how do I get out of my office’s toxic positivity meetings?

A reader writes:

So I work at a small nonprofit in a non-U.S. country, during this pandemic. Due to a number of pandemic-related factors, the work I do has been complicated multiple times during the last year or so, and I am doing my best to manage this stress and all of the deadlines my job involves, but the management team at my job are not helping and are filling my calendar with frivolous meetings.

They insist on doing what they refer to as TEAM CONNECTS! which are Zoom calls where they ask questions about Covid and how we are feeling. There is an intense, albeit unstated, pressure to be chipper and cheerful at these meetings, even if you are not feeling that way.

For example, one of the first times we did one of these calls, they had not only just reduced my pay and hours the day before due to the pandemic (something that was not universal but done to select staff), but laid off half of my working team 10 minutes prior to the meeting! Although I was upset and shaken, in the meeting I was called out on the spot by name to contribute something positive about Covid! I was so shocked, the best I could muster was that it definitely was reminding me about what was important and what my priorities should be.

Since that event, these situations keep arising. I have lost family members due to COVID. and still, every two weeks, whether I want to or not (I don’t!), I have to gather to discuss what inspires me or what I consider team work to be during this era of Covid.

The one time I was honest and talked about how upsetting the losses have been and how taxing talking about/dealing with Covid is for me (I am the only person in staff of 20+ with a school-aged child), I was met with uncomfortable silence and nobody even addressed or acknowledged what I’d said before they quickly moved on to another topic.

I am trying to be “a team player” but I am tired and honestly? I already have a therapist for this kind of stuff! They say we don’t need to speak in these meetings, but if I don’t contribute to the discourse, I am called out by name and forced to speak. If I make suggestions that don’t involve being put on the spot and only contributing to discussions when time/mental health allow, I am met with complaints that “optional interaction isn’t as valuable!” They are now gearing up to relaunch the social committee and push us into even more social situations where we do things like eat lunch and watch Netflix together! My lunch hour is the one break I get all day — I don’t want to do this!

I understand that other people may get something out of these exercises (a number of the senior management team are single people who are quarantining alone), but for me, they have become forced socialization appointments on my calendar that I completely dread. I felt like crying at the one I had today.

What do I do here? Is there a polite way to bow out of these meetings? I actually like my job and the work I do (in spite of the stress right now), but these events are awful!

What the F.

They’re demanding that you name something positive about Covid?

Over and over?

When people are losing loved ones?

And they demanded that you name something positive about Covid 10 minutes after half your team was let go and a day after they cut your pay?

I hear a lot of ridiculous things writing this column, but this should win some sort of prize for how out of touch it is.

And the one time you tried to speak openly about how upsetting the pandemic is, everyone acted like you’d pooped on the floor and you were the problem?

What is going on in the culture there? I mean, there’s plenty of toxic positivity floating around in lots of companies — and lots of “share but only share in the exact way we want, and make yourself vulnerable but only in ways we approve of” — and lots of “your mental health is our business even though we’re in no way qualified to address it and might in fact worsen it” — but this is still a remarkable commitment to bad practices on multiple levels. So I’m curious about what else goes on there, because I’m skeptical that there aren’t other problems.

As for what to do …

At a healthier organization, you’d be able to simply say that you don’t find the meetings helpful and would like to opt out so you can focus on pressing deadlines. But when you just asked not to be forced to speak in the meetings, you were told “optional interaction isn’t as valuable!” (??!) so I’m not optimistic that you’d get a different response if you proposed not attending at all. (But who knows, maybe you would. Sometimes people get hung up on “if you’re here, you participate” and so it goes better if you can just … not be there.)

At this point, I would go straight to telling your boss that these meetings are bad for your mental health and so you need to stop attending. You could use language like, “I have lost family members to Covid and I am not in a place where I can participate in a discussion of what’s good in the pandemic. I’ve made a good faith attempt for a while, but it’s become clear to me that these meetings do me more harm than good. To protect my mental health, my plan is to stop attending and I’ll use that time to work on projects like XYZ.”

Your boss may still push back, but you’ll have put it in terms that will make it much more awkward for her to do that so let’s see what happens.

But if you’re outright required to continue attending, even after that conversation, one option is to stick to really vague responses that don’t require any real emotion from you: “I’m hanging in! Such a weird time, blah blah.” … “Team work in the age of Covid? I guess I’d say it’s been important for us all to be flexible and work together to support our goals.” … “Something positive about the pandemic? Well, it’s made me appreciate family and friends more than ever.” … just totally vague and bland pablum.

The other option, of course, is to refuse to play along: “Well, to be honest, I’m shaken by the layoffs! I’m worried about the colleagues we lost and about how to absorb that work on fewer hours. Can we talk about the plan for that?” … “Nothing from me today — I know you’ve said we don’t need to speak in these meetings, so I’m going to pass today.” … “Like a lot of people, I’m not feeling positive about Covid right now. So I’ll pass today.” … “While we’re talking about team work, could we talk about how the team should approach Work Complication X?” … You’d need to judge how much this might or might not hurt you politically there, and how much you care, but it’s an option. (And if you do a few “can we talk about the plan for handling X?” they might be happy to have you opt out of future meetings.)

Also, any chance you’ve got other coworkers who feel similarly to you? Even if there are just a few of you, pushing back as a group can often carry more weight and make it harder for you to be singled out as the problem person.

Your office is exhausting.

Read updates to this letter here and here.

{ 324 comments… read them below }

  1. word_of_the_day*

    Had to google “pablum”. Will be using it in basically every inane meeting I have going forward. Thanks Alison!

    1. David*

      There, the only positive thing to come from this.

      Jesus, this is bad. I’d have hung up on the first one and dared my boss to do something about it, then proceeded not to show up at all until they call me out on it.

    2. SD*

      I wondered how many people would even recognize the term “pablum.” When I was small, in the mid-50s, my baby sister and brother ate pablum, and we actually called it that. I haven’t heard that term used in reference to baby food since the 60s, but I’ve always remembered it. It works well in this context too!

      1. Amber Rose*

        I only know it in the context of puppies, since that’s what my mom called it when we started trying to get my dog’s babies to eat solid food.

      2. Cat Tree*

        It has become an idiomatic term though. I was familiar with it and only ever heard it in the sense of substanceless platitudes. I think the baby food is really more of an etymology at this point, and people don’t necessarily need to be familiar with it to understand the word. It’s not a super common term, but it’s also not obscure.

  2. 3DogNight*

    This letter literally has me shaking. I have no good suggestions, but I feel your pain, in so many ways. I’m so sorry!

    1. CoveredInBees*

      Likewise. I don’t have any good suggestions but that is HORRIFYING. You are not off-base in the least in not wanting to do this. Even if you didn’t know anyone who’d gotten sick from it and your hours, benefits, and team size had remained untouched…this would be awful.

      Considering how many people have died and suffer under the current situation, these meetings sound downright ghoulish.

    2. Hills to Die on*

      Yeah, this really is sad and upsetting. I am so sorry they are doing this on top of everything else you have going on. Virtual hugs and support to you.

    3. Rachel 2: Electric Boogaloo*

      Doing this _one_ time would be exhausting enough. Doing it every two weeks…ugh, what a nightmare!

      1. Quinalla*

        Right, one time as a trying to cheer everyone up exercise not well thought out – I’d forgive it – but over and over and over with all the enforce positivity – ugh! Personally I would push back hard against this and try to find at least one ally to push with me. And I’d probably just keep bringing up negative things, even if it is like “Being this lonely has made me appreciate my friends and family more!” where technically there is some positive in there.

        OP I hope you can get them to actually let you off the hook. Can you schedule an external client meeting during the time if that is a thing for you?

    4. AnonEMoose*

      I’m pretty sure I would be literally trying to claw my way out of my own skin to get out of these meetings. How absolutely horrible!

    5. Admin 4 life*

      I would go off. And I doubt it would be even remotely professional but I’d rather be job hunting than working harder, for a reduced salary, for a company that is this tone deaf.

      I’ve already called out VPs who talk about their wives (SAHM) playing with their kids while they try to work and how they now have a better understanding for solo parents.

      No job is worth it if I have to recover from meetings like this.

      1. Nesprin*

        Everyone who has asked me how I’m doing this year has gotten the same answer “it’s been a bit of a year, hasn’t it?”. Because it’s that or crying. Being asked to put on a brave face every two weeks and be positive in front of coworkers is horrific, and horrifically out of touch.

        I have been lucky enough to never need a job enough to not be able to call out offensive nonsense when it is in front of me, and OP I hope you’re able to push back or leave without repercussions.

        1. Artemesia*

          I have had as easy a year as anyone in this pandemic and I would go nuts having to manufacture joy. To expect that after laying a team off and cutting salaries and when you have lost people in the pandemic — a horror show. Worst boss contender.

    6. allathian*

      Yeah, me too. I’m infuriated on the LW’s behalf. This organization pretty much defines toxic positivity. I have absolutely no idea what they’re trying to accomplish.

  3. Clorinda*

    Positive things about covid . . . You need a stock response that you can just repeat every time the question comes around to you. Don’t bother making up something new every time or even thinking about it very much.
    “Covid has shown me who people really are.”

        1. elizelizeliz*

          Yes, choosing a new mask-covered element each time until you stop getting called on.

          “When people mask well, i get to avoid looking at their nostrils.”
          “People’s tongues remain out of my line of sight when they are behind a mask.”
          “Lips no longer distract me.”
          “I haven’t seen a philtrum in months.”
          “I now only have to imagine the full spectrum of chin shapes.”

          1. Faith the twilight slayer*

            “Oblivious people no longer tell me to smile all the time”.

            You. I like your style.

      1. Anon for this*

        I’ve lost a ton of weight! Amazing! So healthy!

        Of course, it’s because I’m so stressed out eating is impossible some meals and when I can eat I feel nauseous, but who cares, weight loss is always a good thing!

        1. Lady Meyneth*

          I’ve finally figured out what stress eating means. I’ve gained 20 pounds in 2020, that I’ve needed to gain since I was a teen (and I could still use a few more). It’s been the one happy thing to happen this year.

    1. Stormy Weather*

      I’ve learned that I can work at home just as, if not more effectively, than I can in the office.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        For someone who doesn’t want to go back to the office, this needs to be repeated every single time. I’d even go overboard on it, talking about my fantastic connection and how it’s so wonderful to work for a modern-day company that gets these things.

    2. Hills to Die on*

      “I am glad I am not one of the people who does hurtful, out-of-touch things when others are struggling. Like forcing people to make positive comments about a pandemic that has cost the lives of my family members and my income, and cost other people their jobs.”
      Let that just hang in the air.

      1. Mad Harry Crewe*

        “I’ve really pulled closer to my surviving friends and family.”
        “You know, I’ve had so many new experiences, like Zoom memorials and funerals. What a time to be alive!”
        ‘What a time to be alive! Unlike so many of my family and friends…”
        “Watching my coworkers shoulder the burden of our ten colleagues who were laid off has been super inspiring! Taking on multiple jobs on top of a pay cut really showed me where we’re all at when the rubber hits the road.”
        “Helping little Timmy with Zoom School has really laid to rest that nagging fear that I should have become an elementary school teacher. It’s nice to have closure on that childhood dream.”

        1. Chinook*

          You forgot “it looks like I will be gaining the family inheritance a lot sooner than I hoped.”

          1. Mad Harry Crewe*

            Perfect, thank you!
            “I always did like mother’s jewels, and Aunt Martha’s… and Grandma Dot…”

      2. Admin 4 life*

        Can I borrow this? I have a feeling I’ll be able to put it to good use at some point.

