
        I think part of it is about being vulnerable – it may be at the very core of your job, and the patient may be at a greater risk if you wouldn’t treat them, but ultimately, you have an immense power over them. You learn extremely private things about them and see them in comprising positions, and mistakes on your side might harm or even kill them.
        In the everyday life of most people, this level of vulnerability is reserved to only the most trusted persons, usually after these have proven their trustworthiness over an extended period of time to exactly the person giving them that trust. And a lot of people avoid making themselves vulnerable like that to ANYONE at all.
        Another part is simply privacy, though it ties into the vulnerability part. I like my privacy, and I like being able to chose the level of privacy that I am comfortable at. Myself, I don’t like being naked, so I choose to not be naked in front of anyone but my boyfriend. In everyday life, this is something I CAN choose. I don’t go to nudist beaches because even though they might not be uncomfortable with nudity, I certainly am, which is all that matters when it comes to my own naked body. I don’t wear bikinis, because they make me feel naked. I only use changing cubicles that can be closed without a gap to either side. Those are my requirements for feeling comfortable when around other people, so I make these choices.

        So what you have to understand is…
        When patients come to you, and they need more extensive care, they are suddenly at a level of bodily vulnerability they haven’t experienced since they were a small child. They are exposing parts of their body they can usually choose to cover. On an intellectual level, they might be aware that getting into your care is the most reasonable and least dangerous decision, but on an emotional level, it’s still terribly frightening.

        I think the best you can do as a medical professional is just to be absolutely aware that your experience with seeing naked and vulnerable bodies has nothing to do with my being required to expose my own naked and vulnerable body. No matter how used YOU are to the situation – I, myself, am not used to it. And no matter how used you are to the situation, it is not you who is vulnerable. There is a power differential, and you are at the top.
        Going on and on about how YOU are used to it basically just proves that you don’t get the problem, that’s why it can feel so patronizing. Your own experience with the situation from your side (everyday occurrence, power over the patient’s body) has little impact on the situation from the patient’s side (rare occurrence, giving others power over their own body).
        Nothing you could say would change that. The best might be to admit that this is the case, that you are aware of the inherent discomfort, and just a generic assertion that your are trained with this and will do your best to keep the discomfort at a minimum.

      3. Amanda*

        I had a major surgery many many years ago, at age 16, when I stayed in hospital almost 3 weeks. I wasn’t actually uncomfortable with showing my body, but I found it infuriating that, had I been, the only ‘comfort’ anyone would have given me was basically “chill out, we do this every day for years”. Variations of this actually made me *more* upset since I, the patient and a minor to boot, could not care less what their routine was or, provided they were competent professionals, how long they’d been seeing naked people.

        It doesn’t matter to the patient that you see other vulnerable people all the time, it’s still a unique situation for them. At most, you can ask them if there’s anything you can do to ease their discomfort if you realize it’s particularly bad. Mostly though, the patient just want their doctors/nurses to be respectable and as fast as they can.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Exactly. Provide comfort. It does not comfort me to know that you have seen 100s of naked bodies. None of those bodies were mine, I am not worried about the bodies of 100s of other people.

          If I go to an auto repair place, I don’t care that they have seen hundreds of broken cars. That has little to no bearing on my concern. I want to know if they are going to accurately decide what is wrong with MY car and fix MY car. Just because we can look at something does not mean we know what to do next for that particular thing/situation.

          1. londonedit*

            I agree. If I find a medical situation or procedure scary or embarrassing or worrying, it doesn’t help me to be told ‘There’s nothing to worry about!’ or ‘We do this all day every day!’ – that just makes me feel minimised and ignored. It helps me for someone to recognise that although it may be routine for the medical staff, and it may even be something that doesn’t worry 99% of people, it *does* worry me.

      4. Actual Vampire*

        “There’s no need to feel uncomfortable, I’m a doctor/nurse, I see naked bodies every day!”

        Oooh I also hate these kind of statements. To me, the problem is that it is very self-centered. Basically you are telling the patient that they are not making you uncomfortable and that this is not a weird situation for you. No recognition of the fact that you might be making the patient uncomfortable and it is almost certainly a weird situation for them.

        I think the best thing to do is validate the patient’s uncomfortable feelings. Say “I know this might be uncomfortable for you,” and allow them to feel uncomfortable. I think doctors can be too concerned about making patients feel comfortable, which is counterproductive and makes patients feel like the doctor isn’t taking their concerns seriously. Your patients are probably really uncomfortable – give them the dignity of feeling their own feelings.

    2. Not A Manager*

      That language doesn’t bother me, because I hear it as, “this isn’t social, it’s professional.” Or, to quote Tessio, “it’s not personal, it’s business.”

      I suppose a more blunt way to say it would be, “I’m not looking at your naked body, I’m looking at this mole.” But I think it’s the same meaning. When you have a repair person in your home, they’re not “looking at your house,” and when you go to the doctor, they’re not “looking at your naked body.”

      1. Cara*

        But I’m still naked, and exposed, and uncomfortable. None of that is about THEM. Those comments focus the issue on the medical professionals and how they think/feel instead of the patient. That’s the problem. So much of the medical experience decentralises the patient and their needs/wants and reduces them to an object to be poked and prodded. It’s dehumanising and it’s unkind. If I’m uncomfortable because I’m naked in front of strangers, it doesn’t matter to me who they are. I’m still uncomfortable. Dismissing my discomfort isn’t helpful, kind or useful.

      2. Marni*

        What a great analogy, Not A Manager. I personally have been more embarrassed by my untidy house being seen by the electrician than I have felt uncomfortable naked at the Doctor’s — for whatever reason, that’s how I’m wired. I always want to tell the medical staff they don’t have to put so much effort into making me feel okay because I actually am fine. But I will remember this when I next have a repair person in — they have seen a lot of houses that aren’t well-groomed, but they’re just there to look at the pipes and wiring.

    3. Scarlet2*

      Yeah, I find it patronizing too and you explained it quite perfectly. It’s about preserving your dignity at a time when you feel particularly vulnerable.

      @Awesome Possum, your comment about the body being a machine is actually part of the problem, as I see it. If I’m exposed in this way, I feel more like a piece of meat or an animal than a person. It’s not really about the way healthcare workers might or might not look at it (although I’ve certainly witnessed attitudes from nurses and doctors that were… less than ideal), it’s about the way the patient feels about it.

      1. DyneinWalking*

        I hate gong to the gynecologist, because it makes me feel like a cow.
        Seriously. I despise absolutely every single aspect of it, but can’t think of ANYTHING that would make me feel more comfortable because the core of their job is what I hate the most, and what makes me feel the most like a cow.
        I value gynecologists who are quick and factual so I can get the hell out there again and avoid any thought about it until the next appointment.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Been looking for a good spot to post my comment in and this looks like it might be one.

          I changed OBGYNs six years ago, because I was not happy with the one I had. My new one is a man of my exact age. I had one male OBGYN once, but it was long ago and it was a much older man. One of my children was also delivered by a man, but that was even longer ago and I was having a baby without any painkillers (as was the old country’s tradition for some reason), so I frankly would not have noticed it if ET had shown up to deliver my son. So this time around, I was mildly worried that it’d be awkward with a guy my age. Turns out, our children are also about the same age (I have two and he has three.) Every single exam I’ve had with him, he’s asked about my kids and talked about his. And, while it might not work for everyone, it really helps me detach from the whole thing when I hear him talking about the older kid’s job and the middle kid’s study abroad, and the younger’s college visits, while he’s under a sheet being all up in my hoohah. Before I know it, he’s done and it’s goodbye till next year. Nice and easy. I hope this falls under “quick and factual”.

      2. hbc*

        Yeah, I think anything that gives agency back to the patient is a better statement than one that centers on the care provider. When I think about the times I’ve been most comfortable with doctors, it’s when they’ve explained up front what they’re going to be doing, the typical experience, and some examples of typical things I might want or need that I can get now or later (including how to signal that I need a break.)

    4. Ange*

      As far as the gowns go, here in the UK they often give you two: one to wear the right way, and one to wear dressing gown style over that so you’re totally covered.

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        I was very, very, very thankful for the gyne that not only didn’t require me to wear a typical gown, but gave me more like a double breasted robe thing – it tied overlapped and there was no way I could accidentally flash someone, and it was thicker than normal paper-thin gown, more like a legit nice cotton t-shirt. It was actually somewhat warm. And I got a heated blanket. And they didn’t give me crap for keeping on my socks. I do not give two craps about being naked. I do however *hate* being cold. I am exponentially more uncomfortable when I am cold. I tense up, and it makes a gyne check up 100000% more awful.

        I had actually flagged to them how bad I can be with gyne appts (previous awful experience coupled with endometriosis and a lot of pain), and the dr asked at the end (and during!) if everything had gone okay, if there was anything else they could do. I almost cried. He was matter of fact, but very empathetic. First dr I felt like an actual person, not just a numbered piece of meat.

        Now I moved again and gotta find a new person, and I am very sad.

    5. ElenaA*

      This is a great advice, wear a maternity gown, if it is possible. It gives you more dignity and power over your own situation.

      I agree with the comment above about not wanting to be seen as a piece of meat or a machine. I am a capable human being, even if I need physical help to do certain things. Please look at me and speake to me as a person to a person.

      How open you feel you could be with the staff about how you feel about it? Brining that up, or even using humro, if that is natural to you, could help “break the ice” and make you incharge of setting the tone. You can be “selfish” in this situation and do anythign that might help YOU feel more comfortable in that sitaution. Good luck!

      PS: I work at health care. And last year I was also in a minor surgery. Even though I was treated in a different hospital, the experience gave me an interesting sight to the patient-caregiver realtionship from “the other side”. It was emotional, since I Felt like a lot of things that we, as workers, see just part of the process, or “being professional”, may actually be very emotional or confusing for the patient. It was an eye-opening, yet emotional, experience.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Bingo. In some cases it is very possible that the patient feels degraded by the process they have to go through.
        Hearing that the medical person has been through this 100 times before almost makes it worse, not better.

    6. Mookie*

      I mean, that’s a better script to me. It privileges the POV of the patient (nobody cares which other bodies you see or how numb you’ve become to nudity) and acknowledges that feeling embarrassed is normal, health cafe professionals know this, and they want to actively ease that anxiety for every patient. When you name a potential problem and promise to mitigate it, that can be very reassuring.

      1. Lady Heather*

        That’s essentially what I meant, only I took a page to say it – not a paragraph!

    7. MistOrMister*

      I am the opposite. I went in for surgery and it turns out I put my gown on backwards. When they pointed it out for me to change the nurse was leaving saying she would give me privacy and I just whipped it off saying, you guys are gonna be seeing me naked on the table so this is no big deal.

      And I don’t find it patronizing if they try to put you at ease by saying its normal for them. They are seeing nakedness everyday and I assume it becomes commonplace and unnoticeable in the job setting.

      1. MeTwoToo*

        I’m this type, too. The mamogram tech always offers to ‘step out’ while I get dressed. Whatever, you’ve already seen ’em and I’m sure they’re no more memorable than the ones you’ve already seen. Although, once, I told my gynecologist I hope she ‘still respected me in the morning’ and she had to stop to laugh in the middle of the exam.

        1. King Friday XIII*

          I have this reaction when I’ve got post-mastectomy followups. I don’t need a gown, I’ve got nothing left to cover! I know that’s not true for everyone so I appreciate the choice but… XD

        2. SarahTheEntwife*

          Yeah, I actually feel *more* vulnerable and awkward when medical staff go to great lengths to keep my breasts covered during cardiac procedures. They’re boobs, you’ve seen them, probably at least one other person in the room has them, can we just get on with it? I feel more comfortable just being naked rather than having awkward drapes that feel like they emphasize the fact that I’m not actually securely covered.

          (Though to take it slightly off-topic, I find it fascinating the way dressing/undressing is more taboo than nudity. I did nude modeling for art classes in college and they provided a dressing room so I could have privacy while taking off my clothes…in preparation for sitting stark naked in the middle of the room for 90 minutes. And I used the dang changing room because it felt weirdly exhibitionist to undress with people watching.)

      2. The Other Dawn*

        For myself, I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m comfortable enough just taking everything off in front of everyone and not feeling awkward. I do feel awkward–I’m naked in front of strangers, after all. But I try to keep in mind that medical professionals see this every day as part of their job. It’s inevitable they’re going to see everything, warts and all, at some point since I need whatever procedure they’re doing, so I don’t spend too much energy being embarrassed. Comments from the doctor that they see this every day and “it’s just skin” (a comment from the nurse when I was in for back surgery in March) tends to make me feel more at ease. I guess it makes me feel like it’s just part of the process and we all go through it, from both sides.

    8. Lady Heather*

      What I wanted to convey with the last paragraph, by the way, OP, was that if you’re uncomfortable being seen naked by colleagues, even if you know/trust that they are not bothered, that’s a valid feeling, and makes a lot of sense, and you don’t have to rationalize it into oblivion. And you don’t have to deny it or hide it or tolerate it for fear of coming across as not trusting your colleagues’ professionalism. You can be uncomfortable because it’s your body, your state of undress, and your feelings. The fact that your coworkers may not be bothered has little to do with the fact that you may be.

      If you think you’ll be more comfortable in your pyjamas, or in your pyjama pants with hospital gown, or in a maternity gown, or ‘double-gowned’ – then be more comfortable and go for one of those options.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I think I would just go to another place where I did not know anyone. The reassurances would not be that helpful to me.

        1. Tobias Nevernude*

          I would strip down to my cut off jean shorts.

          Sorry, that’s all I can think about while I’m reading these. Thanks Netflix

    9. Susan Montooth*

      One other suggestion for the hospital gown modesty problem: I had to spend a lot of time in hospital last year, off and on. One of the very kind nurses suggested that I wear a second gown, backwards, as sort of a “robe”. Completely did the trick and made me feel able to walk the halls every day for exercise. An extra gown might not be an option depending on your facility’s policies or availability of extra gowns, and it’s only one of the issues OP5 wonders about, but it’s worth asking!

  13. Knitrex*

    OP #1, My first mistake was agreeing to move in with my best friend from Middle School (fifth grade!) But then, when I was laid off he was able to get me an interview with his employer, which was a very small company.

    We lived together, then went to work and sat next to each other some days. One day I realized we spent 20 hours a day within 10 feet of one another.

    Tl;dr don’t do it unless you absolutely must!

    1. Blueberry*

      Did you find that household disagreements followed you to work and work issues followed you home? That was a huge ongoing problem when I both lived and worked with my best friend.

  14. So Late I'm Early*

    OP4 Could say “I’m lucky to have enough buffer to last a couple months” with your boss, which is true since the bonus unemployment ends in July.

  15. Mary Richards*

    #1: what everyone else says, plus I think Twyla would be a WAY better roommate.

  16. Kiitemso*

    OP #1, I think you should keep in mind that you only see a very small portion of somebody at their job. I know many a friendship that has fallen apart due to moving together, and it’s all come undone due to household chores, uncleanliness, late rent payments and the minutiae that comes with living together and seeing that unflattering full picture that you don’t see until you live with somebody.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes, thank you. I’m being driven mad by accounts of people meeting up with others outside their homes to socialize while sitting six feet apart because they think that’s safe.

      1. Eng*

        Many of my close friends had this kind of “social distance hangout” on mothers day and my dad wanted to have one too. My brother and I refused but it feels hopeless when you learn after the fact that people keep doing that kind of stuff.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Further up our street there was an actual street party on VE Day, with people just wandering around each other. They said it was fine because all the people involved had been staying 6 feet away from other people for a month, so therefore there was no way they could be infected.

