Send questions about the office, money, careers and work-life balance to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your name and location, or a request to remain anonymous. Letters may be edited.
Dreaming of an Office Door
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
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 work space 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
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.
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.