I try to be open to other people’s views, particularly if it is diversity-related or age-related perspectives. I don’t always share their views, but I try to understand them and be open to the insights they provide, use them to better my own thoughts and actions. That isn’t some altruistic endeavour or that I’m a “great” person, it’s simply that other people have experiences I don’t have and can never have in some cases. It seems ludicrous to try to limit my views to only those things I experience myself. Translation to my frame of reference can be hard, as it is for anyone.
[ADDED TEXT] And in that light, I’ve gotten some good feedback from people that perhaps not only is my tone too harsh, but there’s an undercurrent of unintended misogyny in there because I was talking about complainers and whiners, but had labelled them all Karens. Those are completely fair points in my view, so I’ve tried to adjust some of the wording below. Another noted in one place that I slammed everyone dealing with childcare issues upfront, when I only meant to slam a small subsection who I think hurt those with more legitimate concerns.
Yet I confess that ever since the government announced the plans for return to the office, the number of whiners  I am seeing in the newspapers and online seem to be growing exponentially. At first encounter, I take their complaints at face value, and try to understand the balance they have landed on in the issues we’re all dealing with, always looking for the shades of nuance. I can’t help it, it’s the dork in me. But I am finding it increasingly hard to find any resonance in their positions. The balance seems so far off from the average worker out there beyond the public service, it seems like privileged whining.
The main type is the Reductionist, who says “I can do my whole job from home, so no reason to go back to the office”. Because they think they alone have SEEN THE LIGHT and will illuminate things for everyone.
Of course, it also means that they never read their job description. Where it says, for example, in almost EVERY SINGLE ONE, that you will “work with your coworkers in the office”. The wording varies, sometimes it is explicitly linked, sometimes only implicitly, but it almost always says somewhere in the document that work will take place “in an office”. Together with other people. Not talk to them on the phone or video chat, but together in the office. But they say “Hey, everything is working, I don’t need to do that.” Except first and foremost, that’s not their call. They don’t get to decide if it’s working or not, their boss does. That’s actually what they do. And they have evaluated it. And have seen that things are NOT working just fine. Horizontality is WAY down. Silos are WAY back up. It’s a problem. A REAL PROBLEM, not imaginary.
Management has seen it before, and they know how to fix it. Get people to interact informally i.e, the same way they fixed it the last time. Video interactions increase the likelihood of transactional relationships, not holistic ones. As a result, the majority of people only talk to each other when they need to discuss some work item. They aren’t chatting at the water cooler, they aren’t sharing in the hallways, they’re not sharing, period.
I’ll give you an example from my own world. I was in the office today, ran into a guy I haven’t talked to in over a year, haven’t seen in 3. Last time I was interacting with him, he was working on a small training project. Seeing him prompted me to ask how it had gone, it was a success, and the quick conversation prompted me to think of a way I could use some of his work in another context. Exactly how in person interactions are supposed to work. Could I have done it virtually? Of course. If I had ANY reason to call him out of the blue just to chat. Seeing him pass by gave me the opportunity to network (as much as I hate that term), come up with an asymmetrical solution to a problem I have, and build off his experiences. If I was only virtually, he wouldn’t come to mind, nobody would suggest the link, I’d come up with a solution in relative isolation. In short, we’d be working in silos. And in this case, reinventing the wheel. Huge loss of productivity. Yet I’m on the higher end of the networking/sharing spectrum. It’s one of the things that I’m most known for — people regularly call me to ask, “Hey, I was talking to so and so, and they said you know everyone in the branch, who do you think I should talk to about this…?”. And yet my sharing is down. I never realized how much of it before was based on serendipity, that accidental run-in. Sure, I would do the formal informal thing…if I was dropping something off to the ADM’s office, I would take a different route back to my cubicle and stop by different work friends’ desks to catch up, see what they were doing. Not because I was formally “networking”, although I guess it was, I just did it because I like talking to people about what they’re working on, and I would “wander” occasionally to make sure I wasn’t hiding in my cubicle. I am, regrettably in that respect, an introvert at heart.
