my boss is requiring us to let him be our “life coach”

A reader writes:

I currently work for a very small family business where there is basically one man in charge — the CEO. He has just decided to start requiring his staff to participate in a “life coaching” practice every week that he will be leading. He said he wanted us to share our personal goals for our life so that “he” can help us achieve them. He also said that if we wanted to throw in business ideas as well, that would be ok too. We are a service related company, he has no professional training or skill set to be a life coach, and the majority of his staff feels uncomfortable with this request.

Personally, I am a very private person. I do not feel comfortable sharing my personal life with him or even my coworkers. I feel very frustrated as I was hired to do a job which I do very well. I never was told that life coaching was a requirement for my position when I was hired 2 years ago. My feelings are shared as most of my coworkers also feel very vulnerable and exposed. His desires for my personal growth may be genuine but he is crossing a line for me.

When I approached him with my concerns about this, he said he apologizes that I feel uncomfortable but this is a requirement and I need to come up with something about my personal life as this shows team spirit and unity. I have always been a very private person and would like to maintain that. Can he require my participation in his “life coaching” exercise? Any help you can give will be greatly appreciated!

What on earth is wrong with your boss? Why the hell would he decide that it’s a good idea to even offer this, let alone to require that you participate as a condition of employment? It’s ridiculous, and it’s a huge overstepping of boundaries.

As for whether he has the legal right to fire people who don’t participate — yes, he does. Just as he could fire people who refuse to participate in a book club or a potluck lunch or Friday night karaoke. It would be ridiculous to do that, but there’s no law against it.

Of course, just because he’s telling you that it’s a requirement doesn’t mean that he’d actually fire you if you don’t participate. I’d be interested to know, in fact, what he’d really do when faced with a refusal to share personal information — although you probably don’t want to volunteer yourself as an experiment to find out.

I think you have three options for responding to this:

1. Attend these sessions but only volunteer work-related goals. If he presses you for personal ones, say, “My goals right now are work-related.”

2. Attend these sessions but only volunteer work-related goals. If he presses you for personal ones, say, “I’m not interested in sharing personal information in this context, and I don’t think it’s appropriate to be pressured to.” Consider adding, “Others I’ve talked with say they feel the same way.”

3. Talk to your coworkers about this and protest as a group. If you all say you find this inappropriate and aren’t interested in participating, it’s unlikely he’s going to fire all of you. (Possible, but unlikely.) You can frame it as, “We like working here and want to focus on our jobs. We’re uncomfortable being asked to share personal issues in the office, and we want you to stop asking us to do it. We like having you as our manager, but we do not want you as a life coach. Please respect that and let us focus on doing our jobs.”

If you’re willing to do #3, I think it’s the right option to take. If you’re not comfortable with it, though, then either #1 or #2 should minimize the impact on you.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 199 comments… read them below }

  1. Colette*

    I would be tempted to come up with outlandish goals. “I’ve always wanted to spend an entire day hopping on one foot.” “I’d like to learn to speak to dolphins.” “I want to learn how to spin straw into gold.”

    I don’t recommend actually taking that approach, though.

      1. MF*

        “I’ve always wanted to burp the alphabet.”
        “I really want to be a professional go-kart driver best known for dressing as a clown.”
        “I want to be the world’s best hopscotcher.”
        The possibilities are endless!

        1. AdAgencyChick*

          And when your boss has coached you to burp the alphabet, you can say, “Wow, that was so helpful! Can you teach me to burp the national anthem now?” AWESOME.

          1. Nena*

            No! If you learn how to burp the alphabet, you should learn how to fart it as well! ;)

    1. AdAgencyChick*

      This would be AMAZEBALLS, even though you probably shouldn’t actually do it. :P

      Or how about “One of my goals is to keep my personal life and my work life separate”? :D

    2. Katie*

      This was exactly what I clicked over to say! I would actually consider doing it. Why not? He’s insisting on involving you in something that is completely bizarre and out of your comfort zone, so you might as well have some fun with it.

    3. Dana*

      I was thinking something that would make the boss uncomfortable like: ‘LatelyI’ve been feeling a lack of control and pressure to share personal information I’m not comfortable disclosing at work. I’d like to funnel the rage and frustration I’m feeling in a positive way by controlling others as a dominatrix. I’ve already purchased a pair of high heeled leather boots and a riding crop, now I just need help developing my client base…that’s where you come in’ (insert pointed look at boss here)

      1. Ariancita*

        I was thinking something even more personal and probably uncomfortable: “Well it’s really hard for me to focus on life goals because of my chronic heavy and painful periods…” and then go into minute and gross detail.

        1. Maggie*

          Then grab your stomach, pick your purse up quickly, and say “gotta get to the bathroom!” As you run out of his office. That should end the forced sharing!

    4. Heather*

      I would totally want to do something outlandish. Take the stupidity and spin it back at him.

      I really want to hear an update on this!

    5. Piper*

      This is immediately where my mind went as well!

      “I’ve always wanted to master the art of working at a computer all day while hanging upside down on monkey bars!”

      “I want to learn to juggle rattlesnakes while balancing a wine glass on my forehead!”

      The more outlandish, the better.

      1. OneoftheMichelles*

        Juggle rattlesnakes while balancing a wine glass on my forehead!!! I’ve found my purpose in life! At last!

