forcing employees to talk about their feelings isn’t good for our mental health

In the last two years, a new theme has emerged in my inbox: employers who mandate that employees talk about their feelings — publicly and often.

No doubt this stems from an increased awareness of mental health issues, which is a good thing. Reducing the stigma around mental health struggles makes it more likely people will seek help and less likely they’ll encounter discrimination when they do. But the implementation of these efforts in some offices can be intrusive and even counter to employees’ mental health needs. (Remember this office? Or this one?)

I wrote about this weird trend at Slate today. You can read it here.

{ 181 comments… read them below }

  1. Amber Rose*

    I started a mental health program at work, but I’m so cautious of stepping on people’s toes. So far all the program is, is just me reminding people every so often (like once or twice a year) that we have an EAP, and that my door is open if anyone needs some help advocating for themselves. I made a little brochure of helpful apps and left them in the lunchroom.

    It’s a tough balance, since I definitely want there to be a program but I absolutely do not want anyone here to endure my husband’s “listen to this raisin, what does it say, how does it make you feel” experience.

      1. Close Bracket*

        What started out as a mindfulness exercise on really noticing the sensory input you get from a raisin (feel, smell, mouthfeel, taste) has gone off the deep end into woo woo territory.

        1. Amber Rose*

          I feel like it should be a less polarized food than raisins though. People either love them or hate them, not too many people are meh. Personally, I’d be way too disgusted by the vile taste to get anything useful out of the exercise.

          1. mcr-red*

            I was going to say, if I listen to the raisin, all I will hear is “I’m hear to make you miserable with my disgustingness.” LOL.

              1. Marthooh*

                “Well I guess you’re wonderin’ how I knew
                ‘Bout you plan to pretend to be a chocolate chip..”

            1. Anonyme*

              I hear “I sneak my way into cookies, pretending to be chocolate chips. I revel in the dismay I cause when it is discovered I am not, in fact, chocolate.”

              1. WasabiMom*

                Can I put this exact quote on my Facebook? I swear at least 2 of my friends go off on the evil intent of raisins weekly?

          2. Close Bracket*

            Well, they do have the advantage of being cheap, easy to transport, and coming several to a package.

            On a devil’s advocate note, mindfulness isn’t about enjoying your surroundings. It’s a about noticing them and yourself without judgement. From that standpoint, doing a mindfulness exercise with something you hate is good practice!

            Of course, that begs the question of whether workplaces should be offering mindfulness training at all. I feel like it’s similar to offering training classes for physical health. Sure, there is training that promotes health, there are downsides to any of it that need to be taken into account, and in the end, my feeling is that it’s an overstep on my employer’s part to monitor my health in the first place. Make it available and then back the eff off.

        2. Kelly L.*

          And mindfulness is something I find irksome in a work context anyway. There’s actually a whole religious framework that it’s supposed to go with, and it seems kind of proselytize-y if it includes the religious bits and trivialized if it doesn’t. I think it just shouldn’t be a thing for work. Maybe as an optional brown-bag lecture or something.

          1. A Friend*

            Yeah, I had this reaction when someone I work with started kicking off our staff meetings with a minute of silence. I’m a Quaker and silence is my jam (with other people who want to be sitting in silence with me), but it was clear that a bunch of people in the meeting were internally rolling their eyes, and I felt kind of like my coworkers were laughing at my religious practice, even though that wasn’t what was happening at all.

            A minute of silence in a secular context where people are generally expected to be on board with it is fine – to remember or recognize solemn events, for example. But starting a staff meeting with it in a government agency just didn’t work for me.

          2. Close Bracket*

            “There’s actually a whole religious framework that it’s supposed to go with”

            I’ve practiced mindfulness meditation at Buddhist centers where it was specifically a Buddhist practice, but I’ve never seen the religious framework applied outside that context. Are companies actually promoting Buddhist practices at work? I would not have expected that.

            1. Kelly L.*

              I don’t know. I had some training in it in a different context, and it involved some Buddhist materials, and also some secular materials that just seemed kind of…corporatized (McMindfulness is a term that gets used sometimes). I think the latter is way more common in workplaces, but I also think it misses a lot of the point–and I also don’t want to get religion at work, so I don’t really want either version.

            2. Zennish*

              There is a budding “secular mindfulness” industry where they attempt to package mindfulness as a consumer self-help product, and divorce it from Buddhism entirely. In my experience, it isn’t a particularly successful exercise. My thoughts are basically that one version is religious, and therefore should be left out of the workplace, while the other version is mostly ineffective, and therefore should be left out of the workplace.

              1. Close Bracket*

                I wouldn’t call it budding. Mindfulness based stress reduction has been around since the 70s and is entirely secular. It’s been shown to be extremely effective. It would be an overstep to make participation in that program a requirement for employees, though.

          1. UKDancer*

            Yes likewise. One of my colleagues tried to introduce it at our company because he’s obssessed with it. I tried one session and nearly hyperventilated trying to breathe the way he was telling us to. I hated it. I have refused to go to any more sessions. It does not work for me and just makes me more stressed. I just can’t switch off by sitting still and attempting to meditate.

            I think I’d struggle to do the raisin thing without bursting into laughter but even our mindfulness lover hasn’t gone that far, fortunately.

            Interestingly if I do something like ballet I seem to get all of the benefits of mindfulness (calmness, being in the moment and listening to my body) without the panic attack. I do a class and come away feeling so much more in tune with everything and relaxed.

