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tl;dr
Under covid lockdown, boss continually pressures me to come to work to "hang out" even though I'm a software developer and company policy is that we work from home. I'm starting to get pretty uncomfortable with the pressure. What should I do?

Long version
I have a job that I generally really like. I started remotely (I'm in U.S. -- covid nightmare, etc). I'm a software developer, and it is natural and easy to work from home. I work as part of a software team that loans out developers to subdivisions of the organization to do stuff. We developers are all work from home, while others in the org are "essential" and work at the office.

It turns out the subdivision where I have been assigned, the boss is very thirsty socially. A bit after I started the boss initiated "in person" lunch meetings just about every week, where everyone gets together to ... do lunch. At first I was like "OK" I live sort of far away and this is two hours of getting nothing done and driving and just sitting there masked and eating and awkward and then driving back home.

I talked to other people in the software team, and no other subdivisions do this, and the other devs were like "lol Hell no -- that is completely unnecessary and we have very bad covid here". I have started to try to politely say no to half these lunches -- they are by no means required, my office is at home, my kids are at home doing school, I am ok meeting people on zoom, etc. But people have started to say things about it like I must not like them (jokes, but I do feel sensitive about it). I don't have the same covid clearance they do, so it is not really the same me coming in for lunch as it is them already being there and having lunch together.

The boss is the one setting the tone and it percolates down to the others in the group. Boss is clearly very lonely, anxious, and not handling covid lockdown very well (this is boss's own words -- they tend to overshare). Boss really wants to be around people, and almost every time we talk they tell me how nice it would be to see me in person. I find this very awkward and off-putting, frankly. There is a ambient pressure to come in when it is not what I am supposed to do as a software developer. This is literally company policy. I have reminded boss of this (always politely, basically "I know this is tough, but I'd like to hold off until the company has a policy in place about this"), and when I do they act cool like I have insulted them personally.

I really do love this job, love the work, and I don't want to be a bad team player. But I am starting to have anxiety about this way beyond the days it typically comes up, and have even started to look at other jobs because I feel the boss has baggage/issues I am sick of dealing with.

I wonder what I might do to deal with it better, in a professional way. I'm becoming less efficient at work, and that really sucks.

Note it is a big company, with HR, with a boss above my boss who is super professional, and lots and lots of people. So if I had to, I could talk to people. But I don't want to create ripples if I don't have to. Also I realize I could be being oversensitive here and wanted to just check in on that too.

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  • 3
    I'd be asking the boss what project you should be billing your travel time to
    – Peter M
    Apr 19 at 3:51
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    While there might be reasons for you to show up in the office during work hours (depending on the job and task), asking to be there during lunch is a big no-no. You'd be entitled to say "no" even outside of Covid. Lunch is your time, and typically isn't counted as work time.
    – Abigail
    Apr 19 at 10:54
  • @Abigail great point. In non-covid times I do think it reasonable as team-building to eat together periodically, especially if provided by company. But your point is well-taken and I hadn't even considered it.
    – cort
    Apr 19 at 14:14
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You should openly talk with the boss about that situation. Schedule a one-to-one meeting, and open up. Explain all your considerations and see where it goes. After all, people want to socialize with people who are up to, rather than torturing someone.

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  • maybe. boss is pretty clueless what counts as torture when they are getting their social fix things just tend to feel good for them. For instance once I was like "I am about to be late for a meeting can you please tell me where this room is in this building I have never been to?" and boss is like "Sure, but first let's sit and chat outside for a bit while I eat lunch". Boss sits and proceeds to pleasantly eat lunch while I stare at them in horror.
    – cort
    Apr 18 at 20:16
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    @cort - wow, that's truly extreme. you need to learn how to say no, what you describe is beyond any kind of subtlety ...
    – Pete W
    Apr 18 at 21:31
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    @PeteW saying no to the boss is hard for me for sure, and also subtlety is not their strong suit with social cues. This makes for a tough combination, good opportunity depending on how you look at it. :)
    – cort
    Apr 19 at 14:08
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The easy options here are:

  1. Quit and find a job that doesn't make you come in
  2. Refuse to go and see if he fires you over this
  3. Do what he says

They are easy in that they require no skill or extraordinary effort to execute. Just pick one and do it. If you don't like these, there are also harder options:

  1. Use your extraordinary charisma and persuade your boss to change his mind
  2. Use your exceptional legal acumen to sue your employer
  3. Use your excellent relationship with higher ups to go over boss's head
  4. Use your exceeding popularity with coworkers, or on social media, to put pressure on the company

Note that these all do require extraordinary skill and effort on your part.

Generally speaking, people have different management styles. If you like one style and hate another, that's fine, but managers often specialize in a particular style. If your boss's management style is a poor fit for you, he cannot effectively work with you. Which usually comes down to either you have to go, or the boss.

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  • it's policy at this company that devs are work at home nobody is getting fired.
    – cort
    Apr 19 at 3:03
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    This answer is purposely insulting (numbers 4-7), and sloppy clearly didn't read OP. Poster said multiple times they aren't required to come in, that it is pressure building up from the boss despite work rule is that developers are stay at home. Plus, last paragraph suggests support for OP from the skip manager, so the direct boss is acting inappropriately and OP could make a stink if they wanted to, they just don't want to. Also, did OP specify the boss was a man -- I'm not seeing it in there anywhere. Apr 19 at 17:38

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