        1. Anonymous*

          Now that’s hilarious, I think juggling rattlesnakes is cool, lets start a class!!!

    6. Lisa*

      My goal is to live life as a bat – I’ve always wanted to sleep upside down and spread rabies.

        1. jubileejones*

          Totally off topic, but I love your username. Daria used to be one of my favourite shows.

    7. kasey*

      “To continue foster global understanding of the Satanic Church its myriad benefits and philosophies and to one day, Satan willing (!) rise to be an esteemed Church leader” I mean go big or go home, right? ;) Boss needs a hobby besides the employees, sorry about your situation OP.

    8. Anon*

      I’d do something similar, I’d see it as responding to his bs with my own brand of bs. Try something like my closet is never as organized as I’d like, I really need to work on my shoe organization / rotation. I always wear the same 3 pairs of shoes and want to learn how to branch out! That’s about as personal as I’d be willing to go.

  2. Andrew*

    This is the most absurd assignment I’ve ever heard. It’s mandating the very thing that employees in an organization shouldn’t be doing which is bringing in outside baggage into the work place. It’s invasive, not to mention unprofessional. Alison’s advice of being a united front is a good idea, despite your fears of how he’ll react. It’ll at least get your team’s feelings out on the table and let him take it from there.

    1. OneoftheMichelles*

      As I was reading the post, I was thinking, what if they all joined together and politely refused en masse? Satyagraha style, if you know that term.

      The clueless boss seems to want to make supportivenes an integral part of the job/culture, he’s just going about it really wrong.

    2. Vicki*

      I have a friend who, years ago, was told by the new director that everyone had to be at work at 7am, even the engineers (who had been running a 10am – 7pm schedule usually).

      They tried it for a week (getting in at 7, staring at the computer for two or three hours until they were awake enough to work.) Then the entire team walked nto the directors office with a signed resignation letter and said “Acceptable hours or we leave”.

      The 7am start requirement was dismissed.

  3. likesdesifem*

    Leave and find another job.

    A good manager should coach his or her employees, but only in work-related contexts. Your manager in this case is taking it way too far. Who is to say what he will do with your personal/private details? That’s not really his business.

    I would gather your co-workers and say that you don’t feel comfortable discussing personal goals with him. As AAM has said, he could fire all of you, but even still what he is doing is highly unprofessional and unethical.

  4. Foi*

    … I’d almost be tempted: “My goal is to learn to set appropriate boundaries with the people in my life.”

    And then see him try to “coach” his way through that.

    (While job-hunting, ’cause, ye gods wtf!)

    1. AB*

      “My goal is to learn to set appropriate boundaries with the people in my life.”

      That’s precisely what I was going to say–I’d even suggest other uncomfortable employees to use the exact same goal.

      What is so smart about this approach is that now the burden is on him: isn’t he trying to prove he can coach people and help them achieve their life goals?

      Well, then, here’s his chance to do so, while creating a legitimate reason to answer any personal questions with “isn’t this topic out of bounds, considering my personal life goal?”.

      1. M-C*

        Oh yes, yes! Not only is this perfect, but if all/most other employees use it as well it’ll get their feelings across in an impeccable way, while still superficially conforming to the request.

        I was just going to say “lie” otherwise. You certainly don’t want to discuss any actual issue. Or talk about updating your resume which you should be doing :-).

    2. Adam V*

      “I would tell the person who’s intruding how you feel, then walk away and give them time to reflect.”

      “Sounds good. On that note, this meeting is a massive overreach of your position as my boss, and you have no business asking me anything.” /leaves

  5. Andrew*

    Better yet, “My goal is to excel at my job as best as I can and not let my personal life negatively impact my goal.”

  6. NYC*

    I’d like to take a page from the Alison’s diaries and say….What the….. ?!?!?
    One word for this: AWKWAAARRDDD…. Wow. What is he thinking? You should wait until a bunch of us comment and then show him HOW ridiculous and what an invasion of privacy this is. I realize he probably thinks he is doing something good- but knowing all of our coworkers private ‘goals’ is just not necessary!

    1. PEBCAK*

      My first thought is that the boss wants to become a life coach, and feels that this is how he can get the experience to launch that type of business.

      1. Jazzy Red*

        Or he might be tired of hearing them bellyaching all day about their jobs. Or their spouses. Or their clients. Or their kids. Or the weather.

        What we don’t know is how these people behave at work. Are they driving the boss crazy? Is production low? Are they already bringing in their personal baggage and making the workplace hell-on-earth?

        He might just have a mis-guided notion that he can help them leave their personal lives at the door when they come to work.

        We don’t know.

  7. Steve*

    One other thing… I believe that any non-exempt workers would have to be paid for their life coaching time (especially if it takes place at the office).

  8. Chriama*

    I feel like he is trying to be a good boss by recognizing that people have priorities outside of work, and he’s got this image in his head of a fantastic workplace where people support each other in personal and professional achievement — one of those workplaces that “really feels like family”.

    Seriously though, I feel his heart is in the right place even if his clumsy maneuvering is alienating his staff.

    Alison, how do people go about creating supportive work environments? And what’s the appropriate limit for the workplace?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      My theory was that he wants to start an actual life-coaching practice, and he’s using this so that he can later tell people he has experience. But also, he could just be a boundary-less loon.