      3. No Name Today*

        If you see your comment walking around, tell it to hit me up on Facebook. I want to be friends.

    3. Grand Admiral Thrawn Will Always Be Blue*

      This one feels like a cross over from yesterday’s cult-y company. yikes.

    4. Aggretsuko*

      LOL on that answer!

      But seriously, this is horrifying. What glassbowls they are to insist on this. Constantly.

      1. SweetestCin*

        I’d make the title of this book, in the guise of “I read a great book, highly recommend it…” part of my contribution, I feel. (Granted, I happen to work in an industry where a polite FU isn’t always needed, sometimes you can get away with an actual “FU”.)

    5. Metadata Janktress*

      “Covid has shown me who people really are.”
      I love that. So much. Such an elegant F U.

    6. Sara without an H*

      “Covid has shown me who people really are.”

      This. Preferably delivered deadpan, without a trace of irony.

    7. Tea and cookies*

      I am more of person that would say something positive but it would make them cringe. Drawing from my personal experiences of Coivd, if I was in this situation I would say: I get to send out less birthday cards and Christmas gifts since my last living grandparent just died from Covid. Technically it is positive, but it would make it so people would reconsider asking me.

      1. Positively Toxic*

        “Well, with half a million Americans, I guess the job market won’t be quite as bad for our laid off former coworkers!”

  4. Gone Girl*

    Maybe if there’s ever a Netflix party, your team can watch Inside Out and talk about how positivity/happiness isn’t the only healthy emotion ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    1. knitcrazybooknut*

      I have a very dark sense of humor, so showing Contagion wouldn’t be out of my wheelhouse.

      And OP, I really am sorry for your losses. I’ve had people blithely tell me to look on the bright side in dark times before. I can’t imagine what you’re going through, and your organization would have driven me to mayhem. They are monsters without good intentions.

      In your shoes, I would wonder if the calls were being recorded to placate some higher-ups need for positive metrics. WTF.

  5. CatCat*

    So toxic. I’m flabbergasted by how out of touch. I don’t see how a company that acts like this gets better without some sort of significant change at the top, which OP is in not in much position to impact.

    Who even ARE these people pushing this?

    It’s like they’re from another reality.

    1. Clorinda*

      Somebody read something on the interwebs about how daily gratitude journaling leads to improved mental health and is trying to implement it by force.

        1. Stormy Weather*

          Someone had that posted on their wall at a previous job of mine. I seriously considered getting a couple more, cutting them up and changing it so it read, “The morale will continue until the beatings improve.”

          Of course someone could take that literally…..

      1. Gone Girl*

        Our team did this weekly pre-pandemic, which I honestly thought was kind of nice. But I can’t imagine trying to find COVID-specific things to be thankful for. Sounds like a nightmare.

        1. FrenchCusser*

          I would find that pretty painful, too.

          I’m normally a pretty sunny person, but I don’t pretend to be when I’m not feeling it, and being forced to feel something (anything!) is just torture to me.

          1. Anon for this*

            Yeah, I tend to focus on “my week’s been awful but at least insert good thing happened” to focus on at least my cats are adorable, or something similar, but if I had to attend a weekly meeting where I had to say what’s good about covid, my answers would rapidly degenerate into “everyone in my WoW classic guild is home because they can’t go out and we killed the hardest boss in the game this week”. Every. Single. Week. Until boss stops asking. He really, really doesn’t like hearing video game talk though, and making him hear video game talk would definitely influence him to not want to ask me that question again.

          2. pleaset cheap rolls*

            There are things from the pandemic that are positive. Not in the sense of making the pandemic “worth it” – ABSOLUTELY NOT.

            But in my work there are much stronger connections across locations and offices from working from home. We’re less siloed than in the past.

            Participation in events/conferences is a little more open due to less travel. Having broadband creates some barriers, but less than paying for travel. I read person with physical disabilities that prevented easy movement say this pandemic has helped “level” the playing field for them.

            There are others…..

            There are downsides to so I don’t want any scoresheet – there are definitely tremendous downsides and millions of lives lost.

            1. doreen*

              I agree- although I wouldn’t exactly call them “positive” and I certainly don’t think they make the pandemic “worth it” , there are a number of things that I hope continue once we are out of this.

              But even so, having to name something positive about Covid every two weeks would not be good for my mental health. And although it wouldn’t be a good idea to actually do it , after a couple of times my “something positive” would probably involve telling management “at least I don’t have to see you every day”.

              1. Guacamole Bob*

                Yeah, I work in an industry where Biden’s slogan of “build back better” really resonates – we do have a chance to do things differently in the future because of how things have been disrupted this past year. But I cringe when people talk about the “opportunities” that covid has given to us as an industry.

          3. MCMonkeybean*

            Same. I generally present as optimistic and peppy at the office but it’s been a rough few months and my new manager is mostly great but drives me crazy when she doesn’t want to accept polite disengagement from the social small talk at the beginning of calls. Last week she asked how I was and I said a not-enormously fine sounding “fine” and instead of just moving on she was like “well, that wasn’t very convincing!” So I said “okay honestly my back has been having issues and I’m in a lot of pain right now” and then it was weird.

            1. tangerineRose*

              What is wrong with people? When you say a not-fine sounding “fine”, that means “Not so good.” and “Don’t ask for details unless you really want to know.”

        2. WoodswomanWrites*

          For the first few months of the pandemic, our team had a twice-monthly meeting but it was optional and had no agenda. The idea was just to check in, and it was lovely because it was genuinely about personally connecting and supporting each other, not demanding people pretend to feel positive about the pandemic. A far cry from the hideous meetings the letter write describes–how traumatizing.

      2. Nea*

        And the thing is – it doesn’t. Jenny Lawson (The Bloggess) has written about how being asked to keep a gratitude journal worsened her mental state. “And I think it’s a great idea except that whenever I practice gratitude, instead of feeling grateful I feel guilty….guilty that I sometimes feel miserable (even temporarily) when I am given so much. And then I feel worse for not appreciating everything fully and then I’m convinced that it will all disappear because obviously I don’t deserve good things in my life if those things can’t automatically give me the happiness that I need to throw off the damp, heavy blanket of depression.”

        1. FrenchCusser*

          Believing that a ritual will make you well is magical thinking.

          You need good medical care, not hocus pocus.

        2. Keymaster of Gozer*

          People telling me to ‘find something every day to be happy about’ made my depression 800 times worse.

          1. knitcrazybooknut*

            The days where you can’t find one thing to be happy about are the utter worst, especially since then you get to blame yourself for not finding it.

            1. Keymaster of Gozer*

              And with severe clinical depression that’s 100% of the days. Can’t honestly say I’ve been ‘happy’ about anything since 2018.

          2. Anonny*

            Finding reasons to not be miserable helps me, but it took me a lot of therapy, small bits of self-improvement (like finding ways of keeping tidy), and medication to get to the point where it did help. It won’t get you out of the depression gunk.

        3. Hills to Die on*

          I think I saw a book recommendation here to this effect. Can’t recall the name of it.

          1. ThatGirl*

            You may be thinking of Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bright Sided, which she wrote after she was diagnosed with breast cancer and was bombarded with toxic positivity.

            1. Sara without an H*

              That would probably be my stock contribution to anything like this. “COVID has led me to reread Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bright Sided. It’s given me a lot to think about.”

              If anyone invited me to share extracts with the group…well, they asked.

              1. Pennyworth*

                That would be a brilliant contribution to make to the meetings, because the ”Bright Sided” is a deceptively upbeat title and it might fool some of the relentless positivity bosses into reading it.

        4. HigherEdAdminista*

          This makes so much sense. If your particular brain is inclined to tell you negative things about yourself, writing a gratitude journal just becomes a chance for your brain to tell you how terrible you are because you aren’t grateful enough. I know it doesn’t work for me for the same reason. I feel much better having my feelings validated and finding support both from myself and from others.

          This company sounds like a nightmare.

          1. une autre Cassandra*

            This is only marginally on-topic but you guys have just lit a lightbulb over my head re: why I feel so put-upon by the “this week’s Big Wins!” section in my big cool planner. It’s a cool planner, but that part is…eh.
            Last week instead of dredging up the five (5!) “Big Wins” there’s space for, I wrote something like “how many weeks actually have one ‘big win’, let alone five?” and have felt a mild combination of guilty, insubordinate, and righteously indignant ever since.

        5. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

          Wow, you have NO idea how much I needed to read that. Exactly! “If you’d just have a grateful mindset”. Goodness, years of exhaustion, right there!

        6. Observer*

          The studies are actually pretty robust – gratitude journals can be en extremely useful tool. The fact that it did not work for this person does not change that.

          The main issue you run into with this is that, like so many other great tools, this great tool is not a universal cure all. Furthermore, the HOW matters, too.

          More to the point, what the OP describes is about as similar to gratitude journals as a mouse is similar to an elephant because they both have 4 legs, a tail and two ears.

            1. Observer*

              I realize. I was initially responding to the presentation of “this happened to this person.”

              I’m not arguing that “gratitude journals” are the answer to all forms of unhappiness, or that it’s even always a good idea. I’m arguing that the fact that there is a dark side in many cases does not mean that it’s never an appropriate approach.

          1. Working Hypothesis*

            Yes, this! Finding, for yourself, the things for which you actually are grateful or happy (whatever they are, whenever you have them, and without having to lie to yourself or anybody else to come up with more than you actually have) is often helpful, even/especially for people whose brains tell them nasty things. But “often” is not “always,” and if it doesn’t work for person A, then person A should follow the advice the doctor gave the guy who said “Doc, it hurts when I bend like this,” — “Don’t bend like that, then!” And the corrupted nonsense version forced on the LW as a performative exercise by their office is nothing remotely like the version that actually works for some people. That one won’t do anything but make *most* people miserable, and I bet almost all the folks at the LW’s office hate it and just don’t feel safe to say so.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      Seriously. I thought the absurd team meetings that my spouse’s team was having where the boss and most outspoken team member play down COVID and act like any preventative measures are a huge inconvenience and infringement on their personal liberties, but having to play act being positive about COVID when there are layoffs and personal losses? Just unbelievable. I am speechless.

  6. Dwight Schrute*

    Wow this sounds utterly exhausting to deal with. I’m so sorry OP. I’d stick with what Alison has suggested.
    On a lighter note, the pooped on the floor line made me choke on my snack I laughed so hard

  7. MissDisplaced*

    These sound absolutely horrible.
    I’m not sure what else to add, other than you have my sympathy.

    I personally would probably not be nearly as nice or professional if I was forced to attend these. Honestly, I would just stop going to them if you can.

  8. Eye roll*

    Well, I do have the political capital in my office, and I’ve slid into F-off territory during the pandemic, so my first instinct would be to flat out say, “I have nothing positive to say about the disease that killed X, Y, Z, Q…..”, “It’s bizarre you expect me to feel positive while in mourning,” “I can’t think of much to say about teamwork. Half my team was fired, so we’re just trying to stay above water while wasting time talking about this stuff,” “Why be positive about Covid times? The company can’t cope with it and had to cut salaries and fire staff. That’s a huge ongoing negative.”

    1. Watry*

      I don’t have much political capital, and I think I’d still say this. It would be better than the bursting into tears I’d do otherwise.

      1. EPLawyer*

        Honestly, I know you shouldn’t cry at work. But this is the ONE time I would do it. Boss wants these things, then he can deal with the uncomfortable experiences.

        Seriouisly who insists on something positive about a deadly disease? Do we ask people to say something positive about CANCER?

        1. anon for this*

          I mean, yes, cancer patients are often encouraged to “be positive! mind over matter! positive people have the best outcomes!”