            1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

              Similarly, I have had one-to-one mindfulness training and didn’t get on with it at all, but I find exercise classes completely engrossing, particularly Tai Chi which is essentially mindful movement. Different strokes for different folks.

              Any employer-mandated scheme is only going to benefit those employees for whom that particular style of mindfulness is helpful – and honestly, that’s the most generous I can be.

      2. Athena*

        The “raisin exercise” is a type of mindfulness meditation exercise. It walks you through focusing on each of your five sense as you eat a raisin. An example:

        I don’t remember the actual script saying “listen to what it tells you” though – I think it’s been adapted quite a bit if that’s what instructors are actually saying!

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Like the exercise Morales talks about in “A Chorus Line” !? Oh dear. That’s bad enough in high school acting class!
          “…I felt nothing
          Except the feeling
          That this bullshit was absurd!”

      3. Amber Rose*

        Yeah, apparently it was originally a decent exercise (not for work though!) and turned into some silly nonsense. But my poor husband actually sat through a meeting where they were required to listen to raisins and talk about what they heard.

    1. cmcinnyc*

      That’s what my kiddo said at school–yes they try to pull this crap in ELEMENTARY SCHOOL–when the “social/emotional” time rolled around and the teacher tried to get her to spill her guts. She was polite–her actual words were “I feel like that’s a personal question.” And just repeated that. As the pressure ratcheted up she said, “You can call my mom but I wouldn’t if I were you.” (They didn’t. Because going up against an adult with boundaries AND a child to protect is a lot harder than bullying ten-year-olds.)

      When you don’t empower this crap what are they going to do? Write you up for having an appropriate sense of self?

          1. Kate*

            Your kid is my favorite of all the kids! Seriously – smart girl. If you plan to give a lesson on parenting, I’m all ears :) {Zero Sarcasm here, fellow parent and I’d love your wisdom}

      1. kris*

        Your kid’s reaction is great & kudos to you for your parenting. It reminds me of the time when my niece was also around 10 y/o and a kid (a super close-talker) asked her something like what kind of stuff she likes and her response was “my personal space”.

  2. Athena*

    This article makes me wonder to what extent employers are actively researching what employees need/want with regard to mental health. I loved Alison’s advice in the last paragraph about what employers can do, but I’m wondering if those needs are moderated by the type of employment. In some spaces, talking about some concerns in the open (or at least with a mentor) could be helpful in fields where there’s a high degree of compassion fatigue (nursing, social work, etc.). … hmmm… *runs to draft a research proposal to the IRB*

    1. fposte*

      I think mostly employers either contain individuals with their own missions or they buy packaged stuff, same as they do with retirement accounts. I doubt that there’s a lot of research in either of those situations.

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I think it’s less about the sharing and more about the forcing of the sharing. Regardless of industry, it’s never appropriate to force people to share their feelings, especially in a group setting. If I have an issue, I should be able to go to my manager and talk about it, and/or they can point me to a program offered through work. But unless my behavior is an issue that is affecting my work or my colleagues, my emotional state is none of anyone’s business at my job, unless I choose to share it.

    3. OrigCassandra*

      There’s an angle where employers are trying to reduce insurance costs by gathering health data (mental health included) in ways that bypass HIPAA.

      Dr. Ifeoma Ajunwa is a research leader in this space.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        Ooh. Like… to get rid of the more expensive workers to insure. Ugh. Reason #1084 why we need to separate healthcare coverage from employment.

  3. Close Bracket*

    All my current mental health problems are caused by my workplace, and believe me, sharing how my work makes me feel is *not* welcome.

    1. Rebecca*

      I hear you. More and more work piled on fewer and fewer worker bees. Managers saying do X before Y if you don’t have time, and to ask for help, and when you do, WHY DIDN’T YOU DO Y? Why didn’t you tell me you needed help? Me: I did tell you I need help with Y, but I didn’t get help. Manager: I don’t understand why it’s taking you so long to do your work. I’m only here for the paycheck and good health insurance, and hope I don’t get fired in the meantime.

      1. RKMK*

        Ugh, my shoulders went up around my ears with the flashback to my old toxic super-gaslighting workplace. “Here’s three people’s workload we have faith in you, let me know if you need help but if you need help we’ll have to start documenting how you can’t do your job.”

    2. She's One Crazy Diamond*

      I have preexisting mental health issues, but my work definitely exacerbates them and I’ve had to double my dose of Zoloft as a result.

    3. mcr-red*

      Agree 1000%. And yeah, workplaces might not want to open up that can of worms.

      “I feel exhausted and burnt out because I’m doing more and more each year for less money. Anytime I try to point out when another department misses a project deadline and gives me less time to work on my end and thus makes it necessary for me to rush, I am told to shut up and stay in my lane, but at the same time I am checked and double-checked for stupid things by another co-worker and told that I will just have to deal with it, so I have zero pride in my work anymore. I am literally going through the motions.” THAT is what my employer would hear about what is upsetting me right now, and I highly doubt they would take kindly to it. Don’t ask if you don’t want to know, and I think generally they don’t want to know.

    4. Quill*

      My mental health issues are not, I repeat NOT, getting disclosed in any future workplace, given the shipshow that happened when I was forced to disclose in a previous workplace (because I had a panic attack in the supply cupboard.)

    5. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

      Yeah, if work is really interested in improving my mental heath they can:

      (a) give me a more plausible workload


      (b) give me an office with a door that shuts.

