So, there’s a situation.
Like most of the country, I’ve spent the last year working from home. It’s actually gone pretty great for me! I value solitude and quiet, and I’ve never been particularly social at work. I’ve thrived in a way a number of my coworkers haven’t, but now that everyone has decided the pandemic is over for some reason (it isn’t), the company’s CEO has decided we’re all going to come back in.
Now, I’m vaccinated, but I know for a fact that several of my coworkers aren’t. Most just haven’t qualified until now and are still trying to get appointments, but one of them is a pretty strident anti-vaxxer. Doesn’t that sound dangerous to you? Because it sure as heck does to me.
We’re a small marketing agency, just ten people, and we work out of a good-sized office in a converted house on Long Island with lots of windows, so I know the risk probably isn’t huge. The CEO keeps making the point that our office is very well-ventilated and the rest of the staff will be vaccinated soon. But it feels like an unnecessary risk at a time when variants allow the virus to spread faster than ever. At the same time, I feel like I don’t know how to speak up. I’m vaccinated, so it’s not like I’m putting myself at significant risk, and I know vaccinations are coming soon for everyone in my office who wants one, but I can’t help but worry that this is incredibly premature at best, and potentially deadly at worst.
How can I raise this issue with my boss in a productive way?
That is quite the pickle, although in a sane world it wouldn’t be. As a CEO myself, I know that a lot of my counterparts across the country are fatigued and frustrated with ongoing reduced productivity and the inefficiencies resulting from remote work, and because they’re already vaccinated, they’ve started acting like things are already back to normal when that’s far from the truth. It sounds like your boss is one of them. Thank heaven that you aren’t.
A few things come to mind immediately, and you have some options here.
First, you need to let your boss know that you’re not comfortable returning to the office yet and see what can be done. While some companies are choosing to go back to in-person work, I know of very few that are actually forcing everyone back into the office; most seem to be willing to allow those who are not comfortable for any reason to continue working from home. You may not be able to change your CEO’s mind about the company on the whole returning to the office, but you don’t have to if they’re willing to be flexible and make exceptions.
Your concerns about the safety of you and your coworkers are valid on their own. But you also mention that you’ve been thriving since you began working from home, and it sounds like you’re doing better work because of it! Speak to your boss about that as well. Discuss how your work has improved, your increased productivity, your high client satisfaction, and anything else concrete you can point to that demonstrates that you’re a better employee when you’re working from home. This is a strong argument to make, and even if your boss believes it’s perfectly safe to return to the office, if they care about your contributions, they should be eager to make this minuscule accommodation. Moreover, this will likely prove very beneficial to you when it actually is safe to return to the office, since it sounds like you may prefer to continue working from home regardless.
Another option you have is to speak to your coworkers and see where their heads are at with this. Are those who aren't vaccinated worried? What’s the consensus? If a majority of you feel unsafe, you can present a united front. At such a small company, together, you should have a lot of sway, and you may get through to your CEO. If your boss is wise, they’ll be willing to listen and compromise. For example, perhaps you can all agree to make proof of vaccination a requirement for returning to the office.
Zoom burnout is a small price to pay to keep everyone safe right now. A lot of us are eager to get back a semblance of normalcy, I really get and sympathize with that. But everyone’s health and safety are far more important. Pandemic fatigue has many losing sights of the risk COVID-19 still presents. But raising this issue as a unified front should hopefully be a wake-up call for your boss – a reminder that, as much as we’d like to be, we’re just not there yet.
Pandemic fatigue has many losing sights of the risk COVID-19 still presents.
There are absolutely reasonable compromises to be made in this kind of situation, especially with such a small team – like having employees return to the office only after they’ve been fully immunized. That should certainly make sure everyone is safe while still allowing the majority of the company to get back to the office. I hope your CEO hears you out and is willing to land on something that works for everyone and prioritizes your team’s safety.
It’s not up to you to save everyone, Heidi. It’s up to each of you to support each other.
WRITTEN BYLiz Elting