And senior managers see (as I have at my level) that the sharing/networking is way down. Every day. And they told people about it over 2 years ago. Told them to increase interactions. Build collaboration. Hold social meetings. Act like adults. DO YOUR FULL JOB, not just the part you’re doing virtually. Build virtual water coolers. Find ways to get out of transactions and meet with broader communities. And most people did NADA. Hell, half of us don’t even turn on our cameras. But there are some whiners trying to explain to management how everything was working just fine and nothing needed improving.
A second type is the Subway crowd. These are the people who think that ANY reason to go back to the office is about management wanting to support local business. So-named after a rough open mic day at one department where a manager tried to explain how going out of his house and going to Subway at lunch at work — returning to some of his pre-COVID routine — was actually good, and people took it to mean that because they didn’t want to go back to work, he was somehow tone deaf and saying Subway was worth it. It’s not what he was saying at all, I’ve seen the transcripts and reports, but hey, they took it the way they wanted to take it. And for the meeting itself, that’s fair, their reaction was their reaction. But then a bunch of people thought it would be funny to make hundreds of Subway memes to mock government management as being idiots. And again, if they could speak to their manager please, they would get someone to fix this idiocy. Uh huh. That went over like a lead balloon. People were being openly insubordinate towards management, and some people even got lawyers involved because of the harassment. I’m sorry, but that lack of judgment hurt EVERYONE. Management that was leaning in on being as flexible as possible reacted VERY badly to that behaviour by some staff. You can disagree, sure. But if your attempts at humour are triggering cease and desist orders from your management at the risk of lawsuits for defamation or harassment or even disciplinary action? I struggle to find any balance in that position. Even if I agreed with some of the position, the methods show an enormous level of unprofessionalism. One can argue that’s generational, I’m an old fuddy duddy, even though I like my humour fairly dark, but it really didn’t help anyone’s cause. It made management even less flexible about RTO.
The REALITY check is “COVID time is over”. For the last 3 years, when problems cropped up, things didn’t quite go right, or people had problems making connections, everyone said, “Cause COVID/WFH/Teams”. But that excuse has run its course and DMs asked TBS to issue guidelines, which they did. A lot of the complainers forget that. It wasn’t TBS suddenly coming out of nowhere to say “Hey all the DMs say it’s great but we’re going to ignore them and force people back.”
DMs told TBS they needed at least some of the people back in the office part of the time. Most departments had not gone to the level of ESDC where they analysed every job category, a much more balanced approach in my personal opinion (for what that’s worth in the TBS world), so TBS issued a blanket policy for everyone. Many of the DMs seemed to want this because the chaos of dealing with the Subway crowd wasn’t worth the extra aggravation to find more flexible approaches. Lots of staff complain that management isn’t listening, and they’re probably not completely wrong on that front. There are serious legitimate issues at play but after Subway-gate, it seems like many DMs simply said, “Well, staff aren’t going to listen to us anyway” and therefore spent little time trying to explain the problems they’re seeing. One policy, no muss.
A third type are the Malibu Crew. Malibu Crew wants to complain that life overall is just so hard and that it is all government’s fault. The Malibu brand has a pretty heavy union vibe to them in terms of rushing to the union to get them to strike! Talk to TBS! Talk to EVERYONE’S MANAGER and get this changed. I suspect I struggle so much to understand this group because they swamp other people in the wake who have more legitimate issues. Take child care, for example.