      Either of those would be a bold move toward supporting my mental health in the workplace.

      Team feelings-exploring time? Not so much.

  4. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    I don’t think Allison addressed it in her article, but I’m curious about motivation. I can see plenty of reasons why a company (or a particular manager) would do this (and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen all of these in other AAM threads).
    1. Genuine concern — we/I should do this because it’s the right thing to do (even if implemented in a ham-handed way).
    2. Keeping up with the Jones’ — we/I should do this because I read an article about it in a business journal or saw a presentation at a networking event
    3. $$ — we/I should do this because we’ll get a better rate from our insurer.
    4. Paternalism/narcisssim — we/I should do this because The Boss decides everything important, and it’s important to The Boss, therefore it will be done.

    So what’s the percentage breakdown on this? 10/25/25/40?

    1. Vermonter*

      I’m guessing #3 has a lot to do with it. This reminds me of the trend in workplace “wellness” programs.

      1. PB*

        Maybe, but I’m somewhat skeptical you’d get an insurance break for having your unlicensed boss provide involuntary group therapy.

      2. PollyQ*

        #3 may be less of an issue going forward, since there have been studies showing that workplace ‘wellness’ programs don’t actually have any impact on employees’s health.

        1. Quill*

          It’s possible that the fad for workplace wellness programs will die off anyway due to workplaces no longer wanting to spend money on it.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think it’s mostly 1 and 2. People genuinely think it’ll be helpful, but their implementation is awful. Or they read about it and do it without thinking about nuance (and their implementation is, again, awful).

      1. Filosofickle*

        I agree. I partner with an agency that does “culture” work and clients generally come in with a genuine desire to create a better place to work. Even if the problem is mercenary at its core — reduce turnover, attract better candidates, create a “high performing culture etc — no one wants to be a lousy place to work. They are genuinely asking: How do we help our people feel and do better at work? Unfortunately, hardly any implement well. They want quick fixes, not deep work. (I turn down most culture projects from this agency because I just hate how hollow it feels to do work that will likely get scrapped or mangled.)

      2. wittyrepartee*

        Or they do it on the cheap, trying to get people to share in meetings, when what would really be helpful is a meditation room, a mid-day yoga class, more time off and more workplace flexibility.

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I can see this being a response to visible signs of dysfunction in a workplace (mass exodus of employees, low employee-satisfaction-survey numbers, etc). Never sat in on an exec-level meeting, but I can imagine it would go like someone all the way up on top saying to the leadership team, “Do something by X date to stop people from leaving/bring up the satisfaction rates/whatever”, and there is really no way to address the root caus(es) of this happening, but someone has to report that something was done by date X, or explain why nothing was done and face the executive wrath.

      1. aebhel*

        Yeah, and this kind of thing is easier to implement than a lot of the solutions to things that are likely to *actually* be causing the problems.

      2. Manders*

        Yes! I do think there are some cases where the mental health sessions are an attempt to paper over a bigger structural problem.

        I also think there are some legitimate work-related mental health issues in some industries, but the whole structure of the industry has made the actual changes that would fix the problem impossible to implement. For instance: compassion fatigue in caregiving roles, sleep disorders in jobs with long or frequently changing shifts, burnout in industries that run on crunch periods. In those cases I think mental health check-ins might be a genuine attempt to help employees but they’re too little too late.

    4. emmelemm*

      There was that one letter about a “Big Boss” who decided he was a shaman or something? So the “I have a new fad and I’m running with it” is not unheard of.

      1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

        I both love and hate that they eventually solved that problem by getting an intern.

    5. ItsABirdItsAPlaneItsAnxietyMan*

      I think mostly #1 and #2, but I also think some places do it for unsaid reason #5: They’re hoping to tease out people having issues and make decisions about them based on what they reveal. At least, that’s sure what it feels like at my workplace.

  5. Mr M*

    I was recently contacted by a recruiter for a position I was highly interested in. He told me he would email me a standard questionnaire about work experiences, then said that this wasn’t on the questionnaire, but the employer wanted me to write a short essay on which life experiences made me the person I am today. Confused, I googled the question and discovered versions of it that are standard for college admissions! When I got the email with the questionnaire attached, I just put it in the trash…

    1. ellex42*

      UGH. So much UGH. Quite frankly, most of the experiences that have made me the person I am today are not generally experiences I want to share, particularly with my boss/coworkers. Even more so because the person I am is not the person I present to the workplace – quite deliberately so.

      1. Allonge*

        Honestly this is incredibly inappropriate even for me, who is lucky enough to have little to no personal trauma.

        “The political changes after WW1 in Central Europe made it possible for my grandparents to meet up before, or right after WW2, in which none of them got killed. My parents both made it to the same city due to randomness of socialist higher education and further political changes. I was not hit by a car when I was 11 even though it was close. I got lucky again that yet another major political shift enabled me to look outside of my hometown for my carreer. I randomly saw a job advert in a field I turned out to love. Etc. etc.”

        All of that had a lot of impact on who I am today. Umm – how is this work-related again?

    2. Pibble*

      I confess I’d be sorely tempted to send in a one-sentence essay:
      “My life experiences have taught my that my ability to answer English 101 writing prompts has no correlation to my ability to [perform job duties], and further that my time is too valuable to waste on unpaid writing assignments.”

  6. blackcatlady*

    I have worked with people that suffer from, to put it bluntly, diarrhea of the mouth. If our group meetings started by going around the table asking for how do you feel after 45 minutes they would just be getting started. I’m of the opinion that we are here to work, not join hands and have a 12 step meeting.

