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My boss has been reckless during COVID-19. How do I work for someone I don't respect?

"In a perfect world, we’d all work for only the best people leading by the best example. But this is not a perfect world."
Illustration of woman wearing mask looking at man wearing no mask surrounded by COVID spores and with office and party backgrounds
TODAY Illustration / Getty Images
/ Source: TMRW

Caroline Moss is an author and host of the podcast "Gee Thanks, Just Bought It," which helps people find the products they need to make life easier, better and more productive. Now with this column, "Asking for a Friend," she's helping people with the advice they need to make life easier, better and more productive. To submit a question, email us at tmrwadvice@nbcuni.com.

Hi Caroline,

My boss has not been safe during the pandemic and now I am having a hard time respecting them. How do I manage this at work?

Signed,

Worried at Work

Hello!

One of the main conversations happening in my group chat right now is how we went into the pandemic last March thinking we knew everything we needed to know about some of our closest friends, and then became surprised by some of the things we witnessed people do over the past year. As one of my friends put it: “I’m going back into the world post-pandemic with fewer friends than I had going in,” after seeing close pals vacation, party indoors, refuse to wear masks in public and generally skirt CDC recommended guidelines for virus management as hundreds of thousands of Americans died from COVID-19.

While everyone’s entitled to make their own calculated risks, there was something about seeing lengthy Instagram stories of lavish vacations in April 2020 that felt tone deaf and disrespectful to the state of the world.

It would be difficult, my friend said, to look at some of those people the same way.

That being said, the upside for you is that your boss isn’t technically your friend. They are your boss. We all find out things we like and don’t like about the people we work with and work for.

I once had a boss who made uncomfortable and off-color jokes in front of our whole team. As much as I loved the work of my job, I did not love working for this guy. I had no respect for him. I did, however, respect my colleagues and the mission of our work, which made it easy to show up everyday and put up with a bozo for a boss. That’s how I personally managed it. My love for the job outweighed my disrespect for my boss.

You may ask, why wouldn’t you report him if he was making uncomfortable jokes? I thought about it. The problem with bosses is that they tend to be seen as more valuable than those who rank below them. Unless a major crime was committed, a big bureaucratic company will not likely go out of their way to make you feel more comfortable. Though I wish it weren’t the case, sometimes flagging these issues ends up making your work environment more uncomfortable for you without changing the problem you flagged in the first place.

You may not think your boss took the pandemic seriously, but if they're good at their job, their boss won’t really care. You might be putting a target on your own back instead. Do I think the entire system of corporate America needs an absolute overhaul? Yes. Do I think it’s going to start with you flagging your boss’s stories about dining indoors without a mask during a health crisis? No. I want you to keep your job if you otherwise like your job.

This is where I would recommend sitting down and really considering your values and the weight you put on those values as it pertains to your work. Is it important for you to have a boss who you respect? Sure, in a perfect world, we’d all work for only the best people leading by the best example. But this is not a perfect world. Are you able to separate your boss’s pandemic attitude from the mission of your work? That part is up to you.

Some people would say unequivocally that they couldn't find joy in a job that meant working for a boss they don’t respect. Others would say they could put up with it. Each choice comes with its own baggage. If you can’t work for this person anymore, are you ready to start looking for a new job? If you stay, are you going to be able to do the best work possible even if you don’t like the person who assigns that work?

These questions have no right or wrong answers, just that you have to find the right answer for yourself.

Good luck — and maybe unfollow your boss on Instagram in the meantime!

Caroline

Have a question for Caroline? Email us at tmrwadvice@nbcuni.com.