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 email@example.com.
Since the pandemic started, I feel like my boss has slowly gone from being very understanding and relaxed about giving us time to process, figure out child care, figure out family and mental health stuff, etc. And now that it's been a year, that grace is sort of ... gone? Is it inappropriate to try to have a conversation with her about it? Am I out of line for needing more grace from my job?
Stressed in 2021
I totally get where you’re coming from. Back in March and April, it felt like the name of the game was taking care of ourselves, being there for one another, coming together to stop the spread in our communities and doing everything we could to flatten the curve. There was seemingly endless understanding and patience around scheduling changes, child care routines being blown to smithereens and the inability to focus on work because all eyes were on the headlines as we struggled to absorb information about something we'd never experienced before.
And then as humans, because we are an adaptable species, we adapted to this new “normal” (not very normal at all), and it started to feel like all of that “community” preaching was really just ... good marketing.
Car ads that were somber monologues about “being there for each other” in April suddenly changed to commercials of people drinking beer on the beach with friends on the Fourth of July and eating Doritos at Christmas parties with maskless co-workers. Were they in some alternative universe where 400,000 Americans hadn’t died of COVID-19? Where their government hadn’t monumentally mismanaged every single aspect of the pandemic? If you watched TV for more than a few hours at a time this past year — and let’s face it, who didn’t? — you saw these commercials. Maybe your boss did too.
With these messages and many others, we started to play off of this idea that we had to move forward and move on and just figure out how to “live with it." Nevermind that the virus has never been more widespread, more contagious or more deadly than it is this very minute. Maybe it's sheer ignorance or maybe it's a coping mechanism. I think on some levels, depending on the day, it's a little bit of both. We want to believe things are safe, and we look to others for cues on how to act.
I would say absolutely talk to your boss. Here’s why: Just like you, just like everyone, your boss has never navigated life in a pandemic before. Grace and understanding was part of her game plan in March and April, likely because she was being granted the same from her boss. I would bet dollars, and lots of them, that your boss is equally as stressed out and exhausted from this last year as you are. I would bet dollars, and lots of them, that your boss is yearning for some grace and leniency herself. She will understand.
Spend some time thinking about how you want to communicate your needs to her. Pick a Friday instead of a Monday, and try to put time on her calendar that exceeds the time you think you’ll need to have this conversation. If you think this is a 30-minute talk, block 45 minutes; that way it won’t feel rushed. It’s hard to have candid conversations via Zoom, so try to give her a heads up about the nature of what you want to discuss. If you feel like you have a good, friendly working relationship, I’d suggest assuring her that this meeting is nothing negative and that you were just hoping to touch base and talk about how things are going on your end. This will allow her to enter the conversation relaxed and prepared. As someone who has managed people before, I guarantee you that every time someone on my team wanted to meet with me I assumed it was because they were about to quit. Bosses can be paranoid, too!
Be honest with yourself ahead of this meeting, and try to go off of bullet points that you write down ahead of time rather than improvising. This will help you communicate the most important information without getting overwhelmed or emotional in the process. If you are feeling rundown and tired, say so. Say that this year has been very hard for you and that you are doing your best to manage it. Say that you understand everyone is in the same position and likely feels the same way. Say that you wanted to talk to her about this because you believe that open communication between employer and employee will yield better work. If she doesn’t know what you’re going through, she can’t guess. It is your responsibility to clearly and effectively share this with her.
Have a follow-up plan and ask for what you want. Maybe you need to use some vacation time? Maybe you want help figuring out if there’s anything on your plate that can be redistributed to someone else? Do not expect your boss to have a solution for you. You must have a solution ready that she can approve it. After a week off or a little less work, follow up with your boss. Are you feeling better? Are you feeling a little more at ease? Tell her, even if a few days off from work didn’t necessarily provide the entire fix you were hoping for.
The most important thing to know is that, more than ever, you are not alone in navigating the difficulty of living through this historic time. We are all traumatized by the last 11 months. Worlds have been upended into chaos, and we’re supposed to just chug along. We are not trains. We are not cars. That includes your boss.
If you provide grace and understanding for yourself, it will be easier to seek it from those around you.
Wishing you lots of sleep and lots of water and hope for a healthier, less stressful year ahead.
Have a question for Caroline? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.