How to Say 'No' When Your Boss Asks You to Return to Office

Fewer cases don't mean COVID-19 is gone.
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Like millions working from home for nearly two years, copywriter Pat dreads the thought of bringing the virus home and infecting her lola if she is called back to the office as cases go down with wider vaccinations.

That's post-pandemic anxiety, according to psychiatrists, one that human resource managers are taking into consideration as management mulls over when and how on-site work can resume.

Before figuring out how to say "no" to your boss when they end WFH, it remains to be seen if workplaces are ready, HR officers said. One option is a hybrid of on-site and remote work.

Your boss can start with a 'hybrid' set-up

 A hybrid work setup permits workers to shuttle between working at the office and at home, depending on their team or department’s workload, schedule, and nature of work.

“Implementation can be a bit taxing because we in Human Resources and admin need to think about the health and welfare of those employees going in and out of the office,” said Isabelle Delos Santos, an Organizational Development Specialist from Summit Publishing Co. Inc.

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“Tasks may be divided depending on whether an employee is on-site or at home. Collaboration is done virtually via productivity platforms and apps to keep teams in touch with one another,” said Karina Bicomong, Summit Publishing Co. Inc.'s Section Head for Organizational Development.

Teams will have to schedule days spent working at home or the office. The logistics of it is pretty much like Tetris: to keep employees safe across the floor, those in charge of regulating the hybrid work setup will have to sync schedules, desk assignments, and even lunch breaks to follow safety protocols and capacity limits.

“Are office spaces ready for hybrid work set up? If not, companies may not ask their employees to return to the office completely,” Delos Santos said.


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Offices will have socially distanced seats, plastic barriers, and every single safety protocol in between. It doesn’t mean COVID-19 is gone. Starting Dec. 1, businesses and establishments have the authority to refuse entry to those who refuse to get vaccinated despite the availability of jabs in their area.

“Safety would always come first to mind when going to work. Regardless of how clean and prepared everyone is in the office, you can't really control safety outside the office space. We also have to think that some employees would choose to work from home because they currently reside in an area far from the office,” Delos Santos said.

Those living with seniors, children, and immunocompromised friends or family could also be worried about possibly exposing others to the virus they pick up outside.

Can’t we just work from home forever?

Lockdowns have proven that companies can survive on employees working from home full-time and may remain this way for an extended period, even after the pandemic. While it works for some, certain industries can never go remote and some Filipinos may spend more to work at home than at the office.

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The burden of paying for office operational expenses such as air conditioning, internet connections, and ample spaces to work fell on the shoulders of employees when buildings closed. It presented a great opportunity to achieve the aesthetic desk setup of your dreams, but even with additional allowance from companies, many struggle to pay to work.

“Workspaces still serve a purpose particularly to the Philippine population that cannot afford the same conveniences,” Bicomong said.

For those burned out and stuck at home, the office can offer “a change in environment and [provide] concrete boundaries to separate work from personal life,” Delos Santos said.


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Okay, what do I tell my boss?

Much like your teammates, the pandemic situation is also unchartered territory for executives and managers. It might be hard to believe, but they’re also employees aware of the safety risks that come with returning to the office.

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HR Executive Gina, not her real name, believes her employees can continue to work from home as long as they deliver tasks promptly and respond when needed.

“They are also undergoing the transition that you are experiencing, and managing remotely is new to them as well,” Bicomong said.

“Build up the trust in your working relationship so that your boss already knows how you work and your level of commitment to the job,” she added.

“If they know that even without you in the office the work would get done on time and that you are reachable during the needed hours, then it would be easier to share your desire to not yet report on-site,” she added.

Do keep in mind that all bosses are different, so approach the situation with caution.


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Can you get fired for saying no?

“It depends on the current policy or Code of Conduct of the Company if it warrants suspension, pero generally speaking, the act itself of [refusal] can be considered as Insubordination,” said Rad Santos, a Summit Publishing Co Inc. HR Manager of 17 years.

Read up on your company policies or consult with someone from your HR department to weigh your options. Alternatively, you may be assigned different jobs to accommodate your decision to stay at home.

“If the nature of your work requires being on-site, your roles or responsibilities may be altered to reflect your choice,” Bicomong said.

Editor's Note: Summit Media, a member of JG Summit Holdings, publishes reportr.

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