          1. Not Australian*

            Oh yes. My mother was urging my father to ‘think positive and we’ll beat this together’ until pretty much the day he died. Some things you just can’t think your way out of; you just have to accept them gracefully and deal with them.

        2. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Oh yeah. Amount of times told by people that a positive attitude will cure everything from depression to terminal illness is off the charts. It’s abject cruelty.

        3. KoiFeeder*

          Yup, folks do. Because they can’t bear for you to ~upset~ them over your own personal problems. Yeah, you’re dying, but what about their precious fee-fees?!

          1. EPLawyer*

            Oh yeah, they tell you to think good thoughts, but not say something positive about the CANCER ITSELF.

            1. WS*

              Oh no, people really do want you to talk about your amazing life-changing revelations that you magically received via getting cancer. Exactly the same way that the OP is required to talk about COVID.

        4. ThatGirl*

          I mentioned the book Bright Sided, by Barbara Ehrenreich, above — that’s exactly what it’s about. She was diagnosed with breast cancer and got bombarded with toxic positivity.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            My mum brought me a copy of that book when I was at my absolute lowest and blaming myself for my crippling depression, my disabilities (too much “just go exercise instead of taking meds!” and I was believing them) etc.

            Actually, should really go thank mum again. That book really saved some sanity.

        5. Lora*

          They do indeed. And then they go on to tell you how if you just think happy thoughts, go to their personal preferred meditation class, eat only paleo / vegan / organic, you wouldn’t have cancer in the first place so really it’s all your fault and you need to own your responsibility for being sick, here drink this colloidal silver / go to my favorite acupuncturist…

          I was pretty open about the first time I was diagnosed. The second time I told only a few close friends. Learned my lesson. People are a-holes.

        6. MCMonkeybean*

          That was my thought too Obviously it’s easier said than done because it can feel embarrassing, but OP if you would be comfortable with it I totally vote that if you feel like crying at the next one of these meetings… just do it. If you keep refusing the toxic positivity and say obvious basic facts about what currently sucks and everyone gets weird, then revel in the weirdness.

          If you can get out of the meetings then obviously that is the best route. But if they keep making you go, then I am all for making them awkward until hopefully they realize what a terrible idea it is. Maybe after a

        7. Pickled Limes*

          Cancer survivor here (with several loved ones who didn’t), and yeah, there’s pressure to frame the experience positively. We’re supposed to say we’ve strengthened our relationships with our loved ones and found a deeper spirituality and we’re going to come out on the other side of this stronger and wiser than ever. No one wants to hear that we’re actually angry and terrified.

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I am not sure how much political capital I have, but I’d want to use one of these responses.

    3. Keymaster of Gozer*

      ‘What’s positive about having loved ones die alone in hospital to a killer virus? What’s positive about the last year giving me a ***ing mental breakdown? No, seriously, tell me’

      And that would be the START of my diatribe. Add on ‘if you want me to continue with this then you’re paying my psychiatric bills’.

      I honestly thought I’d heard all the most tone deaf heartless sadistic BS this pandemic could throw up. Apparently I was wrong.

      1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

        If there’s one thing I HAVE learned during this pandemic?

        Never say “I think I’ve heard/seen the most bat-guano/bananacrackers/tone deaf thing as a result of this insanity”, because that is a challenge to be overcome by either Murphy (as in, “all hail the hand of”) or someone lacking a heart.

  9. Franz Kafkaesque*

    I really wonder how this management team handled difficult situations and problems before COVID. Seems like the type of people that believe they can just “envision” their way out of anything, no practical solutions required.

    I also wonder if they are scared of losing staff. The job market in many industries is extremely good right now. I wonder if this is their misguided way of trying to browbeat the staff into believing the culture is just so positive, they couldn’t even consider leaving. Either way, this type of thinking is pretty sick.

    1. Forgot My Last Username*

      This isn’t toxic positivity, it’s gaslighting and groupthink. They are screwing people over and then forcing them to pretend everything is just fine.

      This company is not a place to stay if you have other viable choices.

      1. OhNo*

        This. There’s toxic positivity, and then there’s forcing someone whose colleagues were all (or mostly) laid off ten minutes prior to say something good about what is going on. That’s a whole other level of BS that, quite frankly, would tempt me into saying exactly what I felt and lighting bridges on fire like it was going out of style.

        OP, I have no advice, but I’m really sorry you have to put up with that.

      2. Beth*

        I mean, gaslighting and groupthink can be elements of toxic positivity. There’s a reason it’s called ‘toxic’.

        I agree that OP should be looking for an out, though.

    2. Liane*

      “I also wonder if they are scared of losing staff.”
      Any company that lays off people just before a (theoretically) feel-good meeting, cuts salaries/wages, and harasses someone (like LW) in mourning during said “feel-good” meetings isn’t too worried about losing staff. And that would be true even if this were the Before Times.

      But I agree with everything else, especially, “this type of thinking is pretty sick.”

      1. Working Hypothesis*

        I’m not sure this is true. They can want not to lose more staff than they’ve chosen to ditch, and still be too damn clueless to realize how their own practices are leading them right into it.

    3. James*

      “Seems like the type of people that believe they can just “envision” their way out of anything, no practical solutions required.”

      I disagree. I’ve seen a lot of companies focusing on mental health these days–in my role as site safety officer it’s something I’ve been instructed to discuss and make workers aware of, for example. Because one thing everyone knows day laborers and excavator operators are concerned with, it’s the mental well-being of their colleagues!

      A lot of this is coming from outside the companies. Its seems regulatory agencies (OSHA and the like) are focusing on it more, and that makes everyone else focus on it more. It makes a certain amount of sense, too. Trigger states are mental states, after all. The issue is that most companies are simply not equipped to handle these issues in ways that are sane, much less effective. And trying to do so during the worst health crisis in a century is futile even if your company has a good track record for this sort of thing.

      What you inevitably end up with is a bunch of companies doing heavy-handed nonsense to show that they’re Doing Something!! regardless of what it’s costing the employees. Since no one knows how to do this, everyone’s doing it badly. And the people involved are the type who think that anything even slightly less than perfectly happy is a disaster, and who’s view of mental health is dominated by Lisa Frank paintings. It leads to a surficial, futile effort that’s attended by people who have nothing better to do and mocked by people who actually need help.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Management read ‘The Secret’ and are trying to will away the global catastrophe?

      2. Observer*

        I’ve seen a lot of companies focusing on mental health these days–in my role as site safety officer it’s something I’ve been instructed to discuss and make workers aware of, for example. Because one thing everyone knows day laborers and excavator operators are concerned with, it’s the mental well-being of their colleagues!

        What the OP describes has nothing to do with mental health. In fact, as a safety officer, if you ever see a manger trying to force someone to “say something positive about covid / cancer / California wildfires / *insert other disaster*, that should a be a sign that you need to SERIOUSLY look at their safety procedures. And if that force comes in the immediate aftermath of a really bad piece of news than you know that these people neither know or care about the mental health of their staff.

        1. James*

          “What the OP describes has nothing to do with mental health.”

          These things never do. The intent isn’t to make folks safe, it’s to protect the company from liability–to check a box that some regulator wants checked. It was the same when various safety regs got rolled out. Companies did things that had no chance of affecting the safety of the workers–in fact they made us less safe for a while–but they checked some box some regulator wanted checked. And if we offered any criticism we were branded as not being dedicated to safety, or not being a team player, or whatever it took to dismiss our concerns.

          In other words, I’m saying we shouldn’t attribute to malice what can be explained by bureaucratic incompetence. Franz’ interpretation is not the only one that fits the data. What we’re seeing fits into an established pattern, so at minimum we should explore that pattern.

      3. kt*

        How ’bout provide amazing health insurance and ensure that everyone has a reasonable workload and the benefits they need?

        Oh right. Talk is cheaper.

        1. Kristina*

          For years, my work sent me offers for short courses on mindfulness and stress management and whatever. I would respond that, regrettably, I could not find space in my schedule for this.
          Sarcasm is entirely wasted on management, let me tell you.

  10. Ashley*

    For the lunch avoidance I would try something like I need a screen break. I would also not have Netflix or my account is being used by another family member. I am sorry your office is so out of touch!

    1. Cat Tree*

      That’s a good suggestion. OP could also make up a different commitment, like a recurring doctor appointment or a promise to an elderly neighbor to walk his dog during that time.

    2. introverted af*

      I would assume if they’re doing a Netflix lunch they’ll be streaming the video some kind of way that doesn’t require each individual person to watch the video

  11. TWW*

    At a previous job I simply stopped showing up to unnecessary meetings. Did that for years and no one cared.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      This honestly would be my initial approach. I suspect it wouldn’t work here, but it would be worth a try.

    2. Van Wilder*

      Yeah, that came to my mind also. I’m sure LW is a conscientious employee and this concept may be foreign to them, but in my office I would try it.

    3. Dasein9*

      Yes. Don’t say a word about why you’re not going unless and until someone asks. Just don’t. And if they do ask, then a sincere and innocent, “Oh, I didn’t realize the meetings were mandatory!” might just get you out of future ones.

      1. TeapoNinja*

        I’d say something along the lines of my workload been increased since my team was laid off and needing every hour of the day to keep up.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          Haha, great idea, Ninja. OP, you could also attend the meetings but just keep doing your work during the meeting and if someone asks you something, use Ninja’s advice here and say you are so overloaded that you still have to focus on work projects during these awful meetings. Maybe leave out the word awful. Maybe.

  12. Mental Lentil*

    I used to get this in teaching all the damned time. “Tell us ten great things about this awful new program that we’ve instituted that cost thousands of dollars and took away dozens of work hours I would normally use to prepare curriculum and lesson plans and grade paper.”

    I’m no longer in teaching. I loved being in the classroom, but this kind of bullshit is so beyond my tolerance level.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      “The great thing about this program is that it will undoubtedly be cancelled soon!”

      1. Mental Lentil*

        Oh, yes! TYNT — This Year’s New Thing — will ultimately become LYNT — Last Year’s New Thing.

    2. Sharrbe*

      A good friend of mine is a teacher and is experiencing this. She LOVES teaching, but can’t deal with the bullshit either. My jaw drops every time she tells me about the inexplicable, counterproductive, soul-crushing practices that are foisted upon them (like the non-anonymous surveys they are supposed to fill out with loaded questions that they can’t possibly give honest answers to without blowback). It seems like they’re trying to turn teaching into some rote process that can be replicated over and over with every child if you just adhere to these “five (unrealistic) tips and tricks” that school administration and outside consultants try to force on them. It’s lazy and ridiculous. And a waste of taxpayer money.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        What they are trying to do is turn teaching from an art into a science. So some teacher somewhere will have a technique that works spectacularly well for her. The education-industrial complex will pick up on it and declare that the problem is solved. If a technique works great for one person, it must logically follow that it will work great for everyone, if they just follow the recipe faithfully. So vastly expensive training materials will be published, and teachers herded into training sessions, with mandates to do this, and more importantly, to document that you are doing it. And it will work for some teachers, but not for most. People, it turns out, are different. Who could have known? So after a couple of years The Powers That Be will move on to the next New Thing. There are only so many possibilities for New Thing, so if you wait long enough it will come around again.

        Most teachers are interested in tips about what has worked for others. Any given New Thing would be perfectly reasonable as such a tip. Try it and see if it works for you! But this is not the stuff that makes careers and dollars.