    1. juliebulie*

      It just seems like this would open the door to so much lawsuit potential. How “open” can employees really afford to be?

      Jane: “I’m in love with my intern and he’s accusing me of sexual harassment just because I follow him around.”

      Fergus: “I can’t focus on my work because I constantly picture all of you naked.”

      Mary: “Jane is such a dork, I want to make fun of the way she dresses and it stresses me out that I can’t.”

      Dick: “Someone said that I can’t carry my urine around in a container and dump it on their dishes any more, and now I’m really depressed about that.”

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      100% yes. Unless my behavior at work is negatively affecting someone or something, my emotional state is none of my employer’s business. And even if it is, I should be spoken to privately, not in a group.

  7. rageismycaffeine*

    Ugh. This reminds me of a department retreat less than a week after the sudden “resignation” of our despotic department head. (The office was almost universally delighted by her departure.)

    Our director of employee relations was invited to come to the retreat – she was the person to whom most of the people in our department had gone with our complains about the department head over the last year – and announced that we would be talking about the leadership change. Perfectly reasonable so far.

    In what I’ve been told was a surprise to everyone in the room, including our interim department head, she then announced that in order to move into the future, we have to process our feelings about the past, and thus, we would all be writing essays how we felt about the change. Not to be shared with anyone, thank goodness – not like the poems in this article.

    Yeah, I was not ready to “process my feelings” in a room full of my coworkers. Working under this department head was really bad for my mental health, and in writing about it I dredged up a lot of eighteen months’ worth of bad emotions. I ended up in tears during the exercise. And because we moved right on to the next thing on the agenda, I was sitting there – surrounded by all of my coworkers, including a new hire who had only been working for me for two weeks – still trying to get ahold of myself twenty minutes later.

    Yes, I know I could have just written whatever I wanted on my essay – since nobody was going to read it but me – and saved myself the heartache. Yes, I know I could have excused myself from the room. Hindsight is 20/20. Still, that the representative from HR thought it was appropriate to ask us all to do such a deeply personal thing as a group activity… yikes. And with no warning that this was coming!

    Maybe not talking about mental health, per se, but certainly an exercise that sounds a lot like something a therapist would have you do… wielded in a ham-handed way as a work activity. It was honestly pretty triggering. I went from feeling so relieved that the terrible department head was finally gone to feeling emotionally ambushed and just terrible again.

    1. Kelly L.*

      That sounds terrible.

      And I would also be afraid of this “private” writing suddenly! plot twist! being shared with the group after all. I may have issues going back to church altar calls where everybody was supposed to have their eyes closed, and then once you were nice and vulnerable and had your hand in the air, the preacher would tell people to open their eyes…

    2. pleaset*

      That’s terrible on HR’s part.

      If you it’s not easy for you to do, I urge you to practice saying “No” or “Not now, I want to think about that a bit more” when people ask you to do things you don’t feel prepared for. Even just to pause and think about things for a few minutes or an hour or so. We don’t have to play along.

      This can help avoid being ambushed.

  8. NotSettledOnANameHere*

    My office does all the things Allison recommends- free mental health care for all employees, confidential EAP, flexible scheduling for medical needs (therapy is a medical need), etc. It’s great, and 98% of our staff that need those services use them. It’s the 2% that have no sense of boundaries and think their coworkers are their friends/therapists/support network that are my constant headache.

    1. Mama Bear*

      I think that’s the way to handle it. Leave healthcare – mental and physical – to the professionals. I’d much rather easy access to a provider than a mandated retreat with my coworkers.

  9. High Stress Industry Employee*

    I used to work in BigLaw and now work at a big consulting firm. Esp in recent years, mental health has been a huge topic of discussion, however, there is still a huge stigma that if you are struggling, you aren’t cut out for the high stress industries. Yes, we have EAP’s and resources but most of the communications re: mental health are so generic and don’t seem genuine. It also doesn’t help that partnerships tend to have higher insurance costs which makes getting help after an EAP/with medication that much harder.

    What I’ve heard repeated from newer associates is that it would help to hear more senior people/partners be vocal about their own struggles so I wonder if this is where ideas like this come from. It does make me question the role senior leadership needs to play and I think it’s something more than the canned emails but definitely less than the examples in the article.

    At BigLaw firm, we offered a training program to employee volunteers and they were considered a mental health resource- basically a safe space for you to go in a crisis or if you were having trouble figuring out the next steps. It would have been great to see senior leadership more involved in that. We had a similar-ish program where LGBTQ allies put stickers on their doors indicating them as such (no training needed). I wonder how that would play out in this realm.

    1. pleaset*

      “What I’ve heard repeated from newer associates is that it would help to hear more senior people/partners be vocal about their own struggles so I wonder if this is where ideas like this come from. It does make me question the role senior leadership needs to play and I think it’s something more than the canned emails but definitely less than the examples in the article.”
      Great point.

      1. Ros*

        As a manager, I’ve tried to be fairly straightforward about having gone to therapy (fuck your stigma) and that it’s been really helpful, that it’s covered under our health plan, and that we’ll give time off if needed, just let me know what you need in terms of scheduling and we’ll make it work.

        I don’t feel the need to go into the details of ANYONE’s emotions at work, nor is it my job or skill set to help other people process their emotions (and really, really not my comfort zone), but there also shouldn’t be any shame or stigma, and I feel like straightfoward bluntness combined with minding my own damned business goes a long way.