      Supportive work environments: It’s really about work stuff, not personal stuff. Clear goals, clear feedback, resources to do the job, deadlines and priorities that are realistic, transparency, zero tolerance for jerks and BS, an understanding that while work is important, people have lives outside the office that they will sometimes need to accommodate, a willingness to have tough conversations but the ability to do it in a kind way that preserves people’s dignity, etc.

      1. Chriama*

        I’m a glass half full kind of guy. He mentioned team spirit and unity, which is why I think he just read one too many self-help/ innovative management books and thinks that he can radically transform his workplace into some textbook case that others will look up to.

        I guess a workplace can’t be effective if it is also a life support group though.

        1. Blinx*

          Ding! Ding! Ding! We have a winner — it’s the old “team spirit and unity” gag — the team unites against a crazy idea that the boss has! BTW, is the boss’s name Michael Scott?

          P.S. Thanks for yet another crazy Friday letter — makes my weekend! Though I must admit that there’s no inappropriate hugging.

          1. Blinx*

            …meant to type “Though I must admit I’m disappointed that there’s no inappropriate hugging.”

            1. HR Guy*

              I’d like to take a moment and and talk to each of you individually about your religious beliefs.

          2. Windchime*

            I was going to ask if the boss was Michael Scott as well. Or possibly even David Brent; it’s just that awkward. The only thing that would make it worse would be Gareth and a guitar.

        2. likesdesifem*

          It depends. He can take them out to lunch if he wants, just to hang out and talk. There are other ways of team building than what he is doing.

        3. Mary*

          I agree that his hearts in the right place, even if it’s misguided and a little loony.

          Also, as a manager, I hate when an employee says “and everyone else feels this way too” and won’t actually act on it. If an employee has a problem, bring it to me or your supervisor directly not through hearsay.

      2. AB*

        This was my very first thought: he read something about how fulfilling it is to be a life coach, and decided to start his “practice” with a captive audience.

      3. Sydney Bristow*

        I’d also add that giving employees authority to do things or develop ideas and implement them if they will help the company can feel like a very supportive environment.

        I worked at the front desk of a hotel once and we had the authority to do pretty much anything necessary to help a guest who had a negative experience at our hotel. This could be anything from comping breakfast, upgrading their room, or comping their entire stay if necessary. We were trusted to chose the best method to give the guest what they needed to fix the situation and turn their experience around and keep them as a guest in the future. Being trusted to provide excellent customer service and the authority to actually take action in the moment feels very supportive to me as an employee.

        1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

          This. I worked at a fast food place with the same philosophy… you shouldn’t need a manager override to give someone a free large fry for a long drive-thru wait, or to make a new sandwich if theirs came out wrong. It was a tremendously awesome place to work… until a franchisee bought the location and proceeded to ignore the entire corporate culture and destroy everything that made it awesome. Shockingly, they quickly lost all their best people.

    2. likesdesifem*

      Sorry, but a manager has ZERO right to know about the personal life of an employee, unless it impacts on his or her work performance. If an employee has a medical condition, then it’s not his or her business to know provided it impacts on work duties. If another employee is going through a divorce, then again, not his or her business. Who is to say the OP’s manager doesn’t hold a sinister motive in “gathering personal information”?

      I’m a firm believer in work/life balance, and this is not just in terms of physically or mentally separating work and outside-work lives. There are a number of reasons why it’s not a good idea to share personal information at work. People may use it against you, no matter how innocuous it may seem. People may judge you, again no matter how innocuous it may seem. IMO, an employee in any work environment should only tell cursory details about themselves. this is the town/city they live in, their age, where they were born, their hobbies/interests, favourite sport and/or team, etc.

    3. AB*

      “Seriously though, I feel his heart is in the right place even if his clumsy maneuvering is alienating his staff.”

      I entirely disagree. It could be interpreted this way if he had *offered* his life coaching services with no strings attached. At the moment he said it was a requirement, sorry, but that’s not something a person with the heart in the right place would do.

      1. Chriama*

        I imagined his heart is in the right place because he wants to create a supportive workplace.

        You can find folks anywhere who want to help others against their will. Yes, they’re forcing their perspective on you and yes, it’s annoying and intrusive, but it’s usually due to a lack of maturity and inter-and-intra-personal perception.

        I’m not saying what he’s doing is right, but I’ll assume a positive intention before I’ll assume a negative one.

        1. College Career Counselor*

          I think the key for WHY he wants to do this is the “small family business” mentioned by the OP. He wants to treat the employees like family. And what do families [well, theoretically] do? They talk and share and work together for harmony as a family unit.

          I’m also inclined to believe what Alison and others have said–that he’s looking to gain experience as a life coach. Life Coach is a completely unregulated “profession.” All it requires evidently is that you call yourself a Life Coach and be willing to dole out advice for how people should run their lives.

          Arguably, a fair amount of what I do could qualify as “life coaching.” But I am VERY clear that I don’t tell people what they should do; they have to make their own decisions and be responsible for their actions. And I sure don’t tread on the psychological/emotional realm beyond my ability (and obligation) to refer to trained psychological counselors to handle eating disorders, cutting, binge drinking, etc. The closest I come to that is when students ask me for assistance in how to manage parental expectations (parents want me to be an architect but I want to write), their own desires (want to search for jobs in same city as boyfriend/girlfriend; family support is very important to me after graduation), or some pressing medical/emotional need they must address (pre-existing conditions requiring a certain level of medical insurance; fast-paced jobs cause stress-induced breakdown).