        1. Sharrbe*

          I would agree that teachers sharing tips among themselves is great. But yeah, certain approaches and philosophies have been monitized by “outside consultants” who are brought in to the school system to “support” the teachers. From the teachers’ point of view, they are often given stupidly common sense advice that they already employ (like getting to know their students as individuals!), or they perform evaluations and write innaccurate reports because these consultants aren’t in the room long enough to understand why she handles things certain ways. For example, one evaluator told her that she neglected to get one student to participate twice in a class discussion (as was expected of every student). This student only participated once. What my friend didn’t get to tell the evaluator was that this girl was petrified of speaking in class and for her to even participate once was a huge step for her. But according to the evaluator, not having her speak twice was was considered a failure. Insanity.

        2. Mental Lentil*

          You really nailed it with the “education-industrial complex”. If I had no morals, I could make far more money as an educational consultant repackaging stuff and presenting it as new. (This actually happened once—I recognized the training as something that came out 30 years ago. When I called out the trainer for it, they said, “Yes, but we use different names for everything.” Many tax dollars wasted, many teacher hours wasted, many years of our young people’s lives wasted.)

          As someone else said here, there is not enough no in the world for this.

        3. Humble Schoolmarm*

          I see you’ve met inquiry based learning! Works wonderfully for some students and some topics, so we’re structuring our entire middle school curriculum around it! Yaaaaaay.

  13. Just Another Zebra*

    OP, I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this. This sounds so exhausting and deeply unhelpful.

    Alison’s advice is spot on, though. Try to bow out gracefully from these meetings, or come up with a canned formulaic response. “I’m hanging in there.” “I get to spend more time with my family.” “I started working through my ‘to be read’ pile.” Or when they ask about something work related, tie it back to a work event. “Teamwork was important for X project because of Y.” Keep it bland.

    But this is awful.

  14. Daniel*

    This office is the equivalent to the “This is fine” comic with the dog in the burning building.

    I’m really curious to see what would happen in the OP just happened to have something crop up each day. Just an email to the meeting host a few minutes after the meeting starts, without logging into the meeting in the first place. Though if they said “optional interaction isn’t as valuable!” with a straight face, then I am not optimistic about your management.

  15. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Your employer is asking YOU to make THEM feel better about THEIR negative actions that add to the overall crapiness of everything.

    It’s emotional labor, and it’s bullshit. You’re not responsible for anyone else’s feelings.

    1. Lady Meyneth*

      We really do need a quarterly vote this year. The amount of viable winners for worst bosses/offices so far is flabbergasting, and it’s only April!

    2. Lady Meyneth*

      We really do need a quarterly vote this year. The amount of viable winners for worst bosses/offices so far is flabbergasting, and it’s only April!

  16. Detective Amy Santiago*

    There is not enough no in the world.

    I tend to be pretty honest and I’d straight up tell my direct supervisor that I cannot in good conscience participate in these. If I was really forced to, I’d say something like “I’m glad I don’t have to wear shoes anymore” or “I like that all my favorite restaurants deliver now” or something else generic.

    But seriously – my reaction to this letter is [insert Anakin NOOOOOOOOOO gif]

        1. SarahKay*

          Or really lean into the awkwardness – if OP has periods then go with “I’ve taken this opportunity to really perfect my technique for inserting my menstrual cup; it’s been great to be in my own bathroom so I don’t have to worry if it spills when I remove it.”

  17. Free Meerkats*

    “Something positive? I’m not dead of Covid.” – delivered totally deadpan. Every single time you are forced to talk.

  18. sofar*

    My office has a tradition of playing a funny video before our quarterly all-hands meetings. Several months into the pandemic, the video started with a screen that said “COVID-19: In Memoriam.” Queue the sappy music. Our leadership had made a PARODY in memoriam video of everything we’d “lost” to COVID, but the things were supposed to be funny. Like “Traveling abroad.” “Dropping the kids at daycare.” “Coachella.” “Happy hour.”

    Someone with political capital dropped in the Zoom chat, “People here have literally lost loved ones to COVID. How is this appropriate?”

    The video continued to play until the end. There was an awkward silence. And then we continued with a recap of the quarter’s performance.

    How are people this clueless?

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      OH MY GOD

      I hope that whoever made that video and chose to play it was taken to task for it afterwards.

      1. GammaGirl1908*

        I can vaguely, maybe, kinda, if I squint really hard, see how one person whose life has only been moderately affected suggested this as a way to lighten the mood. But how it actually got to production and being played with NO ONE commenting that it wasn’t appropriate because so many people have taken truly horrific hits, up to and including losing loved ones, is insane.

        Several people must have heard this idea and been like, “Sure! Sounds good!” **cringe**

        1. Metadata minion*

          Yeah, this is the sort of comedic understatement that could work well as gallows humor if done as an in-group thing by people who had experienced more devastating loss. An all-staff meeting is so very not that context, even if you’re talking about trauma nurses or something.

        2. Oxolotel*

          Why are you surprised nobody said anything? This very letter is about a person without the political clout to say the truth about those meetings. A good part of their team was fired, who’s to say, they aren’t next?
          Even in your example, it took someone with clout to say something. Everybody else including you stayed silent

    2. HarvestKaleSlaw*

      Argh. No words for this.

      But a ticker tape parade for the political capital person who said this out loud.

    3. JessicaTate*

      Yeah, I remember last March/April, when I was in a lot of meetings with people who were treating it like a funny lark, a weird forced staycation, talking about upsides of no travel, etc. No one had felt or seen any impacts, and assumed it was all still theoretical for everyone. I’d lost someone to COVID very early in March, and the jokes were wrenching.

      In my experience, people were EXTREMELY clueless until/unless it happened to them.

      1. learnedthehardway*

        I’m so sorry for your loss, and that you had to deal with people who were so selfish.

  19. the cat's ass*

    OP, I’m so sorry that your office is so utterly unkind, tone-deaf and clueless. This sounds so exhausting, especially in light of your personal and professional losses (my condolences, sincerely).

    Can you contact HR and say that your therapist feels these forced cheer meetings are bad for your health? Develop occasional WIFI/connectivity/computer/etc problems (use sparingly)? Or just keep it brief and bland and then check out?

    Jedi hug if you want/need one. I wish I had some better ideas for you.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I was thinking that playing the therapist card is a great idea. “My therapist told me that I absolutely should not attend these meetings.” And who are these people who think that they, without any mental health training whatsoever, should be acting as mental health professionals? UGH, that’s really awful. My heart goes out to you, LW, these meetings sound absolutely horrible.

  20. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    I’m just stumped by what management thinks this is going to do. This is cult-like behavior.

  21. Dennis Feinstein*

    This had to be a real contender for worst workplace of the year award (since there’s no specific boss mentioned).

  22. Retro*

    I know this suggestion would put a lot of burden on OP, but can OP make it as uncomfortable as possible for everyone in the meeting when she shares her comments about COVID?

    “I’m grateful to have the support of my family but I can’t think of anything else positive because I am grieving for my loved one that died of COVID.”
    “I am glad Boss can find something positive. I don’t have any positive to share today about COVID because there is nothing positive about a disease that caused the death of my family member.”
    “I am glad to have a job but having my pay cut in the middle of a pandemic has been really hard. I am glad to have a job and good coworkers but I cannot deny that the pay cut is a real bummer.”

    Maximize discomfort for management and put make your pain a reality for them to deal with. Perhaps grab a few coworkers and get them on board to do the same. Make those meetings unbearably negative for management. They obviously don’t want to hear the negative stuff, so saying negative things during the meeting might actually make them shut these meetings down.

    1. EBStarr*

      I wish that the OP was a character on a TV show who could do something really satisfying like, “Well, I enjoyed the pay cut, but my favorite thing about Covid is probably when my grandma died of it and we couldn’t go to her funeral for fear of contagion.” But of course, that’s not going to help the OP since they already feel like crying during these things, and obviously won’t help their career. :-/

      Everyone who’s running these meetings deserves to be publicly embarrassed though.

    2. Aggretsuko*

      I guess you could come up with something like “I guess I’m glad my relatives died of COVID because at least they’re not suffering any more.” That seems like a nice kick in the pants to these people.

      (I’ll note this is what I’ve said about relatives who were dying for 10 years…the not suffering part any more, anyway.)

    3. irene adler*

      I was thinking along these lines myself.
      What would happen if, as they went down the roll call for the obligatory “happy” experiences with COVID, someone just started crying? I mean bawling, unconsolably. And just could not stop or keep it quiet.

      What’s management going to do, mute this person and move on? Cold.
      Try and get this person to talk about something positive. Equally cold.

    4. Metadata minion*

      “I’m glad that COVID means I didn’t have to interact with my obnoxious uncle in person at my dad’s funeral”.

    5. mf*

      If the OP is up to it, this is a very smart approach. Her (his?) employer is making her do all this emotional labor around muting her grief and pretending everything is OK. It would be very powerful for her to stop doing that and force them to contend with her honest answers.

    1. LP*

      “Ain’t no party like a Liz Lemon party cause a Liz Lemon party is MANDATORY”, excpet played completely straight! Every two weeks! Beyond belief. OP, if you don’t choose to or aren’t able to push back, I hope you keep bringing up your honest genuine feelings, because they need to know how insane this is.

  23. Lacey*

    In similar situations, I used to just give total non sequiturs and enjoy watching the relentlessly positive people rush to agree with the utter nonsense I was giving them (“I know we’re all really grateful for pencils during this time”).

    But, you seem like you probably don’t have the energy for that, so I’m hoping it works for you to just tell them you can’t do this anymore. Tell them it’s hurting your ability to keep up with your work or you’re making more mistakes because it’s so draining.

    1. Jane*

      I once read about a study where they showed that if you wanted people to do something, giving them a reason why you needed it done would improve compliance, even if the reason made no sense at all. IIRC they asked people for their seat on the bus “because I’ve just bought carrots”.

      So yes, bring randomness to this meeting, and see if anyone calls you out on it, or if they just agree.

      1. learnedthehardway*

        I’ve tried that kind of thing with people before – giving really nonsensical reasons for why I need something. It works.

      2. NotBatman*

        My grandfather (with a highly visible health condition) would do that about intrusive questions!

        Nosy person: “What happened to your hand?”
        Grandpa: “Angry giraffe. Anyway, as I was saying…”

        It can be a good way to have a pre-rehearsed response that gives the asker nothing.

  24. Essess*

    I wouldn’t play the game. If they forced me to speak, I would be blunt. “I can’t find anything positive about a disease that killed my family members.” or “I can’t find anything positive when I’m struggling to pay my bills after my pay cut due to covid.” or “I don’t have time to for anything positive because I’ve been unable to spend time with my family while I spend all my hours covering the work piling up after the layoffs”…. Let there be uncomfortable silence. This needs to be made awkward for them. Do this a couple times and I guarantee they won’t ask you any more!

  25. I should really pick*

    I kind of like the idea of being honest about how you’re feeling and creating more awkward silences myself.
    That makes it their problem instead of yours.

  26. LifeBeforeCorona*

    “My mother passed away and we’ve saved money because we can’t have a funeral.” So, Yay for COVID?

    1. Anomalous*

      “My mother died in October, and I saved money because I couldn’t travel for her funeral. And I didn’t have to worry about what to get her for Christmas.”

      1. Eye roll*

        “My mother died in October, but it’s good that we weren’t allowed to have a funeral. I don’t know how I would have paid for it with the paycut you gave me or found time to go with the extra work you gave me after firing half the team. All that extra work keeps me from thinking too much about mourning my mommy, and struggling to pay bills after the paycut gives me something other than my brother’s ICU stay to worry about. Yay me.”

        1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

          I found this scathing, imaginary reply somehow kind of cathartic. To heck with toxic positivity. People are allowed to feel angry and helpless.