      2. UKDancer*

        I think it’s good for senior leadership to be open if they can about their own issues and how they’ve dealt with challenges, but I don’t think it needs to involve trying to talk to everyone about their feelings in the way given in the example. One of the senior managers in our company has been quite open about his mental health challenges and what he’s done to overcome them. He has also championed making people aware of the support services available and dealing with the stigma.

        He did this by writing an article in the internal company newsletter and also telling people what support services were available. I think he got a very positive response to his article so I can definitely see why people can appreciate hearing what people in a leadership role have done.

  10. Lobsterp0t*

    This is timely. I’m doing a piece for my workplace about a relevant topic. My original draft contained something personal but which I’m comfortable sharing. However, I now wonder if I should edit that just in case someone feels pressured to share that as a prerequisite for engaging in conversations about disability in work.

    It’s a brief and not very detailed description of why it was initially hard to receive an ADHD diagnosis and how it affected me professionally.

    Most of the piece is focused on the success I’ve had accessing practical support and it’s framed as establishing a disability affinity network so we can strengthen our employer’s existing support and practices.

    What do people think? When I wrote it I felt like I was being honest, without going into major details. Now I wonder if it’s too confessional (it should be first person/direct address).


      1. Lobsterp0t*

        It will go on work’s intranet amidst other health related content ranging from benefits and pensions advice to more personal or employee driven content.

    1. seller of teapots*

      I think examples of something you’ve processed and (mostly) resolved is really great for making people feel safe and heard. It’s a good example of the kind of vulnerability Brene Brown speaks about. I think that’s really different than messy over-sharing where you are basically processing in front of them–that’s the stuff that makes people feel uncomfortable and trapped ime.

      1. Lobsterp0t*

        Okay that’s helpful. I make a clear reference to it being REALLY FUCKING HARD (but couches in work appropriate language, lol) but also to a ton of progress and positive support and a mostly successful outcome-in-progress.

        And I kept it focused on the workplace relevance, and the decision to disclose a disability at work. So not on my medical specifics, really, although I could definitely cut it back even further and be more subtle about it. I’ve asked for a lot of feedback on the specific piece from my boss (who is totally behind the idea of doing a post for the week) and from friends with their work hats on. The HR lead will also have sight of it beforehand but I trust the commenters here too!! And obviously it’s good to have a mix to draw upon

        1. juliebulie*

          What you describe sounds fine, especially since it is focused on the workplace stuff. I hope it helps someone who reads it!

  11. Aphrodite*

    I refuse to participate in anything even remotely related to that–like the “what did you do on your weekend?”–sharings the VP likes to have people do in our managers’+ meetings. I just say “no thanks” when she asks me if i want to share and she moves on.

    1. Trisha*

      “what did you do on your weekend?”

      I harnessed the power of Greyskull;
      I met up with my former Sith Lord for coffee;
      I attended a debate on if the Prime Directive is ethical;

      And my personal favourite – Week-end? Did I miss the week-end again?!?

      1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

        LOL –
        “Killed a vampire. Or now I think of it, maybe it was just a guy. I dunno.”
        “Attended a protest day of action against – well, our industry, actually. Jim, that wasn’t you I threw red paint on was it? Just checking.”
        “I’m teaching my ferret to code.”
        “My Nana’s foosball league made the semi-finals, so we all got dressed up and went to cheer her on. I went through four air-horns, and I still can’t hear out of this ear. Man, crazy times.”

        1. LQ*

          I’m a big believer in absurd lies when you don’t want to say the thing that is overstepping that someone is asking for. I’m absolutely adding “Teaching my ferret to code.” to the list of stuff I use. It demonstrates a sense of humor, as long as it is laughable and makes people move on without having to stamp a foot down and say you’re an overstepping jerk for asking. Especially if it’s just small talk questions.

      2. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

        I…think I went to that fan convention once. Good times, good times.

        (I never want to share about my weekends. Everything I do on weekends is either incredibly boring or requires a long explanation about my non-work-related hobbies in order to make any sense. Many times, both of those things are true. I need to get a dog so I can tell dog stories instead.)

      3. TardyTardis*

        “I waved two huge rubber snakes at people and screamed at them in a haunted house. At least two of them fell weeping to the floor in terror.”

        “And then the manager escorted me out and told me to stop.”

    2. Ros*

      “oh, there’s this great new kink club in the next town over, I think I saw your son there? No? Must be mistaken. ANYWAY, about that meeting… ”

      … how much patience do I have today? None. None at all.

      1. Close Bracket*

        It is a normal ice breaker, and I also don’t want to share my weekends with my boss. This falls in the category of “people put their boundaries in different places, and they have a right to.”

      2. Washi*

        Yeah, I don’t get it either. Refusing to share would come across incredibly weirdly everywhere I’ve worked, and “I relaxed a bit and ran some errands” or something similar would, if anything, be less revealing of your psyche.

        1. pleaset*

          ‘“I relaxed a bit and ran some errands” or something similar would, if anything, be less revealing of your psyche.’

          THIS. The first axiom of communications is you cannot not communicate. “Activity or inactivity, words or silence all have message value: they influence others and these others, in turn, cannot not respond to these communications and are thus themselves communicating” (Watzlawick et al).

          Aphrodite is sending a message she wants to be private. Which is fine. But it’s not actually the most private (that is, least informative) response – that would be giving a vague but “normal” response.