          1. Anonymous*

            I have some family members who would have no problem getting on the Jerry Springer show or something similar. This is not way in H*LLL I want to share anything with those people (but I still love them, just don’t need the DRAMA). Sharing that info with coworkers? No, f*ck no, I don’t think so.

    1. Construction HR*

      Malissa’s voice mail greeting:

      “Hey, it’s Malissa. I’m out of the office time traveling, I’ll call you back last week when I get in.” “BEEEB”

    2. Norah*

      If you want to learn Klingon, try learning Vulcan first. The grammar is much more logical. If you want to build your own Dalek, travel to Europe first, and just knock on the door of the first blue phone box you see. Who-ever answers the door can set you right up.

    3. Kelly O*

      You could totally bring in your collection of Raggedy Man drawings, along with pictures of the crack in your wall.

      I would suggest learning Dothraki. It’s newer, so there is more ground to cover, from a literature perspective. (Plus… Jason Momoa? Yeah, I will watch that a little longer, purely for academic reasons. )

  9. Di*

    Every now and then I come across these types of people who seem to function on an entirely different reality than myself. I don’t understand how they get to be this way. Like what has to happen in one’s life and upbringing to come to the conclusion of “yes, I think it’s totally appropriate for me to force my employees to confess personal information that has nothing to do with work”?

  10. Lizabeth*

    OMG! Run for the hills…or use a personal goal of “silence” (Just saw Eat, Pray, Love)

    Would love to hear a follow-up on this one for sure…

    1. KimmieSue*

      I’m reminded of Elaine’s boss on Seinfeld. Don’t remember that crack pots name. I’m probably aging myself here.
      But yea, Michael Scott, too!

  11. Jeff*

    You guys are hilarious…I give you that! But I can’t help but wonder if it’s legal. The guy is obviously uneducated and unprofessional with major boundary issues. But is his quest into his employees lives actually legal? Are employees protected from having to divulge personal details to their bosses? What is the line that shouldn’t be crossed?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes, it’s legal, unless he’s requiring them to talk about religion and possibly medical stuff, depending on the details. The law doesn’t cover every possible crazy thing an employer could think of — just the big stuff, like discrimination based on race, etc.

        1. CaffeineQueen*

          Actually, that could quickly become a religious issue if gender is involved. There are religious teachings, particularly in stricter strains of Abrahamic faiths, that warn against sharing personal issues with someone of the opposite sex who is not one’s spouse or family member. I’m a Catholic and some friends in my circle, plus some of my Muslim friends, would easily see that becoming an issue if their opposite sex boss was forcing them to divulge personal information.

          Of course, it would have to be gender based and the person would have to adhere to such a faith, but yes, it can become a problem.

    2. TheSnarkyB*

      Speaking to your point about whether it’s legal
      Labor law aside, “life coach” is an unregulated term. So while he couldn’t promote himself as a psychologist, the terms “counselor”, “therapist”, “life coach” aren’t regulated, so anyone can practice under those terms with no training (always check!).

      1. Jamie*

        There is a Fred Stoller bit on YouTube about how life coaches have replaces what used to be called “friends” who gave you advice and told you when you were messing up for free.

        I love Fred Stoller.

  12. I wish I could say*

    Ugh. Ick. Hells no.
    Whenever I hear this kind of crap around here, my first thought is always: “Oh, great. What freaking book have they read NOW?”

    1. EnnVeeEl*

      Right. And I bet this little exercise lasts about five minutes.

      I wonder if the CEO often comes up with this type of stuff and then quickly loses interest?

      Life and career coaching takes a lot of time and effort, time and effort I am sure this CEO doesn’t want to invest.

  13. ThatGirl*

    I had a job like this once, the office manager (it was a small medical practice and the office manager was the doc’s wife). She felt that the staff should have weekly prayer meetings before the practice opened.

    My refusal to participate was the proverbial line in the sand for her because we ended up having epic battles in the office.

    I wouldn’t recommend that to anyone.

    I would just quietly move onto another position and chalk it up to a learning experience.

    1. Anonymouse*

      Wouldn’t this particular situation actually be illegal if they were forcing you into a religious activity? Assuming there were no faith requirements when you were hired.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yep, if it was required as a condition of employment/promotion. But a lot of times people decide they’ll get a better outcome for themselves by just leaving rather than the time/money/energy of a legal battle.

      2. ThatGirl*

        It was very illegal and I mentioned it to her, she eventually moved away from mandatory participation when I went to the Doc about it (BTW, he never attended the meetings).

        Unfortunately, after that every.single.thing became a battle of wills between us. I just decided to move on rather than keep expending the energy to fight with her.

    2. JessA*

      Ugh! At my first job ever, our boss would say a prayer to begin every meeting. It seriously rubbed me the wrong way. I am one of those that like to keep their personal life private and not bring it in to work.

    3. TychaBrahe*

      Oh, that could be fun.

      Ia! Ia Cthulhu fhtagn! Yog-Soggoth! Hast’r! Ph-nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn!