        The police that showed up to break up the gathering pointed out the same as you: 6 feet isn’t a guarantee.

        (The party was dispersed after quite a bit of shouting and I sincerely hope the 16 or so people involved in the party are now quarantined)

        1. Alex*

          Ugh, the VE day stuff was insane. The UK media was incredibly irresponsible in my view, showing several street parties where people clearly weren’t even distancing at 2m/6ft (including one street doing a conga line ffs). Even where street parties were held and people were attemping to distance themselves, it was still all completely unnecessary IMO.

        2. A Brazilian*

          I’m in Brazil. Our president is actively denying that COVID is even real, despite several thousand casualties, and is vocal about wanting to end the lockdown most states are in. Last weekend, he threw a barbecue (!) for 30 of his ministers and other friends, and proudly announced it on the national news that if the lockdown was now a law then he’d commit a crime.

          As it turns out, a lot of people in my street supported this man in the election, and still think he can do no wrong. So they’re not quarentined at all. Children are still playing together on the street normally. Elderly people are meeting daily to play cards or gossip. Last weekend, the guys organized an impromptu soccer game in the street.

          I look at my neighbors, who are actually great people despite their questionable political choices, and I know that if any one of them get infected, most of them will get it. And as many are elderly or diabetic or have respiratory issues, a fair lot of them might die from it. And I just feel so helpless it makes me want to actually cry.

          1. Genuine10*

            I listen to the BBC World Service on the radio here in the US. They have been covering the situation in your country. I heard last night that the governors in Brazil were going to ignore your President and put safety before money. Unfortunately, there is not much you can do about people who won’t take this situation seriously. Just try to take care of yourself the best way you can.

            1. A Brazilian*

              Yes, pretty much all the governors and the senate are ignoring the president, and that helps a lot.

              The bigger problem right now is that he still has a pretty large following, and it’s like those people lost the ability to think and research for themselves. So if the president says it’s all a big conspiracy, that must be true, and they can’t put anyone’s life at risk from a virus that doesn’t exist. I swear if the president would Just. Shut. Up. a lot more lives could be saved.

          2. pancakes*

            Great people don’t put one another’s lives at risk without a good reason for doing so.

          3. Elizabeth West*

            Your guy is as bad as our guy. I feel for you. I hope your neighbors will be okay regardless.

      3. professor*

        I would tell OP3 to refuse to be in the room with these people who aren’t wearing masks correctly. Not just move 6 feet away.

      4. Guacamole Bob*

        This seems harsh, Alison. Sitting in lawn chairs outside six feet apart or going for a walk maintaining distance while wearing masks is a low risk activity. It’s probably not zero risk (there’s a lot we don’t know about transmission, still), but I’ve been watching various family and friends really struggle with the isolation, and some of them get a real mental health boost from this sort of distanced socializing occasionally. If someone is generally being careful, it strikes me as a pretty reasonable risk to take now and then.

        That may not be what you’re talking about – you may be talking about indoor activity or restaurants and things as some states start to re-open, and I agree that drives me nuts.

        1. Barney*

          This is a good point. Its impossible to eliminate risk entirely unless you lock yourself away alone for the next 1-2 years. Obviously, we should all be taking as much precaution as we reasonable can to protect our own and other people’s physical health, but we need to balance that with our mental health needs. I work in public health and I’m concerned that this kind of shaming, which I’ve been seeing all over the internet recently, is actually going to make it more difficult to convince people to comply with the guidance.

          1. New Job So Much Better*

            And if you did hide yourself away for years, the second you stepped out you’d catch something and die.

            1. Lora*

              Uh….this is in fact the reality many people are facing if they are immunocompromised or at risk. And sometimes even if they’re not. The data out of South Korea and China seems to indicate that you can be infected multiple times and develop no antibodies.

              I’m not sure what part of “mortality rate” people are confused about here.

              1. Running Detective*

                I would love to be linked to any studies that quantify the likelihood that someone would “be infected multiple times and develop no antibodies.” My understanding is that it’s not clear how many cases are reinfection and how many are relapse, and that the vast majority of confirmed infections produce antibodies. We don’t actually know how effective those antibodies are at preventing reinfection or how long such protection would last – there are a lot of unknowns with this virus – but we don’t have any certainty in the other direction, either, so far as I’m aware.

              2. KoiFeeder*

                Yeah, I’m immunocompromised, and not feeling great about “the second you step out you’ll catch something and die” up there.

        2. Person from the Resume*

          It’s hard for them so they BREAK THE RULES put in place to keep the entire community safe.

          Yeah; I know some people are struggling but that is no reason to endanger others. They’re not just risking themselves. They’re risking others.

          All you kids with elderly mothers. They are high risk by virtue of their age so even if your community has eased restrictions they very likely fall into the high risk category that should continue staying at home, having no contact with anyone they don’t live with and wearing a mask near (but at least 6 feet away) anyone they don’t live with.

          1. Guacamole Bob*

            Going on a walk in a park or on a quiet street wearing masks and staying 6 feet apart is within the rules in my jurisdiction (actually the law would allow you to skip the masks and walk close together as long as long as you don’t gather in a group of more than 10. Masks are only required indoors in public places.). So is putting out a couple of lawn chairs and sitting in your yard chatting with a neighbor.

            My parents live several states away and I’m not likely to see them for many months because my father is high risk. They are choosing not to do things like socially distant walks with friends, and they’re doing grocery delivery, etc. and staying as locked down as possible. But other people who are lower risk are making different choices within the rules to do very low risk activities now and then. And I think that’s a reasonable approach.

            1. Good Enough*

              People are taking much bigger risks than they need to because of the way this is being framed. (Stay inside, seeing neither other people nor the light of day for years or die.) They see that, feel utterly hopeless and give up and join a conga line. What we should be doing is discussing relative risks and being realistic about how people can actually live long term. Most people can’t isolate for long periods of time. Forced isolation is considered a human rights violation because it is so very damaging to the human psyche.

              Plus, it’s not even possible for many people. This commentariat clearly skews privileged, because very few of those proposing total isolation seem to be considering people in apartment buildings, trying to isolate in 500 sq ft or less, trying to deal with shared laundry facilities and just the hallways in an apartment building. It’s unreasonable to suggest that you be more than 6′ from people at all times when your hallway is 6′ wide.

              It’s pretty clear to me that my neighbors have entirely given up on the whole concept, and I can’t say I entirely blame them. I see recommendations for washing your mask after every trip outside. I have to go into a shared hallway 4 times a day to walk my dog. Then there’s taking out garbage, getting mail, getting packages, etc. I’m supposed to have 7+ masks and be washing them 7+ times a day? That’s not even getting into going to work, where I’m supposed to change my mask every time I touch it to take a sip of a drink. (Disposables are $35 for 50 on amazon with 2-4 week shipping times, that’s not any better.)

              I’ve settled on washing my mask at the end of the day and hoping for the best, but it would be easy to just say, “Well, I can’t do all that, so why bother?” We need a discussion of good enough, not more shaming and “why do you want to kill your mom?!” comments.

              1. Kiki*

                Yes, I’ve also been really disappointed to see so many people jumping to shaming rather than looking for more feasible solutions *for everyone.* Yes, it’s really discouraging to see photos of crowded parks full of people attempting to stay exactly 6ft from each other. Some of those people are just willfully ignorant. BUT I’d wager a sizable percentage of those people are trying really hard, but desperate– maybe they’re splitting a one bedroom apartment with their family of four– it’s not feasible to expect them to stay in 500 square feet for three months on end. People need fresh air. I just get really frustrated by people exclaiming, “DON’T GO TO THE PARK!!!” when they have a backyard or deck or balcony. Let’s make moves to close down more streets for car traffic to open them up for pedestrians and other forms of recreation. Let’s look for more areas we can temporarily (or permanently!!) convert to accessible outdoor space for the public. Maybe let’s try to organize some sort of schedule to rotate park access so fewer people are trying to access it at the same time.

                1. Guacamole Bob*

                  +1 to Good Enough and Kiki. There’s a huge amount of privilege in being able to stay isolated in your own home. If we’re going to be stuck like this for years we need to identify the most important measures, emphasize those, and give people guidance on low-risk options for doing the best they can when strict isolation in all ways isn’t totally possible.

                2. Avasarala*

                  Yes, I rolled my eyes when my coworker told me to get exercise. She got 20,000 steps from yard work. My apartment is 500 sq ft. The only sun I get is on my balcony.

              2. Scarlet2*

                This, so much. It looks like some people just jump at every opportunity to shame others. Covid-19 won’t be going away in a few months, it’s something we’ll likely have to live with for at least a year or more. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. The emphasis should be on the best way to minimize risk that’s also sustainable for people long term, not on the “optimal” method, nevermind that it would be impossible to implement for a large part of the population.

              3. anon for this*

                Yes, I too want to talk about risk mitigation. My grandfather is in his 90s. He lives alone. The extreme social distancing stance says that he can’t have visitors for the next, oh, 18 months to 4 years (however long it takes to develop a vaccine, and then vaccinate him).

                We visit him every week with his great-grandchild (a toddler). We stay 6+ feet apart, don’t enter his house, sanitize objects we give to him (we deliver food). We walk around the back yard. What we do falls under the same parameters of what many people are being shamed for. Yes, I think I already had it (but wasn’t able to get tested), but it’s still a risk.

                But he’s really old, and alone! Out of the, oh, max 11 years he has left (that will put him in his mid-100s, not unreasonable given the ages his parents died at) is it truly worth it to see his great grandkid only through a window for the next year? No, I don’t want to kill my grandpa. He’s also a grown man who can make his own risk calculations. He’s not going to infect anyone else because he doesn’t see anyone else. We do use risk mitigation techniques like staying outside, staying distant, and using isopropyl alcohol to spray down shared objects. You gotta live while you’re alive, and he’s acutely aware of the time he’s got left.

              4. Elizabeth West*

                For those who need it:

                Disposable masks, easy to make, with cheap ingredients, here’s the tutorial:

                I’ve been doing these for my mom and me and they work great. Wear once; throw away, and all the stuff is cheap at Walmart (or whatever). Auto parts or hardware stores carry the towels if the big box store doesn’t have them.

          2. Crivens!*

            Most families aren’t going to be okay with not seeing each other at all for possibly YEARS if we ever develop a vaccine. At some point, people are going to look carefully at the risks and decide to that taking smaller ones, only within their families or close friend groups, are worth it.

          3. Misty*

            Where I’m at, our governor has now switched courses and is reopening the economy. They have been on TV every day for about the past week urging people to go out and buy things and order more food. They also opened the state parks and beaches and have been telling people to wear masks if you can’t stay six feet away from each other.

            The mixed message in this is that it makes it sound like it’s safe/okay/patriotic to go out and see people and buy things as long as you either:
            1. wear a mask if you’re closer than 6ft
            2. stay further away than 6ft if you’re not wearing a mask

            I personally am staying home. Although I’m extremely depressed about everything too. I just don’t really feel like those in charge know what they are doing/saying so I’m going to try to wait it out to see what happens and hopefully stay safe. At this point all my roommates are staying home also (we had some problems with one guy in the beginning.)

            But I can see how mixed messages would cause people to think it’s fine to hang out with a small group of people if they wear masks or stay 6ft apart considering in my area we’re literally being told to go out and spend money and see people in order to help businesses.

        3. Not So NewReader*

          I don’t think people believe they are safe 6 feet apart. I think they believe they are lonely, frightened and desperately in need of human contact. And I think we (society) have wildly underestimated just how much loneliness is impacting us.
          I think we eventually will see studies showing that the fear of loneliness surpasses the fear of Covid-19.

          I am just starting to see articles now talking about what the psychological damage is doing to our bodies. I suspect we will see many more such articles. I also suspect that we will see articles estimating how much increased vulnerability to illness we have with increased loneliness and isolation. This is a topic that has been mentioned and well noted in the past (BC -Before Covid) and I am sure we will have more discussion as people analyze and re-analyze the Covid Period for the next several decades.

          1. Guacamole Bob*

            Yes. And we may be stuck with this for another year or more. Finding ways to make social distancing feel sustainable instead of traumatizing is important for public health, too. Both because it will increase compliance and because of the other health problems that a full lockdown can cause.

            My family has been doing lots of walks and bike rides on our own, and I can still tell how much cardiovascular fitness I’ve lost since all this started because of how much less I move around than when I went into the office every day. Multiplied across millions of people, that’s a public health problem right there.

          2. Amy Sly*

            Yeah. What’s the point of staying safe from Covid if you start drinking or self-harming because your mental health deteriorated?

          3. The Original K.*

            Yeah, I’ve done some reading on loneliness before Covid and loneliness can be damaging to one’s physical health, not just mental health. I think people drastically underestimate the impact of loneliness. I can understand people, especially people who live alone, weighing the risks of seeing another person outside at six feet apart and deciding that the endorphins they get from being around people they like is worth the reduced risk.

            I’m pretty stringent about precautions because I have family members that I see (dropping off groceries, prescriptions, etc.) that are high-risk. I exercise outdoors (weather permitting, and I distance and cover my face) and even though I don’t know the people I see and in fact will cross the street to maintain distance, it still feels good to just see people. And I’m not doing that badly – I find I actually prefer remote work, for example.

          4. Keymaster of Gozer*

            As someone who was recently released from psychiatric care after my mind kind of went haywire due to this..I still fear the virus more.

          5. Blueberry*

            There’s an interesting framing I keep seeing in discussions, which is “we can take measures to avoid infection OR we can do [other desirable thing]”, where the other thing is to visit with people/reopen the economy/whatever. Why do we frame this solely as an either-or? Why are the only recommended ways to alleviate loneliness ones that flout quarantine?

            1. Crivens!*

              It’s more “at some point, we can start taking measures to avoid infection AND do [THING]”.

            2. Guacamole Bob*

              I’ve done a bunch of zoom calls with friends, but 5 minutes I spent chatting 10 feet apart from a friend I unexpectedly passed on a walk in the park still stands out to me several weeks later for the boost it gave me.

          6. LQ*

            Right, I think that a lot of people are underestimating the impact that torture has on people who are completely isolated. Both groups, the people who are in desperate need of human contact of any kind, and the people who are terrified of human contact of any kind are scared. And lots of people are in both groups at the same time. There is so much fear. Treating people who are in a different group of fear than you as evil and out to kill you is not helping at all. It is just your fear raging up and fighting their fear. It isn’t logic or reason or science. It’s all fear.

            1. Avasarala*

              Yes, let’s not forget that solitary confinement is considered torture. And that is literally what we are asking some people to do right now.

        4. MissGirl*

          Yes, thank you. Nothing is without risk but most cases are still transferred from sustained close contact and touching the same surfaces. I was analyzing hospital employee infections and most of them were more likely to have caught it from their household than from their workplace.

          That isn’t to say we should all run out and kiss a stranger. Still be cautious.

          1. MissGirl*

            And I just googled Erin Bromage who is sited above and he classifies outdoors and larger shopping areas as low risk as long as you are maintaining distance.

            To get back to the original point, work and home are your likeliest contagion points. If someone comes into your space without a mask definitely ask then to replace it or keep your distance.

        5. ThatGirl*

          A lot of it, from what I’ve read, is about airflow and confined spaces — even 6 feet apart, even with masks on, spending an hour or more indoors is a lot higher risk than standing outside for a little while. You’re right, it’s probably not zero risk, but sitting outside at a park, in a yard, driveway, etc 6 ft apart is a lot lower risk than doing the same inside.

          1. pancakes*

            Those aren’t the only choices, though. No one is forced to choose between gathering outside and staying 6 feet apart, and gathering inside and not staying 6 feet apart. A video chat, for example, is a safe third option.