There are some Malibu members who are whining that when they go back to the office, they are going to have to now get full-time child care [Edit: FT, not just CC in general]. Umm. They do know that they were SUPPOSED TO BE WORKING at home right, not providing childcare for their young kids while also working? But some weren’t using childcare. There are some in this category who have kids under 5 who they have had at home the whole time and just didn’t tell their bosses that oh, by the way, they’re working 7.5 h a day while also making sure they’re 4 year old has a snack, is watching pig cartoons, is NOT biting their sister, etc. Off camera, out of mind? The techniques of this group are mind-boggling myopic. They are actually giving interviews and writing articles that they were able to keep their kids at home while they were supposed to be working, and now, they’ll have to pay for childcare like they were supposed to already be doing. Management, MPs, others are actively discussing these articles where people are directly quoted and well, they’re not looking to console them. This is EXACTLY what some anti-WFH people are swearing is happening everywhere — employees not putting in their 7.5h at home because they’re doing other things. It’s not really true, but then you have people giving interviews where they say it is, annnnnd that hurts everyone. But it really hurts those other parents who DO have more realistic child-care issues.
For example, there is a different group of parents that show up in three camps. One group is made up of the divorced parents who have the same issue they had before the pandemic — kids are at their house only part of the time, either part of the week or alternate weeks for example, and with RTO, they have to adjust to figure out how to handle the scheduling issues. Totally problematic, nobody is saying it’s the government’s fault, they’re just saying that switching things and adjusting schedules may take some time.
A second group is comprised of parents who are struggling to get part-time care for their young kids. Part-time care is REALLY hard to find, with places often offering all week first, and only partial if there is somehow a gap. But with demand? Most places don’t have left-over spaces to offer PT. And their employees don’t want to only work PT. Many of these parents may have to take FT options just to ensure a space. But again, the parents are complaining about the logistics, not the need to do this. Some of this is often offered by schools after- and before-school care, but those programs can’t ramp up on a week’s notice or even a month’s. They have to hire more staff and that takes time too. If they can even find staff.
A final group is very similar to the second group, but are often the parents of pre-teens who are old enough not to need constant supervision but likely aren’t old enough to be on their own. Right now, they finish school, they come home, and a parent is there. All good. But if the parent isn’t there, because they are in the office a couple of days a week, then they likely need to figure out some sort of after-school “care” from a neighbour or at the school itself, or camps. Many of which are not readily available on a dime, as noted above. Often it can take weeks or months to figure out the best solution that works for everyone. But it is less acute than the second group, because the kid is almost able to take care of themselves. They could easily be at home with a WFH parent without any “distraction” for the parent.
I have strong sympathy for this group. Finding childcare is ALWAYS a struggle. And when you have it working, the last thing you want is something changing. They’re worried about figuring out the logistics in the short-term, not challenging the need to do something. And yet they get lumped in newspaper articles with the Malibu crowd, and people are dismissing their combined issues as being fake news. Or self-entitled claptrap.
The struggle is real, and I wish there was more nuancing in the responses. On the Malibu front, government would likely do very little to be flexible, it looks more like exploitation of a loophole than sound policy to support. But the other three sub-groups of parents? There are ways in which the government COULD be flexible, on a case-by-case basis, but the more the “issue” is defined by the Malibus, that flex will disappear for all parents struggling with child-care.
Let’s move on though to the Lazy group. “I don’t know how to make RTO work” aka “I don’t understand the assignment”. This group wants to complain about how they went to the office for interactions and they spent the whole time sitting at their desk on their headsets and didn’t go to any of the meetings in person. And then complain they could have done that from home.
Yep, they could have. Because they didn’t do their job. They went into the office to interact with people and then did everything in their power to NOT interact. Then they claim, “See? I told you so.”. I struggle to understand their goal. Do they think management will say, “Okay, you’re right, our bad, go back to WFH”? Management is far more likely to say, “Okay, 2d/week wasn’t enough, let’s change to 3d/week” … or 4 or 5. Yes, those who refuse to make it work may indeed ruin it for everyone and may be why we can’t have nice things.
At this point, as I said, I can mostly understand their original positions but I struggle to share the balance they established on the issues. I sympathize with their struggle, they’re clearly affected and seized with their own situations, but I find it difficult to empathize with their approach and complaints. And the more they complain and complain, with no sense of balance, the less I am inclined to listen. It gets tiresome, partly because I think it is more likely to hurt our WFH cause than help it (more on that later).