    3. Quill*

      “I cleaned the oven.”

      … people around here must wonder what I *DO* to ovens that requires them to be cleaned this often.

      1. Nothing*

        You could also clean your closets, the garage, and scrub your baseboards. And of course there’s always detail cleaning the toilets. That will make em wonder if you do your toilets every weekend!

    4. WellRed*

      “My weekend? Well, everyone, I had one glass of wine too many on Saturday evening, stepped awkwardly on the sidewalk in front of my house and went down like a felled tree. If you notice me limping today, that’s why.”

  12. Science Lady*

    I’m someone with a highly stigmatized mental illness (not the most highly stigmatized, but definitely higher on the list than regular depression or anxiety) I have no desire to share that with my colleagues. Especially in light of the fact that my both boss and several of my coworkers have made comments along the lines of “most people who say they have mental illnesses are just spoiled whiners who need to get their life together.” There is no way that being open about my health would improve my work life.

    1. cmcinnyc*

      What people forget is that you can’t de-stigmatize a mental illness by announcing you have it. That’s not how it works. If someone plunks it out there, “Hi I have X” and that’s the end of the conversation, what am I supposed to do with that? Do you need an accommodation? Do you need me to know that because… why do you need/want me to know that? What’s the relevance? Without context it’s just “Hi I have X and now you’re uneasy because you’ve heard bad things about X and people with X and I’m just going to say ‘fuck your stigma’ and walk away now!” I think that makes it worse! And I totally respect that a coworker may NOT want to spend their time educating me, etc. But without that, it’s just sitting out there in all its misunderstood glory.

      1. Quill*

        Not to mention there’s a variety of “I don’t know that’s a thing / I don’t think that’s a real thing” that doesn’t actually go away unless people are willing to be educated… and they usually aren’t.

        1. cmcinnyc*

          I am willing, but I’m also you know, AT WORK, WORKING, and so are my coworkers which makes the whole process difficult even with the best of intentions.

          1. J.B.*

            I saw an autistic writer commenting on that lately and it helped crystallize some frustrations and feeling dismissed by family members. “All kids do that”. No, they really don’t.

      2. Close Bracket*

        While you can’t change society, the thing that you personally can do is question whether the bad things you have heard about X are really true or just stereotypes, research X on the internet while wearing your critical thinking hat, and change your opinion of X and people with X to a neutral one while treating your disclosing co-worker as an individual without allowing your knowledge of X to define them. You can do this instead of telling a large, international audience that disclosing their illness is awkward for you (I know. It’s a 1000x more awkward for me.).

        Plunking out there that somebody has X is not much different from plunking out there that they have a kid, are getting married, have been to the Grand Canyon, have relatives in Cameroon, or any of a number of personal things that people disclose about themselves. Whatever you do with that information is the same thing you should do when someone discloses that they have X.

    2. Alexandra Lynch*

      I getcha. Signed, dating a man with what used to be called Multiple Personality Disorder.

      “So, how was your weekend?”
      “Well, we had plans to hang a set of shelves in the garage and go to the symphony Saturday night, but he had a massive abreaction about 10 am Saturday and spent the weekend alternating between crying in bed and sitting in his chair asking me if I still loved him and apologizing for being so messed up. So cooking the meals was about what I got done, and hopefully next weekend we can get those shelves up.”

      Yeah. No one needs to know that stuff.

  13. Ms. Ann Thropy*

    If employers actually care about employee mental health, they should pay decent wages, maintain healthy, safe workplaces, give medical benefits that include mental health care, and allow employees to decide how to care for themselves without forcing anyone into sharing their feelings in workplace exercises of dubious value.

    1. Toaster*

      Giving people shorter hours to let them have the time to make and maintain social relationships (positively correlated with good mental health outcomes), and look after their physical needs (making food, cleaning and other housework, exercising, getting enough sleep, downtime while awake) would also be helpful….

  14. Russian in Texas*

    I came up with couple poems, as in one of the letter, but I am afraid they are a bit too violent to post.

  15. GetOutOfMyFace*

    My company required that all employees participate in an all-day session that was theoretically about diversity, but was actually just another kind of personality categorization thingy. We all had to state something that was unique about us. When my turn came, I proclaimed, “What’s unique about me is that I value my privacy.”

  16. Quill*

    “It should make you tear up a little,”

    Can I just fill a page with the word ONIONS written in various fancy fonts? Because those do it every time.

  17. Aspie AF*

    The biggest problem I find is that, more often than not, people just don’t understand my perspective. I am fully capable of learning, holding down a full time job, acting professionally, etc., but I need the right conditions to be that person.

    I’m better in a quiet workplace environment, for instance. I mentioned when interviewing for my previous job that I have trouble blocking out a lot of sound (particularly other people talking), but that it was easily rectified with headphones. On my first day I asked if I could wear headphones and was told (always by people with a private workspace) “no, we collaborate and we talk to each other”. How would they talk to me if I had a hearing disability?

    In my experience, mental health has mattered to employers on the surface, but when it impacts one’s work or accommodations are required, I’ve received the absolute minimum and only after a substantial fight. I’ve taken inclusivity training but when I point out bias in others I’m reduced to being difficult. People are so attached to the status quo, even when it’s bad for them – no wonder neurodiverse people are as underemployed as we are.

