Dreaming of an office door

Q: I’m a communications professional interviewing for new jobs. My greatest hope for my next position is that it will not be remote and that I will be provided with a private office or at least a substantial cubicle. I’m nervous that bringing this up during the interview process will make me seem high-maintenance. But honestly, I would trade a desk and a door for a higher salary. I have been provided with my own office for most of my career. However, in my last position, I had only a chair at a long table I shared with about 10 other people. This is a common setup in Bay Area offices and is ostensibly meant to encourage collaboration. I found it to be impossible! I was constantly distracted. Is simply requesting my own work space too highfalutin these days? — Anonymous, San Francisco Bay area

A: Open offices are seemingly all the rage. Some people love them, but most people, myself included, hate them. Working out in the open, especially at those long tables, is way too much exposure. How do you make phone calls? How do you take a moment for yourself? How do you get anything done? Cubicles are something of an improvement, I suppose. At least you have two or three walls to shield you from your co-workers, but you are still too exposed. You have every right to want an office with a door that closes.

That desire, in and of itself, doesn’t make you too high-maintenance. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have any say in our workspace accommodations. Do not bring up that you want an office during the interview process. That will not be a good look. There is always a moment during a job interview where an employer asks if you have any questions. You can use that as an opportunity to ask what the physical office environment is like so you have the necessary information to decide if a position is a good fit. When you get a job, you can probably even make a request for an office, but only if other people at your level have similar accommodations.

Grieving within bounds

Q: My current workplace has a great office culture. Recently, a longtime and beloved co-worker took their life. It was unexpected, although many of us knew the co-worker struggled with depression. Since our co-worker’s passing, many of us have had difficulty coping. We have struggled with focus, sadness, confusion and anger. It has affected productivity and the office environment. I have also been struggling with our leadership’s response. The office sent out an email announcing that our co-worker passed away, with no additional information. A link to individual bereavement counseling was provided. The leadership decided to respect the family’s wishes to keep the cause of death private. While my co-workers are allowed to discuss losing our friend and the manner of death, our managers are not.

I find this information vacuum problematic for several reasons. Lack of acknowledgment that suicide occurred can endorse the stigma associated with suicide and mental health struggles. It leaves people to speculate about the circumstances of the death. And respecting this wish by the family limits how the company can help employees cope. For example, we have asked for group sessions or guidance on coping with the loss of someone to suicide. Our employer is not providing these resources, as the company is not able to discuss the cause of death.

My co-workers and I are still struggling, and we are looking for additional support from leadership. Am I wrong to expect more? What is acceptable to expect from an employer when the family does not want the cause of death shared? I am willing to concede that I am being unreasonable. — Anonymous

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A: I am so sorry for the loss you and your co-workers are experiencing. The unexpected death of someone you respect and love is painful. When they die by suicide, you are often left with many questions for which you will never find answers. I also understand your frustrations toward your employer. You want information they won’t provide, but the key thing here is that they are respecting the family’s wishes. You have every right to want more information, clarity and support, but you are not entitled to it. The family’s wishes supersede yours whether you agree with those wishes or not.

Your employers are, from what I can tell, doing what they can within the constraints imposed upon them. If the company is not allowed to acknowledge that your co-worker died by suicide, it cannot implement a grief management plan specifically for a suicide death. I hate this terrible position you’ve all been placed in. It’s not fair to anyone, but I know the family is grieving a painful loss. They have made a decision about how they will manage at least this aspect of that grief.

Your frustration is reasonable. Needing more is reasonable. But no company is going to circumvent the family’s wishes in this situation. Expecting your employer to do so is where unreasonable begins. What you want is someone to acknowledge your grief and give you a set of tools to manage it. I urge you and your colleagues to avail yourselves of the individual bereavement counseling. You might also compile a list of resources to share; the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a good place to start. And I would also suggest an informal, optional gathering, outside of work — a memorial of sorts where you can acknowledge the loss and share remembrances.

She/hers is about more than you/yours

Q: I am a woman, and I’m starting work at a firm that adds pronouns to their signatures. I’m a registered architect with 15 years’ experience. It’s taken a long time for me to be taken seriously in my very male-dominated profession. I feel uncomfortable adding my pronouns (she/her) to my signature. I’ve spent my entire career trying not to remind my mostly male bosses and the construction teams I work with of my gender. To be clear, my gender is very obvious in person, but I’d like to have some gender anonymity when it comes to emails.

I have long felt discriminated against and treated differently than my male colleagues in some cases, so the focus on my gender makes me uncomfortable. In addition, my name is very difficult to pronounce, so I often add the phonetic spelling of my first name in my email signature, right where the pronouns would now reside. I understand that adding pronouns even when you’ve never been misgendered helps normalize this practice. But I don’t want to remind all the men I work with of my gender status every time I send an email. Am I the only one who doesn’t like the focus on this? — Anonymous, Seattle

A: There are generally no character limits on email signatures. You can share pronunciation and pronouns. You are treating your gender as a problem when the real problem is how other people seem to regard your gender. Working in a male-dominated field can be incredibly difficult. I understand your inclination to exclude your pronouns, but you aren’t hiding your gender when you do so. Your colleagues and peers are well-aware that you are a woman. Excluding your pronouns won’t prevent further bias or discrimination. It’s not a solution. It’s a coping mechanism. That is well within your rights. I absolutely understand where you’re coming from. After 15 years in your industry, you have clearly had enough, but this is not only about you.

We share our pronouns to create an environment of inclusivity. We do so to communicate that we embrace all gender identities, that we don’t assume everyone we encounter is cisgendered, and to make it safer for people to share their gender. You have to decide what you want to prioritize more: your desire to minimize your gender so you maybe face less gender bias at work or your desire to contribute to a more inclusive workplace culture. In the long term, doing the latter will also make it easier for you to do your job without the burden of gender bias.