Q: My pretty intelligent, chill, fun boss seems to be buying into conspiracy theory nonsense. He mentioned something about Jeffrey Epstein and a famous singer and texted me a Twitter link posted by a Republican candidate who promotes QAnon.
Luckily, we are all working from home, so I’m not trapped at my desk. It just has me thinking that even “smart” people can fall into this rabbit hole of misinformation. What should I do — just keep my distance and ignore any further texts or comments? — Lauren, California
A: A surprising number of people have fallen into QAnon and other assorted sinkholes where intelligence and common sense go to die. A surprising number of people have decided to believe in ludicrous conspiracy theories about Satan-worshiping pedophiles, sex-trafficking rings, powerful cabals, protesters being funded by liberal billionaires and on and on it goes.
I don’t know that there is much you can do in this situation. He is your boss, which means he has a measure of power over you, but I would push back as much as the situation can tolerate. Counter disinformation with factual information. I don’t know that the truth will reach him because he is already so far gone, but these people need to be reminded, constantly, that they are engaging in a world of malignant fantasy.
If these were merely silly conspiracy theories, that would be one thing. But any rational person can see that they are quite dangerous. Many are grounded in racism, anti-Semitism and misogyny. They take something with a kernel of truth — Jeffrey Epstein was indeed a pedophile who did traffic young girls — and then surround that truth with a great many lies that satisfy their darkest political and personal leanings. I am not suggesting that you can change your boss’s mind, but you can try to remind him that fantasy is not fact.
If all else fails you should keep your distance. There is no point in getting drawn into conversations about his willful ignorance. People who have given their minds over to QAnon don’t want the truth.
Q: I am a 36-year-old marketing professional who has worked for a few household-name companies. My peers and I have a lot of stories to tell about these big-name companies that would expose their toxic cultures of racism and misogyny and the systems that reward them. (Not to mention systems that reward mediocrity.)
We want to break these systems down to create equitable workplaces and worlds. We also think if we tell our stories, there could be a tidal wave version of a ripple effect: Another person with a circle of peers to tell their stories; and another; and another. We think now, this moment, is the time. Is it? — Beth, Chicago
A: Now is the time, Beth. Truly, with all that is at stake, if not now, when?
It takes a lot of courage to stand up and call out toxicity and bigotry. It takes a lot of courage to risk professional standing and employment prospects. There is no guarantee of the effect your stories will have. Speaking up might create a tidal wave, or it might go unnoticed — while creating big problems for you. Many people have tried to expose toxic work cultures before, and they haven’t always gotten results. I don’t say this to discourage you but rather to manage expectations. And still, now is the time.
One thing I know for sure is that the world is changing. While it is unclear if that change is for the better or worse, we are finally having difficult, uncomfortable conversations about race, gender, (in) equity and systemic biases that we need to eradicate once and for all. People are protesting police brutality all across the country. We are having serious discussions about what new kinds of law enforcement might look like. Companies are making statements about Black lives mattering; those statements may well be hollow, but they wouldn’t have been made five years ago.
There is no perfect moment to try to create change. There never will be. So, I ask again, if not now, when? Come up with a plan for what you will disclose, how and to whom. Be clear on why you’re making these disclosures and what you hope to accomplish in best- and worst-case scenarios. Make sure you have a strong support system in place to have your back no matter what happens. And know that if even one person feels seen, or acknowledged for having similar experiences, you will have done something important and so very necessary.
Actually pretty decent bosses
Q: I am a director at a small business that had to lay off some and then furlough almost all staff because of COVID-19. The staff are close, and we don’t usually have much turnover, so the past few months have been especially rough. We are looking at restarting our operations, and it is clear financially that we can’t have everyone come back full time at the same time. Job sharing might be something to consider, but we aren’t sure if that’s better or worse than bringing back half the staff at full time. If we decide it’s a real option, would it be good to get anonymous staff feedback, or would that create strife? — Anonymous
A: I commend you for being so thoughtful about how to support as many of your employees as possible. There are no easy choices here, but I cannot imagine that you would cause strife by asking people if they would prefer all working half-time or have half the staff work full time. Or, I suppose, I am not sure this is a question that needs to be asked. Though it is not ideal, job sharing — if you can preserve benefits for everyone — seems like a good way to go. Some income is better than none until we reach the end of this crisis.
Whatever decision you make, be sure to communicate clearly what the plan is, what it will look like, what the new compensation scheme will look like, how employees will be affected, how you plan to adjust benefits, and when, if ever, you imagine that your staff will all be able to return at full capacity.