We humans are social beings, even — or perhaps especially — during a time of quarantined isolation like this. We need connection, and affirmation, and to know that other people are as terrified by the current state of things as we are. It's only natural to want to share our fears, as well as our hopes that things will get back on track soon, with those in our networks. But please. Before you open your next Zoom meeting by asking whether anyone has heard news item XYZ about the latest coronavirus developments yet, stop and reconsider.
Simply put, protecting our mental health is so important right now. And if you're forcing COVID-19 conversations onto colleagues, you may be preventing them from protecting theirs.
Even with coworkers who you may have previously enjoyed discussing current events with, don't simply assume this same standard applies to conversations about the coronavirus. We're in a different, harrowing time, and things are changing rapidly. It's quite possible that since you last spoke to your coworker, someone they're close to has fallen seriously ill, and bringing up COVID will only trigger and further stoke their fears. Even if they aren't one of the millions of people across the globe to know and love someone who's contracted the virus, we should all have a right to manage and modulate our news intake for ourselves right now.
I know that for me personally, I'm carving out time each day to engage with the news cycle and stay informed. But outside of that window, I'm doing my best to balance just how much of my brain space is filled with COVID headlines by also devoting space to my job, reading list, backlog of old Hollywood movies, virtual trivia nights and calls with friends in which we let the news take a backseat. Of course, steering clear of COVID conversations at undesirable intervals is easier said than done when its so ubiquitous. But steering clear becomes downright impossible if the topic is introduced during each and every work meeting, and harder still if one's Slack is consistently filling up with links about the latest bad news.
I'm not the only one feeling this strain.
Women in the FGB Community have shared that workplace dynamics are making it difficult for them to moderate their COVID news consumption, too. One woman anonymously shared that her boss "not only wants to discuss the CV19 news — but also discuss extremely strong opinions about the news with employees directly." She added that although she tries to be respectful and "deploy the 'smile and nod' method when possible," given that her opinions diverge significantly from those of her boss, things have gotten "very sticky."
Another FGB'er shared that her inability to stymie COVID conversations at work has become "a huge deal." In her case, she's the boss. And while it's certainly a responsibility of managers to ensure that employees feel supported during tough times like these, she feels her direct report is crossing the line. "They call me every day to talk about the news. I didn't realize how it was affecting me."
So, instead of centering your check-ins with coworkers on current events, simply ask how people are doing. And trust them to stay informed themselves.
We all have access to the same information online. Unless what you have to share is super directly applicable to the other party and you see it as an urgent need to ensure they're informed, know that they'll consume whatever news they have the capacity to consume, when they have the capacity to consume it.
Still feel a strong hankering to share info with your colleagues? Make it positive news. Spreading a little light can go a long way right now.