Talk Jobs: When your boss is depressing the whole team

Jeanine "J.T." O'Donnell and Dale Dauten
Dale Dauten and Jeanine "J.T." O'Donnell

Dear J.T. & Dale: My boss is losing his mind. He is a germ freak to begin with, so COVID-19 has him completely over the top. Every time we get on a video conference call, he spends at least 10 minutes talking about deaths, lack of cures and the new symptoms related to the illness. Some of us have been talking about going to HR and discussing how negative and depressing he is being. Good idea? — Dawn

J.T.: First, I would reach out to your boss and try to politely mention how his commentary is impacting the psyche of you and your peers. I would gently say: "I respect you as a leader and am grateful for the opportunity to work with you. That's why this is hard to share. Lately, I've noticed you start all our team meetings with some rather bleak information. I'm finding it's having an impact on me and other team members. I'm wondering if you might be willing to stay away from discussing these topics? While I am keeping up with what's happening, I'd like to limit my exposure to negativity. Again, please know how hard this was to share and I hope you aren't upset with me. I respect you so much and thought you might want to know that your discussions are impacting me negatively." If he doesn't respond kindly, then I would reach out to HR. His inability to take in the constructive feedback is a sign that his anxiety level may be so elevated that he needs some intervention.

DALE: I'd suggest a different approach. Instead of trying to fix the boss, let's fix the problem. Go to your boss and tell him that the news about the pandemic is so depressing that you'd like to suggest adding something uplifting to the team calls. What would be uplifting? Maybe everyone shares how someone else on the team helped them, or maybe everyone has a Victory of the Week about something that went well. You can do this, Dawn; you can lead the effort to turn around those team calls by adding something positive, and I bet the boss follows your lead.

Dear J.T. & Dale: Since COVID-19 started, my company first made us start working from home, then they cut our hours. My work contract clearly states that if they change my work schedule in any way, they have to give me a new contract in writing within five days. They haven't done that. Meanwhile, I just landed a new job offer. They want me to start ASAP. But, my original work contract says I need to give a 30-day notice. This new job is full time and pays more than what I'm making now. Can I give my old employer just one week of notice and not get in trouble? — Kyle

DALE: Given that your current employer is cutting hours, I imagine that you won't encounter resistance to giving a one-week notice. Further, you can also offer to answer any email questions from your former colleagues after you leave.

J.T.: Yes, just say, "I realize that our original employment contracts state I need to give you 30-day notice, but given all the changes to our employment situation, I was thinking it might make sense if I give you a week's notice so that you can give my hours to someone else on our team who I'm sure really needs them." This way, you are positioning your departure as a chance for the employer to make it a win-win. If they say no, then I would mention the fact that they have technically broken the employment contract twice, and that it makes it null and void. If they say they will fight you with a lawyer (which I doubt), then there's a good chance right-to-work laws in your state would let you win. You might even want to reach out to a local employment lawyer to inquire. But honestly, I wouldn't miss out on the chance to get a new full-time job. If your employer is in trouble, you need to protect yourself.

Jeanine "J.T." Tanner O'Donnell is a career coach and the founder of the leading career site Dale Dauten is founder of The Innovators' Lab and author of a novel about H.R., "The Weary Optimist." Please visit them at, where you can send questions via email, or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803.