11 Toxic Work Phrases No One Should Be Saying During COVID

11 Toxic Work Phrases No One Should Be Saying During COVID


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Since the onset of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., moving to remote work options has been — for the 30% of us fortunate enough to even have this option — an adjustment. 

This massive overhaul in the way we work has brought no shortage of peripheral changes with it, including changes to team dynamics and workplace communication. With such an inordinate amount of stress serving as our daily backdrop, as we all do our best to continue working during a pandemic, it’s especially important to practice sensitivity toward our colleagues. If you’re on the giving or receiving end of any of the following 11 statements, know that this kind of communication isn’t just counterproductive and insensitive right now. It’s veering into toxic territory. 

1. “I need this from you ASAP.” 

Asking for something “ASAP” during a pandemic is, in nine cases out of 10, inappropriate or at least worth reconsidering. Situations are changing daily and you never know what constraints people are up against, including with their mental and emotional bandwidths. Add some cushion to your request.

2. “Can you keep your child/roommate/pet out of the room during our call?”

Sure, a distraction-free background palette for your calls would be ideal. No, that isn’t always going to be possible for people to provide right now. Yes, it’s unreasonable to expect it will be. 

3. “I know it’s late, but can you just answer this question real quick?”

The fact you’re pretty much guaranteed to be sitting at home right now is no excuse for a colleague or boss to think they can get ahold of you during non-working hours. Period.

4. “Please show me everything you did today.”

A higher degree of communication around workflows and daily achievements is, in fact, pretty necessary during these times, and something that most effective managers are implementing. But there’s a balance to strike here. Being asked to use a new project management tool or to participate in daily standup meetings is one thing, but there shouldn’t be an expectation that you’ll provide receipts for every minute of your remote work day.

5. “I’d help, but that’s not my job.”

Everyone has the right to protect their time, but there’s no place for attitudes right now that are exclusively self-serving. If someone at work needs your help with something, do them the decency of taking that need seriously. Again, you never know what they could be dealing with on the home front.

6. “This isn’t your job, but it needs to get done, so.”

At the same time, the need to pitch in and help each other out is no license for employers to take advantage of workers. Particularly as companies grapple with leaner workforces, if you’re being asked to absorb a significant amount of extra work without pay just because “someone has to do it,” that isn’t a fair ask.

7. “In case you missed it…” 

Context counts here. If you’re trying to be helpful and fill someone in on info they may have honestly missed, by all means, proceed. If what’s really driving your statement is a passive-aggressive “per-my-last-email” intimation that someone isn’t totally on their game, be reminded: this is a pandemic. 

8. “Just circling back!” 

“Circling back” inherently signals that the other party really should’ve seen your message by now. Now is not the time for circling back. "Check in" if you must. 

9. “Why are you using PTO right now? It’s not like we can go anywhere!”

Just because the ability to physically go places has been removed doesn’t mean your right to take time off is any less legitimate. For many of us, there’s actually more of a need to take time off right now, for the sake of our mental health.

10. “Did you see the latest news about XYZ?”

A lot of people are selectively approaching the news right now to help manage their mental health. We all have access to the same information. Let others manage for themselves when, how and how much of the news they’re accessing.

11. “I heard you were sick. Was it coronavirus??” 

Maybe you yourself were previously sick with COVID. Maybe you’re close to someone who is and you’re hoping to share information or sympathy. But prying into another person’s health isn’t okay, even now. If someone you work with has recovered from COVID and they want to talk about it, let them introduce the subject. Otherwise, it isn’t your business.