updates: the Disney vacation, the long hours, and more

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are four updates from past letter-writers.

1. My coworker wants to come back to work … after an extended Disney vacation (#2 at the link)

I wrote in earlier this year regarding my coworker who went to Disney, and management wanted to bring her back but isolate her in an unused office. After asking around, it became apparent that most people were either unaware of the plan, or else had agreed because they felt they had to, but were very nervous about it. About six of us approached our HR rep to lay out our concerns – mainly that Jane had not handled a COVID case in her home well at all, and our confidence in her willingness to wipe down the kitchen and bathroom after every use was limited, at best. HR agreed, and asked Jane to quarantine for two weeks after coming home from Florida. Further, they decided to put a mandatory quarantine for out of state travel (which was fine – everyone else had already cancelled their vacations for the foreseeable future).

As it turned out, our fears were justified. Though Jane was fine, her husband tested positive for COVID when they returned home from vacation. His symptoms were mild, and he is doing well, though Jane says he still struggles with breathlessness.

You asked why the office seemed to want her to come back while previously being so careful. Part if was the timing. Our state was preparing to reopen indoor dining, and restaurants comprise about 80% of our customer base. They wanted to have her in the building to handle some of the increase in calls/ emails, since work from home is (still) not an option for us. As it turned out, though, indoor dining was further postponed, so the anticipated increase in business came much later.

I want to thank you and your readers for helping me navigate this. Your advice was spot on, and truly helped me and my coworkers navigate this issue.

2. I lost it and gave relationship advice to my employee

Thank you and your readers for the feedback. It has certainly been a challenging few months while we all navigate this new situation with blurred lines between work, and home life. I decided to use the advice that I can “choose the information that I engage with” to heart, and make it a mantra. I ultimately decided to have a discussion with Anna reiterating the expectations of her position, and left anything home related out of it. I gave as many options as possible for her to balance everything, like working a flexible schedule. However, ultimately Anna decided to leave the company to focus more fully on her family. Although I was sad to see her go, she was happy with her choice.

3. My company wants me working fewer hours — but I have so much to do

I don’t have a very exciting update – but overall things have definitely improved! Around the time you posted my letter, my boss came back to us and said she had been mistaken, and she did not mean to *require* that we avoid overtime, only that we make every effort to keep our hours reasonable. She knew we already were doing everything we could, and it turned out this was just a lot of upper management covering everyone’s backsides. It was still pretty stressful when my teammate went on vacation, but I managed to stay 9-10 hour days.

About a month later, we brought on a new full-time person who has a few other responsibilities, but mainly helps with our workload and it has been an enormous relief. We’re still working remotely (and will be through at least next summer), but things have evened out a bit and the demands on my time are much more realistic. I now actually have a few hours a week to dedicate to my own professional growth outside of daily tasks, as well as to volunteer on a department-wide team to promote and educate others on the importance of inclusion & diversity initiatives in our company.

I’ve been able to incorporate a lot of your advice in conversations with my boss throughout the last several months, especially when it comes to getting on the same page about what my priorities should be when things get crazy, and what I feel I can realistically get done in a 40(ish) hour work week. WFH is getting a little monotonous, but I’m very lucky to work for management that listens when we push back and tries to help keep our workloads manageable, even in these “unprecedented” times!

4. Am I being unprofessional on video calls?

I wrote in earlier this year asking about how to navigate video meetings while dealing with chronic pain. The day my letter was posted I was actually having a bad pain day, and didn’t have the energy to reply to the comments, but I read every single one. I’m so thankful for all of the advice I received, and hearing the stories of commenters dealing with similar situations.

I took your advice (and the advice of many commenters) and decided that moving forward, I would leave my camera off on default, and only turn on when absolutely necessary. When I do turn my camera on, I change up the angles (thanks commenters!) so it isn’t obvious that I’m lounging on my couch. My agency doesn’t use zoom, so unfortunately adding a virtual background wasn’t an option.

I was pretty anxious to do this, but Ask A Manager gave me the confidence to go through with my plan. I’ve only had someone mention it once and it was more of a light hearted “where are you!” type comment. I’m no longer anxious to leave my video off, and it really has done wonders for my productivity and overall happiness, as I’m not dreading how I’ll appear multiple times a week during video meetings.

One commenter picked up on something that I didn’t even realize. In my original letter, I included a lot of information about the pain I was experiencing that wasn’t really relevant to the question I was asking. This commenter suggested something else was going on, and they were completely right. I was almost embarrassed when I read the comment and read my letter again, because it seems so obvious to me now. I was angry about my condition. I was angry that I had to work through so much pain. I was angry that I had to worry about something as trivial as a video meeting when living a normal life was a daily struggle. I wasn’t dealing with any of this, and instead placing my anxiety, anger and fear on a relatively minor issue. I’m happy to say that I’ve decided to take about 4 weeks off from work. It’s been a week and I’m already feeling so much more relaxed. I am truly just focusing on my physical and mental health. I’ve ignored it for too long.

