Thanks, I really appreciate it! What you describe sounds spot-on, except for two things I see differently in my case:
1. Gossip: I don't really hear much gossip, even pre-COVID. Sort of, everyone knows who isn't very good and jokes about it in private. Though I suppose that's gossip. Most of us are engineers and at least a little introverted.
2. HR: In my case I think HR is interested because maximizing efficiency is in the company's interest. I realize maximizing efficiency isn't the same thing as individual happiness or satisfaction, but I think HR is still essentially "on my side." Not that they're not on the side of management, just they may accept my side of the coin.
I've actually done the "who are the group leaders" exercise because fundamentally my complaint is my direct supervisor is not a leader. He's probably the sixth or seventh person I'd think of leading the group after me, two others in our group, my supervisor's boss, and two former group members who took positions in another area (but that we still engage with all the time).
About the other two in my group: one is a maybe. He's the second most senior after me, and he's very capable, but he's fairly quiet in meetings. Not silent, but he never really leads a conversation. The other has only been at the company two years, and prior to being here he was in the military. He spent ~20 years being an officer, and I see the leadership in him. But he's also pretty new to everything we do. He picks it up fast, but he still has a lot to gain before he can lead a discussion.
Which feels like it leaves most of the group leadership to me, but my boss's boss is very clear about only wanting to engage with my boss, not me. My boss's boss and I used to have a good working relationship, but it's really eroded. He hired my boss into the leadership position, and the best I can come up with is he feels he needs to make it work to cover his mistake and feeling like he owes it to my boss. Which is sort of single person gossip, I guess.