      Our Pasta, who “Arghh” in the colander, Swallowed be thy sauce. Thy serving come, Thy food be yum, On forks as they are on spoons. Give us our daily sauce, And forgive our mess, As we forgive those who mess against us. And lead us not into hell, But deliver us some pizza, For thine is the noodles, the sauce and the meatballs. R’Amen

      All-dewy Sky-sailing Pregnant Moon
      who shines for all
      who flows through all
      light of the world which is yourself
      maiden mother crone
      the weaver the green one

      O most gracious and magnificent Lady
      We ask that some portion of your presence
      be here among us now
      Give protection and shelter to the small
      and sacred ones
      who are here to be dedicated in Your honor.

      1. Vicki*

        Hail the Invisible Pink Unicorn
        Omnipotent if ineffable deity
        Before thee I prostrate my puny form
        Then dance around in undignified gaiety

        Bless Her Holy Hooves!

  14. Kay @ Travel Bug Diary blog*

    Yikes! I had a boss who really wanted to mentor me once… problem is, I was a data analyst, and he was one of those people who wasn’t sure where the x-axis is…. his management skills weren’t that great either. This is much worse.

    I know people have volunteered outlandish goals… if you’re forced to participate, why not choose an innocuous one? Like, “I want to become a runner.” Then update him on the progress of your Couch to 5k program.

    1. LSG*

      If I didn’t feel like I could put my foot down without repercussions I’d probably go that route — choose a not-too-personal personal goal like running or cooking from scratch or recycling more or something, then accepting the coaching and continuing my life exactly the same way.

  15. Financial Black Sheep*

    I would leave the goals on a professional level, but make them personal. Like say you want to be a professional speaker out side of work. This would both be personal and professional. If he keeps pressing just come up with something simple like running a 3K just to get him off your back. Seriously, people like this want to be right. If you get the whole office to gang up on him, he definitely isn’t going to like it; he is the CEO.

    Or run the other way, either way it’s your choice.

    1. twentymilehike*

      Black Sheep, I agree with you.

      There’s no harm in seeing how it goes, picking a rather impersonal “goal” and waiting on standby. Maybe the OP can even influence others to pick more professional, impersonal things to discuss and as a group, sway the whole thing more back toward being relevant to the workplace. Depending on how your boss is, this could blow over relatively quickly; once he realizes he’s not having fun he’ll be ready to move onto a new hobby. If he’s anything like my boss, he’ll have one meeting, realize he has better things to do with his time and leave you alone while he wanders off to the next stop on his own personal journey through grown-up oblivion.

      1. Angelina Retta*

        The harm is that he doesn’t accept refusals or understand he is crossing a boundary. AND wasting everyone’s time.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        If he moves on after one meeting, I would be tempted to continually nag him to help me with my personal life goals — on work time — just to annoy him.

        1. fposte*

          It could be an agenda item. Every meeting could have a line for “Discuss Alison’s life goals.” It could be the office’s equivalent to “Carthago delenda est.”

    2. PEBCAK*

      Your examples are good. Someone upthread mentioned learning Klingon, but really, something like “learn French” would be a harmless goal. I think there are a ton of non-offensive things you could pick: writing a memoir, researching family history, etc.

      The question is whether this would actually satisfy the boss, or if he wants grand plans for major life changes.

      1. OneoftheMichelles*

        Could you get the boss to pay for your foreign language classes? That would be an unexpectedly good outcome.

  16. Sascha*

    Small family business…sounds like CEO wants everyone to be one big happy family. And families are always up in each other’s biz, amirite?

  17. Jane Doe*

    Ew. This is really inappropriate and creepy, and odds are he’s going to find himself with a lot of open positions in a few months.

    There is nothing that would keep me in an office where I was expected to participate in that nonsense.

  18. Lanya*

    This sort of reminds me of the time a boss at a former workplace would force people who didn’t get along to go out for lunch together to “make up”, and she eventually set up lunch meetings with all of her subordinates to try to “get to know” us better. Really it was an hour-long grilling session to see what juicy information she could get out of each of us about our fellow co-workers. Sometimes when people appear to care too much, there is really not a whole lot of caring going on! Poor OP. Good luck my friend.

  19. Frank*

    I am so picturing the Duck Dynasty crew with the HR representative. Just saw that episode and it was so inappropriate what they said but too funny. Maybe the boss saw that episode and was worried your company might end up the same way as the “reality” presented by the Duck Dynasty workers.

  20. SweetPotatoPie*

    A thought just occurred to me…if someone were to divulge medical information to him as a result of this “life coaching” he may be putting himself in a bad position as far as HIPAA and GINA are concerned. Bosses aren’t meant to know certain things!!

    1. JamieG*

      I’m pretty sure (95%) that HIPAA only applies to medical professionals. Your doctor can’t tell your boss about your medical history, but if you tell your boss, she can tell whoever she wants.

  21. Neil*

    I have to wonder…is this boss a member of Scientology? There have been many reports of this kind of thing where the boss requires employees to take Scientology courses as a part of training at work. This is almost as bad as requiring employees to attend Amway sales pitches at work.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      You know, this would not surprise me. Or he just did a program like Lifespring and wants to bring it into the office.

      OP, we’re going to need an update about how this plays out.

    2. TychaBrahe*

      Scientology shot themselves in the foot on that one in the US.