I find it even harder to empathize with false Medicos. These are not the the same false prophets from the early pandemic who didn’t want to wear masks who denied COVID was real, these are the “I-don’t-want-to-go-back-to-the-office-but-I’ll-rationalize-that-it’s-because-I-know-it-isn’t-safe”.
I understand their fear. In a high-risk household, I share that same fear. I also know that every other sector has already gone through this. There are bumps, sure. There are challenges, sure. Yet 3 years later, the majority of problems have already been addressed. Not everyone agrees with that assessment, I know, and I empathize with their fear even if it has little to do with a realistic assessment of risk.
Those with real immuno-compromised problems should have a working Duty-to-Accommodate process that is fast and light-weight. The tests and criteria are well-established to identify if being around people dramatically increases your risk.
Those who are fearful but not at higher risk are overwhelming that DTA process though. Almost all of them are going to be denied. As I said, every other sector has already gone through this, there’s legal precedent, there’s medical evidence, and 99% have failed to convince anyone their fears are legitimate reasons not to RTW. Every sector from 2020 to now has gone through these issues. Restaurants, retail stores, factories, other offices, etc. All returned to work. Those with real immuno issues got swept along like flotsam and jetsom. They should have had support, instead they got trampled. It’s almost like the workplace equivalent of abled-bodied people parking in handicapped parking spots “just for a minute” while they run into a store.
[Edit: I’ve revised the following section considerably, people said I was too harsh on the example in question, and they’re probably right.]
The ones that tick me off though are those who want to “sue” if they get or because they got sick. I get the desire. I’ve been involved in some disability communities over the last 20 years for various reasons, and it is one of the first aspects of the newly disabled. They want to sue someone for whatever is happening to them. This isn’t about being litigious, it’s a recognized psychological coping mechanism that people use to help themselves make sense of their new situation. Nobody wants to feel like the universe is in control and they are just a meaningless speck. They want to feel, to regain some control over their situation. Knowing someone else is responsible is a good way to do that…”They did this to me” instead of “sh** happens”. And while that coping mechanism is prevalent, it is also one of the most destructive forces too. It stops the “healing” process from moving through the stages of acceptance to the new reality. That doesn’t mean you don’t do “something”, you totally should if you have grounds, but the mindset of those seeking “justice” for what’s been done with them frequently clouds their judgment, confusing “I was impacted” vs. “I was wronged”.
Because of my ancient legal background, I have gravitated to reading articles and cases about COVID issues since the pandemic started. I am always fascinated how large complex systems respond to new areas. Mostly my interest focuses on North America, as I understand the broader jurisprudence there better than Europe, for example. I also tend to read a lot about accommodations, what works, what doesn’t.
In my previous version of this post, I was reacting in part to someone who wanted to sue based on having gone back to the office, being generally against RTO as well and that it wasn’t needed to be done (all the various reasons), they got sick, claiming that it had to be from the office (100%, no shadow of a doubt), and they wanted to sue for the potential long term effects. Maybe they’re in that newly disabled category, another Reddit user suggested they were, and just fearful about economics, income, etc. I was harsh in my reaction because there are LOTS of people who have asked the same lawsuit question over the last three years. Maybe I was wrong to lump him in with the other group.
In my opinion, based on everything I’ve read and my involvement in disability issues, there’s no basis for a lawsuit. To be clear, my reaction to these issues is two-fold.
Upfront, I tend to react to the reasons people want to complain. They will wax and wane about why RTO is bad for them, and so their motivation is that they KNOW better than everyone else involved, everyone is stupid, there are no issues. They are often one of the other types mentioned above, but now add their biased interpretation of medicine and law to the mix.
On the secondary front, I can tell you that the evidentiary burden you would have to pass for a lawuit is enormous. After people said I was too harsh and didn’t take his concerns seriously, I ignored the RTO rhetoric and said, “Okay, well if you DO want to do a lawsuit”, here’s the list of things he’ll have to do to win a lawsuit based on what I have read over the last three years.
