The Velvet Hammer: 2.24.21

I’ve accepted a position with a company that requires managers to work every other week at their office. Although it has strict rules about social distancing, masks, etc., I have reservations about everyone following COVID etiquette while working onsite, especially with regard to masking up. Any advice or tips on how to respectfully deal with colleagues who don’t follow the proper protocols?

Staying safe means never having to say you are sorry. So, if you need to assert yourself because someone is getting into your social space and not wearing a mask, you can politely step away. But, as you are stepping away, put a smile on your face. Because when you smile, it automatically makes your eyes ‘smile,’ presenting a friendly, polite response to your colleague’s protocol breach. Hopefully, your smiling eyes will do the trick, and they will get your message. By the way, smiling has added benefits. It not only helps deflect an uncomfortable moment of an unintentional COVID breach, but it also can put everyone at ease and in a good mood.

Try to keep in mind that life is easier when we assume that most people have good intentions and aren’t purposely trying to harm (or infect) us. The difference in behavior comes from other people’s definitions of being safe. Whatever that difference is, your company has made it clear that there are specific safety requirements that must be adhered to in the office. If someone intentionally or consistently breaks your company’s COVID code of conduct, I would report it to your management team and hope they would take immediate measures to ensure everyone’s safety and security.

With regard to reminding colleagues to mask up, this is probably most easily solved by keeping your distance. For instance, if an office mate is approaching you in the hall who is unmasked or improperly masked, I would recommend picking up your pace and heading in another direction. However, if you are on the elevator and a colleague is not masked properly and wants to get on board, that’s where I would draw the line and assert myself. This could be accomplished with a simple gesture with your hand, sweeping up from your chin and covering your mouth to indicate they need to mask up. If they give you a dismissive shrug, I would put my hands out signaling them to stop and shake my head no. You are taking care of your health, and you have that right. I have done this several times and have been successful with those simple gestures.

It’s not our job to tell other people how to live, but it is your job to take care of yourself. Keep your distance, mask up and mind your own space. Do so respectively, and don’t forget to smile!

Joan Lee Berkman is a marketing and public relations consultant. if you have a question for Joan, send it to


Skip to toolbar