      Since Scientology is a recognized religion for tax purposes, requiring people to take Scientology courses in equivalent to requiring them to take catechism classes at a Catholic church.

  22. Anonymous*

    My first instinct was that he’s training as a life coach and needs practice clients, but he doesn’t want to disclose that to you.

    Life coaching can be amazing and transformational, but only if it’s something that you seek out. And it’s totally inappropriate on so many levels for your boss to want to coach you on personal issues. It is, of course, appropriate for him to mentor you on work-related things.

    1. AB*

      “And it’s totally inappropriate on so many levels for your boss to want to coach you on personal issues. ”

      He is doing even worse than “want to coach” the OP: he is *demanding* that her and all her colleagues accept his life coaching. Which raises all kinds of red flags here.

      1. Just a Reader*

        Kind of like the guy who was being stalked by the dietitian…except in this case, the OP has no recourse.

        1. AB*

          I remember the dietitian story too! So many dysfunctional organizations… Even though we feel for the unlucky employees, at least we can celebrate the fact that there will always be a new crazy story to discuss here at AAM :-).

          1. Jessa*

            Yeh sometimes bosses get very strange ideas. The only thing I’d be careful about is that the OP NOT be the only person who is pushing back on this. The boss might not dismiss the entire office, but one person? Oh yeh, that could happen.

  23. mbm*

    This is really awful. I like the idea about the goal being “setting boundaries.”

    Or just pick a universal personal goal that 90% of people have. “Find time to (exercise/read/whatever).” “Eat breakfast every day.” “Organize my garage.”

  24. Jane Doe*

    Maybe I’m just incredibly suspicious or paranoid of this type of thing, but I can’t help wonder how many of the (non-family) employees in this office are young women.

    There’s just so much potential ick here.

  25. felipe*

    Although I haven’t had a supervisor who has forced me into life coaching (yikes! run), I tend to have problems along similar lines with my supervisors.

    I believe in a separation between work life and private life. I’m a hard worker and get my tasks done quickly and efficiently, and I’m 100% polite and pitch in at work whenever needed. But I don’t talk about my life at home with my supervisors, although I sometimes do with my coworkers. But I’ve had a couple supervisors who clearly judge their employees on how much small talk they make with them. Whoever spends the most time talking about their kids and wives to these supervisors are the ones that get promoted/hired, when they clearly do not actually have the needed professional skills. At one point I told one of my colleagues that my sister recently had a baby. That colleague stopped by one day and asked how my niece was doing. My supervisor overheard and was *extremely upset* that I had not told *her* about this. She thinks that I’m rude and mean for not telling that kind of news to her *first* and it definitely impacts what she thinks of my professionally. That kind of behavior just drives me nuts.

  26. LG*

    Am I the only one that reads this as a group thing rather than private sessions? From everyone’s responses it sounds like every one else reads private sessions. But “team spirit and unity” and “you can throw in business ideas as well” and a weekly “life coaching practice he will be leading” all sound like he’s trying to start a weekly life coaching group meeting in which others can comment. More like a “master mind” group for those who’ve heard of them.

    1. Rana*

      Yeah, that’s how I read it, too. So in addition to your boss being all up in your business, you’re expected to air your personal issues in front of your colleagues (and listen to them doing the same). UGH.

  27. Sniper*

    I wonder if this is the first crazy thing the boss has wanted the staff to do. I doubt it, but I would be interested to hear more.

    This may also be a good situation for the OP to print out the question, Alison’s response and all of the comments, and anonymously leave it in his mailbox or wherever he would be able to get it. That should send the message right there.

    1. Liz T*

      One OP reported back about doing just that. It was a BLOW UP in the comments about whether this was horribly cowardly and cruel.

    1. PJ*

      …and when you get a better job and quit, you can say, “Thanks, boss, your coaching really helped!”

  28. Tinker*

    Not being in this situation, I’m tempted to apply “ask questions, get answers” to this problem, and… tell him my personal goals. Considering me, this would be almost guaranteed to teach the dude about the joy of boundaries.

    But if I were in this situation, I expect I’d acquire one real goal (new job) and one fake goal (something deadly boring).

  29. Anthony Demangone*

    I bet the boss has read stories about people who had a boss mentor them at some point in their career. “He really looked out for me, and she’s the reason I am who I am today.” And so he wants to be “that guy.” But he has it backward. You can’t make that kind of thing mandatory. But I do think he may have his heart in the right place.

  30. AF*

    Sadly, this reminds me of my boss, who is also my cousin, who has manic episodes and an interest in Buddhism (which I believe he is misinterpreting to make life all about him, and ignoring the compassion part of the teachings). He asks me questions about life just so he can argue with me about my beliefs and life goals. It’s no fun, so I totally feel for you OP, and hope you can manage through it!

    Also, I disagree that your boss has his heart in the right place – I think he’s a pompous ass who likes to think he’s having an impact on people. He’s not helping you – you are feeding his ego.

    How about “one of my goals is to make my boss understand how completely ridiculous these sessions are.” Just kidding, of course. But good luck.

    1. DawnSpringHR*

      Sounds like your cousin is a devotee of the Otto school of Buddhism: “It’s a Buddhist meditation technique, focuses your aggression. The monks used to do it before they went into battle.”

