In the middle of the pandemic, I took a job that I love and am good at. At the time, my boss made it very clear that the job was classified as “remote” and the deal was that I would never need to work in the office. This wasn’t just because everyone was working from home at the time; the job was classified as remote so they could hire the best person regardless of where they were located. It just so happens that I live fairly close to headquarters and presumably could go to the office if I wanted to.
Now that things have eased up, my boss is insisting that I come and work at the office. At every one-on-one meeting, he mentions that he would like to see me in the office. He has no complaints about the quality of my work and has no reason to suspect that I am goofing around instead of working; he just prefers his people to be in the office.
But that wasn’t the deal. I am an introvert, I love working from home, and I have a great rhythm in my workday that doesn’t include a 45-minute commute each way—not to mention the price of gas! I enjoy many of my colleagues and meet them occasionally for coffee or happy hour. Several of them were also originally classified as remote and some do occasionally go into the office because they are super social types who like it.
I feel that there has to be some reasonable way to push back on this constant pressure from my manager, but I don’t know how to do it without harming the relationship. I am now at a point where I am actually feeling bullied and considering looking for another job. Would appreciate any thoughts on this.
Dear Feeling Pressured,
A lot of managers don’t realize the power they hold or the impact of subtle little remarks. Your manager might be shocked that his nudges are having this effect on you. So if you are serious about possibly leaving, I think you need to come right out with it. You can tell your boss that you are worried about harming your relationship because you really love your job, but that the pressure being exerted on you to come into the office is becoming burdensome.
Before you do that, however, it might be wise to dig up your employment contract and make sure that you are in full command of the fine print. If, in fact, you have it right and there is no indication that your remote status is at risk due to the slow receding of Covid concerns, then you have a contractual agreement to support your position. Hopefully it won’t come to the point where you have to involve HR, but if you are clear about your contract it might highlight the fact that your boss is, perhaps inadvertently, creating a hostile work environment.
As you prepare to open the topic, consider what kind of compromise might work for you. I understand your reflexive reaction that you took the job with the understanding that you wouldn’t have to be in the office, but it might not kill you to meet your boss halfway. Perhaps he wants everyone in the office for specific kinds of meetings. Or maybe he is an extrovert who has trouble bonding with people if he can’t be with them in person. In our own business, I have heard several people who have to come in the office mention that they are lonely.
Asking some questions to really understand what is at the root of your boss’s insistence will help to frame and support your own position. You will want to avoid why questions such as the most obvious and natural one, “Why do you want me to come to the office?” Why questions tend to put people on the defensive. Open-ended questions, on the other hand, help to focus the conversation. For example:
“What would be different if I were to come into the office?”
“What would I accomplish by coming into the office that I am not already doing?”
“Is there something you would like me to do differently that you haven’t mentioned yet?”
“Are there concerns about the quality of my work that you want to share with me?”
“What would satisfy you, if I were to come in to office?”
It might be hard for your boss to admit that your going into the office once in a while would just make him happy. It might be that simple.
Once you understand what is driving your boss, it might be easier for you to consider a small concession as a peace offering. Maybe you would be willing to show up in person at the office once a month or bi-weekly. You might ask your boss to consider paying for your gas, especially since your salary was negotiated as a remote worker. In California, where I live, gas prices are so insane that they are having a big impact on household budgets.
It will take some courage to pipe up—but really, no manager wants to find out from an exit interview that they lost a good employee over something that could have been avoided. If you aren’t confident about being good on your feet in the moment, practice what you want to say with a friend to get comfortable with your points so your emotions won’t cloud your reasoning or cause you to forget. During the conversation, listen carefully to what your boss says. Maybe even take notes and repeat back what you heard so you are sure you got it right. Take your time and breathe. Remember that, in response to anything, you can always ask to take some time to think about it.
I really hope you will be able to work this out.
Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
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