  27. Marzipan Shepherdess*

    Good (?) question: What IS positive about a pandemic that’s killed nearly 3,000,000 people (more than 500,000 in the US alone)?

    Good answer: Nothing, you jerk – it’s a godawful disease that’s ruined countless lives!

    And the morons asking this question are running your company?! I can’t even…

    1. Double A*

      The only good thing is that it has the possibility to shake us out of our complacency as a global society. We know what threats are coming and mostly how to deal with them; we just don’t until it’s become a crisis. Covid is a human made disaster, and pretending it’s not and continuing on as if we don’t need to make any changes would compound the tragedy and well as lay the groundwork for our next preventable mass tragedy.

      I’m not very optimistic that this will be the outcome. But crisis and destruction do afford an opportunity to reflect on how we should proceed differently in the future. I’d frankly argue that it’s imperative for survivers to do this work to pay honor to those we have lost. Continuing on as if nothing has changed– or that nothing COULD change– is disrespectful to the dead.

      This is, uh, not remotely the type of work that this company is doing though.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        >> Covid is a human made disaster<<

        The virus itself isn’t and it likely still would have turned into a pandemic. But yeah, people’s lack of action made it worse.

  28. KateM*

    I was going to suggest that if you feel like crying during a meeting, do. They may prefer you to opt out after that.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      My therapist would suggest it….not at my work because my work would not deal with that well, but she has a few stories about how crying shut people up about things they were nagging her about.

  29. Guin*

    This is seriously the Worst Office of the Year. I’d change my Zoom picture/background to a screenshot from and keep my camera and my microphone turned off for the duration of the meeting.

  30. Observer*

    OP, if you are not looking for a new job, please start looking! Your employer has shown its true colors and you owe it no loyalty – nor do you owe anything to the mission. I know that a new job is not going to magically appear. But you won’t find anything if you don’t start looking. And working on an exit plan might be helpful on its own, because taking back even that level of control can make a huge difference.

    1. Sara without an H*

      This. OP, I know it’s tough right now, but your present employers have shown you who they really are. Believe them. Just making the decision to start looking for work elsewhere should give you some relief.

      The AAM archives are full of good stuff on resumes, cover letters, and strategy. Spend some time there and start looking for a job at a firm run by human beings instead of the lizard people you work for now.

      If you can find a way to do that on your current employer’s time without getting caught, that would be a plus.

  31. Coffee Owlccountant*

    LW, I hate everything about this and to me, this would 100% be a dealbreaker. I would be job hunting.

    Let me just send Internet Reassurance – this is NOT normal, this is the opposite of normal, and in fact, is actively damaging and you have every right to 1) hate it (OH MY GOD I HATE IT SO MUCH FOR YOU) 2) push back against it and 3) do whatever you need to protect your own mental health.

    Just out of curiosity, have you noticed any (additional) evidence in the last year that your management might have been replaced by Daleks or Vogons?

    1. KoiFeeder*

      I think Daleks would be better than the humans currently running the place, quite frankly.

  32. Ms Yvonne*

    OMG, this letter has me so angry. I would spend all my capital on this and this alone to shut this shit down, or at least make it very, very clear you’re done being positive and are not available to on the spot forced into the conversation. Finito. Capital all gone. Poof. Worth it.

  33. Guacamole Bob*

    There’s such a huge amount of privilege on display in insisting on finding the silver linings to this time. I’m guessing that none of the people who think these meetings are a good idea are members of demographic groups that have been hit especially hard by the pandemic? Or groups who have borne the brunt of other challenges this year, such as the increased focus on police violence against Black people or the rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans? Or the increase in state legislative attacks on trans people?

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      ‘Say something positive that racism has done for you!’. ‘Say a great thing about antisemitism!’. I wonder if these kind of companies realise down the line how horrific their questions are.

    2. Guacamole Bob*

      I missed that OP isn’t in the US, so depending on where she is, my examples above may not apply. But I stand by the point that there’s a degree of privilege in being one of the people who has escaped the worst impacts of the pandemic and in implicitly assuming that everyone you work with has, too.

      1. Tess*

        It’s generous of you to create room for cultural differences, but I don’t think that matters, frankly, especially when the virus doesn’t discriminate.

        Is there an annual Worst Workplace award Alison bestows?

    3. Archaeopteryx*

      “I’m glad that the three million person death toll at least isn’t higher.”

      Hard agree on inappropriate emphasis on silver linings. People try to water down bad facts with unrelated good ones.

      Like, on paper, if [person I love most] hadn’t [had horrendous crimes done to them], we may not have met or ended up together due to the chain of causality. That does not make what happened to them good or even one iota less bad!

      Sure, some innovation / positive changes / etc can come as a result of the pandemic. That doesn’t mean there is anything good about the pandemic. It’s a disease that kills millions, bereaves more, and traumatizes all. It’s not good.

      1. Archaeopteryx*

        (The same applies to toxic “no regrets” type sayings, like “All those mistakes were worth it because I found you!” Regrets/pangs of conscience/ etc are how you learn not to do things that hurt people/yourself/the world again. They’re the method by which wisdom is gained. Just because you ended up in a better state doesn’t justify wrongs you’ve done in the past. You shouldn’t build a house in your regrets, but drowning them out entirely is what sociopaths do.)

  34. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

    This is a terrible situation, and completely tone-deaf! OP, you mentioned you have a therapist. Can you get a note from your therapist and take it to HR requesting to be exempt from these meetings as an ADA accommodation? Your manager and others might still try to use it against you, but you do have some protection against retaliation for it. You can also be upfront with your manager then and say that the meetings, while intended as a positive exercise, have instead become a trigger for you due to the trauma of losing multiple loved ones and having to undergo significant stressors related to pay cut and increased workload related to the pandemic, and you can assure her you provided HR with all necessary documentation to support an ADA accommodation. Ideally, she will know enough to realize that she should not say or do anything when the ADA is mentioned without consulting HR.

    1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      And yes, I now realize that I forgot the part about OP not being in the US. I made a clarifying comment below when I realized!

  35. Richard Hershberger*

    My only substantive contribution is to expand on Alison’s advice to give something vague and bland. Use the same vague bland answer every single time: exactly the same, with the same verbal intonation. If called out, repeat it then and there, exactly the same, with the same verbal intonation. This is my strategy for making people go away when they want something from me that I can’t or won’t give them. Even the slowest eventually figure it out and wander off.

    1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      I like this approach. Giving a scripted answer in a relatively monotonous tone (keeping it just short of being obviously mocking) every single time is a good idea. However, I wouldn’t repeat it if called out. I would just pretend to act surprised and say, “oh wow, I guess that’s just what has been on my mind. That thought really helps me cope.” And then go back to the same answer again the next time. The goal here being to evade actually needing to actively think or communicate in the session, but not run the risk of getting in trouble.

      Now, I do think OP should push back if they try to require socializing and watching netflix together on lunch. OP’s hours have been cut already. If they are going to require her to do anything for an hour, even “fun, social time,” they need to be paying for it, period!

      1. Sara without an H*

        “I’ve found a short story that has inspired me and I’d like to share it with the group. It starts like this: ‘As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.'”

        I wonder how far I’d get before they stopped me.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          This could actually work for real. Present it as inspirational, so it meets the positivity demand. Then dive in without waiting, and go as long as you can. Then act surprised and hurt when someone finally stops you. This story has been so meaningful to you! Then next meeting, when it is your turn, pick up where you were stopped. If you can fake doe-eyed innocence, this might do the trick.

  36. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

    I cannot see where my previous comment actually posted, but assuming it did, I realize I forgot that LW is not in the United States. Mea culpa! Do you have anything like the ADA to request accommodations? Is it a system you can rely on? If not, I think you may need to continue attending the meetings, but I think the bland and insipid response is the way to go. Your company sounds toxic as hell though!

  37. Bookworm*

    Eeeeep, OP. No advice but sympathy. I could relate (although not quite to this scale!) with a management that appears to be out of touch. We’re not expected to be positive to a toxic point but let’s just say they’re also not really accounting for the toll COVID (and ongoing current events) have had on us.

    I did what Alison suggested: I stopped going to meetings. I can’t get out of all of them, but Zoom fatigue is a real thing (aside from the toxic stuff!) and it has made me at least a little happier.

    I think it’s very much the truth: COVID really has shown who and what people, organizations, etc. really are. :/

    Hope you find a more reasonable solution/situation, OP! I’m so sorry you’re going through that.

  38. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    OP, aside from echoing the advice to job-hunt like the wind, can you identify who in your organization is behind this initiative? If they’re just clueless, they might respond to a request for a private meeting in which you burst into tears, talk about your family members, and explain why you can’t go on with the positivity sessions. Don’t feel you have to fix cluelessness across the board, just limit its harm to yourself for the (limited, let us hope) time you are still there.

    1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      I’d be hesitant to take this approach when OP’s hours and pay have been cut and when everyone reacted uncomfortably when OP shared her real reaction to COVID. This is not a group where it is advisable to make oneself that vulnerable. They expected OP to share something positive about COVID right after half her team was laid off and her own hours and pay were cut. They clearly do not want anyone to show any sign of any negative thought, feeling, or consequences related to the pandemic. And they have shown they are willing to let staff go, so … I think head down and job searching is the way to go here!

    2. Observer*

      If they’re just clueless, they might respond to a request for a private meeting in which you burst into tears, talk about your family members, and explain why you can’t go on with the positivity sessions.

      Highly unlikely. Remember that some of these demands were made in the IMMEDIATE aftermath of stuff that would devastate anyone and that THEY KNEW ABOUT. What makes you think they will be more decent in private than in public?

  39. Phassire*

    This powerfully reminds me of the start of lockdown when my team did icebreakers at our weekly virtual sync. When it was my turn to submit an icebreaker, I chose one that felt relevant as the cans of garbanzo beans piled up around me- “what’s something that you’ve panic purchased recently?” The teammate organizing the icebreakers sent me an email to let me know that the point of the icebreakers wasn’t negativity and said “I think a better question would be – what’s your favorite snack?”

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      I often call medical offices in the course of my work. Every single time, the automatic message tells me to call 911 if this is a true medical emergency. Then comes the injunction to listen carefully to the message, as the options have changed. There often are a few more rounds of this stuff. I am off doing something else through all this, devoting just enough attention to get to the part where it tells me what button I have to push to accomplish what I called for.

      I do the same thing while people are discussing their favorite snacks before they can get to the actual point of the meeting (stipulating for the sake of discussion that it has one).

      1. Jane*

        “But it’s nice to have a catch-up”.

        You know what’s nicer? Starting the meeting on time and finishing early, without having to listen to you all discuss your favourite snacks.

      1. Phassire*

        Thank you!! I was hoping that we could maybe be a little bit real during mandated socialization. Life was terrifying. The economy was shedding jobs like crazy. The images out of Madrid and NYC and Rome were horrifying. Like – let us REACT

    2. Gumby*

      I didn’t panic purchase anything, but I did panic-visit the library when they first announced they were going to close. The stack of books stood me in good stead until curbside pickup was fully set up and running.

      I was also tickled that one of the books I managed to check out was literally titled “Pandemic” and it was far enough from reality (including that there was no actual pandemic in the book) that it was enjoyable. Also this was in the **very** early days so we had no idea how long it would last or how bad it would get. And now, please join me in completely derailing this meeting by discussing the other books I checked out…

  40. CupcakeCounter*

    Keep being the “Debbie Downer” to show how effing stupid these meetings are. Bring up all of the bad things that happened.

    “Kid A is failing math because virtual learning isn’t working, my FIL is in the hospital with COVID, and my partner might be laid off since the restaurant he/she works at doesn’t have enough business.”