  18. camanae*

    At least talking about things and getting them in the open may have some good intentions, which is better than what I’m dealing with. My boss wants to be in the middle of every internal conflict, so today pulled me in to tell me others in the office were feeling like they didn’t feel I was open and collaborative when they came to me with a question. I told her it’s probably misunderstanding and that I’d like to talk with this person so we can clear up the confusion. Instead, she wants me to create a new system for people to ask me questions… instead of just letting us talk about it together. What’s up with that?

    1. juliebulie*

      A new system?
      How about they submit their questions on slips of paper in a box. Every hour, you pick one out of the box and answer it.
      Bonus if you have music…

      No really, if your boss thinks this is such a great idea, SHE can come up with a new system because she seems to already have something in mind.

  19. Am not ok always*

    Once a week we are asked in our team comms channel tool how we are doing. If you are not mostly chipper and happy there are definite repurcussions of being ostracised. It was making my mental health worse so now I just say all is good, etc.

  20. HarvestKaleSlaw*

    I have a family member in academia is dealing with this. Her standing spot on the agenda for a regular meeting has been moved to AFTER the sharing session. I guess for the last four meetings, critical information on logistics and accreditation has been cut for lack of time because people took the whole meeting sharing stuff at length. Things like, “really been working hard on my relationship with my dad,” or “the doctors are not taking my sciatica seriously enough, so I’m trying yoga.”

    She is not a sharing person and is torn between fury and amusement.

  21. HoneyBadger*

    I work in higher education, and too many students at my institution think it’s acceptable to lay their emotional baggage at the feet of anyone and everyone with whom they come in contact, including their peers. Based on my observations, I would argue that, over time, this has had a damaging impact to the mental health of the student body (and faculty and staff) as a whole. Employers who force their employees to talk about their feelings are enabling this this type of inappropriate oversharing, and the effect could be the opposite of what they intend–an overall negative impact and decline in morale. Also, as a heads-up, employers should be prepared to see an increase in new hires right out of college actually thinking this is acceptable behavior in the workplace, so you may want to have a plan in place for managing this issue as it comes up.

  22. Sitting in an ivory tower*

    Any kind of touchy feels training. No I don’t want to share how I feel. Engagement workshop. No, I don’t want to share how I feel. Myers Briggs, strength training. No thank you. Ice breakers…say something people don’t know about you, recall a difficult personal challenge, what kind of music do you listen to, name something on your bucket list, if you were played by a movie star , who would it be? Where is your safe space? Chart paper, markers, and post it notes. Can I go back to work now?

    1. juliebulie*

      I always want to say, if there’s something that people don’t know about me, can you please respect that and leave it alone? Sometimes I answer, “I like Jell-O.”

    2. Sara without an H*

      My organization did a lot of this last year. I’ve found it useful to have a selection of sanitized pieces of information already prepped that I can give away without doing any damage to my professional reputation or my own boundaries. Once you’ve been to a couple of these shindigs, you know what kind of thing they expect.

      I actually like the Myers-Briggs. Once I’m identified as an INTJ, people usually back off and let me alone.

  23. HarvestKaleSlaw*

    LOL –
    “Killed a vampire. Or now I think of it, maybe it was just a guy. I dunno.”
    “Attended a protest day of action against – well, our industry, actually. Jim, that wasn’t you I threw red paint on was it? Just checking.”
    “I’m teaching my ferret to code.”
    “My Nana’s foosball league made the semi-finals, so we all got dressed up and went to cheer her on. I went through four air-horns, and I still can’t hear out of this ear. Man, crazy times.”

  24. CaVanaMana*

    Wait, why aren’t people just lying? Like, if my workplace made me fill out feeling stickers, I’d simply pick whatever the most socially appropriate feeling was and pretend I was that. I’d always be happy and if questioned, ask the questioner about why they think I can’t be so happy. Let them wonder what’s wrong with them?

    I’ve had depression, struggle with anxiety and worked in customer service so, maybe I’m weird and have absolutely no qualms about answering and acting relaxed and happy when internally I’m a complete mess. That isn’t the public’s business.

    It’s like when you ask someone “how are you?” You’re not really asking and my employer doesn’t really get to ask that.

    1. pleaset*


      But I don’t actually lie – I’m vague and fudge a little.

      “I’m fine.”

      “I’m worried about X,Y,Z work thing”

      “I’m anxious to get the meeting started”.

      “Feeling busy.”

      These are true vague answers to check-in questions about how I’m feeling.

      1. UKDancer*

        Absolutely. My default check in answers are either “fair to middling” or “busy but smiling.” They’re true but impersonal.
        In my experience as long as one is participating in the check in, nobody listens to what is actually said.

        1. Elfie*

          Yup, or share the most boring thing you can come up with. One workplace wanted to know five interesting facts about ourselves. My favourite of mine was “I prefer sparkling water to still”. You can buy my time, but you can’t buy me.

    2. nonymous*

      Yeah, I think it’s totally fine to have professional feelings about work (e.g. being worried about the org’s annual budget or proud of recent work accomplishment) and share that. Likewise when sharing personal tidbits, to include stuff that may overlap with work – for example if you leave precisely at 3P on Wednesdays to coach kiddos little league, or decorate your cubicle with pictures from recent dog agility events, those are good options.

      Even though the same language is being used in the workplace as when we genuinely support friends, it’s not the same question. When I’ve been going through crappy stuff in my personal life it is really nice to leave that at the door and focus on work – I’m making a deliberate choice to stay in the neutral-to-happy range and that break is good for my mental health. Why would I burst the bubble by blurring boundaries?