            1. Guacamole Bob*

              So people who live alone aren’t supposed to have any in-person interaction with another human being for the next two years? That’s not humane.

              Video chat is better than nothing, but it doesn’t eliminate the very real struggles with isolation and loneliness that many people are dealing with right now. We need to find ways to reduce that burden with as little risk as possible if we don’t want people to develop serious mental health problems and/or just start ignoring all the regulations. Outdoor, distanced interactions seem like the right place to start.

              1. Fieldpoppy*

                Yes, so much of the messaging assumes one has a “household” that is more than one person. But more than 4 million people live alone in Canada — that’s a lot of people we’re condemning to screen-mediated contact for a very long time if we don’t create more of a shared understanding of harm reduction/risk analysis.

              2. pancakes*

                I didn’t and wouldn’t say that people who live alone should have no in-person interaction for 2 years. I’m not following as to where you think I said that. I’m not following, either, as to what sort of life someone would have to be living for them to be cut off from all human interaction for 2 years. Even researchers in places like Antarctica aren’t quite that isolated. I don’t think this sort of exaggeration is productive.

                1. anon for this*

                  But it’s literally what is being suggested when the “rule” is:

                  1) you can only interact in person with people in your household
                  2) until a vaccine is developed and deployed.

                  If you have no one else in your household, and vaccines take at minimum 18 months (and more likely years) to develop and deploy, there you are.

                  If you don’t think ‘this sort of exaggeration is productive’, then you have to modify either 1) or 2) above.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Anon, I think your premise is wrong with #2. The issue is the amount of contact while cases are still increasing (if they are in your area) / before they have begun decreasing. Eventually that will no longer be the case and the risk assessment will be different (and that will happen much faster if people practice social distancing right now).

                3. Epidemiologist*

                  Alison, I think you’re a little too optimistic if you think the risk assessment is going to be different any time soon. There is not going to be a consistent downward trend in the number of cases. There will be several spikes, some of them probably bigger than what we are experiencing now. A lot of the social distancing guidelines will be necessary until a vaccine is developed and deployed.

                4. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  My understanding — and please correct me if I’m wrong or have outdated information — is that we’re likely to need to do it in waves. But mainly I can’t believe the risks people are taking while the cases in the first wave haven’t even leveled off yet.

                5. Epidemiologist*

                  There has been a lot of talk about waves. That was one of the original predictions, but based on what’s been happening so far in the US (people insisting on opening the economy before we even get over the initial peak and refusing to comply with guidelines), its becoming more clear that that is not realistic. There won’t be times when the number of new cases is so low that we can safely stop social distancing for a while. Those waves that were originally predicted will end up being more like plateaus with spikes. 

                6. Guacamole Bob*

                  Maybe I’m skewed in my thinking because for my job we’re doing some planning that assumes social distancing measures will be in place for the next year-ish, and possibly for significantly longer until there’s a vaccine.

                  But it’s already been two months, and there’s no end in sight, with cases maybe starting to plateau but not declining in my area, and testing not where it needs to be, and it’s all very scary and depressing. Yes, some people are doing incredibly stupid stuff. But most people are doing the best they can and are trying to figure out the best way to manage risk sustainably given their individual circumstances around family, housing, finances, physical health, mental health, etc.

                7. Guacamole Bob*

                  And I feel like I’m coming across as cavalier, but I’m really not. My whole family goes for walks and bike rides in our suburban neighborhood. I’m the only one who has been shopping at all, and I go to some sort of store (mostly grocery but a couple of times to get other essentials) a little under once a week on average. Other than that we haven’t had any outside contact except mail delivery and a couple of packages in two months. We’re pretty locked down, which is a huge privilege.

                  But I’ve been talking to friends and family who live alone, or who are otherwise struggling much more than we are, and I don’t fault them for deciding that it looks like current circumstances will persist indefinitely and one small step up the risk scale is worth the benefits. Especially since the emerging science points to outdoor socially-distant contact wearing masks to be pretty low risk (I know nothing is 100% certain, but there are a variety of indicators all pointing that way).

                8. Kiki*

                  I think this interaction exemplifies that part of the issue is that there has not been clear communication about when social distancing restrictions will be eased up. Obviously nobody knows exactly when because that is very dependent on a lot of variables, but there hasn’t even been clear communication of what metrics we’re looking for at this point. Is it until your area sees two weeks of declining cases? Is it until there’s a vaccine? Is it until some random person decides they need a haircut?

                  I think most people, most places were very willing to maintain strict distancing/isolation measures for 8 weeks, but as weeks turn to months, people are beginning to think, “Well, I cannot possibly do this for 18-36 months until a vaccine is available, so may as well take X risk now.” I think we need to do a better job communicating what metrics we’re looking for before we move to a less restrictive form of distancing and be honest with people about exactly what we need to do now and a *realistic* tentative estimate for how long.

                  With that in mind, I think we collectively need to think of ways we can mitigate risks but make stay at home orders more bearable for those who are completely alone in their households, people whose households are packed to the gills, people who don’t have access to safe outdoor space, etc.

        6. kz*

          I agree. I’ve been extremely careful during all of this (I’m lucky enough to work from home, only go out for necessities like groceries and doctors appointments). But there’s no way I’m living like this for the next year or two. I’m about to have my first baby in a month and a half, so I’m hyper aware of the risks. But at this point I’m willing to occassionally engage in the low risk activity of hanging out outside, with masks, 6ft apart or more if it means I can see family that I havent been able to see since December. This will be allowed in my area soon. I’m well aware that none of that is a magical guarantee, but as others have pointed out it’s much less risky than hanging out inside.

        7. professor*

          no, this is not harsh. Yes, it’s lower risk outdoors, but the whole point of proper social distancing is an extreme measure to cut off transmission so we can stop doing this! If everyone was actually doing this, we would have had this situation under control within a month, not years. With everyone messing it up, yeah, this may go on for years.

          ~a biologist

          1. Librarian1*

            And then we let up on social distancing and cases go back up again? Having everybody doing extreme social distancing for a month to lower cases doesn’t change that fact that cases will increase again the second we let up on these measures. Sorry, but it’s just completely unrealistic to think we only have to social distance for a month and then things can go back to normal, or something more normal than this is.

            1. fhqwhgads*

              Social distancing was supposed to be a temporary measure while testing and contract tracing ramped up. Except…most states didn’t ramp up anywhere near enough because there weren’t enough test kits or reagents or swabs to do that much testing. I read an article over the weekend that indicated the US is about to double testing capacity – which sounds good at first – except it’s still only half as many daily tests as are needed to get out of “everybody quarantine themselves because every interaction is a possible exposure” and into “quaratine only people we’ve determined have likely been exposed”. So longer the insufficient testing lasts (combined a bit with some people not following the restrictions at all and other places opening out of impatience), the longer the “everyone” measures drag.

      5. Koala dreams*

        Oh, that’s interesting. Where I live physical distance walks are recommended. For elderly people, or people who can’t go for a walk, it’s recommended to meet or talk at a distance. In one article two brothers met up every week at different sides of a bridge to have coffee together, but with physical distance.
        Parties with many people is of course not recommended.
        Restaurants need to have enough space between tables to be allowed to serve customers. Most of the few restaurants still open solved this by removing half the tables and chairs. Of course, many restaurants are still closed.

        Would it help with your annoyance if you imagine that those people have been recommended to do those kind of walks or meetings?

        1. professor*

          Actually, this infuriates me as it is inaccurate information. As an immuncompromised person, I’m going to have to isolate long after others risk is reduced. And the more people do things like this the longer they and especially people like me have to isolate.

          1. Koala dreams*

            It infuriates you that people follow recommendations? Or it infuriates you that different people follow different recommendations? On my part, I think it’s very sensible that recommendations are different depending on the local circumstances, the health needs of different persons, the current state of the pandemic, and other factors. How can people think that everybody should behave exactly the same way?

        2. TootsNYC*

          at that restaurant with those customers spaced farther apart…

          What about the server, who has to bring food to multiple people from many different households, and is in that enclosed space all day?

          Does a customer’s wish for a meal in a restaurant trump the server’s health?

          in so many of these, I see people write or speak about the risk to the customer, but never the risk to the worker who is serving them.

          1. Koala dreams*

            If you have to work in a restaurant, a grocery store, as a delivery driver or in a hospital, the recommendations are impossible to follow. (Or rather, there is some fine print at the end about work being an exemption in those cases.) It’s very hard to understand the thought process around this kind of recommendations. Restaurants are a smaller problem, since so many have closed, and the servers have been laid off and can’t go to work any more, but grocery stores, toilet paper factories and delivery drivers are busier than ever.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              Yeah, they pretty much are impossible, even with masks and plexiglass. This is why I decided that a retail stop-gap job was not going to happen as long as I’m still with my vulnerable relative.

      6. MissGirl*

        The doctor linked to above cites the outdoors as low risk. It’s work and home where you’re in enclosed spaces that are biggest places of transference.

        1. Amy Sly*


          There are no known cases of outdoor transmission. None. The UV in sunlight and the fresh air seem to keep the virus from being absorbed in high enough quantities to cause sickness, not to mention the benefit Vitamin D has on the body’s immune system.

          1. Reba*

            I don’t think any of that is accurate.

            Even if it is true that there have been “no” cases transmitted outdoors–which we cannot possibly know–it is certainly too soon to claim we understand by what mechanics things are or are not happening.

            1. Reba*

              Sorry, that was too harsh, Amy Sly!

              I just wanted to point out that just because we haven’t documented something happening, doesn’t mean it hasn’t. There are so many infections with unknown point of transmission.

              1. Amy Sly*

                Granted, it’s certainly possible, and yes, there’s an awful lot we don’t know. But at the same time, it’s a virus, not an area-of-effect spell. Transmission appears to require a certain level of exposure, not just accidentally crossing into someone’s bubble of personal space, and that exposure level does not appear to have been met under outdoor conditions.

                1. Pomegranate Tea*

                  What Amy Sly is saying is in line with what public health officials in my jurisdiction are telling people. Public health where you are may be saying something different, or you may have your own interpretation of the data that doesn’t agree, but I think this falls short of “misinformation.”

                2. ThatGirl*

                  Yep. This. Sunlight, airflow, etc all affect it – people sitting in direct airflow at a restaurant or office are more likely to infect each other; people crossing paths briefly outside in the sunshine and breeze are unlikely to have any significant exposure.

                  (I would never say never, but like you said, this is a virus, not a radius spell)

                3. Fieldpoppy*

                  Yes, I interviewed an infectious disease expert on this exact topic about exercising outdoors last week and what Amy says is consistent. In droplet transmission (which this is), you have to actually encounter a droplet of virus with some receptive moist part of your own body. This virus is “wimpy” when exposed to UV light, so outside, light and wind disperse droplets pretty quickly. So distance + outside is much lower risk than anything inside.

                4. Not So NewReader*

                  @Fieldpoppy, this is matching up with something I read. The article said the virus does not do well in heat nor in dampness. Another article went on at length about UVC totally killing the virus. But UVC would probably do us in also.

      7. londonedit*

        From today, in the UK we’re now allowed to meet up with one person from outside our own household, as long as we’re outdoors and we stay more than 2m apart. We can also now sit in parks (which wasn’t allowed before; you were only allowed to move through parks and open spaces while exercising) but again, we’re only allowed to sit less than 2m apart from members of our own household. Everyone has their own opinion on that – especially when people who cannot work from home are now being encouraged to go back to their jobs, with the attendant pressure on a public transport system that had all but shut down to a skeleton service during the full lockdown – but those are the new rules. I do agree that the problem is that the ‘Stay 2m apart’ message has been interpreted by some people as ‘Do what you want as long as you’re 2m apart’ when that’s obviously not the case – I’ve heard accounts of plenty of people having guests round for barbecues during the full lockdown, ‘it’s fine because we’re sitting 2m apart in the garden’, which is just ridiculous. But the police don’t really have the time or the resources to break up gatherings unless they’re in public places.

      8. Kiki*

        I agree that it’s frustrating and more adults should be able to understand certain things without a lot of guidance, but I do think the way information about COVID-19 has been disseminated to the public has been really confusing (in the US, at least). Where are the PSAs on mask and distancing etiquette? Where are the signs in public places? I’m very online and read a lot of news and I imagine the readership of Ask a Manager skews similarly, but that’s not how most people are. I think there’s really been a tremendous failure to reach the public where they are. And there’s been some lack of clarity because this is an evolving situation which can’t be helped, but when public health recommendations switch from “Don’t wear masks: they may even be worse than nothing” to “wear a mask whenever you’re in public,” there has to be a larger concerted communication strategy than we’ve seen.

        1. Kiki*

          And especially with more and more workplaces and offices bringing people back to work and saying, “We’re complying with government standards, so all our employees are safe!” Even though the design of most workplaces makes it nearly impossible to properly distance for 100% of the workday (most bathrooms are too small, most offices don’t have enough sinks for everyone to wash their hands as often as they’ll need, hallways are narrow, people inherently touch tons of things in kitchens, etc.).
          I flat out don’t believe most workplaces that are bringing people back in the next couple months are going to do enough and we’re going to see a new set of outbreaks. But if I were to believe what businesses and workplaces are telling the public and employees, I would think, “Well, if I go back to work and sit exactly 6ft from Marc in accounting for 8 hours a day, isn’t it just as safe for me to sit 6ft from my friends outside?”

          1. Blueberry*

            Well said. In the US at least the governmental responses have been flawed and lacking at most levels, and that’s leading to so much confusion.

            1. londonedit*

              It’s been the same here. For seven weeks we had ‘Stay at home’ as the message, with very clear instructions that you were only allowed to leave the house for essential shopping, medical needs or exercise once a day. You were explicitly not allowed to visit friends or family, or sit/sunbathe in parks. Now, the government has reduced the message to ‘Stay alert’, which frankly means nothing, and is saying ‘If you cannot work from home, go to work, but avoid public transport’, which in cities like London is nigh on impossible. They’re also saying ‘people are advised to wear a face covering in situations where social distancing is impossible’, but there’s no firm rule on what that means. They’re saying you can meet one person in a park, and you can sit in a park, as long as you’re more than 2m away from anyone outside your own household. But you can’t meet both of your parents in a park at the same time, even if you stay 2m away from them. For some reason garden centres are now open in addition to food shops, pharmacies etc. The whole thing has descended into confusion since Sunday, with more ‘guidance’ coming out every day to clarify things that people just don’t understand. I can imagine the longer this goes on, the more people will start to think ‘Well this is ridiculous, if the government don’t know what they’re talking about then I’ll just have to do whatever I’m comfortable with’.

            2. The Original K.*

              Yes – remember, there was a point when public health officials were telling us NOT to wear masks.

              1. Misty*

                At that point one of my roommates was wearing a mask everywhere and people were shaming them because masks were supposed to being saved only for health care workers in my area (never mind that my roommate sewed the mask themselves so it’s not like they took it away from someone else or bought it and now no one else could buy it.)

                1. Kiki*

                  I feel like that demonstrates the nonsensical nature of a lot of the shaming going on with COVID-19. Nobody completely understands what’s going on at any given time, but people are very angry and want to unleash their frustration somewhere. I’m sorry your roommate had to go through that!

        2. peachie*

          Agreed. I work (tangentially/behind-the-scenes) in healthcare and my daily work is largely focused on COVID these days — and I’M still unclear on some of the nuances. (That said, I also see how much work the healthcare groups I’m associated with are doing to combat the epidemic and provide guidance/support to the public — which I very much appreciate! But it’s hard when the larger public messaging infrastructure isn’t there [and is wildly inconsistent depending on source/location].)