In its simplest form, you have to prove causality — ideally by showing the person who infected you was at work. Epidemiologists haven’t been able to do that for 3y, they can only prove known exposures. But just as lots of people have been exposed and not gotten sick, others have been exposed without knowing it while riding a bus, a friend who was asymptomatic, etc. Probably work, but causally work? Very challenging. You would also likely need to prove that the government’s request was unlawful. Again, very difficult to prove, and unions have found no case law that supports that position, and they have LOOKED hard. For safety protocols, it would likely need to show that either some basic element was missed that was required or there was an egregious error in how it was implemented. Government has generally had higher workplace standards than most equivalent offices, and it will be the medical professionals who will determine what was “required”. Plus if they “encouraged” you to do more, that is a big out for liability. They established the minimum, not the maximum. In almost all cases that have “won” or had any success, it was almost always that the workplace did NOTHING. Government has also been the last to go back, three years, another “evidentiary” element in their favour of a cautionary approach. Not impossible, but difficult.
Short of those elements, it will be difficult to sustain a lawsuit. In short, the law won’t look a lot different than it did pre-COVID. If you were at work before COVID and someone gave you the flu or a cold, you couldn’t sue your workplace. You couldn’t even sue the person who made you sick. The legal standard has not shifted from that general principle. About the only time it HAS shifted in 50 years is if you had something like HIV/AIDS and had unprotected sex with people without disclosing your status. And even then? Most courts tossed the lawsuits. A few succeeded on the basis that it wasn’t informed consent, but not universally. There are a few other duty cases, but they all required an overt act to demonstrate something the employer or person did to make them liable. There is virtually no basis in law to sue that “You were sick, now I’m sick, it’s your fault”.
But my reaction to this group is that it completely screws up the conversation with management. If you start from the position that “I have the right as a employee to stop you from doing this”, and you sue, then when you lose, and you will, management has almost carte blanche to do whatever they feel is appropriate. You embolden the other side when you lose. And if there are lawsuits? All management flexibility will be removed to deal with anything. Management will harden its stance in face of a lawsuit.
So I’m ticked because the result will hurt the WFH cause more than help it.
My glass is 60% full — I really want RTO to work
Soooo, let’s start with a built-in bias of mine. I like working from home. I know, you would think that my complaints about the above group might make you think otherwise, but I do. If I could WFH for the rest of my career, I would.
And while people want to complain that RTO is terrible, I want to celebrate the 60/40 win. We got to keep working from home 3d a week instead of having to go back 5d a week. And I want to see people make that work, because if we DON’T make it work, TBS has already indicated to their own staff, they’ll send us back 5d. They already did it. We didn’t make WFH work perfectly, so we got sent back 2d. To pick up what we had lost because so many of the people out there didn’t find ways to make WFH work as well as it could have. We were complacent, myself included.
And it’s why so much of the complaining bugs me. If we as the broad public service are seen to be complaining about fake stuff, stamping our feet on the basis of what we think our rights are vs. what is in management purview and vs. what the rest of Canadians deal with, if we go into the office and NOT make it work, we’re going to lose the 3d WFH that we have now. And the more fake noise that is generated, the more likely we’ll be seen as the Subway crowd. And I really don’t want management to stop listening.
For my team, I am showing as much flexibility as I can on which days. I’m being flexible for training that falls on “in-office” days and telling them to do it from home. I’m being “reasonable” where I can be. I’m booking office spaces so they don’t have to. I’m buying them pizza on the first full day in the office so they can relax, get to know each other informally in person, and not have to worry about lunch. I’m an introvert, no one would ever accuse me of making it “fun”, but well, I’ll do what I can based on their suggestions too. And from my perspective, I’m also doing a lot to shout it from the rooftops so management SEES IT WORKING.
So that nobody decides it isn’t working and gives me a solution I don’t want. I just fear that those who look like they’re whining will have more impact on the outcome than any good the rest of us can do.