  25. AnotherKate*

    The Venn diagram of workplaces that demand you share your feelings and workplaces that will absolutely punish you for not performing positivity! (TM) is a circle.

    1. Sara without an H*

      True. Just try saying “I’m frustrated and angry about the way this place is run” and see how far you get.

    2. rageismycaffeine*

      “Performing positivity” is SUCH a good way to put it. My office really loves this too. I’m stealing this.

  26. ItsABirdItsAPlaneItsAnxietyMan*

    Sad to say, but most people that ask me how I’m doing don’t really care, and the same is true for my workplace. Conversations about how you’re doing aren’t coming from a place of sympathy and constructive solutions, it’s coming from a place where they just want to be gossipy and get you to admit something they can use against you. Honesty in this situation is really not the best policy. I know that’s insanely pessimistic, but that’s American work culture. Protect yourself first.

    1. Mr. Shark*

      Well, typically the “how are you doing?” question is basically just saying “hi” in the U.S., as I’m sure you know. Beyond very basic “ah, my weekend was great, went to a concert” or something like that, no…most people don’t want you to sit down on a couch and explore your feelings. I think that’s a good thing. But I don’t think the question is typically used to admit something that can be used against you.

      For 90% of the people I work with in the workplace, giving a non-answer to my weekend plans or what I’m interested in is sufficient. Standard entertainment (movies, concerts, etc.) mentions to form common ground are fine, but I don’t get into anything specific that would reveal how I’m feeling about life, or whether I’m happy or not. That would only be shared with friends, and very few co-workers who might be friends.

  27. nnn*

    What employers actually can do to support employees’ mental health is allowing as much work-life balance flexibility as possible, and minimizing the amount of emotional labour required of employees.

    On a day when you’re not quite okay, simply not having to perform being okay can make a huge difference!

  28. Orbit*

    I have two Junior high aged kids and they have both come home with stories of being asked to share like this at school, as well as a writing assignment where they were supposed to talk about their greatest fears. It’s part of the schools push to promote openness and community between the students and teachers.

    They were both appalled at the idea, so I told them to do what I do lie. Which shocked them both as we are usually big on the truth, but seriously I’m not sharing this kind of stuff , so I’m certainly not making them do it.

    1. juliebulie*

      I had an assignment similar to that when I was in third grade. I couldn’t think of anything that I was afraid of but also willing to reveal, so I made something up.

      As a result, my mother got a phone call from the teacher wanting to know how often I was whipped and then sent to bed without supper!

      So, yeah. Lie… carefully!

  29. Luna*

    I always advocate for blunt honesty. Including on how bad this idea is. Go ahead. Share the most asinine, personal thing in your life. Or talk about how this insistence on talking about your mental health is really irking you and making your mind focus on negative things, causing you mental health issues.
    Maybe bluntness will make people realize that, even if you want to remove the stigma around mental health, going the opposite extreme is just as bad. But that seems to be something society tends to not learn in various aspects, so I’m not holding my breath.

  30. PookieLou*

    I can’t imagine having to share mental health updates in work meetings! Case in point, my workplace reality at a former job:

    “So PookieLou, what update do you have for us about your mental health?”
    “So glad you asked, Fergus! Remember how I’ve been reacting rather dramatically to Coworker’s consistently rude behavior? Well, I went to therapy and found out that Coworker trigger the PTSD I didn’t know I have because their unkindness toward me gives me vivid flashbacks of my abusive ex-partner. And when I gave HR an explanatory note from my therapist, HR said there’s no reasonable accommodation possible, so I have to continue my close collaboration with Coworker every day!”

  31. Elfie*

    I have depression, and whilst my office is actually really good about supporting those of us with mental health issues, sometimes it feels a bit performative. And it does sometimes feel like if you’ve taken advantage of their mental health services, they do want you to share. Which I don’t want to do.

    I’m depressed not because of this workplace (it’s something I’ve dealt with all my life), but this workplace sure is exacerbating those issues – I’m currently doing the work of 3 people while others seem to produce nothing, feel like my job description needs to include “ability to mind-read mandatory”, and I’m doing my ex-Boss’es job for no extra money or title increase (which is what they did to her – for 3 years – and is the reason she left). It’s a shit show of epic proportions, and no-one seems to give a damn. And because we’re a government initiative, we could be cancelled at any minute because of the political climate here in the UK right now. Basically, if people aren’t looking for other jobs here, it’s because they’re either stupid or contractors. All of which is really great for my morale and depression!! Yay!

  32. Amethystmoon*

    I agree. Many people had less then shiny, happy, clappy childhoods and really don’t want to talk about that stuff to anyone other than a professional therapist, and shouldn’t be required to. Such workplaces only encourage white lies at best (example: feeling great, happy to be here, etc).

  33. NOT a Merrie Man*

    The person who had my job before me was only there for a couple of weeks. They left abruptly after a staff meeting and never returned… but didn’t wipe out their search history. Later, I found it, and they had been searching “employer makes me talk about my feelings” and similar things. I really like my job, and over time I’ve learned that the check-in that seems intrusive doesn’t have to be; the rest of the group is pretty understanding when I deflect or check in with something completely shallow. But those first few weeks, when everyone else was talking about DEEP feelings and experiences, were kind of a shock.

    I think it’s a shame that this practice ran off someone who probably would have been really good at this job. I mean, not totally a shame, because then I wouldn’t have the job. :-) But still.

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