          1. Kiki*

            There are so many people doing incredible work! I don’t want to diminish the importance of their efforts, it’s just that we’ve allowed larger public messaging infrastructure to decay and get out of date (along with plenty of other infrastructure). While societal norms and taboos are part of establishing public health initiatives, right now I see a lot of anger (often from relatively privileged folks) being directed at people who are probably trying but not being given the resources and information they need.

            1. peachie*

              Oh, definitely! I agree with you — as with many things, COVID-related and not, it’s amazing to see the work that local and/or private entities are doing for their communities, but without a larger, unified framework, there’s only so much they can do.

      9. Quill*

        Yes, six feet is for UNAVOIDABLE public interactions. Anything else… avoid the public.

      10. Elizabeth West*

        A relative who doesn’t live in this house has already done this twice. Although we suspect they already had it, that doesn’t mean they couldn’t infect us. But what can I do if Parent lets them in? Nothing, except make them some masks!

    2. AcademiaNut*

      Thank you! It’s not a magic number of safety.

      It’s also occurred to me that when people are sitting exactly six feet apart, particularly in a noisy environment, they’re generally speaking louder than they would if they were sitting right next to each other, which could spray droplets further.

    3. Blue S*

      Right, but as areas start to open back up it’s a guideline go follow. When I start resuming going to retail businesses, restaurants, my office, etc. I’ll be remaining 6 feet away. Saying “6 FEET ISN’T SAFE” isn’t going to do any tangible good in that situation.

      To the original OP, bringing it to HR is definitely an option. You may want to think about how you are going to deal with people who are not properly searing their masks in other areas (and I say this as someone is is wearing one that fully covers my nose and mouth when I am out). As we navigate the reopening, there are going to be people who wear a mask improperly, or not at all. Businesses can require their employees to wear one to enter. But on an individual level, we are all going to need to realize that everyone is not going to do this “perfectly “. At the end of the day, you have control over your own actions. If other people aren’t wearing a mask correctly, you will need to figure out how to handle it in a way that doesn’t cause you unnecessary distress.

    4. Mongrel*

      Being a gamer, I just equate it to;

      Every time I’m come into contact with people I’m rolling a dice and hoping it doesn’t come up 1.
      I want to both reduce the amount of times I’m rolling that dice and make the dice as big as possible.

      1. EPLawyer*

        THIS. 6 feet isn’t a magical number. Maintain at least 6 feet distance and spend as little time around others as possible.

        If you are lonely, have virtual tea with someone. Set up a google hangout with your friends. Something. But going and hanging out in groups, even if you are maintaining 6 feet should be minimized. The more you go out, the more likely you are to get snake eyes.

  17. Rainbow Unikitty*

    OP #5- I work in neonatal healthcare. My coworker delivered her baby in the hospital that we work in. Many of her colleagues saw…well, everything you see during childbirth. No one thought anything of it. Years later and I don’t even remember all the gory details of her delivery or any of the things one might be embarrassed about their coworkers seeing in that situation.

    Or, as my coworker put it to her aghast mother, “It’s not like they’re gonna be picking my hoo-ha out of a lineup”.

    1. NeonFireworks*

      Years ago I worked at a medical clinic in the same tiny neighborhood where I grew up. I heard/saw all sorts of stuff about people I knew, and it didn’t change anything about my interactions. I knew more, sure, but it was strictly confidential and there was so much information going through at any given time that I haven’t retained more than a small fraction of it. Heck, the most I did in response to hearing about normal medical stuff happening to involve people I knew was think, “oh gee, if this were going to happen to them, I’m so glad they came in and got it checked out!” Because bodies do wonky stuff.

    2. Silmaril*

      OP5 – I completely agree with the above.

      I’m a female OBGYN, and have been on both sides of this equation – I’ve had healthcare provided by colleagues (of both genders) before, and I did feel mildly squeamish before the first time, but to be honest it was far less awkward than I thought it would be – I had a brief moment of feeling a bit self conscious at being half-naked for an examination in front of one male co-worker (who is also a platonic friend), but I reminded myself we are both professionals and essentially shrugged and moved on. I didn’t love wandering around my workplace in a backless gown, but I’d echo the suggestion by Ange to ask for a second gown to wear over it like a dressing gown – this felt so much better.

      On the flip side of the relationship, I’ve also looked after plenty of colleagues (many of them choose specifically to see me, which I take as a huge compliment) – but that is very much compartmentalised for me, so when I’m subsequently interacting with them as co-workers, I don’t even think of the prior doctor-patient interactions we’ve had. When you’re back at work afterwards, no-one is going to be thinking ‘oh, I remember catheterising you/stitching up your perineum/seeing you vomit after your anaesthetic’.

  18. C*

    OP 5: I work in a healthcare facility in a really small town and have received healthcare from co-workers. It was really weird at first but they are really used to treating co-workers and acted so normal that I just went along with it until it felt normal to me too.

    1. WS*

      +1, same here. I’ve given out co-workers’ medications (and have them give out mine, including mental health-related medications) and seen/been seen by co-workers in all states of undress, and it was fine. It does feel a bit awkward in the moment but it really does blur into the background of your work day.

      1. WS*

        I should add: where I used to work, there was a medical clinic where one of the doctors was a massive gossip and would leak people’s juicy medical details to other healthcare workers all the time, even when you tried to put her off. We all knew not to go to that clinic for anything important, and she did in fact get reported for breaching patient privacy not long after I’d moved elsewhere. But I think OP #5 would know perfectly well if she had one of those types as a co-worker, and would be framing that as the concern.

  19. All Outrage, All The Time*

    OP4 – your finances are no one’s business and you don’t need to share any information about it. Just be polite and say thanks when people with good intentions send you things you don’t need. A lot of people (I’m not one of them) get their noses out of joint about people making a profit from the pandemic, so I’d keep that information close to your chest just generally.

    1. OPNUMBER4*

      To that I say: I’m not a business, I can’t “profit from the pandemic.” It just so happens the government thinks I deserve to be paid more than my boss thought I did.

  20. TiffIf*

    I flinch at the idea of moving in with coworkers.

    Yet at the same time–I’ve lived with co-workers three times–and all three times the cause and effect were the reverse–people I lived with let me know about job openings and encouraged me to apply to positions (that I got) at their place of work. This progression feels more natural to me than the reverse?

  21. Flora*

    OP2: My office is using a combination of MS Teams and Zoom, plus the usual email and phones and whatever all. Both Teams and Zoom are connected to Outlook, in our configuration, and so any time one is in a “meeting” or “call” on either, or often when something is on the Outlook calendar (even if that thing is just a reminder to water the llamas), they show as busy on I think both (?) and so for one thing, that might be what’s going on with your manager and it’s possible people who have few meetings/calls may not even be aware that’s a thing that happens. And what Alison said: it’s fair for anyone doing work of any kind to require periods to concentrate on tasks! However, I also think that if this is creating a weird dynamic somehow or if the manager is actually showing as busy 7 of 8 hours each day, it might be worth a conversation, maybe in a staff meeting or something, where you indicate that you want to respect that busy indicator, but since it’s a lot of the time you wonder how they would like you to communicate with them if you actually need them while it’s up (email only? Leave a voicemail? something else?), or is there a way to tell whether this is a BUSY busy or interruptible. Maybe the manager doesn’t even know it’s happening, or is blocking out tasks that are easy to remember on site and hard to remember remotely but is actually available, or something else.

    1. Mazzy*

      Yeah, not to mention, the teams thing can be wrong, My status got stuck as “away” the other day and I had to restart my computer to get it back. Also, I have loads of stuff in my outlook calendar as reminders to do work and teams turns red and makes it look like I’m in a meeting at those times, when I’m not

  22. AL (the other one)*


    Speaking as someone who once lived with a co-worker, don’t do this unless you really have to…

    It can get really messy and awkward. None of you are in a direct reporting line at the moment, but what if that changed?

  23. Keymaster of Gozer*

    OP3: I’d be backing up at an enormous rate (and likely holding my breath!) from someone wearing a mask with their nose sticking out so I share your concern. Additionally the people pulling the masks up and down all day are kind of negating the whole point of having one.

    I’d be personally inclined to remind them that distance, masks, even antibody tests or whether you’re a healthy person are absolutely no guarantee against catching this virus. But the more we all abide by the rules, the less risk there is for us all and a better chance of this being resolved quicker.

    Or basically, “if you want things to go back to normal, wear masks properly, don’t touch your face, keep a good distance, wash your hands and avoid socialising for now”. With the major proviso that you’re the best judge on how your coworkers will react, so you decide whatever approach is safest for you.

    1. Retail not Retail*

      I’ve decided the best recourse is wear my mask, wash my hands, and be distant from everyone as much as possible.

      My boss says it’s not realistic to wear them properly and we don’t have to if we’re not in public areas. But taking them on and off all day is pointless.

      So I just call them security theater.

      1. Lora*

        As someone who spent the majority of her career in clean rooms working with severe hazards…

        Yeah, it did take a little while before I got acclimated to wearing PPE all day long. And I was wearing a lot more than just a mask. Yes, it is hot and vaguely annoying and takes getting used to. No, people aren’t going to do it perfectly at first and will require many reminders of how to do it properly, as learning new habits take considerable time and nagging to learn properly.

        Other things that are annoying, uncomfortable and take getting used to, yet magically we all learn and get over it: puberty, wearing glasses, allergies, dietary restrictions, wearing clothes when we go outside (I promise you, EVERYONE went through a stage ages 2-3 where we insisted on running around naked), pooping in toilets, driving cars, using a smartphone (I’m an Old, some of the smartphone things are still quite maddening to me), using Microsoft Office, signing legal paperwork, standing in lines at amusement parks in 90+ degree weather with a passel of whining kids who want to know can they get on the rollercoaster NOW, quitting smoking, red wine hangovers after age 30, wearing dressy clothes to work when you get promoted, whatever the worst specialty software you have to use at your job might be, customer service…there are tons of things that are annoying and frustrating and uncomfortable, yet we are routinely told to suck it up and deal with it, and nobody feels even a little bit bad about that. Wearing a mask properly is just another one of those things. Do it. It sucks for everyone, but do it anyway just like you poop in a toilet (hopefully! not a potted plant!) in order to be a decent human being.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer*

        I’m finding it hard to say anything about your boss without resorting to the more colourful parts of the English language.

        Way back when I was a virologist (primarily worked with the herpesvirus family so Epstein Barr, chickenpox etc. I gave it up when I became disabled) we had to be trained up to biocontainment protocols. First few times you put on all the gear you feel a right wally! But if a bunch of 20 somethings can get used to having pretty much every square inch of your body covered…your boss has no excuse.

        (Note: the all-body stuff? Doesn’t half make you sweat. I got mask-induced-acne too!)

        1. Retail not Retail*

          Augh yes little pimples around my chin!

          I may change my tune if we’re still masking up once summer hits (“you’re all catching my germs i’m not mulching in july heat with a mask!” said while wielding a pitchfork. “So how did you get injured this time?” sighs safety person. “What had happened was…”)

  24. LGC*

    LW2: …honestly, it’s a little troubling that people feel like that – although I’m used to saying that I’m busy and people just launching in to whatever they want to say! I feel like for some people, “approachable” means “available for my every demand” – and that’s pretty entitled, in my opinion. (I can’t say for sure that your coworkers are like this, but I definitely know some people who ARE like this.)

    I think it really depends on how responsive your boss is overall. If she’s “busy,” but getting back in a timely manner, that’s entirely different than if she’s not getting back in a timely manner.

    LW3: Not a lawyer (and not using the famous acronym because this is a classy comments section), but doesn’t the ADA require you to provide reasonable accommodations? One of my friends (who’s a store clerk) has difficulty wearing masks…so he ended up wearing a face shield instead to work.

    In this case, the health purpose of masking is to prevent transmission to others, not from others. (Which is why I get a bit annoyed by the masks with vents and even the odd N95-looking masks I’ve seen.) So an ADA accommodation would be “wear a face covering that isn’t as restrictive, or keep your pestilence-filled behind home.”

    LW4: You don’t owe them an explanation…but also, know that you are lucky! Two of my friends got laid off (like, laid off laid off, not furloughed), and it took them over a month to get their UI and supplement. (They did get back pay, and my state is a bit more generous with UI than average to begin with.) Like, I’d feel uncomfortable with getting food bank tips from my job too, but it’s a pretty reasonable concern to have.

    1. EPLawyer*

      that’s what I am wondering. If coworkers are feeling the boss is unapproachable because GASP she is busy sometimes, I think the coworkers need to rethink that. Do they want to be able to talk to the boss at any time about anything? Is the boss never allowed to have a meeting? Would the coworkers be thrilled if the boss was interrupted while meeting with THEM because she has to appear approachable at all times?

      1. LGC*

        Yeah, I can’t tell from the letter what the coworkers mean, exactly, since I’ve felt both sides.

        For what it’s worth, I can also read it more benignly as – like – the boss always appears to be busy and the coworkers feel like they don’t want to interrupt if she’s busy. In which case…that’s still on the employees, but it’s less entitlement and more a lack of confidence. And it could be on the boss too, but it’s not that she should be more available – it’s that she should communicate how she should be reached and when she can get back to people.

    2. Bostonian*

      I agree: being “busy” on a messaging system does not equal unapproachable. Have you tried email? Is it urgent? I have also been frustrated by the coworker who claims “I felt like I couldn’t talk to you because your Skype was on ‘busy’ all day”… when this person never tried sending an email or walking over to my desk.

      Email is key. If it’s urgent, I’ll get to it quickly. If it’s not a priority, sorry, you might have to wait a few hours or a day.

      Now, I do understand that for managers optics matter. And the “busy” indicator definitely sends a signal that one would rather not be disturbed. But I think a few hours a day isn’t unrealistic.

    3. LQ*

      Busy can mean a lot of things. And a little is getting comfortable with what you need vs what your boss needs. If you want a response right away and want to clear your desk every day, but your boss isn’t asking for a 1 day turn around and you’re mad at your boss for not meeting your deadline when it isn’t their deadline, that’s not a problem. (I can see everyone around me doing some of this right now when people are under stress (and me, I’m totally doing this!!), they know it’s not possible but expect it and get anxious anyway.)

      If your boss is on your case about getting stuff done and you’re waiting weeks for them? That’s an entirely different issue.

  25. AnonNurse*

    #5 – I work in endoscopy. A few months ago the tables were turned, so to speak, and I needed an endoscopic procedure. A lot of people expressed shock that I would be going to my place of employment for my procedure because they thought it would be more embarrassing or other worries along those lines. I told them I actually felt better about it because I know what great care we take of people on a daily basis, so I know they will care for me just as well. Also, since I knew the system, there were few surprises for me and I felt prepared for all the steps in the process. The day of the procedure could not have gone better. I felt so well taken care of and there was no embarrassment, only understanding from all the staff. Many had also been patients in the past so they were especially attentive to take care of one of their own. I know one staff member has brought it up to patients before in the sense that “AnonNurse took care of me when I was having it done so I know you’re in great hands” but otherwise, unless the coworker brings it up, it’s like it never happened.

    I know it can feel weird to be on the other side but I’ve taken care of many co-workers and their family members over the years. I assure you, we just want you to feel like you’re well taken care of and getting the best treatment possible. We understand the feeling of being exposed to people you work with and really do tend to act like nothing ever happened when you return. I hope when you’re able to have your procedure, all goes perfectly!

  26. TimeCat*

    For LW2 – I have also had to set my Skype to “Do Not Disturb” because I have been sharing my screen or using my computer for a presentation and people IM anyway.

