When Your Office Decides the Pandemic Is Over

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Seething With Pandemic Resentment

Your resentment is understandable. As we enter the third year of living with Covid-19, it’s hard to not be absolutely furious with the significant number of Americans who have chosen to not vaccinate or wear masks, and otherwise refuse to do the bare minimum to support public health. To work with people who are either actively or passively defiant while managing pandemic fatigue is incredibly trying.

Their actions put you and everyone you come into contact with at risk, no matter how careful you are. But quitting your job isn’t necessarily the solution. There’s no guarantee you will find a workplace where everyone shares your values. And that you’ve been pushed to this point leads me to believe you’re more frustrated with the general state of affairs in the world than your colleagues, however willfully ignorant they seem to be.

If you quit your job for this reason, something else will replace your colleagues as the target of your understandable frustration. If you can afford to quit and it will give you some peace of mind, by all means, treat yourself. But if you can’t, it’s time to develop some coping mechanisms. Can you work from home some or all of the time? Can you enforce boundaries around how you interact with your co-workers? There are no easy answers here. This is part of why the pandemic has been so stressful. Americans are living in two different countries right now, and the border between those countries is impermeable.

Permission to Double Dip

If you have chosen to develop a formal H.R. background that was not mandated by your employer and your company has offered to cover the costs of that professional development, then my instinct is that no, you cannot bill your standard hourly rate. I would love to hear what others think.

I would also note that because this is voluntary, tuition reimbursement over $5,250 is generally taxed as income.

Bad Optics

It’s important to be aware of unconscious biases and how they can manifest in the workplace. You’re not wrong to feel uncomfortable with this. If nothing else, the optics are absolutely terrible. But there is far more to such situations than just optics. Were these three people the newest employees? Were there performance issues? Were they seen as disposable by managers? Did people use that old canard of “culture fit” to let them go?

You need more information and it is unfortunate that your employer chose not to provide an explanation for why these three people were laid off, given the context. If the occasion presents itself, I would raise your concerns with your manager, not because it will change what has already been done, but so that in the future, the people in charge will be more mindful of how they make such decisions.

Sick of Being Silenced

You are not sneaking around to seek counsel from human resources. You are advocating for yourself. That this dynamic is so persistent and visible that your colleagues have raised concerns is ample cause for trying to address the problem. I’m glad to hear you’re able to advance within this organization but it can be incredibly defeating to always feel silenced and spoken over. This is, unfortunately, a fairly common experience in some workplace cultures.

You want to develop some strategies for dealing with this. Explicitly point out this dynamic to your boss, for one. Keep documenting it. When your colleagues talk over you or cut you off, keep talking. Keep talking until they stop talking and start listening. Maintain eye contact. Don’t give the impression that you’ve been defeated. When you can, simply point out what’s happening. “Excuse me, Cliff, but I was speaking.” Or, “Excuse me, Biff, I haven’t finished my thought. Please hold your comments until I finish.” And look for colleagues who can be allies in these situations, who can call out this dynamic for or with you, and create space for you to speak and be heard.

All this said, please know that you are not the problem here. You shouldn’t have to employ any of these strategies. Your older male colleagues should adjust their behavior and learn how to be better communicators who respect the people with whom they are in conversation.

Roxane Gay is the author, most recently, of “Hunger” and a contributing opinion writer. Write to her at [email protected].

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