      1. OneoftheMichelles*

        Uuugh. My Mom asks my opinion so she can argue for her own.
        Weird and offensive. I was an adult before I understood how unusually domineering she is. It makes for a strained relationship, and I have to actually distance myself from her.

        Are you looking for a new job, without relatives?

        1. AF*

          Yes I am looking to get the hell out of there – thank you all for your help. Didn’t mean to take away attention from the OP, only that I sort of understand the situation and hope it works out for her. Also, my cousin tells me that he’s “enlightened” – that’s pretty much like talking about Fight Club – you don’t do it, and if you say it, it means you definitely aren’t.

          1. OneoftheMichelles*

            Best of luck.

            And don’t feel like you’re imposing (Alison isn’t blocking your post and its her blog ;’)

            Was it this thread–or the phone vs. email smackdown–where we tackled the issue of a parent’s role in helping their newly adult kids find a roommate. A few months back was a great, detailed discussion of tea flavor combos.

  31. Kathryn T.*

    “Oh, thank you! I need help with establishing better work-life balance; I go home from my job so drained and stressed that I never really feel like I get a break. How can I improve that situation?”

  32. Anonymous*

    “I’ve always wanted to become a life coach.”

    “I wonder how I can become a High Priest/Priestess for the Church of Satan?”

    “I’m interested in being a vegan chef. My goal is to find the best holistic/organic/vegan cooking institute to attend. Can you help me with that?”

    “I want to open a rescue for pet rats…”

    Etc. Crazy and creepy, just like he is!

    I would start looking for another job, personally. Who has the time to put up with this ridiculousness?

      1. fposte*

        Though you know, there might be a really good tactic in there–somebody this self-focused might well take the bait if asked about himself, and you can get out of the sessions having only had to listen to him ramble on about himself for a while. So “Tell us how you got interested in life-coaching, boss” could get you off the hook for quite a while.

  33. Omne*

    ” I could tell you but then you’d probaby feel obligated to call the police…. and then the FBI would most likely get involved…. and it would just be too much of a ruckus, so I’m good”

  34. TwentyKittens*

    When any employer says “we want our employees to feel like they’re family” I always wonder if they understand just how dysfunctional families can be.

    “I’m stealing money from my coworkers’ purses for heroin and gaslighting my direct reports into thinking *they* are the crazy ones! You wanted us to be family, right?!?”

    1. Lanya*

      When I hear an employer say they have a “family-like atmosphere”, I run, because I do not ever want to be that close with the people I work with.

      I work to live, not live to work!

    2. Esra*

      Ugh, our executive director says we’re “a family” all the time. Pretty sure we’re not because my mom wouldn’t fire me and thinks I should make a lot more money so…

  35. Pragmatist*

    But, really, do look for a new job. For one thing, this is so bizarre that I’d bet things are not going to get much better, even if the whole staff refuses to go along with it. Also, I can’t imagine that this is going to do the business much good. I’d start looking before the financial repercussions hit. (Firstly, the epic time waste is going to be an issue, especially if it’s a group thing. For another, no one is going to be working at their best, and I bet that he’s going to lose anyone who is any good.)

    I was also wondering about the gender makeup of the employee pool. If it’s all female or minority, then I wonder if there might be a discrimination case to be made.

  36. Pragmatist*

    I clicked send too soon.

    No matter if this is individual or group (my first impression) this is totally off the charts inappropriate.

    In the meantime, if you can’t get him to stop, I would go with pseudo-personal goals like “I want to become the biggest expert in teapot washing out there” or making up something and stringing it along. Maybe learning how to hang glide?

      1. LG*

        This is me, literally. I want to hang glide but do need to get over fear of heights and hanging in the air on practically nothing.

        1. OneoftheMichelles*

          I’m not sure if you’re being serious.
          You know, in his later years, Viktor Frankl kept his pilot license in a framed place of honor. After getting all famous and philosophical, that was the thing he was most proud of.
          Go for it!

  37. Vicki*

    Whenever I read one of these, where start thinking “Oh no no no no no” after the first few seconds, I find myself looking forward with great anticipation to AAM’s first sentence in the response.

    Once again, you did not fail me.

    Such a fun Friday this has been.

  38. PPK*

    I think I would evaluate how likely this “initiative” will go forward. Maybe ask your coworkers if things sort of like this have come up and whether they panned out.

    At my job, I have started to recognize non-starters. Work that is given to you and you know it’s going to get dropped or ignored or canceled — or other “great” workplace “initiatives” that fizzle. I call these “procrastinate pays” moments. Use with caution, of course.

    If it’s unlikely this guy will see this through past 1 session (or maybe not even 1 session), I would go with the advice to prep something simple that’s not very personal.

    If he’s more likely to drive this for awhile (or come up with crazier things after this), then I vote for option 3 and unite against it.

  39. nooeey*

    “It’s my life goal to avoid creepy bosses who want to pry into my private life in a group setting.”

    Of course, this is likely to get you in trouble. I got written up for “being a smartass” when, during the fourth hour of a meeting (Topic: How Can We Spend Less Time In Meetings), I suggested that we could start the process by ending the meeting and having the damn discussion via email.

  40. Malissa*

    I could tell you about my life goals, but then the words “premeditated and accessory” might get thrown around.

  41. CAndy*

    You could throw it right back at him by saying something along the lines of, “I guess what I could use some coaching help on is exactly what you’re trying to do here… I thought about what you said and I would really like to be able to merge certain aspects of work and personal life.”