    The idea that a boss occasionally setting to busy makes her unapproachable is absurd. One thing I had to learn as a manager was I had to block off time for myself or request people wait sometimes or particular people would expect me to immediately drop everything or want to talk on the phone for ages and I ended up working extremely late to get stuff done. You simply can’t be constantly available people have to learn to take their turn (absent emergencies of course).

    1. Sneaky Ninja for this one*

      There’s a way for DND on Skype to block incoming Skypes, I’m not exactly sure how, though. Mine will block unless I initiated the convo.

    2. hbc*

      Yeah, “absurd” is the word that came to mind for me too. There are times when I am unapproachable, in that if you would try to approach me, I would stop you somehow. In a meeting, having a touchy conversation, getting unpleasant or constructive feedback from *my* manager, having a one-on-one with another direct report who deserves my full attention, etc, etc.. (And given the economic client, possibly needing a good stretch of time to figure out how to keep the business afloat without laying off said employees.) Would they prefer that they never know when she’s unavailable, or do they want her available at all times and they’re cool with her typing messages while they’re making their case for a promotion to her?

      Either she’s less available than needed and this is one tiny element of that, or this is only a sign that those coworkers lack critical thinking skills.

  27. Can't Breathe*

    I’ve just returned to work and find the mask unbearable. Wearing it for a long time makes me feel sick because I’m suffocating. I have to pull it down so I can breathe but I have a desk job and can do that so long as no one comes into my cube.

    Unfortunately my boss keeps interrupting me unexpectedly so I’m fiddling with the darn thing all day long. It’s maddening and I hate it. I’d almost rather take my risks with the virus, especially since I suspect I’ve already had it and recovered.

    The daily sign-off that I haven’t been traveling internationally is dumb though. One time, when starting back to work is understandable. Every day? Yeah… I somehow managed to fly to China overnight then fly back, then come to work the next day.

    1. Retail not Retail*

      If you have a desk job, could you work from home still? Because it’s not about your safety, it’s about other’s.

      Additionally you could ask your boss to message you in some way vs popping in all the time.

    2. nott the brave*

      The mask isn’t for you, it’s for the people around you. Other people wearing the mask prevents their germs from reaching you; you wearing the mask prevents your germs from reaching them.

      Please do not “take the chance” because you are misunderstanding the chance entirely.

      1. PB*

        This. The mask is to protect others from germs you may be carrying. The chance you’d be taking is infecting other people, not yourself, and they did not agree to that risk. No one likes wearing masks, but they’re better than spreading a deadly infection.

        1. Mazzy*

          Can someone please acknowledge what the OP said and stop repeating what’s already all over the internet?

          1. Allonge*

            Thank you. Yes, wearing masks is important, but breathing is more of an immediate concern. It’s good to share tips that make it easier (mask type, wfh etc.). We should not expect people to suffocate.

            1. pancakes*

              Has anyone in fact suffocated in a mask? I understand people find them uncomfortable and I do too, but let’s not pretend being uncomfortable is deadly.

              1. Allonge*

                Obviously I cannot say what any poster feels or not. I have taken off a mask (two years ago) when I could not breathe and I was in an environment where there was a danger of breathing in sulphur gas (not recommended). I just did not get enough air, and the maybe sulphur was not enough of a problem against that.

                There is a post below saying those with asthma or other breating difficulties cannot wear masks long term. It is very much possible for the exact same mask to cause only inconvenience to one and severe distress for someone else. Maybe, as always, we need to take people at their word here.

                1. pancakes*

                  Taking people at their word doesn’t mean that anything anyone says has to be correct.

                2. Allonge*

                  Direct quote: “I’ve just returned to work and find the mask unbearable. Wearing it for a long time makes me feel sick because I’m suffocating.” What about this do you think is incorrect?

                  I mean, technically Can’t Breathe could be cackling in an evil fashion and looking for opportunities to infect others, but if we count that, there is no purpose to any discussion here as we can all be liars.

              2. Actual Vampire*

                I saw a news headline that claimed that someone had passed out while driving while wearing a mask (due to lack of oxygen). I personally have become really light-headed wearing a mask. But I wonder if LW can switch to a different kind of mask if they’re having trouble breathing.

              3. pancakes*

                Allonge, my remark about not everything everyone says being correct wasn’t referring to the OP’s comment about feeling sick, but about your comment about expecting people to suffocate. I don’t think anyone actually expects people who are having trouble breathing in a mask to keep it on anyhow until they keel over! I can see how my wording wasn’t clear, though.

                1. Allonge*

                  Sorry, we were then talking about different things. I have seen some pretty ugly comments online about people not caring why someone takes a mask off – I would like to hope that that is more working off frustrations online and people would generally stop short of enforcing it in real life if someone is in genuine distress from the mask.

                  And again, we should be wearing masks, we should be wearing them correctly, and we should be working from home if that is a possibility.

          2. pancakes*

            Their comment will remain whether anyone acknowledges it or not. It’s not going to evaporate.

          3. nott the brave*

            We did. They said they want to take the risk because they think they are not at risk anymore, due to the circumstances of their mask. However, the risk is not what they think it is.

            If they’re having trouble with their mask, the real alternative is to try and continue working from home or finding one that fits and/or works better for their needs. I’m sympathetic because I have a huge bundle of sinus problems so that breathing in general is a chore most days, but the misunderstanding of the simple fact on what the mask is for also needed correcting. It being “all over the internet” was not everywhere enough, clearly demonstrated here.

    3. WellRed*

      Is it time to have a quick chat with your boss asking to call or email you? I’m not back at work yet, but we’ve been told we’ll have to wear masks. Since I find them a struggle, I’ll be working from home more frequently.

    4. Masks! Wear them!*

      If I were your coworker I’d be in HR right now pointing out that you are a huge liability.

      Masks are now a required part of our dress code and there are real consequences for not following it.

      I hope when you say cube, you mean an office with a door. If not, you are contaminating the entire office.

      1. Mazzy*

        Calling someone a liability and running to Hr because they have trouble breathing is definitely not how to get your way or get people to like you in the real world

        1. Need to Breathe*

          I don’t need to be liked.

          I do need to be alive. People like this are risking my life and the lives of others. I will damn well report their reckless endangerment of life!

          1. Crivens!*

            There are going to be people who for various reasons physically CANNOT wear masks and that’s going to have to be something we all adjust to in our new world, too. Try to remember that other people are human beings too and most of us are just trying our best.

        2. Masks! Wear them!*

          I also dont care if i am liked and just want to stay alive.

          I did report staff who were taking off their masks in situations they were not allowed to (like cause they felt like it, they can go outside if they want to, we are in a southern climate, are on a single floor, and no one is more than a 1 minute walk from outside). Wearing masks is a required part of our dress code and they were reminded. They get 2 warnings. My employer does see not wearing a mask as a liability and does care about our health and about being sued for exposing staff.

          We have been wearing masks since we atarted back for the full day and it is fine. None of the people currently at work have any medical or other issue with wearing masks and if they do, they would not have to work. “I dont like it” is not an acceptable reason to not follow our dress code/ wear masks. I go outside to eat, some have offices and are allowed to eat in them, and there are 2 rooms that can be used one at a time to eat (we will see how that goes when more staff come back to work).

          I have a relative with pretty bad asthma, he works in a medical facility and has no problem wearing a mask all day as well.

      2. Colette*

        The effectiveness of homemade masks is inconclusive, and there are risks to wearing them all day. I tend to fall into the category of thinking people should wear them when they’re in public, but I also think that expecting someone to wear a mask properly for 8 hours of work without ever touching it or taking it off isn’t a reasonable expectation.

        1. grace*

          Completely agreed. Most people aren’t healthcare workers who do that (and, for the record, healthcare workers also take their masks off during the day to eat, or drink, or to talk to their coworkers). The best thing to do is take care of YOURSELF and give the people around you whatever grace you can. It’s so infuriating to read these holier-than-thou / virtue signalling with mask wearing when in all likelihood, the vast majority of us didn’t wear masks with any sort of frequency two months ago.

          1. Sled Dog Mama*

            Healthcare workers do not take masks off just to “talk to coworkers” that completely defeats the purpose of wearing it. Yes we will take them off under normal situations when we’re not somewhere that requires them but if I’m somewhere like the OR that requires a mask I’m not taking it off to talk to a coworker, the whole purpose of the mask is to stop any droplets that come out of my mouth and nose (including while talking).
            Please note I said under normal circumstances, right now is anything but normal. I’m required to wear a mask properly covering Nose/mouth anytime I’m on duty right now. The only places I’m allowed to take it off are in the break room (which is carefully monitored for # of people) and if I’m alone in my office with the door closed and need a drink. Other wise I’m expected to be wearing it, even alone on my office.

            1. grace*

              Sure, they leave them on in the OR or exam room, but (under normal situations) they take them off after in the break room, or to go to the bathroom, etc! That’s the whole point – this isn’t normal, most people don’t know what’s going on, and pretending you’re suddenly better than everyone else because you (general) “know” how to wear PPE is just exhausting to deal with on a regular basis. If even healthcare workers are tired of this (and they are – at least in my experience of the people I know) who are trained in how to do it, I think it’s absolutely unrealistic to expect ordinary people who have never done this before to do it perfectly from the beginning.

        2. Quill*

          Yeah. Masks aren’t here to enable going out into the public unnecessarily. They’re a stopgap for unavoidable public interaction, and are a problem during an 8 hour day. For example, it’s pretty reasonable to expect people to wear a mask while out grocery shopping, but we should still avoid physically being in the office as much as possible. (though that’s on Breathe’s company, not breathe.)

      3. WellRed*

        Many workers have cubes, not offices. How are they supposed to eat? Please don’t suggest in their cars.

        1. Threeve*

          The plan for my workplace–open office, ugh–starting in June is designating all the conference rooms for lunch with people doing rotations. Staff are going to be rotating anyway for the foreseeable future (2 days in office, 3 days telework for most of us) to make sure that people are spaced out enough.

          Sanitize, remove mask, eat, new mask, sanitize, leave. Or people can eat outside. No idea what the compliance will be like, but it makes sense to me.

        2. Michelle*

          That’s actually one of the options in the return to work plan we got. Or we can eat in the banquet facilities to help have space between people. We are supposed to sanitize the table and chair before we eat and when we finish. I’ve asked what we are using for the chairs that will dry so we can eat during our 30 minute unpaid lunch. They don’t know yet. Well, we are supposed to return in less than a month, so someone needs to figure it out because they don’t want us bringing our own supplies in. Or perhaps they think we’ll stand up??

          I’m actually thinking about going outside and sitting on one of the small walls that line our walking path.

        3. SarahTheEntwife*

          Yeah, if we have to go back in to work at some point with masks on, I’m seriously worried about getting enough water. I get dehydrated enough as it is, and if I have to do a whole mask-change operation every time I drink I can’t just keep sipping water throughout the day like I usually do.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Straw, or water bottle with a straw that folds in or has a cap so floating drops don’t get on it.

      4. Can't Breathe*

        Well, since HR at my company specifically said it’s OK to remove them at my desk, I should be OK. And while you’re there complaining, please tell my company that only giving me, a new employee, 5 personal days off (No sick time, No PTO) for my entire first year is unreasonable!

        I already had to come to work sick (along with everybody in my office) when my boss went to China in November and got everyone sick. So sorry… not been sick since November and I’m not willing to suffocate and pass out for people like you.

    5. Mazzy*

      I agree. I think my job is going to open late in the year to avoid this whole thing. No one thinks it’s realistic to wear a mask for long periods of time. Thank God my job has this amount of common sense. Especially once summer comes this is going to be an issue for people working, they will have to keep changing them out for non sweaty ones and to wash their faces, or to drink more, at the very minimum. I feel bad for people who had to wear them everyday. The people at the grocery store seem miserable

    6. hbc*

      For the sign-off sheet, it’s really a matter of lawyers more than anything else. Plus, there are tons of Americans who live less than an hour’s drive from Mexico or Canada, and I had an employee in Mexico basically make a midnight run to Texas to move a relative from one place to another. He’s not in the office regularly and was answering emails and such, so he might not have remembered to volunteer that info nine days later, and I sure don’t want to maintain two different forms.

      Basically, the same reason I have to tell the Red Cross that I haven’t shot up illegal drugs or had sex for money since I filled out their questionnaire online. Which I filled out at 6am for a 6:30am appointment.

      1. LJay*

        And working in the airline industry I’m sure has skewed my norms on this a lot since travel is essential free for us, but my husband has flown from the US to Europe or South America and back over the course of a weekend multiple times in the past couple years. Maybe leave work a little early Friday, get home late Sunday.

        So it’s not something normal people would do under usual circumstances, but it’s something that can be done so why not get a sign-off that it wasn’t done if you think that will reduce your liability in some way.

        Overnight is kind of extreme, but with people working from home it’s not out of the realm of possibility that you couldn’t tell someone was in their house versus in an airport or on a plane with working wi-fi for a day I guess. Or if they don’t want to remember to track down people coming back off of furlough days or regular days off or whatever.

    7. Koala dreams*

      Ouch, nausea is horrible. Can you get an accomodation for this, such as working from home, or working in your office with the door closed and have people call or message you instead of walking over to you? I think any reasonable employer would prefer to give an accomodation in this case, even if there isn’t any rule that says they have to.

    8. Person from the Resume*

      I have to pull it down so I can breathe but I have a desk job and can do that so long as no one comes into my cube.

      Not really. Research has shown the worst transmission occurs indoors in places where the air is recirculated.
      The mask is not for your safety, but for the safety of others. 6 feet is not a magical distance. Just because coworkers can’t see you with your mask pulled down doesn’t mean that your exhalations are not being blown towards someone in a nearby cubical by the recirculated air and while they may be well over 6 feet away with that happening all day long for 8 hours they could get sick if you unknowingly have the virus.

      Try to find another mask type that doesn’t make you feel sick. Say you cannot wear a mask and need to continue to work from home. Try a face shield (maybe, not as sure about this).

      Yes, that daily international travel question is dumb. The disease in your country, state, city, neighborhood. Encounters with “outsiders” and “foreigners” are not the cause.

    9. Acronyms Are Life (AAL)*

      Have you tried a neck gaiter? They are used in construction to protect their faces and necks from the sun and large dust particles. They can be more comfortable than a mask because they are meant for warmer weather. Wearing masks takes getting used to, I’m gradually learning how to breathe without fogging up my glasses.

      While I understand the need for masks, there should be some sort of company guidance on when/where you can take your masks off in the workplace. For example, you can move your mask to drink coffee in your cube, but don’t bring your coffee to a meeting and remove your mask, or do so in the common areas. What about eating lunch? Maybe its just me but I think by creating policies that explain where you need to wear a mask and where you don’t people will respond better because expectations are clearly defined and they have somewhere to go to take a break from the mask.

    10. Generic Name*

      I’m the same way. I find the notion of wearing a mask all day to be unbearable. Luckily, I’ll be working from home until at least June 1, and my workplace has shared offices, with plans to rotate people in the office so only 1 person is in the office at a time, and with this setup we will be required to wear masks in common areas but not while alone in an office. If I were in your situation, I’d ask to continue working from home for longer, if that’s a possibility for you.

    11. Mediamaven*

      I feel the same way and I won’t bring my employees back to the office until the requirement of a mask is lifted. Literally I feel as though I’m being buried alive in a mask sometimes. I cannot imagine work all day in one and I don’t think that’s healthy to do. I also can’t help touching the mask all day because I’m trying to get some air in.I admire the people who don’t appear to have any issues with masks.