    “I worked 60+ hours last week because management team laid off my entire support staff and I missed Kid B’s virtual concert.”

    “Former Coworker Sue had her car repo’d after being laid off by Company”

    1. Lizy*

      I’d be super snarky about it.

      “We have more time to plan Kid A’s graduation party because it’s been pushed back a year because they’re failing math. I may not have to worry about crazy in-laws because FIL is in the hospital with COVID. The best part? Kid A may have a private tutor soon since my partner might be laid off!”

      “I’ve learned to really appreciate support staff since they were all laid off and I’ve had to work 60+ hours last week.”

      “Former Coworker Sue doesn’t have to worry about a car payment anymore since her car got repo’d after she was laid off!”

      I mean… it’s positive, right? *eye roll*

  41. Jessica*

    Internet sympathy to you, OP, I am so so sorry that you’re being subjected to this thoughtless horror after the year of trauma you, and all of us, have already had.

    I’m hard to fire so if I could do it without crying I’d speak up and say the most awful thing I could think of every time and just Return the Awkwardness to Sender.

    But if you need your job at this ghastly place to survive right now, there is no shame in using absolutely any strategy that you think will best allow you to survive this. Do what you must, no more no less. And maybe think about trying to escape.

  42. zinzarin*

    I *hate* Alison’s advice for this question.

    This is a classic case for malicious noncompliance through ruthless honesty.

    Do not be bland, do not be boring, do not be noncommital. “This sucks. COVID-19 sucks. The way it’s impacted my personal life is awful. The way it’s impacted our work together is awful. Trying to pretend it’s not is damaging to my mental health. These meetings are damaging to my mental health. I have nothing good to say.”

    1. Susie*

      I think it is tricky because it seems like the LW wants/needs to keep her job. Working for a toxic workplace is a constant balance calculating how much job security you have before you push back. And also the mind games make you slower to realize something is off… I do think often workers can push back more, in general, but the consequences for doing so can be severe.

      I have set a hard boundary with my boss around what level of closeness I was comfortable with on my team (she wanted us to share our current struggles–I said bluntly no, but not in front of the team). So I know it is possible, but in previous work places I was let go (which they presented as not having a role for me when my contract was up for renewal. they did have a role) for admitting struggle. Ultimately I landed on my feet, but it was an incredibly stressful time.

    2. Massive Dynamic*

      Allison’s advice is assuming the OP doesn’t want to be run out of the company altogether if they make OP’s lack of enthusiasm a performance issue. OP can’t go scorched-earth on those horrible meetings without consequences.

      But FWIW if OP finds a great new job and gives notice (and doesn’t need the recommendation) then I thoroughly hope she gives these people a piece of her mind upon exit.

    3. Observer*

      If you can afford to lose your job, sure. But it sounds like the OP can’t afford to get fired.

  43. Anonymoose*

    My only addition would be if you go the route of opting out of the meetings because of your mental health it could be beneficial to document it somehow. Either after your meeting with your boss or maybe to set up a meeting with your boss send an email about how you won’t be going to the meeting because of XYZ. For example,: “can we discuss ___” or after the fact “as we discussed __, i won’t be at the meeting today”. Have some cover your butt in writing means that you have something later to say that you’re mental health, etc was affected in case it so happens that your boss “forgets” or doesn’t care about your discussion. If HR needs to step in or something escalates you have something to say “see we did talk about it” or “see it’s been affecting me since XYZ date”. If things are just verbal it’s so easy to be swept under the rug.

  44. Beth*

    I would be sooo tempted to say things such as:

    “My uncle died of Covid last week. He was horribly creepy, so good riddance.”

    “I read in the news that the Covid-denying president of Tanzania died of Covid. Maybe now that country will get some relief.”

    “The family next door lost their home because they both lost their jobs, so now I won’t have to deal with their awful music on Saturday nights.”

    Maybe enough moments like that would sink the stupid meetings permanently . . .

  45. boop the first*

    Heh, I agree with letting it become as awkward as possible. They are getting something out of this, which is as another commenter said, staff performing to make the company look good. If nobody dances, they’d have not much choice but to cancel the show.

    Speaking of which, considering how mandatory these things turned out to be, I would expect to be paid for any netflix group lunches!

  46. No Names Left*

    Can try answering the question with another question. That can get you to throw the burning ball at someone/something else.

  47. content lady*

    I wonder if this is just one tone-deaf manager and the rest of the team feels as appalled as OP?
    FWIW, I haven’t lost family members or a job due to covid, and I’d have a very hard time answering that question with enthusiasm. Millions of people all over the world have died, been gravely ill, lost loved ones and lost their businesses and jobs…I think that question is flat out disgusting.

  48. Jane*

    Also, an appeal to managers: please stop trying to organise online social events and “check in” meetings to “stop people who live on their own becoming isolated”.

    Most of the people living alone now also lived alone before the pandemic, and are plenty used to it. Many of us chose to live alone. During the pandemic, we’re no more cut off than married couples or families who aren’t seeing their friends and colleagues.

    It’s *really* patronising to state that a grown adult needs their workplace to sort out a social life for them *just because they live on their own*. Especially when we’ve never socialised together before the pandemic …

  49. Keymaster of Gozer*

    If I couldn’t get out of them by e.g. claiming I have a recurring medical appointment I’d personally be deliberately crashing my computer roundabout the times of the meeting.

    (Admittedly that’s easier to do if you’re in IT)

    1. Mockingjay*

      I’d claim wonky service from the local internet provider. I may have [actually] done this – disconnected from pointless meetings. I ‘try’ to rejoin, then disconnect again. Later: “Sorry my call dropped. I called my provider and someone was digging in the yard and clipped a cable / router is acting up / etc.” Or pretend your mike or computer isn’t working – in the chat box: “can you hear me? I don’t think my mic is working.” “I can’t see the screen. Is the screenshare on?”

      I am so sorry for OP. As annoying as my project is, it’s a cakewalk compared to OP’s situation. We have to do “Personal and Professional Bests” in our weekly meetings, but I usually make up some innocuous item: read a book, funny thing dog did for the personal stuff. Professional – some bland Go Team! thing that makes the PTB happy. I recycle these items about every 6 months. I’d be hard put to find silver linings for COVID each week.

  50. Sarah from Canada*

    How about “Well, it’s made me appreciate SURVIVING family and friends more than ever.”

  51. Heather Kanillopoolos*

    I would be tempted to write out a very dry comment on a notecard, and plainly read from it each meeting.

    “A good thing about Covid: it has made me more comfortable with videochats.”

    Every meeting. Hold up the card, read from it dryly.

    “A good thing about Covid: it has made me more comfortable with videochats.”
    “A good thing about Covid: it has made me more comfortable with videochats.”
    “A good thing about Covid: it has made me more comfortable with videochats.”

    1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      “A good thing about COVID: I get to know that my dead family members aren’t being forced to point out positive things about COVID in their companies since they are, you know, dead!”

  52. Selectively Unavailable*

    Just don’t go. No really. Just don’t attend.

    “Yeah it’s super strange, sometimes I just have absolutely horribly slow internet. I can barely use my email, and zoom just won’t work at all. I think it’s because so many people in the area are on at once and the bandwidth can’t handle it or something. Yeah it’d be great if we had stronger internet infrastructure in the area. It’s such a shame I keep missing those meetings, but I try to use the time to work on other things that don’t need fast internet so it’s ok.”

    1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      “A good thing about COVID: I get to avoid attending toxic positivity meetings by faking strategically timed problems with my internet!”

  53. Pobody’s Nerfect*

    I empathize with you LW. I’ve had jobs where I liked the actual work but the insane people around me that I had to work with made every day unbearable. In those situations, as difficult and disruptive as it may be, it’s often better for your mental and physical health to leave that job and seek another. Easier said than done, I know.

  54. Dark Macadamia*

    I think there’s value in just being honest and letting it be uncomfortable – I’m guessing you feel embarrassed/guilty for doing that, or disappointed that no one showed concern or support, but could you try to mentally reframe it as being a badass/setting a boundary? Like YES they should feel awkward right now, I have nothing to apologize for!

    Alternately, could you just only use work-related responses, preferably with some mild snark? “I’m relieved we delivered the product on schedule despite half the team being laid off” “I’m looking forward to returning to full pay and hours” (if they are beginning plans to have people return to the office etc) “I’m pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoy WFH” etc

    1. mf*

      “I’m looking forward to returning to full pay and hours” LOLOLOL Amazing. I love this so much.

  55. Elbe*

    Maybe it’s just my perception, but it seems that since Covid happened, there’s been a trend of employers trying to control or manipulate their employees’ emotional response to things.

    The logic seems to go: COVID is hard, so Employees are struggling with mental health, so we can help them by forcing them to be happy!

    In some cases, it seems very deeply misguided. In other cases, like this one, it seems more like a conscious decision the company is making because it benefits someone at the expense of others.

    If the LW doesn’t feel able to push back on this practice, can she think of someone who IS able who would be sympathetic? Could the LW have a private conversation with that person to see if they would take up the cause? If the LW can’t think of a single reasonable person in power, then it’s time to start polishing the resume.

    1. Observer*

      This isn’t a Covid thing. If you don’t believe me, give a look at the archives here.

  56. Mannheim Steamroller*

    OP, please share this column with your coworkers. If necessary, READ it — complete with comments — during the next torture session (oops, I meant meeting).

  57. Butterfly Counter*

    As someone who, at one time in my life, could have been accused of being toxicly positive, this even had MY jaw in my lap with how atrociously bad it is. Looking at things in a positive light helps me save my own sanity, but requiring it in a biweekly group meeting where you have to share it with others? Just, no.

  58. yllis*

    I had to do this in a way. It was a “one good and bad thing about the year of Covid”

    My dad died in December in hospice in an assisted living home. A good one that was very expensive out of pocket. When he went in in Sept, he was hospice because the Parkinson’s was degenerative but he wasn’t at death’s door. The place had activities, my mom could visit in his private room and help care for him, there were activities, etc.

    Then covid hard lockdown. One visitor a day for an hour at a time max. And that was only because he was hospice. I drove up the 3 hours once a week to get in time with him, feed him, spend time, talk to him. My mom used her max allowed time. But still……in 2 months, dead. And he died being slowly imprisoned in his body and losing the ability to scratch an itch or make a coherent sound. And he died mostly alone.

    And work knew that. And we still did that stupid exercise over zoom. And all it freakin did was get me more ticked off when I heard more and more trivial inconveniences of covid being trotted out as the “worst” thing by people at work who make far more than me, enjoy their parents still, etc. And I know it’s not a contest and that postponing a trip overseas might indeed be very traumatic for some folks but still……that meeting is etched into my brain as one of the worst work experiences ever.

    1. Sara without an H*

      I am so sorry for your loss. What your employers did was gross and insensitive.

    2. JSPA*

      It’s a thoughtless exercise. I expect the person proposing it was thinking of answers like, “less money but more time with family” which does slot into the negative/positive schematic.

      But it’s terrible both for the (many!) people who have actual trauma, and actually, also for the people who are embarrassed to admit that there’s nothing worse in their life than the boredom of not seeing their favorite sports in person.

      People should feel free to lower the boom!

      “The bad part is my father died. The good part is that I no longer feel like I have to apologize for spending my free time sobbing, just to make other people feel comfortable.”

