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Work Advice: 2022 in review, with reader updates

Employees are still finding their way — and their voices — in a changed work landscape

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If I had to sum up the U.S. workplace in 2022, the one image that stands out to me is the snow globe metaphor coined by Julia Hobsbawm in her book “The Nowhere Office”: workers standing in the center of a shaken-up world, looking for a path through the fractured reality swirling around us. Even the advice-seekers I asked for updates on their situations are reporting more works-in-progress than tidily wrapped solutions.

Remote vs. return-to-office policies

In the ongoing search for balance between remote and on-site workplace models, many employers are adopting a hybrid approach, trying to restore some of the pre-pandemic environment while retaining the technologies and flexible mind-set that made remote work possible and that many workers — though not all — now consider a standard requirement.

Workers struggling to adapt to video calls and instant messaging have had to find solutions that work for them. One worker who reported being overwhelmed by instant-message pings and dings found solutions through technology and good old-fashioned human dialogue.

“I was able to mute several of the message channels that generated the most spam, which cut down on a lot of distraction. I also had a direct conversation with my boss about how she preferred to communicate, and while that involved using IMs more than I would prefer, once we set some mutually agreed-upon boundaries, it turned out not to be as bad as I’d feared,” the worker said in an email.

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Meanwhile, back in the office …

Workers called back to the office found themselves embroiled in the kinds of proximity-based conflicts over shared bathrooms, political clashes and awkward encounters that fueled most of my pre-pandemic columns.

The reader who was exposed to a steamy movie scene on her manager’s phone informed me that it seems to have been a one-time flub. While the boss still watches movies and sports on his phone at work, “his phone is always facing towards him except that one day I was in his office,” she said in an email.

Another reader, driven to distraction by a chatty colleague’s mindless, repetitive questions, was not so lucky. Asking the chatty colleague to leave didn’t work. Physically taking her arm and leading her out of the office resulted in the afternoon off without pay and a lecture from HR about the workplace being “one big family.”

Finally the reader opted for the path of no resistance. “Now when she comes in my office … I just stop what I am doing, put my chin on my hand and just stare at her and listen to the repeat statements and questions about mindless stuff she saw on TikTok or Facebook. She eventually wanders away,” the reader said in an email. “It is just easier to focus on her for that time and then work later each day to try and keep up.”

Despite the office being “one of the most bizarre places I have ever worked,” the reader is sticking with it for now and leaning heavily on the mantra, “Not my circus, not my monkeys.”

And the pandemic continues to bring out the best and worst in employers asked to accommodate workers dealing with acute covid-19 and long covid. An employee whose hospitalization for covid was called “very bad timing” by a manager was eventually fired after the manager declared the employee “overqualified for the position” and “not the right fit for the team” in an annual review.

“Because of the stress involved in all of this I had a seizure … and spent another two weeks in the hospital,” the employee said in an email. The employee has retained an attorney to file a wrongful termination lawsuit against the employer.

Burnout and shifting economic tides led many workers to rethink how far they’re willing to go for a paycheck. Adaptive strategies included adopting four-day workweeks, “quiet quitting” (doing the minimum required) or, at the other extreme, secretly taking on multiple full-time jobs.

And, as we saw during the “Great Resignation,” many simply voted with their feet. The employee who realized an employer was “quiet firing” local workers and shifting resources to an out-of-state office quickly found a better fit by searching for a job offering the essentials: medical insurance and a better commute. The worker was “overwhelmed” by support from soon-to-be-former colleagues, most of whom were also looking for new jobs.

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Finding a third way

I’ve saved the best update for last, from a reader who was torn between keeping a good job under a terrific boss or accepting a promotion that promised better pay and hours. Instead, the reader found a third solution.

The reader had a chance to observe the incumbent in the new position for a few weeks — and learned “her hours were not as protected as mentioned,” the reader said in an email. “There were times when she was pulled from her work to help out with work I wouldn’t want to do at all.” Seeing those incidents, the reader said, “took the ‘glow’ off the promotion.” Meanwhile, “I realized that … what brought me the most satisfaction was promoting customer sales” — something the promotion didn’t offer.

But that still left the cons of the old job, the reader noted: “You really hit a nerve when you pointed out that I was so happy, I was ignoring that I was underpaid.” After discussions with management in which the reader presented an updated résumé and asked “what value they would place on any person with these skills and achievements … I had a pay raise so high that it priced me out of that promotion they were offering.”

Six months later, the worker said, “I am happy to report that I still have all the pro’s — I love my work and my boss — and have eliminated most of the con’s [with] better pay and [more] regular hours.”

May we all find time during the holidays and months ahead to look at our achievements, focus on what satisfies us and ask for more of what we want and deserve.

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