    12. kt*

      If you’re truly in a job where you have to talk to people and can’t use the mask, you could consider a clear face shield. Yes, at best you’d be co-opting the “sexy welder look” or something, but it’s something to consider.

    13. TootsNYC*

      I suspect I’ve already had it and recovered.
      Do we know yet whether you would still be shedding the virus?
      Because the point of the mask is to protect others.

  28. Subset Radio*

    I gave birth at my hospital (where I deliver babies). It was not ideal. All my colleagues were really great and only the nurse I’m very close with and hang out with outside of work ever said anything about all the weird stuff I said on nitrous (totally within the bounds of our friendship). But for me, the separation between Work Me and Vulnerable Me was more important than I realized. Even though I know all the colleagues who provided care to me look on that opportunity with fondness and affection for me if they think about it at all, for me it was hard to go back to work after breaking down that barrier, like it would be if I cried or lost my temper at work.

    I would think about whether you would feel the same way, and if so, take steps to limit either your exposure (pick another hospital, ask to be entered anonymously into the patient roster so people don’t pop by to say hello, etc) and your vulnerability (bring a robe from home, have a family member running interference for you). Having to be in a work headspace is not ideal while you’re healing, so also think about whether you’ll be able to fully be in patient mode if your colleagues are the ones attending to you.

    1. SweetestCin*

      I don’t even work in a medical field, but work in construction associated with hospitals. I chose a hospital based on where my provider had rights AND where the company I worked for was currently doing exactly no projects.

  29. Retail not Retail*

    I know the mask is for others not myself but lord it is hard adjusting it when it’s humid or rainy like yesterday.

    For those of us in the public eye, it’s security theater.

    We will be making the public wear masks. That should go over real well, bless guest services for doing it.

  30. OP - 5*

    I’ve had surgery at a hospital when I worked in an affiliated practice and knew some of the people I came into contact with. It was not a big deal. If anything, folks were on the more friendly side of professional, but still respectful of my privacy and focused on their jobs.

  31. Retail not Retail*

    One coworker has a paper cup mask on top of his head like a yarmulke.

    We are so doomed.

    Is there anything anyone can do? My boss dismisses social distancing at work on the grounds you can get it anywhere.

    1. Ranon*

      Point out that if someone gets it and spreads it at work he won’t have employees to actually do the work? The recovery time on this thing is substantial, it could really take a workplace down if spread happens.

      1. Retail not Retail*

        Three of my coworkers on a work release crew and some of them work outside the home. Like our guys.

        By the time we have a friggin fever it’s too late.

        We’re opening too soon.

        And it would be bad for my manager to lose all of us but we are not full on essential like 2 departments are. Specialized training

    2. PrincessFlyingHedgehog*

      It probably depends on your state’s guidelines for employees. Where I work (Ohio) requires that employees wear face coverings with only a few very specific exceptions. If the coworker is violating state guidelines and your boss won’t enforce it, you could report.

      1. Retail not Retail*

        Safety requirements, that’s adorable. Ours are “recommendations” and in fact I kinda pressed our HR head saturday about using language like “require” “must” “suggest”. I think we got away with making guests wear masks. Which makes it all the more boggling that we’re allowed to not wear them because we’re on the other side of the fence and the guests won’t be near us.

  32. TimeTravlR*

    I shared an apartment with a co-worker whose biggest flaw was gossiping, which I unfortunately didn’t realize before agreeing to move in with her. So of course my personal business was now everyone’s business at work too. I would recommend trying to avoid that living situation if you can. They may be lovely people, but sometimes people just talk too much

  33. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

    Any manager that has a “lunch” appointment? No? Our scrumaster and manager do this to have an hour of peace, especially now.

    1. Hillary*

      I leave it open most days because it’s one of the few windows for our west coast folks to reach me, but if it’s in danger of filling up I block it. No one likes me when I’m hangry.

  34. Masks! Wear them!*

    I really think we need a “how to navigate masks and social distancing at work” focus. I can see that my assessment of risk and safety is different than my coworkers’. How do we navigate that when the risk is our health, not just how the report will be written?

    We have been back at work for two days and already I saw 2 people (out of about 10) not wearing their masks for part of the time and one of them did it twice.

    Masks are required at our workplace and they provide 2 kinds. Managers are learning to navigate the consequences but this is not going to be easy.

    Couple that with the reality that my definition of basic safety (I can cite you the peer reviewed studies) is apparently quite different from my coworkers’ ideas. Not because they don’t care or don’t know but because they have a different definition of risk and safety than I do.

    At my workplace, closed toe shoes are required but we work in an office type setting so it seems a silly rule, we dont always follow it, and no one ever says anything. Are we going to approach masks at work the same way?

    At workplaces where PPE is a “normal” part of the job or at workplaces that have a lot of safety rules, are the rules so clear that they get followed, are people cavalier about these rules, what advice do you have for us who don’t typically use PPE or have many safety rules?

    1. Lora*


      So, having worked multiple decades in jobs that require quite a lot of PPE above and beyond a mask: steel toe shoes covered in at least one layer of Tyvek or clean room booties, usually more; hair cover that’s more like a hair net, covered by a Tyvek bonnet, may or may not be covered by a full or half face respirator but typically also has at least a mask; minimum jacket for the lab but full bunny suit for the manufacturing floor, all of which must be very careful never to touch the floor while you’re dressing; clothes may or may not be changed for scrubs, depends on site requirements; additional Tyvek jacket and sterile sleeves that go over the bunny suit; minimum one pair of sterile gloves but may be all the way up to the heavy duty gloves in an isolator/RAB system which are no picnic and almost never at a comfortable height for me – ever try standing with your arms straight out in front of you and trying to write cursive through winter gloves? it’s like that, for about four hours at a time. Here is how we do this:

      All doors have badge access. All doors also have a little foyer area which is stocked with the PPE you will need to enter the next room, you have no excuse that you didn’t have your shoes that day or whatever. You enter the room only two at a time and each person checks the other. There is also often a sink for handwashing in this room, with a mirror so you can check that everything is adjusted properly and you don’t have hair sticking out. Everyone who needs to enter gets about three training sessions to make sure they understand what they need to do and how to put the PPE on properly and select the right size.

      You get three strikes, three chances to be caught screwing up. After that your badge access is revoked and you are sent for re-training. You will be re-trained only twice after the initial training. After nine screw-ups, you’re fired. That’s it. You’re just fired. End of. No sense of humor. If you are lucky, you will be fired privately and quietly, though by that point everyone already knows what a dimwitted fk-up you are who can’t even figure out how to use PPE correctly, because all your co-workers have already reported you to EHS nine times. If you are not lucky, expect to be fired on the spot in front of your colleagues. Miraculously, ALMOST EVERYONE learns how to wear their PPE correctly when the other option is not having a job.

      Treat it like you treat someone who refuses to do any other critical part of their job that is annoying but must be done anyway – learning SAP, using the turtle-slow VPN when offsite, whatever. You just tell them, they will be doing it as part of their job, and if they cannot or will not, then they don’t get to come to the office anymore. If Fergus didn’t want to use the VPN off-site because it’s slow, and accessed the company server some risky way, you wouldn’t pussyfoot around and tell him it was OK to put the company data at risk – you’d come down like a ton of bricks and have IT revoke his access to files. If Jane didn’t want to use SAP because it’s weird and clunky and preferred to use Intuit Quickbooks online and transferred all the company finances to that instead of using SAP, you wouldn’t be all “oh it’s OK, Jane just isn’t comfortable with SAP and it IS really hard to use!” you’d be like, “Jane, clean out your desk.” It really is that simple. People will learn to do it, and learn to do it properly, when you enforce it and make it clear that their continued employment depends on it, and fire people if you have to.

      Yes, we do this even when the person in question has particular skills that aren’t easy to find. They’re just fired. We’ll find someone else who does want to wear their safety stuff. It’s not actually all that hard, everyone is replaceable, even CEOs.

      1. Lora*

        Also – you do get breaks. You can determine the break times to some extent, but it’s rare for someone to go more than six hours in PPE with no breaks. You go out to the office area (or in this case, your car or outdoors areas or somewhere to get away from other people) and have some Gatorade, use the restroom, eat something. If it’s a LOT of PPE, like full head to toe gowning or a Class B suit, then you might take breaks as often as every hour to prevent dehydration and exhaustion. But you do get a break or four to take off the PPE and rest a bit. Then you put it back on and jump back into it. Which is why you don’t need only one or two masks, you need more like four or five, so you can take a break and put on a fresh one a couple times daily.

      2. Colette*

        So your job has training on wearing PPE, and presumably has PPE that is effective for your environment. My job – and a lot of other office jobs – does not. And with this virus, there are a lot of factors that come into play, many of which we don’t fully understand. How does the virus spread through ventilation systems? What about elevators? How effective are non-medical masks? What are the impacts of wearing masks all day (which no one will do, since the vast majority of people are at a minimum going to want to eat or drink something during the day)? What about a typical office bathroom?

        Asking people to wear a mask to work may be reasonable – but it also might be totally ineffective, or even damaging to people wearing them. We don’t know. The World Health Organization recommends it only if you have symptoms and only after physical distancing, washing your hands, avoiding touching your face, and coughing into your elbow.

        1. Lora*

          Then they need to get training and PPE. That’s my point. The question asked was, what should companies do if they’re not used to this stuff? That’s the question I’m answering. We do actually know what the impact is of wearing masks all day and how HVAC systems work to maintain air quality – these are all very well known from the various industries that already utilize clean rooms where the air is required to meet certain levels of cleanliness (especially electronic manufacturing). These are not huge unknowable mysteries that science has not yet solved, as you seem to be implying; they are actual EHS and building engineering standards in regular use. That’s what I am saying – this is something facilities owners can absolutely find out and remediate. There are entire maintenance and engineering departments who have a neglected bookcase or some online version of the air quality standards. There are consultancy facility engineers who can be hired to do evaluations if your employer or the building’s landlord does not already have a facilities engineer on staff.

          We do know that people with asthma or other breathing difficulties should not wear masks. This is typically evaluated for when someone starts a job where a mask of some sort is required. In an office job, that can be handled by isolating the person if possible or allowing them to work from home. It’s not at all unknown, there’s been a ton of work on the subject. We also know that asymptomatic carriers not wearing masks are a source of transmission ( and especially in the US. Where I live, the biggest outbreak was the result of a bunch of seemingly healthy executives who never showed symptoms getting together for a big hotel meeting for only a few days – and causing at least 77 known infections just at that one meeting, over half the attendees – and that’s not counting their families and communities who also got sick as a result.

          The point many governors are now making where the virus is spreading rapidly is – you don’t have to have a business license if you cannot or will not operate your business safely.

          “We don’t really knooooooow so let’s go ahead and do the very most dangerous risky thing” is not logical or sensible or prudent. Personally not knowing things isn’t the same as “nobody on earth knows” – not everyone can know everything, sure, but it is definitely managers’ and business owners’ responsibility to find out – just like they find out how to pay taxes, dispose of waste, pay the minimum wage, etc they hire someone to figure it out for them. This is one of those things. The question being asked is, what information can we glean from industries who already do these things – lots, as it turns out.

          1. Blueberry*

            “We don’t really knooooooow so let’s go ahead and do the very most dangerous risky thing” is not logical or sensible or prudent.

            Well said. ANd, thank you for the detailed description of your professional experiences with PPE.

          2. Colette*

            Sure, if companies are willing to put in the work, they could (possibly) get to a level that organizations that deal with this stuff all the time are already at – but I don’t think there is sufficient expertise in the average business, or available to the average business (if everyone started demanding it). Does my employer know the airflow patterns in the building we lease? Are they qualified to advise employees on using PPE? Probably not.

            And although people have information about PPE in general, there is a lot we don’t know about how this particular virus spreads.

            (Asthma is a disqualifying condition for wearing masks? That’s a pretty substantial exception, for example.)

            Instead of getting angry at people for not wearing masks, we’d all be better off advocating for people to be able to work from home, or for supplemental income for non-essential workers who can’t work from home. That would make everyone safer, including essential workers.

    2. Grits McGee*

      My mother works in a hospital in Louisiana, a MAJOR COVID hotspot, and most of her coworkers and the support staff at the hospital aren’t wearing masks. (And this is after a nurse on their ward caught COVID and passed it on to several elderly family members. The nurse isn’t wearing a mask either.) She doesn’t work in an area that normally deals directly with contagious diseases, but for the most part these are trained medical professionals who don’t seem to care about the risk to them, their families, or their patients.

      I don’t know if it’s because we’re getting mixed messaging from all sides, or if this would have been the response regardless; there are going to be some very interesting social science studies done of the wide variety of reactions to COVID-19 once this is over.

      1. Blueberry*

        That is… horrifying.

        I still have my healthcare at the hospital in Boston where I used to work, and when I went for a followup in late April *everyone* was masked, from security guards to attending doctors to everyone. Pretty much all the healthcare staff (techs, phlebotomists, nurses, etc) were gloved as well. In fact the nurse who attended me changed her gloves before attending to me — I noticed that, because before she more likely would have put them on over bare hands.

      2. very anon for this*

        Yeah, at my spouse’s hospital…. they tried preserving PPE by having providers not wear a mask “if the patient isn’t coughing”. Right. When they lost a lot of staff to quarantine and illness real quick (what, nine providers in a week? the entire plastic surgery team? etc.) and spouse lost spouse’s sh&* when this policy came to light, a nurse manager sent out a directive that all nurses be masked at all times. There was pushback on that — admin didn’t like it — but some more stuff went down and now *everyone* is masked at all times. There were real fights about support staff, and a lot of the higher-paid staff really went to bat for the lower-paid staff, and I’m glad that these changes are implemented and janitors, security staff, and others are also provided surgical masks.

  35. Perpal*

    OP5 – totally get how awkward it feels but I think most people will be cool about it. It may feel weird, but I usually mention I’m a physician at the hospital early on to avoid surprising people with it who didn’t realize. (I didn’t at first but thinking about it, I’d like the heads up if roles were reverse so I’d know what level to discuss things at etc). And of course be super nice to everyone XD (one should be anyway, but I try really hard not to be “that patient” unless I think I really need to advocate for something, which is rare and usually involved my kids, not me when it happened)

  36. Misty*


    I’ve had a lot of roommate problems since the pandemic started and it turns out it’s really hard to know how someone will react in stressful situations, etc. These were people I thought I knew really well before I moved in with them a year ago and for a year we were barely ever home but then the pandemic happened and we’ve all been home 24/7 for over two months now. Before moving in together we weren’t friends but we’ve been really friendly.

    I don’t think at this point I would ever move in with people I work with if I could help it because if I had major roommate issues with people I worked with, that would be much more annoying. The thing is, you really never know anyone. Like it’s really hard to know what kind of roommate someone will be like until you actually live with them.

    The other thing is, if your industry/job is low paying then it may make it harder to move out if you move in with them and then it’s not a great situation and need to move out, if that makes sense. Just something to keep in mind. As someone who also needs roommates in order to have a place to live, I’m going to be a lot more cautious of who I live with in the future because it’s hard to move out when you need multiple roommates to survive and don’t have a lot of money saved – even if your current housing situation is nuts.

  37. Mrs. Burt Wonderstone*

    OP5, I was in your shoes last year when I had my baby. I work in a position that affords me facetime with all levels of leadership at our hospital, CEO down to shift managers, and I’m also friendly with some front line staff across the hospital, including inventory clerks, nurses, etc.

    Giving birth puts one in a particularly vulnerable position. I just reminded myself over and over again that with all the patients they see over a career, I’m unlikely to be memorable at all, even though I work with them.

