Sticky Solutions

Sticky solutions to your everyday business challenges

I started a job at a large nonprofit in April. I worked remote for the first few weeks then was told that my team needed to start working together for a few days each week.  We were told that masks, social distancing, and handwashing would be strictly enforced. Soon after we returned to work, the executive director and other senior directors started taking their masks off.  In staff meetings, people pull down their masks to talk. I live with my aging parents and don’t want to infect them, but I can’t afford to lose my job either.  How do I stay safe at work without looking like the mask police?


Answer: Essentially, your bosses are abdicating their responsibility to maintain a safe work environment, opting instead to do what is more comfortable for them. Fortunately, where common sense and self-awareness fall short, etiquette and social conventions can step in. In addition to being a key component in preventing the spread of the coronavirus, wearing masks has become shorthand for indicating respect for others. A whole system of “covidiquette” is evolving around face masks. The time-honored way of dealing with those who refuse to adhere to etiquette may be just what you need.

You can remind others of their obligations by saying, “Hey, would you mind grabbing a mask before we meet?”  If you’re reluctant to call out their carelessness, then focus on being relentlessly, visibly vigilant about your own habits. For example:

  • Always have your face mask on, and have extras available to offer.
  • Keep a giant pump of hand sanitizer and a container of wipes out on your desk, where you might ordinarily place a community candy bowl.
  • Arrange your seat and guest seating to promote safe distancing.
  • Ask your boss if you can join meetings by video from your desk. Even if it’s not allowed, you’ll have an excuse to sit, masked, in an isolated part of the room.
  • Try silently reinforcing desired behaviors through these visual cues: Step back when someone approaches you to talk; when speaking with someone whose mask is down, casually touch or tug on the ear straps of your own mask, even if it doesn’t need adjusting; and smooth sanitizer on your hands before you pass a paper or pen to someone.

If you’re worried about seeming obsessive, you can laugh it off by saying, “If I give everyone COVID, I’ll never get promoted!” Or, tug on their empathy strings by saying, “I promised my parents I’d be super careful.” Then keep doing exactly what you’re doing to protect yourself and your family.

It’s exhausting and unfair to have to make an antiseptic spectacle of yourself to compensate for others’ thoughtlessness. But when you can’t rely on those in charge to make the effort to keep you safe, the next most effective defense is in your own sanitized hands.

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