    If you can steer the ‘coaching’ discussions slightly, you could make certain token gestures that would keep him quiet.

    I used to work with a boss who wanted everyone to merge work and personal ‘to-do’ lists. He was so passionate about this it was impossible to push back. So I played him a bit, and drip fed him new things I was discovering about this new way of doing things. He eventually gave it up, and probably went away thinking he had changed my life.

  42. Bonnie*

    Some people just don’t understand boundaries. We had an employee who, on her work self assessment, entered ride in a hot air balloon to the question what are goals for the next year. We had a hard time explaining why that was’t what we were looking for.

  43. Cassie*

    What if you don’t have any life goals? I mean, the CEO would think I’m just making that up, right? But I don’t… not really.

    Although, I think I’d like to be rich without trying or anything bad happening (e.g. someone dying and me inheriting the money) – could he help me with that?

  44. Lindsay*

    We have to do something like this at my new job. It is not life coaching exactly, but everyone has to fill out a form that lists a work goal for the month and a personal goal for the month. These forms are hung up on the wall, and we are supposed to hold each other accountable for these goal.

    This is one of those “family” workplaces (and it is family owned).

    I, too, am a private person, so I just went with bs goals for the personal goals – this month I put that I want to wake up and go to sleep at regular times so I have more energy throughout the day. It’s something that I know I should do, but I don’t. I also feel like it’s an impersonal enough goal that I don’t feel like I’m revealing a private part of myself by revealing it. Other coworkers make vague statements like “I want to let go” or put things like, “I want to get better at leaving my work at work and my home at home”. I’m sure all of us have much bigger and more serious life goals – I know I need to work on reining in my personal spending, fix my eating habits, and ultimately want to work towards opening my own business, but my boss and coworkers don’t need to know those things.

    I guess this would be difficult to do in a one-on-one or face-to-face “life coaching” session, but I guess my advice is to just come up with goals that are as vague and/or as innocuous as possible.

  45. TychaBrahe*

    Actually, I do have a problem that would really benefit from this sort of attention. You see, I’m a very nosy person by nature. I want to know everything about everyone: friends, family, coworkers, strangers on the street. I want to know the details of their family lives, histories, love lives, jobs. When I do find out, I hoard those nuggets of information like precious gems. I don’t gossip. Sometimes I feel like Smaug on a hoard of secrets.

    Now, I have been properly schooled in etiquette. And I know that none of these things are any of my business. So I never, never ask. I never pry. But I can’t stop wanting to know. It drives me nuts. And I feel a bit down on myself, because I do know it’s so wrong and inappropriate. I’d love to figure out how to stop caring about other people’s divorces and financial situations.

    So I’d love to present *that* at the first meeting and have everyone agree that sitting there listening to other people’s issues would be the worst thing for me. Perhaps I should spend that time at my desk.

  46. Penny*

    I completely feel you, you have a right to a *personal* life. I’d just make up fake personal goals. Or hey, tell him your goal is to travel the world, you just wish you had more time and money to do so…I mean, he can offer both of those if he really wants to help you achieve your personal goals. Sheesh, ridiculous!

  47. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Just FYI — The OP gave me permission to note that he/she isn’t going to comment here because they’re going to show this post to the manager and doesn’t want to have their voice recognized or appear to be provoking the critical comments.

  48. Nikki*

    Just a thought…you say it’s a family business. Are there any other members of the family working in the business and if so, what do they think? Can you approach them with your concerns? Can they see that a line has definitely been crossed here? If so, do they care? If not, then I would suggest starting to hunt around for another job. Easier said than done I know but I think that if this person is the type of boss who doesn’t respect boundaries, then there may be other boundaries he is willing to cross which will not be a suitable fit for you (OP) as an employee.

  49. Francois Paradis*

    Here’s my take on it, and I’m actually a life coach myself, so one could even say I’d be sold on the idea.
    Your boss is a dumb ass!!!
    Not only is he crossing a million manager/employees boundaries, he is also entering the realm of responsible coaching no no’s running full speed with his head cut off. Even if it was remotely appropriate for him to try to force employees into coaching, the first and foremost responsibility of a coach is to help someone only in the areas that the client requests help with and only in a manner that the client is comfortable with; asking permission first before entering any area of their life. To use a frivolous example, if someone comes for coaching regarding getting a new job and wears a clown costume every time he goes to apply for a job in the financial sector I can ask “can we talk about the clown costume?” Client says no…..My options are coach a clown to get a banker’s job or stop coaching him because I probably can’t. I’m a good coach but I can’t coach everything you know…. Now…I’d invite you to ask your boss to give me a shout and I am even willing to offer him a free coaching session in order to identify what his real goal is and how he can come up with an appropriate way to express his desire. Like many said, probably team work and a sense of community at work. In the meantime, if he absolutely wants to coach you on something, maybe you should all go and ask him to coach you on finding a new job. That may get the message across. (do not hesitate to copy and paste what I said to him as well as my info. The dumb ass comment was a bit strong but he is certainly misguided and losing you guys’ trust quickly.)

  50. Lee*

    I may be off base here, but I wouldn’t at all be surprised if these “coaching sessions” have some sort of religious overtone. Just a hunch…

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