    I tried really hard to be a compliant, easygoing, friendly and polite patient.

    I think if you can remind yourself that your colleagues have seen hundreds of hernia repairs, cholis, etc, it might help ease some of your concern.

    For what it’s worth, I had a fairly rare condition develop during my pregnancy and my OBGYN took pictures during the delivery (with my consent) and I’m pretty sure even he doesn’t remember the specifics of my patient stay.

    1. DrMrsC*

      OP5 – I’m a physical therapist with an organizational set up much like you described. We’ve had a couple of situations like this come up. Fortunately, we have enough staff that the soon-to-be “patient” was able to speak to our boss and essentially reserve the therapist of their choosing. Everyone in our department has different levels of comfort with each other, folks usually pick the person that they are friendly with outside of work, or the one that they think has the most specialized skill set for the situation, or the one who is a no nonsense, straight shooter. What makes one person comfortable vs. another is certainly multi-factorial. Like all things health care, giving the patient some control and choice in the situation is always a good thing for everyone.

  38. Sneaky Ninja for this one*

    The manager who uses Busy status.

    Are you sure it’s not ok to interrupt her? I use it, as does my manager, and most people in our company, but it doesn’t mean you can’t ask a question. It means we are in the middle of something, but it’s ok to Skype if you have a question. It’s not the time to Skype me if you just want to chat about the weather.

    There are days when I am in Busy all day because I’m working on reporting or something that has to get done. I usually tell my team on those days that it’s ok to Skype if it’s urgent, otherwise, please email me and I’ll catch up when I’m done.

    Maybe just ask your manager what Busy means to them,

    1. No Sleep Til Hippo*

      Welp, I wouldn’t post that in my particular office (and we’re all women anyway so it wouldn’t quite be… relevant?)…

      But you bet your sweet bippy I’m sending that to all the ex-colleagues I’m still friends with, that’s hilarious. XD

  39. agnes*

    #4 no need to explain anything to your colleagues. Just say thank you and leave it at that. If you think it’s necessary, you can say that you’ve put together the resources that you need for now.
    1. you are very fortunate to work with a team that cares about your well being.
    2. good for you for using the extra money to build up a cushion!

    People want to help during this time. Sometimes our greatest acts of service are allowing people to help us , as long as it doesn’t become too intrusive.

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I agree that OP doesn’t need to provide any type of explanation, but this would bother me too. Yes they’re trying to help, but they’re also making assumptions about her quality of life. I liken it to unsolicited advice…most have good intentions but it comes across as judgment. I wouldn’t make a big deal about it if I were OP, but would stick with a generic “I’m good, thanks” response.

      1. OPNUMBER4*

        Thank you! It’s the assumptions part that bothers me. It’s also very easy to figure out, on my manager’s part at least, that I would make more on UI than at work since the $600 additional payments is equal to most of my take-home pay. I can’t shake this feeling like, “Oh, before this pandemic, it wasn’t a problem to you that I made so little…but now you feel bad about it?”

    2. Blueberry*

      Sometimes our greatest acts of service are allowing people to help us , as long as it doesn’t become too intrusive.

      *makes a note of this*

  40. Jen*

    OP 2: If your outlook is connected to your Skype, then it shows as “busy” whenever there is something on their calendar. They have to manually change it to “free” in the calendar, then it won’t show as “busy” on Skype. This might be why it’s always on “busy”.

    My company talks to everyone regardless of what the status says, unless it says “Do Not Disturb”. And even then, it just emails the person instead of popping up as a chat box.

    1. BenAdminGeek*

      Yes, my company culture appears to be “Available means you are 100% free to be interrupted with anything and will give an immediate answer” so I set myself to Busy a lot. Busy seems to mean “I’ll IM you but understand if you take a while to respond.” For my own sanity, Busy is what keeps me able to get work done.

  41. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    #1 – don’t do it unless you have no other options. I think it COULD work out, but it depends on many things, and I don’t think it’s worth the risk. I have several close friends that I consider family, but there are only 1 or 2 of them that I could peacefully live with (and these are friends I’ve had for 30+ years). Because you work at the same company, you’re adding a whole new level of awkward if things get tense or weird with the living situation, because if you think you know them well, you’ll learn a whole lot more about them once you’re sharing a home.

  42. Ranon*

    OP 3: You may have better luck with HR/ higher ups talking about mask wearing compliance as a business risk rather than as a risk to you personally. If people wearing masks incorrectly lead to a number of people getting sick that could significantly impact business operations, especially as it is taking people weeks if not months to recover. E.g if Bob in accounting gets the whole accounting department sick because he wears a mask incorrectly, who’s going to cut checks?

    This is the thing that baffles me about companies who can work remote moving back into the office- why increase your business risk? Sick employees are very unproductive! Workers comp claims are expensive, and I know most places are banking on plausible deniability right now but as case tracing improves that’s going to be hard to hold on to…

  43. OP5*

    OP5 here-

    Thanks for the comments. It’s not so much surgical tubes, incision sites, etc.. that would bother me, as much as needing assistance with bodily functions. Even so, knowing my personality, I really wouldn’t anticipate it being awkward or unusual, but never having been in this situation, I felt compelled to ask.

    Side note: I’m a young male, no kids…. I had to Google what a maternity gown was.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      I kind of think of it this way, if you needed help with bathing or having a catheter changed, who would you rather have helping you? Your mom? Spouse? Neighbor? Or the really well trained nurses that are super professional?
      I’m a PI nerd, so I’m also excited that you have an opportunity to experience what it is like to be a patient in your facility. Was the pain management adequate? Were there any potential risks or safety issues that you observed? Were there any simple things that could have been done or said that would have made you more comfortable? It really is a great opportunity to learn and you may grow as a professional. Good luck on your procedure!

    2. A Simple Narwhal*

      My mom is a nurse and had surgery in the hospital she works in. She especially chose it because she knows how good the doctors/surgeons/nurses are and felt it was the place she could get the best treatment. Anytime myself or my dad has required a hospital visit/stay, we’ve always gone to “her” hospital.

      Have you asked coworkers if it’s common to get surgery/care at your own hospital? It’s very common at my mom’s, so just about everyone has had a coworker or coworker’s family member in their care at some point. Unless it’s Not Done at your specific hospital, I think you’ll be just fine.

    3. Beth*

      Hi, OP5 — thanks for stepping in!

      FWIW: I don’t work in health care; I work in finance. As part of my duties, I have to monitor the accounts of my co-workers AND my bosses, as well as our client accounts. I know all the details of their money, which is a different intimacy from bodily functions, but an extremely sensitive one.

      I have a separate mental bucket for the Official Duties side of these people I know well and work with, and it pretty much never touches any other part of my perception. It’s part of the territory of having professional access to intimate details. Believe me, every co-worker who interacts with you in your temporary role as a patient has done the same for an ever-lengthening list of co-workers. It’s new to you, but SOP for them.

    4. Blueberry*

      I send you all reassurance and good vibes for swift and complete healing. And remember you can totally ask for extra gowns, etc.

    5. Squidhead*

      As a nurse, I try to encourage as much independence is is safe…so I’ll ask a male patient if he needs help getting the urinal lined up and if he says ‘no’ I’ll step out and come back in 5. (Assuming it’s not, like, your first time standing up after surgery. You’re stuck with me hovering in the background if that’s the case!) And if the bed accidentally gets wet, just tell me. I would always prefer to help you clean up rather than “save work” of changing linens.

      By all means, bring a couple of items of clothing you can put on easily. Keep in mind you might have IVs in your arms or a heart monitor, so the easy-open hospital gowns really do have a purpose. But an old T-shirt or tank top and PJ/sweat pants might turn out to be handy, and make it easier to independently deal with bodily needs vs a big floppy gown.

    6. nonegiven*

      I knew a woman who was director of nursing over a chain of nursing homes. When she was dying, she chose the one in my town because the staff was the most caring and they were the people she trusted to take care of her.

  44. HelloWednesday!*

    #1 – As someone who has lived with her coworkers (who she was great friends with prior), don’t. I’ve never experienced so much drama in my life and our friendship was ruined.

  45. dedicated1776*

    OP 5: Imagine the situation were reversed. If you were caring for a coworker, wouldn’t you be professional? Would you be thinking, “Wow, so that’s what her butt looks like”? (I hope the answer is no!) If anything, I would think you would be extra compassionate and caring towards your coworker because you have a preexisting relationship. I’m not a medical professional but I am a financial professional. When my friends ask me for financial advice, I don’t think, “How do you not know this, dummy?” I think, “I am fortunate to have this knowledge to help my friend. I am honored they trust me with this sensitive information and believe I can offer them good resources.”

  46. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    OP1: Back at my first job after college (in a whole other country beyond the wide sea), there was a shortage of living accommodations in the country that made renting or owning on your own impossible. For those of us who did not have family to live with, our employer provided the housing for a nominal fee. It was built like a dorm, 2-3 people sharing a room, 40 rooms on a floor, two communal kitchens, two washing/laundry areas, two shared bathrooms (one men’s and one women’s) per floor, and communal showers on the first floor shared by everyone. If you were new to town, you were assigned roommates. One of mine ended up being a coworker. We had clashing personalities and it became clear very early on that we would never get along. We roomed together for a year, then thankfully she got pregnant and moved in with her fiance in a city an hour away. Went on maternity leave and I never saw her again. Things about rooming with her that I found the most annoying, that wouldn’t have been there if she hadn’t been a coworker:

    1) She wanted to spend a lot of time together and it was hard to escape as we worked on the same floor. She’d walk together to work and back (30 min one way). At lunch, she’d show up in my office (open-plan one that was shared by my team of 15-20 people) wanting to go to the cafeteria together. Even if she was good company, that’d have been a lot, and added up to a lot of 1:1 time (as of this day, it’s still more than I have probably ever spent with any of my romantic partners, including my husband, unless on vacation together; more time than I spent with my kids, except when they were young and I stayed home with them. That was a LOT.) And she wasn’t. She’d be the only one talking and it would always either be gossip, or she’d be trashing every woman we walked past – their clothes, their bodies, the way they walked, anything she could spot that was not up to her standards. Then she’d turn around and tell me that she was “not a typical woman” and had a man’s mind and that was why she had so few women friends! This roommate taught me to hate internalized misogyny before anyone knew what that was, so I guess there’s that.

    2) She ratted on my whole team to her boss for no reason. That year, I’d gotten into knitting, spent all of my free time at it, and turned out to be a very fast knitter doing decent work that required little rework. So I ended up with a lot of completed sweaters and such for myself and my then-fiance fairly quickly. One day, Roommate’s boss was giving her a talk about her performance issues and being distracted at work. She told him, “oh this is nothing! If you think I slack off at work, get this – my roommate just finished a third sweater.” Then bragged about it to me and our other roommate that evening after work. WTH! I warned my team to be careful around her.

    There would’ve been more, but I limited contact with her pretty early on. That woman was sucking my will to live right out of me, and there was no getting a break from her, because she was always around. I come to work, she’s there, I come home, she’s there. I am walking from home to work and she’s right there with me. (The shared walks was the first thing I ended, for my own sanity.)

    Granted, we did not get along from pretty much day one, and she was honestly not a great person. So mine is probably the worst-case scenario. But then on the other hand, we shared a tiny room that was almost completely paid for by our employer, so things like rent, utility bills, keeping our shared space clean, etc did not come into play as they would for OP1.

    Also, to OP’s “Alexis and Stevie have obviously made the coworkers/roommates thing work”, I would add “for now” and “that you know of”.

  47. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

    OP#1 – Roommates with co-workers

    I did it and it wasn’t a problem. However, we were friends, then roommates, then co-workers . I even helped him get the job. While we worked in the same general department (IT) we were on different teams (system admins vs. telecom). We are/were both easy-going and really good friends and would not let anything get in the way of our friendship.

    I realize that my situation is different from yours. However, I am letting you know that it can be done as long as no one is drama prone and everyone is basically easy going and your friendship is strong. You know the people you are considering moving in with. If you think they are drama prone don’t do it if possible. If everyone is fairly easy going and willing to just brush things off, then I say go for it.

    1. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

      I do want to add something. There is a saying that you should never move in with a friend as it could ruin a friendship. My personal experience is totally the opposite. Every friend who I moved in with became a closer friend and things worked out great. When I moved in with strangers, it was not a good experience.

      1. Quill*

        My college friend group played musical rooms for four years until we figured out who was compatible with us in terms of noise level, wakefulness, and generally coexisting in concrete shoeboxes together.

      2. Kiki*

        My favorite roommate situation was with strangers, but I’ve also had situations with friends that I really liked. I’ve also had situations with friends that went south very quickly. I’ve never lived with coworkers, but I’d have to imagine that I would not enjoy it.
        At the end of the day, it depends on the individuals involved. I am a person who needs a bit of space socially and prefer some compartmentalization. I have some social anxiety and really don’t like the idea that someone in my social/work circle may be venting about my home habits to someone I am friends with or work with.
        Whenever trying to establish a new co-living situation, the two most important things are:
        1) to be really aware of what you want and need from a living situation.
        2) to talk honestly and extensively about expectations with potential roommates. Literally everyone says they are “really chill and pretty clean.” Elaborate– what does pretty clean mean for each person? What does chill mean? “I’m cool when your leftovers accidentally get shifted to my section of the fridge” or “Yeah, bring home strangers you meet on the bus and let them crash here, it’s whatever.”

  48. Natalie*

    OP 5: That sounds really hard! My mother-in-law is a nurse, and when she’s needed medical care, she’s actually gone to a different hospital than where she works. We’re in a small city, so there are 7 hospitals around here, and it wasn’t hard to find one in network. I don’t know how practical that would be for you, but maybe something to think about, if it’s possible?

    On the other hand, my husband is also in healthcare, and when he needed surgery, he liked knowing everyone who was involved with the process. During recovery, all of his coworkers came by to say hello and wish him well, which he enjoyed. (I would have hated that; during recovery, I want to be left ALONE! So, YMMV.)

    Best of luck!

    1. Blueberry*

      Oh my goodness! Happy birthday, Alison! May the candles on your cake burn like cities in your wake!

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        May the candles on your cake burn like cities in your wake!

        This is all kinds of wonderful and I will be using this with my friends, thank you!

        Happy birthday, Alison!

        1. Blueberry*

          Hee, when you are Not On A Work Computer, look up the “Birthday Dirge”. I learned it in my SF-congoing days.

  49. I'm just here for the cats*

    #2. I look at busy as he office door is shut.aybe shoot a quick email asking for some time if it’s a problem. I’m not familiar with Skype, does it differentiate between busy and in a meeting?
    In my job we use a few different web conference tools. So if my boss or anyone else is using WebEx for a meeting instead of Teams then they turn their status on busy or away. But if they are in a meeting on Teams it says in a meeting. So if it says busy they could be in a meeting, or even on the phone.
    Someone else mentioned that status is tied to your calendar. He may not be “busy” as in don’t bother me but “busy” as he marked time to do x on the calendar but can still talk or help with stuff.

    Also, if everyone is working from home he may be doing childcare at those times. Or he could have a lot more meetings because company is in crisis mode. If you need to talk to him just shoot an email.

  50. jaime*

    OP5: this obviously will vary based on your personal comfort levels and the relationship you have with your coworkers, but for what it’s worth, I’ve been a patient at the hospital I work multiple times, and the possibility of being seen by coworkers has never bothered me. Those who might see me are all medical professionals who have seen everything, and have demonstrated that they’re respectful of HIPAA and general personal boundaries. If you have experience with those you work with that makes you worry about their levels of respect, or if you’re very protective of the line between your professional and private lives, then I can totally see wanting to go somewhere else. But it’s not anything I’ve ever worried about, myself.