{ 18 comments… read them below }

  1. Daffy Duck*

    #1 I’m so glad your company required Jane to isolate those two weeks. This is a textbook case on how disease spreads.

    1. Liz*

      I agree! My position all along is that while I can control what I do, where I go, etc., i can’t control what anyone else does, nor do I have any way of knowing what they’re doing, and if they’re following the required rules and guidelines. That’s what scares me the most; and why I’ve chosen not to do anything other than what’s absolutely necessary, until things get better

    1. Quinalla*

      Agreed, so great! Glad it helped you dig in a little deeper to the heart of the issue, so great when someone/something can help with that!

    2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      Yeah. It’s the kind of situation where I’m just “ok I’m glad I live in Europe where we simply get sick leave for as long as we’re in such pain” (sorry I know this is a sore point for many Americans) – I’m really glad OP has taken that time off.

  2. Anon today*

    Update 2 makes me think both boss & company weren’t really all that invested in helping the working parent during this pandemic.

    1. KoiFeeder*

      From what I understand of the original letter, the company was distinctly working parent unfriendly, and the supervisor could only do so much within that structure.

    2. MK*

      I don’t know, it’s hard to say outside of the situation. No matter how family unfriendly a company is, they are not necessarily unreasonable to object to an employee taking care of an infant while working.

      1. Le Sigh*

        In normal times, no. But during the pandemic, a lot of working parents are juggling childcare and work in a way they wouldn’t have to before. Before it was fine to expect an employee to have secured childcare — now, every working parent I know is constantly scrambling to find a safe, reliable option and a lot of companies are having to be a bit more forgiving in the face of that. And this exact problem is forcing disproportionate chunks of women out of their careers by inflexible jobs and/or spouses who aren’t willing to tag-team it.

        Is it a little distracting to have kids on screen sometimes? Yes, it has been. But we’re all struggling in various ways, so I can work with my parent co-workers, because they’re also working with me when I need it.

        There are some jobs that can’t be flexible, but there are some that just aren’t even trying and the impact is hitting women much harder. I lack enough context to say for sure, but I do wonder if Anna was really happy with this outcome, or had just decided it’s what she had to do.

        1. Anon Today*

          Exactly. My husband makes a whole lot more than me. While I work outside the home and our child is 6, were this us, if he had an important meeting while I also had a meeting, I’d get the baby, because his job brings home the most money.

          1. Peanut*

            YEP, samesies. I have in fact had work meetings while my kids trash things behind me for that reason.

          2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            This is all too common.
            I do note that generally kids can thrive and blossom with the undivided attention of a SAHP and I’m really glad I happened to be able to stay at home with mine while they were little. However, it’s not right that it’s always the poorly paid woman who takes a break in her career and a hit to her earning potential for the kids to thrive and blossom.

        2. chewingle*

          “I do wonder if Anna was really happy with this outcome, or had just decided it’s what she had to do.”

          Same. My company is parenting-friendly and I have still had days because of COVID that made me wonder if I needed to leave my job. Fortunately, we finally found a way to make it all work smoothly. But some companies are making it far harder than it needed to be. (My easy solution for meetings was to just not have my camera on. Boom. Distraction gone.)

          1. lazuli*

            (My easy solution for meetings was to just not have my camera on. Boom. Distraction gone.)

            This is such a simple accommodation that solves so many issues — like the letter writer with chronic pain, too — that I can’t believe how unreasonable some companies are being about it.

            1. KateM*

              I was in a series of lectures where most of us kept mic/video off unless talking… and if a certain classmate would not have been asked to weigh in, I wouldn’t have known he is usually listening to lecture while driving, and I think with kids in car.

    3. Here for the updates*

      #2 is a specific example in this “trend” of women disproportionately leaving the workforce in 2020

      1. Anon for this*

        Yeah. Even in parenting-friendly workplaces it can be hard. We have just heard our schools are going remote again, and in the interim I have started working full-time. My partner has chronic health issues that make it… risky… to rely on him completely to supervise home learning (he could probably manage “just” childcare). I haven’t yet figured out what to do about this, but I don’t want to mess up my job as I’m still pretty new, this is my return to “real” work after being very part-time for years when the kids were small, and I can’t work 100% remotely. And I’m the main earner (see above, partner’s health).

        I’m pretty sure work will be supportive, but I don’t WANT to cut my hours or go on furlough (not that that’s been offered). I may yet have to, though.

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