should I move in with coworkers, should managers not use a “busy” status, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Should I move in with coworkers?

I am a 20-something in my first job out of grad school, and because of the low-paying industry I work in plus the high-cost-of-living area, roommates are a must. My company is made up mostly of other women in my general age bracket and stage of life, and I’m friends (or at least very friendly) with several coworkers. I’m particularly close friends with Stevie, who is roommates with another coworker, Alexis. The three of us know each other from grad school, and they lived together before Stevie got a job at our company.

Stevie and Alexis are planning to move in a few months, after their original final roommate ended up finding other living accommodations, Stevie asked if I’d be interested in moving in with them, knowing that I’ve been thinking about moving as well. I like them both and think we’d get along well as roommates, but I can’t shake the feeling that living with my coworkers would make it hard for me to ever fully separate work life from home life.

For what it’s worth, Stevie and I work in the same department at different levels (although neither of us has any supervisory authority over the other whatsoever and likely never will) and Alexis works in a separate department that we work with fairly closely. Our company as a whole is pretty chill and conflict-free, so I don’t anticipate any problems with any of us having workplace issues or disputes that we then bring home with us, and Alexis and Stevie have obviously made the coworkers/roommates thing work, but I still feel unsure about whether merging my work and home life in this way is a good idea.

I wouldn’t do it if you have any other options at all. It might end up going fine, but if it doesn’t, you’re inviting all sorts of problems.

Things that can happen when you live with coworkers: You can’t get away from work talk, even when you’re desperately burned out. You can end up taking on other people’s work battles as your own, when you otherwise wouldn’t have (whether it’s a beef with a colleague or a chilly relationship with a manager). You can end up pressured to take on their battles as your own. You can end up ineligible for promotions or certain assignments because you can’t have any authority over them. They may share things about your personal life (or health or so forth), even unintentionally, that you don’t want shared at work. If you have an issue with them at work (like if they’re not pulling their weight or you need to criticize their work or participate in an investigation involving them), it will hard to keep it from affecting things at home. If you have an issue with them at home (over cleaning or overnight guests or noise or not paying rent or so forth), it will be hard to keep it from affecting things at work. If one of them gets fired or laid off, things can get very awkward, especially if they’re angry about it. And on and on and on.

Or none of these things might happen and it might work out fine! But why take the risk, when your living situation and your work situation both have such a major role in your quality of life?

2. Should managers not set their online status to “busy”?

What is your opinion on managers putting their status as “busy” in Skype? My manager tends to do this several times a day and some people have said it does not make her seem approachable.

Managers need blocks of time to concentrate just as much as other people (if not more, given the number of interruptions they often get). It’s good time management to block off chunks of time and let people know you’re not available for interruptions.

If she’s always marking herself as “busy,” that’s more of a problem — but if it’s just here and there throughout the day, that’s normal. And actually, even if it’s all the time, she might just prefer not to use Skype to communicate. I’d look at how accessible she is in general. If she’s impossible to get ahold of (by whatever method) when you really need her or you rarely have contact with her, those things are problems and will rightly make her seem unapproachable. Asserting some control over her own time, but being reachable at other times, should not be a problem. (Although if people feel it’s causing problems, they should raise that with her and try to problem-solve it directly.)

3. My coworkers don’t wear their masks correctly

I work at an essential engineering business of less than 50 people. A couple weeks ago, management finally decided that everyone in the building must wear a face mask. Personally, I was relieved. However, to my horror, a handful of senior-level people wear their masks incorrectly, so that the mask only covers their mouth. Their nose is completely exposed to the air. They do this because either they think the masks are uncomfortable or because they say they cannot breathe in the mask. Some people at the company even pull their mask down below their chin so that they can talk to you “better” or more clearly.

Most people seem unfazed by the select few who wear their masks incorrectly, but to me, it is aggravating. Would the ADA protect the people who claim they cannot breathe in the mask by allowing them to show up to work with an improperly worn mask? Or should my employer tell these senior-level people to stay home? No one at my company is authorized to work from home.