  51. Not So Super-visor*

    OP2: You don’t mention how long these busy periods are, but please remember that your manager is human and also needs lunch breaks, bathroom breaks, and may have to take care of the occassional personal items. Since going to WFH, I’ve been making sure to put myself in busy during these breaks, and I also show in busy when in meetings and making check-in calls with employees. I’ve had a couple people (out of about 30 employees) freak out about when I’m in busy and they feel that the NEED to talk to me right that minute — repeatedly emailing, still attempting skype, and even going to my director when I’m not available. It’s a little frustrating. I realize that in the office that they could see that I am away from my desk or on a call, and they can’t see that now, but that’s the reason that I’ve been making sure to use my Busy status.

    1. Kettricken Farseer*

      I put myself on “away” if I’m physically walking away from my desk for a break. Then my staff knows that they won’t get a quick answer but they know I’m coming back.

  52. Fonz*

    For last writer – I gave birth at the hospital I work at and was very worried about the weirdness since I’m buck naked and screaming like a banshee… the staff was amazing, never treated me differently except to be more cautious with HIPAA and my needs, and there wasn’t weirdness at all. I was a patient just like any other – all my worries were unwarranted and I would bet the same would hold true for you.

    Best of luck and health for your surgery! Sending positive thoughts your way :)

  53. Middle Manager*

    OP1: I’ve done it. I let a co-worker, who I was good friends with at the time, move into my house temporarily when she was in a tough spot after a relationship breakup. It was disastrous. I set really basic boundaries (give me a head’s up if you are going to be gone a few days meaning I have to take care of your pet) that she didn’t follow. She made the room smell horrifically bad in a way that I still can’t understand. She didn’t respect the timing we agreed to for showering in the morning, making me choose between going to work unshowered or being late for work. I asked her for a really small amount of rent (basically just to cover the utility increases) and she wouldn’t pay it on time repeatedly. It made me miserable in my own house, ruined our friendship, and then I still had to try to work with her.

    Perhaps it would go much better for you, but I agree heartily with Alison here, if you have other options, don’t take the risk.

  54. Terri*

    OP5: My mom needed a small, same day discharge procedure done while she was an employee at a hospital. She had the option of two facilities in the hospital’s network to have her surgery- the one she worked at and then another one across town. She decided to get her procedure done at the facility across town- that way her coworkers couldn’t nose around anything lol. If that’s an option for you, you may want to think about it .

  55. STX*

    OP1 – pretty much everyone I know lived with a co-worker in their early 20s. Especially if they were acquaintances from college (so they had some familiarity with domestic practices and outlooks on loud parties at the like). It doesn’t typically last a long time, this is a period of life with high upheaval where job change, romantic relationships grow more serious, etc.

    Maybe this is a functional difference between living in a big city with a large rental and job market vs. living in a smaller city where, if you want to rent near your workplace, well, so do all your coworkers.

  56. Amber Rose*

    OP3: I kinda sympathize with them. I tried to wear a mask to get groceries the other day and had to spend five minutes dry heaving in the parking lot before giving up completely. I can’t have stuff on my face. It’s hard.

  57. Rusty Shackelford*

    #4, I’d have a hard time not saying “Luckily, my pay is so low that I’m actually making *more* money on unemployment right now.” I mean, obviously you shouldn’t say that. But I’d want to.

  58. Ace*

    OP2, my IM status automatically changes to “busy” when I have something on my calendar (e.g., a meeting or a block of work time). Similarly, it changes when I’m on the phone. So, it is possible that it is not something that the manager is doing deliberately. My team still IMs me when I’m busy because they know I’ll respond immediately if it is an emergency or as soon as I’m free otherwise.

  59. Jedi Squirrel*

    OP #3:

    I have told people at my company, even those senior to me, “That mask needs to cover your nose!” in a very firm tone. They sheepishly pulled the mask over their nose and haven’t worn it inappropriately since.

    This is a pretty firm boundary for me. I am trying to keep myself and my parents alive, and I am not taking shit about this from anyone. I don’t care who they are.

    1. Retail not Retail*

      Our senior people want our masks to be on or around our necks. Make sure it looks like you could be following the rules.

  60. Jedi Squirrel*

    OP# 1:

    In addition to all the great reasons Alison gave (the one about not being eligible for promotions particularly struck me), there is also this: I have never worked with anyone I would be comfortable with seeing me in my underwear or less. And I’m not particularly shy.

  61. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    #1 Fitting because I just had to try to talk a friend out of moving in with a coworker. It didn’t work, so I just said I was buckled in and hoped for the best for them.

    Roommates scare the living crap out of me, I’ve seen too bad stuff second hand. Including having to help someone bail out when their roommate didn’t pay their rent and the whole place got evicted, since nobody could possibly afford even a month of covering their portion!

    So I say imagine the worst. Imagine one of you is laid off and there’s no money, you gonna be okay kicking them out or taking legal action against them? Live with nobody you won’t sue.

  62. Tableau Wizard*

    Working in a hospital in a non-clinical role, I have a personal preference to get care elsewhere if possible to avoid these situations. Specifically for having a baby, for me.

  63. Y'all Come Back Now, Ya Hear?*

    OP 1 – I taught at an K-12 institution in my mid-20s that was connected to a university. We had an open room in our house and a later-in-life undergrad moved in for 5 months. While I didn’t supervise or teach her, she made some very poor decisions away from the house that ended up getting her asked to leave the university at the end of the semester. No one connected us, but I was SO nervous for weeks.

    OP 3 – I have medical PTSD from being forcibly strapped down to a gurney and an anesthesia mask being held to my face in an OR at the age of 7 when I did not want to have my eighth medically necessary surgery. Like, I left claw marks on nurses because I was so scared of hurting again in recovery. In the intervening decades and surgeries, I was never forced on to a gurney again and was given a choice of an IV. I never wore a mask while awake. Wearing a mask does make it harder for me to breathe because I’ve got a weird face. But you know what, I’m an adult and I know that I need to wear a mask in public and at work right now to PROTECT OTHERS. I have a mask in pretty colors. I hate it because it does give me flashbacks. But I talk to my therapist a lot about it, and I gather my courage and wear it correctly.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      I’m so sorry for those awful experiences you had. But you are absolutely right: this is a collective effort to protect each other.

      Sending you good thoughts. I’m glad you have a therapist to help you with this.

  64. TheWeaselHasLanded*

    OP #5:

    I’m a resident, and I can all but guarantee that anyone you know who might end up taking care of you has seen it all before so many times that it’s unlikely to even register for them. And even if it did, HIPAA exists for a reason. During my training I’ve worked with doctors & nurses who’d taken care of me as a patient in the past, and aside from a general, “Hey, how’s your ankle feeling?” or what have you, it’s been strictly business. Good luck with your surgery!

  65. MediQueen*

    I wouldn’t live with co-workers (not even a little bit Alexis) except Moira. Always live with Moira when given the opportunity.

  66. Youth*

    OP #5, my mom is an RN. I have occasionally been treated by her coworkers at her urgent care facility. It is awkward since I think they still view me as a kid, even though I’ve been in my majority for many years. It’s also strange to walk into the doctor’s office and have my mom take my blood pressure, or to have the doctor’s first words be “So your mom tells me…” There’s just no way around the weirdness.

    In one case, though, it potentially saved my life. I went to my mom’s facility to get my blood tested for indicators of appendicitis. The doctor told me that my white blood cell count was a little high, but not high enough to suspect infection. He also said that my abdominal pains were not consistent with appendicitis. In conclusion, I could go to the emergency room if I wanted but that I probably didn’t need to.

    I asked him what he thought I should do, and after a thoughtful pause, he told me (apparently thinking of my mom working just a few rooms over) that if I were his daughter, he would want me to go to the emergency room, just to be safe. I went. A CAT scan showed that my appendix was inflamed and needed to come out. I had it removed that same day.

  67. Drew*

    OP2: In my experience, just because someone has blocked off windows of busy time on Skype does not mean they are unresponsive to a chat message. Often they do it so just do they are not invited to any meetings during those hours.

  68. NowI'mHungry*

    I think you hit the nail on the head. The departmental separation is key. There’s such a high probability that, at some point, you are going to have to work with everyone in your department even if it’s just for a special project. So, OP1 I’d assume that will be the case with Stevie. Then, think about how difficult it may be to manage those blurred lines. What if the joint project doesn’t go well? What if one of you is the project supervisor and thinks the other should be working instead of chilling at home? That would probably be really difficult.

  69. OPNUMBER4*

    Thanks for your advice, commentariat! I should clarify that my team is VERY open about their personal finances. We live in the highest COL city of in our country, so we enjoy discussing things like snagging an apartment with good rent, complaining about property taxes, etc. Also rates are pretty standard across our industry, so even if part of my job didn’t involve processing everyone’s pay, I would still have a rough idea of what people made, as they would for me. All my co-workers know I was paycheck to paycheck while working because a couple co-workers kept “giving me advice” on starting a 401k and investing in stocks and I had to explicitly tell them, “I am paycheck to paycheck” so I could get back to my work.

    I’m mainly worried about any awkwardness if I return. They people who didn’t get furloughed are just so glad they got to keep working; to them, I’m living their nightmare. On one hand, it feels disingenuous to keep letting people worry about me, even if it’s a projection of their worries about their own job security. On the other, the commentariat is right: my co-workers don’t need to know the specifics of my financial situation.

  70. TootsNYC*

    re: masks
    Talking releases more of the virus than breathing does!!

    I think I’d be saying that as well–“Talking releases more of the virus than just breathing–would you put your mask back up?”

    I might print out and cut out parts of this article and stick them up on the walls.

  71. Beth*

    OP1: I lived with a friend who was technically a coworker for a few years and it went very well–well enough that the roommate relationship outlived our being coworkers! But this was at a big enough company that despite both working at the same company, and even being in basically the same role on different (but sometimes collaborating) teams, we rarely saw each other at work. That lack of overlap prevented basically all of the potential problems Alison brings up.

    I think this kind of arrangement really depends on the details. If you feel like you have enough distance from these friends at work to have your friendship/roommate relationship be 90% separate from your work life, then go for it, it sounds like a great arrangement! But if that kind of separation is impossible, maybe look around for other options instead.

  72. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

    OP1: Another less-obvious side effect of moving in with coworkers is the negative effect it might have on your other relationships. If you’re spending nearly all of your waking hours with people from work, there’s a chance that shop talk is going to dominate your interactions even when you don’t really want it to. The more time you spend with people from work, the more difficult it may become to shut off the part of your brain that isn’t about work or your industry, because it’s so normalized to have a social life that involves some work discussion. That may bleed into your other social interactions, which can become a big problem.

    I didn’t live with my colleagues, but there was a period of my life when almost all of my close friends and my then-partner worked in the same industry. Our conversations didn’t just revolve around shop talk, but also just general stuff that happened at work. After some time, I started hearing a bit of “all you ever do is talk about work” from anyone else not connected with my industry, and they weren’t wrong.

  73. Pibs*

    Re: hospital topic, I appreciated all of the comments about providing some semblance of respect, privacy, etc. drs/nurses may be used to watching someone….but i’m not used to being watched/monitored. I hate it. And never saying what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, is a real problem imo. And those so called health professionals (including mental health) who gossip, make fun of their patients, etc are really horrible, and probably sleazy. I’m sure even drs dont compartmentalize that much. Ask me how i know. Youd’ think at some point they’d stop this. And just in response to this question, personally, I’d find another hospital to get surgeries, etc. Or just skip it. Yes, I’d rather skip health care than deal with any of this.

    As for living with coworkers, yeah, don’t. The older I get, the more the message seems to be, don’t be friends with your coworkers. Yes, professionally friendly/approachable, but not friends. So that would suggest that you shouldn’t live with them either.

  74. Retail not Retail*

    I’ve lived with coworkers of a sort twice.

    One was also in the domestic corps and her work site was across the street from mine. How nice. Our personalities clashed so much and my mental health spiraled way way out of control during that period. I ended up quitting early and leaving.

    The other was much better but only 2 months. We were different departments so I rarely saw him at the site. We didn’t even carpool because I walked to work. Two memorable experiences – walking in after watching a play our other roommate was in to him staring at the oven as he made jalapeno poppers and when there was an earthquake, he was about to jump out of his window. He had the bedroom without a protruding closet and all our beds were on wheels so he had a lot more movement than we did.

    That was good for keeping me connected to the site after hours – other staff came and sat on our porch roof for the fourth of july.

    Both of these situations involved individual leases which made them easier. The second one was at a redacted redacted REDACTED covered in dust and the windows didn’t shut and we couldn’t go to the basement because the first floor was armed and oh what a bizarre probably illegal housing situation.

  75. Kettricken Farseer*

    For me, getting a procedure done and being cared for by coworkers would feel extremely weird. Maybe not so much during, but afterwards when I’d see them in a work context, I would be wondering if they’re remembering seeing my hoo-ha.

  76. anonymoose*

    OP #1: I moved in with a coworker two jobs ago- seemed like a super great idea! She was funny and I was desperate for a roommate and figured it would be great! Seriously WORST YEAR OF MY LIFE home was unbearable and it poured over into a job I’d previously loved and messed it up so bad I had to leave. Please please explore literally any other options you have!!

  77. TattooedAnon*

    #5: I’ve experienced a couple flavors of this one. The first was when I was a patient in the hospital where a few of my college friends are nurses. Honestly, it didn’t really bother me… they’re just body parts, they see them all the time, I honestly wasn’t worried about it. They were all the picture of professionalism and it was fine.

    The second was when I needed a new family doctor and the clinic told me that Dr, FormerClassmate was taking new patients. I declined that one. I’m sure FormerClassmate is a wonderfully professional doctor, but the idea of someone I’ve known since I was 5 seeing waaaaaay more of me than I ever intended was a bit much. And I’m not bothered by a lot.

  78. Per My Last Email*

    LW2: Are your Skype settings linked to your Outlook calendar? At my previous employer, ours were linked, and I would block time on my calendar (showing as a meeting) for working on specific projects. Skype then automatically would set my status to “busy.” It didn’t necessarily mean I was too busy to respond to a quick question, just that I was working on a project for a set amount of time. Is it possible the manager might not even realize this status change is happening?

    If I were the person needing to get ahold of the manager, I’d just probably send an email instead, noting that their status on Skype was set to busy so I didn’t want to bother them.

  79. Foxgloves*

    Re OP5, I used to work at a medical school, which was based in my local hospital. I had to go and have some follow up appointments after an unusual result on a routine (but very personal) test. I knew the doctor doing the follow up appointments- we had worked together on a couple of projects, and while we acknowledged our knowledge of each other, he made it a seriously professional and very positive experience.
    I *did* say no to students being in the room, as I worked in a student-facing role and as these were first year medical students (in the UK, which means they were mostly about 18 years old), I just didn’t feel comfortable with that. For anything less personal, even that would have been fine (they have to learn somewhere, may as well be on me!). They’re professionals (or training to be), they’re used to it, I promise.

  80. Sana*

    OP5 – I’ve worked in an industry that involved meeting and training most of the doctors, nurses and pharmacists in my region. I also have recurring ailments of a sensitive nature. I opt for not worrying about it and trusting everyone to be professional, and I haven’t been let down.

  81. Workainthonestbutitpaysthebills*

    OP #2: Unless your boss is checked out for the whole day you and your colleagues are being unreasonable. Does the boss not respond to emails if you send them? The idea that the boss is unapproachable because you can’t get a response within seconds of hitting send is ridiculous. I have found that the people who need this kind of and amount of attention are usually terrible employees.

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