  59. Perfectly Cromulent*

    Hi all! OP here just chiming in.
    Some comments and clarity I left out of my letter in an effort to keep things clearer.
    1) The meetings are led by our CEO, so there is not really anyone to escalate to.
    2) After the first time this happened (with the pay cuts and the layoffs), I complained to my then-boss about how gross and tone deaf I found the meeting to be. While she responded to my complaints with understanding and apologized to me (she was not the one who set the meeting), she is no longer with the company.
    3) There was a slight development in that after I sent my letter, a survey was sent out about whether or not we found the meetings helpful. Not everyone filled it out, but only myself and one other person said no. In our next meeting, although the survey was anonymous, they reviewed the results and tried to get whoever had responded negatively to share with the group to come right out and say why they had responded that way. Nobody would.
    4) I do have some fear of pushing back, not even really because of this job, but my last job. In my last position, my manager tried to force me to take “a promotion” that came with no job title change, no additional salary, and no extra benefits whatsoever. At the time, I was already being pressured into doing the work of three people, so I polite declined because I couldn’t take anymore with no benefit to me. Two weeks later, I was “dismissed without cause.” In my dismissal meeting, they came very close to calling me “uppity” and tried to force me to sign a sheet saying I resigned so I couldn’t collect unemployment. It was a long road resolving things with them and I would be lying if my fears from that job aren’t affecting my response to this one.

    1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      Wow, so they made a survey anonymous and then tried to force those who gave negative feedback to say it in front of the whole group?!? Also, I doubt that you and one other person were the only ones who find it problematic … the others probably knew better than to answer truthfully, and they were right because, well, sentence before this one! I do think it is reasonable to have fear of pushing back, even without your previous nightmare experience. Your company’s leadership seems really committed to this ridiculous meeting, so it probably would not work and it might hurt you professionally there. I am sorry you have to put up with this nonsense, but I hope some of the ideas on how to respond in the meeting are helpful, and it is always good to have Alison and her commentariat here confirm that you are completely reasonable in your reaction to the situation. Please update us as things progress!

      Oh, and one more thing – I think it would be more worthwhile to push back if they try to require people to do the eating lunch and watching netflix together type of activities, at least if it is on your break (unpaid) time. If they require it, then it is part of your work duties and they need to pay you for that time. Also, check your country’s laws on that point, but in most places, I think they would have to pay the time if they make it a mandatory activity.

    2. Elbe*

      Do you know anyone who is both reasonable and who has the CEO’s ear? If so, it may be worthwhile to go to that person directly and try to get a feel of how they think of this situation.

      Honestly, though, it sounds like the company has larger issues. This whole pattern of setting reasonable expectations (XYZ isn’t mandatory, ABC is anonymous, etc.) and then going back on those conditions later on is disturbing. Any company that doesn’t allow employees to give feedback without punishment is going to have A TON if dysfunction that will never get resolved.

      I’m so sorry that you had bad experiences in the past. That sounds really horrible. But there are more reasonable companies that exist. Don’t settle for awfulness just because it’s better than a past situation that was truly heinous. I really hope you can put some feelers out and get another, better job lined up somewhere that isn’t run by people who are so mean and out of touch with reality.

    3. Lizy*

      aw man, that’s tough…

      I think I’m still team “make it incredibly awkward”, if you’re comfortable with that. Like how you’ve found a good therapist who will do remote visits so I can sort through trying to come up with good things from COVID. Or how you realize you value companies who offer anonymous surveys without questioning the dissenters.

      But that’s still pushing back. Since you’re not comfortable with that (and to be clear – OldCompany sucks, too, for putting you in that position), I’d say stick with Alison’s suggestion of making it about your mental health.

      Or – can you use the deadlines as a reason to not to attend, or make your attendance very short? “I’m so sorry I’m up against deadline for project X so I’ll skip out – good to see y’all!”

    4. Richard Hershberger*

      This sucks, and reinforces the advice to be blandly positive. Come up with a banal script, and stick to it. Make it as boring as you can manage.

    5. PersephoneUnderground*

      This new info has me leaning towards the “just don’t attend without explanation” camp (or with technical issues lies). These people seem pretty spineless, so might not call you on it. If they do, I’d then go with Alison’s advice of saying you need to formally opt out to your current boss. But just disappearing makes it more likely to just pass without comment. Direct confrontation/honesty clearly makes them feel like their authority is being challenged etc.

    6. Beth*

      Just to check…where is your then-boss, the one who left the company, working now? Might they have other openings? Might she be willing to put in a word for you?

      Getting out of this environment might be the only way to handle this long-term. Most of the suggestions from Alison and the comments are geared towards either changing the situation (which doesn’t sound feasible for you, if this is CEO led) or managing the misery until you can GTFO (more feasible, and hopefully whatever connections you have can help you leverage your way out sooner).

    7. JSPA*

      Track where the good boss landed (or lands); it’s likely a better option than where you are now.

      1. Perfectly Cromulent*

        Unfortunately, that boss retired and I am in my thirties. If I could follow her, I would!

    8. Observer*

      Well, it’s quite obvious to me that people were not answering the survey honestly. And it’s also obvious why.

      All of this indicates that in the long term, you really need to job hunt. This place is a little shop of horrors.

  60. Chilipepper*

    Adding my horrified reaction here too. I am so very sorry OP that you are facing this. I hope Alison’s answer is helpful. Let us know how you are doing with this if you can.

    Would your therapist have suggestions for you since presumably they know the general culture in your country better than we do here?

    I also wonder if you can share a story of your child at these meetings? Something like, “I was trying to get the report done while managing my child’s schoolwork and lunch, and child said the cutest thing . . . ” And just make up a cute thing your child said or did.

  61. Exhausted Trope*

    The callousness flooding from this company’s management amazes and appalls me. OP LOST FAMILY MEMBERS DURING COVID!!!! But she’s still got to speak to the “silver-lining” that is inherent to a worldwide crisis that has negatively impacted millions.
    I just cannot.
    I’m sorry, OP, that you have such heartless creatures in your workplace.

  62. STG*

    I think I’d be saying “No Thank You” every time it was directed at me. I would think they’d eventually stop calling on me directly.

    Doesn’t take care of having to actually attend the meetings though.

  63. Jennifer Juniper*

    I would go grimdark while speaking in a chipper voice.

    “COVID is good for the planet because there are fewer people polluting it.

    “And I am grateful to be working right here, right now, with all of you, my wonderful supervisors and colleagues, instead of lying dead in the morgue or in a coma with a tube down my throat.”

    I think that would be the last time I got invited to one of those meetings.

  64. Anon for this one*

    This reminds me of an exercise I had to do at work almost 20 years ago. In my former employer’s defense, I understand the point of it, but it was a bit cringeworthy to some and downright offensive to others. Our role was going to be working on rehabilitation and job retraining for inmates entering the workforce. We had to do an exercise to show that even the worst people have some redeeming quality that can be cultivate. Like, a former bank robber may be great at woodworking and that could lead to a job.

    So, the exercise was to name a positive trait about a bunch of famous terrible people, including Hitler. I said he was a persuasive orator.

      1. Raida*

        cool, but that’s not what the exercise was for or what the business has any decision making power in.

        They’re giving training to people who’ve been institutionalised, are out of work, who’ll be facing significant issues in getting hired.
        The exercise is to make staff look at them as full people who they don’t get to decide aren’t worthy of help – important when staff might not want to help the crims.

  65. Forkeater*

    Our division has a weekly all hands meeting and in the last few months, the meeting has opened with the opportunity to share “joy” with the whole division, people can share what they’re feeling joyful about. It’s not awesome but it’s not required and I guess it is good to celebrate the few things that are going well. We are awaiting layoffs too and it is hard when you’re not sure yet if you’re on the chopping block.

  66. Mrs. Hawiggins*

    I don’t think I’d be as polite as some of the suggestions here (which are REALLY fabulous) if I were called upon.
    In fact as was stated above, “COVID has taught me a lot about people,” should be the tag line for this time, period.
    Because it has.

    What is with people and their “You feel good right? RiGHT? RIGHT!?” Come on.

    1. Exhausted Trope*

      I know! I’ve got a couple coworkers like this. I can never be just okay; I’ve got to be *fabulous* with sparkles and fairy dust.

  67. Laura H.*

    Is it bad that I’d take a picture of myself daily at the start of the meeting, and keep that up and go off and take care of kiddo.

    Don’t do this. It’s just I’m petty. And honestly there are not any directly silver lining things for Covid. Folks are suffering in so many different ways, and it can run dreadfully tone deaf to not acknowledge that.

  68. Oh, my*

    I’d be tempted to treat it like a hostage video: “I am happy and honored to be working for Dear Leader Co. I am overwhelmed by the brilliance and kindness of (name of senior manager). Dear Leader Co. is treating me very well. ” All delivered in a quiet monotone, eyes down.

  69. Anna*

    Yuck. At our team holiday party we were supposed to give 3 new things we did or learned this year (not work related) and I just passed. Didn’t send anything in. It’s a fairly small team but no one cared. And my year wasn’t even THAT bad! No one died or lost their job in my family. I did attend the party though, on zoom, muted, with my 3 children ages 4, 2, and 11 months screaming and running around me.

  70. Justme, The OG*

    “The good thing about COVID is that it made me realize how crappy this organization is with its toxic positivity!”

    You definitely shouldn’t say that but I would be sooo tempted to.

  71. Beth*

    OP, do you have a way to chat/gossip/otherwise interact socially with your peers? Meaning people on your team who aren’t the higher-ups running these meetings, people stuck in the same boat as you? Ideally without the higher-ups listening or reading along?

    I know you’ve said that you don’t want to put your precious break time into coworker socializing, and I completely understand that. But for me at least, getting time to talk with peers has been utterly invaluable, in a way that group netflix time, zoom happy hours, and other common ‘socializing time’ have not. It means we have space to acknowledge the utter nonsense we’re being asked to put up with; offer compassion and support for one another (I don’t mean everyone having to share anything intimate, this is often as simple as “Yes, this new policy absolutely sucks, you’re not wrong, you’re not alone”); figure out how to manage what’s survivable; and build solidarity to push back on what really isn’t workable. I think I’d be going significantly more nuts without them.

    This doesn’t have to look like a formal scheduled meeting. In fact, I’ve found these kinds of conversations happen most often in low-key, unofficial ways; a follow-up to a quick “Can you remind me how this works?” question, or someone sending a work friend an “So this new policy we just got word of, am I reading this right?” email, or a conversation at the tail end of a 3-4 person work-related meeting. Sometimes someone else kicks it off; sometimes I mention something that’s been on my mind, and usually it turns out everyone was thinking the same thing and is relieved someone said it out loud. If this isn’t part of your team’s culture, maybe you could try being the one to open a topic and see what happens.

  72. Ciela*

    I’d be very tempted to say “I’m positive my younger sister is permanently disabled due to COVID complications,” and see how that went over. But that’s me.

  73. JessicaTate*

    I love Alison’s suggestions for just being assertively not-positive, IF you have the capital to spend. But if you can’t do that and just have to endure…

    My partner has a great approach to his team’s weekly “check-in” — which isn’t as aggressively positive as your team, but passive-aggressively is. Basically, he finds one random, boring thing around the house to be his “thing” for the check-in. “There are squirrels in our yard.” “We’re thinking about paint colors for the hallway.” “The daffodils started coming up.” “We made pizza this week.” The more mundane, the better. And he ends it with: “It’s exciting to [see that, think about that, do that].”

    The key is that it’s 1) specific and 2) technically positive (that’s what the “exciting” line is for). But it’s quick and boring, so no one makes him talk further. (And if someone is pushy, it’s a neutral answer: Blue paint. Peperoni pizza. Lots of daffodils.) Given that it’s a REGULAR meeting with expectations about acceptable answers, he finds that approach is the path of least resistance and works better than the vague “Hanging in there.”