Your employer should require everyone to wear face masks and keep them over their noses and mouths when they’re within six feet of other people. If someone needs an accommodation under the ADA, your employer will need to work with them to find an accommodation that will work (which could be working from home, or could be giving them a plexiglass barrier in their work area, or all sorts of other options).

I’d suggest speaking to your HR department or whoever in your company at a senior level seems to be taking the virus most seriously. I’d also suggest that when you have to talk to someone whose mask isn’t in place, try saying, “Would you mind adjusting your mask to keep us both safe?” If you feel you need it, feel free to add, “I have high-risk loved ones I’m trying to keep safe.” If they decline, then say, “I’m going to back up six feet so we’re not at contagion distance” and then do that.

4. I’m furloughed and colleagues are linking me to support I don’t need

I was furloughed from my entry-level position at a media company at the start of April. I don’t have any hard feelings about the furlough per se: I was the most recent addition to the small team, part of my responsibilities could only be done in office, which is not possible under our city’s stay-at-home orders, and our main project has completely stalled because we can’t access the public locations necessary for our work. Once these locations open again, I fully expect to come back to this job.

Thankfully, I’m part of the fortunate group making more money on unemployment benefits than I did at my job. I never thought I would call myself fortunate for being on unemployment, but times are strange! It’s a difference of over $200/week, and it’s made a huge difference in my finances. I actually have savings now!

But my coworkers and managers have expressed worry for me, linking me to food bank services and such. This includes my manager, who is responsible for determining what everyone is paid and when we can work. She turned down my prior request for a raise, stating (correctly) my pay is average for the industry and the position I’m in — but of course, our industry is notorious for low pay at the entry level. With this situation, I don’t know how to tactfully express to my team that I’m doing better than ever, especially since the other people furloughed were paid much more than me but now make less on unemployment. I also don’t want my manager to think I’m bitter about my pay or that I expect a raise if I return … though I would definitely accept one if offered! Do you have any advice for this brand new pandemic problem?

You don’t really need to give details about your situation! At least to your coworkers, it’s enough to just say, “Thank you, that’s really kind, but I’m doing okay.” If you want, you can add, “I’ve got a safety net, so I’m okay.” (That’s true, although they might assume you mean your family or so forth.)

You could say the same sort of thing to your boss, although there’s potentially an argument there for saying more to her — you don’t want her to assume you’re fine because you’ve been able to save lots of money on the low salary she pays you, which could indeed make any argument for a raise later less compelling (not that it should, but it might not even be a conscious thing). To her, there’s more of a case for saying, “With the federal unemployment supplement, I’m actually making a bit more than I did at work. I’d still rather be working and I hope to come back as soon as possible, but at least for right now I’m okay on food and other necessities.”

On the other hand, there’s also an argument for not letting her relax about you — you don’t want her to feel less pressure to bring you back. So you might choose to go vague with her as well.

5. Being a hospital patient when you work in the hospital

I’m a healthcare provider who works mostly out-patient, but we regularly provide in-patient services (daily for our office, several times per week myself). With the vast majority of the hospital staff, there’s barely face recognition, but within my area, there’s much more familiarity. I have a medical condition that will require surgery soon (“soon” relatively speaking, given COVID) and that has some overlap with my field. It’s a relatively minor surgery, with probably a same day discharge, one night max. I’ll have the standard “outfit,” open back hospital gown, who knows what kind of tubes, catheters, etc. I don’t know the exact process, but could likely involve some treatment from that staff I work with.

Any recommendations on etiquette … or saving face? I know the staff to be highly professional, but it is a very personal, and kinda awkward scenario.

I think this is where you fall back on “they’re all professionals, have seen this a million times before, I am not a coworker to them right not but a patient like all the rest” … and yet I would still be feeling all the same squeamishness that you are. I don’t know that there’s any way around that! People who have been in this situation yourselves, what say you?

should I move in with coworkers, should managers not use a “busy” status, and more was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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