My boss wants everyone back in the office. How do I raise my concerns?

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Each week, Dr Kirstin Ferguson tackles questions on the workplace, career and leadership in her advice column “Got a minute?” This week, returning to the office, lack of development opportunities, and an unsolicited weight loss comment from a CEO.

My boss is expecting everyone to come back to the office now and for things to go back to “normal”.

My boss is expecting everyone to come back to the office now and for things to go back to “normal”.Credit:Illustration: Dionne Gain

I have loved working from home during COVID-19 as it has worked really well for me and my family. I don’t want that to change but my boss is expecting everyone to come back to the office now and for things to go back to “normal”. I don’t know how to raise my concerns with my boss without him thinking I am being difficult. What advice do you have?

I hear you loud and clear! For us – and I certainly count myself in this group – the move to working from home has been an unexpected benefit from the pandemic. This is our new “normal” and the idea of permanently returning to an office, along with a daily commute, is as unwelcome as a cough in a crowded plane.

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It sounds like your boss is hoping a “one size fits all” approach is going to work. It’s not. Flexible work is no longer defined as being able to work from home while the dryer gets fixed. Flexible work is a choice about how you spend your time; all your time and it is different for everyone.

If you can, try to find out what your boss might be worried about with people working from home so you can address those issues directly. And if all else fails, find another employer. There are plenty now offering their employees the option to work from anywhere – all the time – and you will not have to justify your desire for flexibility ever again. Good luck!

I am finding that the people I trained with in my job are all being given development opportunities while I have been left to stagnate. My boss says that my experience is something they’re keen to tap into, but it never happens. How common is it for bosses to express their support while actively holding people back?

Unfortunately it is far too common! Many people, bosses included, avoid honest conversations. So why don’t you take the conversation to your boss? Make a time to speak with them and respectfully ask “What do you need to see from me before I am considered for XYZ opportunity?” Ask your boss to be specific; what skills, experience or courses are they looking for from you?

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If your boss is unable to articulate anything specific, I suspect they may be avoiding a difficult conversation. Ask them directly if they think you have performance issues so that you can work on it. If they cannot provide you with an answer, it sounds like you have a boss who avoids authentic conversations and it might be time to find a new job.

During a team meeting, my female CEO asked me to stand up and turn around. She then commented on how “great” I looked and asked the team to clap my “achievement” of losing weight. I am a petite size 8 female and hadn’t even been trying to lose weight. I was so taken aback that I wasn’t able to respond, but wondered later what might have been a helpful response if I had the opportunity to do that over again?

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