  74. JSPA*

    There are endless ways to sound meaningful without much meaning at all. It keeps it as unremarkable as humanly possible for you, yet clicks the “I am being a team player” for anyone who’s keeping track.

    They call you out by name? Fine. Here goes.

    “Thanks, but today, I’m mostly here to soak up everyone else’s wisdom.”

    “[deep introspective look, and a couple of deep breaths, then…] I could talk for half an hour, but it would all boil down to, ‘Appreciation.’ Just, ‘Appreciation.’ ”

    “I just want to thank all my coworkers for being themselves. It’s something I’ve come to count on. You know who you are and you are who you are, and that’s so rare and lovely.”

    “There’s that moment in the Wizard of Oz where Dorothy sees the emerald city, and then there’s the moment when she sees her home again. I’ve been meditating on the similarities and the essential difference, as well.”

    “Oh, I was just about to ask [person who seems eager to contribute more], because I was so interested in [something you made a point of paying attention to earlier, so you could do this, later].”

    “I’ve been practicing deep breathing and body awareness; I find that if I do it during these check-ins, the combined effect is noticably soothing and reassuring.”

    “I’m trying every day to channel just a little bit more of my inner Jimmy Stewart, and I’m wondering if anyone else has tried that.”

    “It’s so nice to hear Jonas’s voice, and Kym’s voice, and Leelah’s voice, and Tyree’s voice, and of course, Dyvia’s voice, and know that you’re all on this call with me.”

    If you listen with the right attitude, you may realize that your coworkers are already doing this! It’s quite possible that few people besides management are taking this as anything beyond a chance to turn off their brains for half an hour. If you’re one of the few taking it to heart, then OF COURSE the stream of nonsense is driving you crazy! But in fact, some people may legitimately be calmed by hearing familiar voices simply be there…even if they’re only spouting platitudes from a list.

    1. misspiggy*

      These are excellent. Do you have more? I feel a collection of them would be invaluable in self-help book form for people stuck in toxic positivity environments.

      1. JSPA*

        You can generate an endless supply yourself!

        Google, “phatic expressions.” Muse on the concept of speech used not to communicate concepts, but to align emotions (in the same way that movement can be mime, or dance, as opposed to “making an actual sandwich” or “opening the door”).

        Think about the sorts of things people say, when they want to soothe people, make people feel connected, and make them feel like they’re sharing a bit of gentle, world-weary wisdom.

        Buckaroo Banzai, and the delivery of, “wherever you go… there you are” is a great example. (The whole movie is a great example.) There’s a kernel of depth, but the delivery / phrasing? Pure phatic soothing.

        OK, got that in mind? Now figure out how you can use language not exactly playfully…but in a way that says, “I am using words not to impart factual information, but to express social connectedness.” You can use those phrases with honest intent, or just toss them in when you don’t give a hoot–they should work either way. (There honestly is pleasure to be had in forging a bit of light connectedness; you’re not doing it wrong, if you actually feel better, for saying one of these, and fielding agreement!)

        Check-ins of this sort are (ideally) extended exercises in phatic communication…or alternatively, fatuous communication (if done badly, or if phatic communication does nothing for you).

        It may also help to listen for the phatic aspects of what coworkers are saying (and their tone) even if there’s nothing in the content that’s even remotely helpful. If it’s soothing to listen to birds (when you know that on some level, they’re just yelling, “me! mine! me! mine!”) or listening to your pet snore (a deep pleasure, for me, when the cats snore like sailors), you understand that the sound of a living being, just…being…can be helpful, in a time of stress.

        It’s actually OK to process sessions with that mindset, and to more or less invite others to do the same.

        1. armchairexpert*

          This is legitimately one of my favourite comments of all time, and it’s why I’ll always read right down to the bottom of every comment thread!

          (Also, +1 on ‘phatic’ vs ‘fatuous’. Sublime)

  75. AnonInCanada*

    I know I’m a little late to the party here, but if they insist on your input during these “positivity” COVID meetings, it’s time to grey rock them. Which is essentially what Alison suggested, just using the term used to deal with people who want to manipulate you. Say things like “I couldn’t decide what face mask best matched my wardrobe before I headed out to [insert grocery store name here] to buy those essentially essentials, so I asked Dear [spouse] and [they] told me to go with the sparkling pink one I bought from Amazon three weeks ago but just arrived yesterday and wow [they] were sooooooo right about that I looked fabulous in it so after I put that on I made my way there and only had to line up outside for 15 minutes today as they must have had all the checkouts working to get people in and out of the store quickly so I went in and did some shopping but then I heard some mean Karen screaming about having to wear a mask like I can’t stand people who only think about themselves like aren’t we all in this together to stop the spread of this virus like c’mon…” (I could go on, but I’m sure by now you’re getting the point.)

    Saying a whole lot of nothing will hopefully clue these meeting organizers in on how ridiculous these meetings are, and then hopefully that’ll be the end of them. Good luck!

  76. TiredMama*

    Not at all helpful, but I would be tempted to be sarcastic, happy I don’t have to smell your breathe in meetings, etc. Said in a joking but pointed way.

  77. ProdMgr*

    This is awful. I would be sure to have Zoom connection issues at the beginning of every meeting that miraculously resolve when the meeting ends.

  78. Karen*

    I find that being awkwardly blunt in these sorts of situations is helpful. I’m frequently given a pass on having to return.
    What do I have to be grateful about Covid? Well, I am still alive…unlike thousands of others who weren’t so lucky.

  79. Des*

    “The other option, of course, is to refuse to play along”

    I wouldn’t. You could end up invited into more focused sessions that discuss how they can improve YOUR mental state. I spent about a month or so in a place that functioned similarly (before leaving without a job lined up, zero regrets) and they only have one thing they want to hear and that’s Positivity! :D
    Don’t try to give them honesty, they don’t want it and you’ll be known as that downer.

  80. Anonnington*

    This is emotionally abusive.

    While the job market is suffering right now, there are also a lot of openings due to COVID. People have relocated, reassessed their priorities, etc.

    I would look for these bright spots in the job market and consider your options. You have options. You’re valuable. You don’t need to take abuse.

    1. So tired*

      This. I work in municipal government and where I live, I’ve noticed there’s a massive discrepancy between employers and job seekers in terms of the perception of what is out there. Right now, our hiring pool is so weak that I haven’t heard of anyone getting a decent pool of qualified candidates in months – we just hired someone with only a few months of unrelated professional work experience into a role that would normally get someone with a minimum of 3-5 years of related work experience. And then I lorded it over one of my colleagues, who posted a position with the same title a few weeks later and wouldn’t even get our applicant to consider (they hired someone with similar experience).

      With some exceptions for jobs requiring certifications, getting someone that’s about 80% of your minimum qualifications is about the best anyone can do with now. These are jobs that earn 60k per year). In our case, I think what’s happening is we would normally have a lot of internal applicants/interest, but right now a lot of people don’t want to risk the upheaval or the chance that they end up reporting to a manager that is going to push for working in-person as early as possible (about half our work force works from home, but early signs have indicated that once it is safe to work in-person, they will still encourage WFH but it will largely be at the whim of individual managers).

      This isn’t entirely theoretical – I stopped my job search for that exact reason and while I had been looking to move into a more senior position, there’s zero chance I’m going to take on managing a team from my kitchen with my kids at home (while people less qualified than me with terrible soft skills are getting those positions right now – I try not to think about it because I know it would be a colossal failure if ai did it right now, but it still stings). If you watch closely, you’ll notice that women with children are not applying for jobs right now unless they don’t have a choice (ie if they’ve lost their job, they think their job is at risk for layoffs, or they work in person and are looking for WFH because child care is an ongoing issue). But just a promotion? Lateral transfers? It’s all about sticking with the devil you know right now. I’ll take my chances on my nightmare of a job because I know I won’t get re-deployed to in-person work and that there won’t be a rush to get us back in the office; it will likely be optional or a few days a week when they do. I don’t think this is specific to us, though, because my spouse has a business in food services and he is having just as much difficulty finding people to hire (in his case, I think a LOT of people have dropped out of the work force or are unable to work in person for safety or child care reasons). Either way, applicant pools are not what they were 14 months ago, and although I’m sure it varies by region, there are a lot of openings right now if you know where to look.

  81. Raida*

    “Although I was upset and shaken, in the meeting I was called out on the spot by name to contribute something positive about Covid!”
    this is blatant toxic positivity and manipulation. They don’t care about how you’re doing, they care that you understand you are supposed to present a (false) happy face to others. Who are also pressured, but see ‘everyone else is smiling’.
    which includes you.
    They want you to speak up, regardless of your health.
    They want you to not make anyone uncomfortable.

    It is what it is – a big song and dance so nobody has to be responsible for ACTUAL MENTAL HEALTH of staff and coworkers. “Look at all the effort!” “Look at how we care!” “Look at how we talk!”
    It’s a biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiig, laaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaazy lie, and I’d rather punch myself in the face than work wherever you are.
    If it were me I’d make a written complaint about the harassment and falsehoods around ‘non compulsory’, combine that with mental health claims, opt out of anything in my private time, and honestly I’d be worried that they could fire you for not pretending to be happy – so I’d be looking for a new job.

  82. Ellie*

    I’m really sorry OP.

    I’m late to respond, and I do hope you have the courage to talk to your boss and get yourself out of attending these terrible meetings. But if that doesn’t work and you have to attend, and you can’t afford to lose your job, then I suggest writing down a couple of answers that you can vary a bit between meetings, and that you can repeat with the absolute minimum of effort. Give them as little emotion as you can manage, so that they wash over you and you don’t get as upset by them. The one you have in your response, about priorities, etc. is a good one. Other suggestions might be, ‘I’m spending a lot more time with my kids, I’m glad I’m here to support them in these difficult times’, or ‘I’m glad that COVID doesn’t seem to affect children so badly, I hope that mine will stay safe’, or, ‘I appreciate the support of my partner (if you have one)’, or ‘I’m cooking a lot more meals at home these days’, etc. Who cares if they aren’t silver linings at all, or that its not the whole truth, you’re entitled to say as little as you need to. And if there’s any follow up on your less than chipper attitude, then I’d just say that it’s been difficult since you’ve lost some loved ones, but are trying to stay positive, then repeat that as often as you need to.

  83. So tired*

    Ughhh. My work was a little like this early on in the pandemic. Thankfully the managers are a lot more open to feedback and dialed it back once people started expressing how awful it was. But I have more than enough memories of full-on ugly crying on mute after my turn to speak – either you succumb to the pressure and feel awful that you had to do that on top of everyone else, or you tell the truth and feel guilt for bringing people down. It’s a no-win situation.

    OP, I’d be seriously looking at getting another job because this sounds like an issue that will permeate more than just your experience during the pandemic (you’re the only one with kids?! I don’t understand how that’s even possible unless they only hire new grads, either way it says a lot about their culture). In the meantime, you could also try saying things like “I’m doing alright, but I know a lot of parents are dealing with X right now” – basically giving your comments but framing them in a way that’s like “I’m not being negative, but I think it’s important to share what other people are going through”.

    Along the same lines, your “positive” comments could be something like “I’m glad the pandemic is calling attention to issues of gender equality (or mental health, racism, etc.) and the importance of child care for parents, particularly women”. It could even be comments about how you’re glad this has shown just how effective WFH can be and that it’s provided an opportunity for employers to try it out and see how effective it is. Basically making a case for something that could influence your employer’s decisions and framing it as if the progress has already happened. They will have a tough time complaining about someone speaking “positively” about gender equality!

Comments are closed.