my manager makes us do mental-health surveys every day

A reader writes:

Recently, my boss started attending personal therapy (she shared this information with me unprovoked) and shortly after starting her sessions she discovered Brene Brown. Her interest in Brene has moved from simply showing a video during a group meeting to having us all read through one of her books.

My concern comes from the fact that in addition to reading the book as a team, we now have a weird “group therapy” sort of session weekly where we’re expected to have done some homework (reading and completion of “exercises” in the workbook).

In addition to these meetings, every day each team member fills out and completes this short survey:
-Intensity of feeling
-High point
-Low point
-Daily goal

It ends up looking something like this (names changed, as it’s one of my coworker’s recent posts):

Feeling: Exhausted
Intensity of feeling: 10
Low point: INFANT’S NAME is crying at the bottom of the stairs while I’m in the office. He barely slept last night, his croup is awful and I feel like a crap mom.
High point: Meh
Goal: Make a dent in the Brene Brown book. I did make my Square Squad!

In addition to just feeling like this is generally weird, I have a personal problem with this as someone who has a mental health disorder. Reading this book has triggered sessions of me profusely crying out of nowhere, and having flashbacks of abuse. (I have a C-PTSD diagnosis due to an abuse history.) There is not a single person on our team who has any sort of psychology/social work type of degree either.

Am I being weird about this just because of my own personal experiences? Or is this type of task expectation at work normal, accepted, okay?

No, this is not normal! It’s not okay either.

That said, in the past two years I’ve received a small handful of letters about offices doing things like this (to the point that I wrote a Slate column about them at one point), so something is going on in our culture that’s making some managers think this is okay. But I want to be clear that just because your office isn’t absolutely alone in doing this, it’s still not common, normal, or acceptable, and most people would object to it.

This type of thing is clearly intended to be supportive in some way — “we care about you as a whole person, not just as a worker!” — but in reality it’s horribly boundary-violating. Lots of people don’t want to share their personal emotions in a workplace setting.  Sometimes that’s because what’s going on with them emotionally is way too big or serious to bring into their office.  Sometimes it’s because sharing in the way requested could open them up to discrimination (particularly when they have a non-mainstream identity). Sometimes it’s because it’s actively bad for their mental health (like your PTSD). And sometimes — much of the time — it’s just because they rightly feel it’s no one’s business.

And this just isn’t what most of us are at work for. Most of us want to do our jobs, get results toward our goals, have some pleasant interactions with our colleagues as we do that, and then go home. Lots of us want to save deep personal introspection for friends, partners, or therapists (if we want to do it all, which we might not and that’s okay too).

You noted that no one on your team has any kind of training in psychology. Even if they did, this still wouldn’t be okay because of all the reasons above. But certainly that makes it even more egregious. Your manager is mucking around in an area that can be big and serious and consequential, without any qualifications for doing it. (But again, even with loads of credentials, it would still be inappropriate to do at work, particularly as a non-optional group activity.)

If you want to push back against it, I’d tell your boss you’re finding these activities harmful to your mental health rather than helpful. If you’re comfortable sharing this, you could say it’s at odds with mental health work that you’re doing on your own/with a therapist. (If she pushes you about why, you can say, “That’s more personal than I’m comfortable going into at work.”) Ask that the meetings be made optional, and that people be able to opt out without any kind of penalty. Even better, if you sense anyone else on your team isn’t fully enthused, talk with them ahead of time and then have this conversation with your boss as a united front.

And managers: You are not a doctor or a therapist or a life coach. You are there to get work done. If you want to support people’s mental health, you can offer excellent health insurance, be flexible with people who need time off for various forms of mental health support (whether it’s therapy or just a day off to avoid burn-out), and be thoughtful about the levels of stress you ask people to take on. That’s it. Leave people’s emotions and personal lives to them to manage.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 399 comments… read them below }

  1. Snarkus Aurelius*

    As a manager, when my employees tell me (I never ask) about personal stuff, I always ask, “What do you need?” instead of trying to solve their problems. I’m not qualified to solve their problems.

    Also one of my direct reports? Her husband is dying. I can’t make that go away, and I can’t provide counseling nor should I. All I do is let her work whenever she wants and approve all her time off requests. That’s all I can do.

    1. EPLawyer*

      You are an awesome boss.

      Other bosses — not so much. They do this RATHER than do the things Alison suggested. because forcing someone to read a book by some guru the boss just discovered (who paid for everyone to buy the book, I am betting NOT the company) is cheaper than actually offering good benefits and paid time off. It’s performative while not actually addressing the real problem.

      1. First time comment*

        Yes, not all bosses do this as well as you are. When my grandmother was in the process of passing away my then boss asked me “but were you really that close” and questioned my sense of grief and loss.

        1. straws*

          Ugh. When my grandmother received her cancer diagnosis, my boss offer condolences and then promptly launched into a monologue about his thoughts on elder care and how it’s probably not worth the cost of treatment when they’re elderly anyway. I was younger and shocked into silence. Although she is now passed, she was in full remission for 2 years after both chemo and radiation treatments before she passed of a completely unrelated illness. I brought up her remission as much as I could around that boss…

        2. Amy Farrah Fowler*

          Ew! That’s awful! My manager is compassionate and asks how I am, but not in a… I’m trying to monitor your mental health way. My grandfather had a stroke a little over a year ago and since I work from home anyway, I would take my laptop and work from the rehab place, so I could be with him and get info from the drs and nurses as they came in for various things.

          When I told my manager what was going on and said “I’m going to work mornings from home, but afternoons from there and may need a bit of flex on my hours” she was like “take the time you need, just keep me posted in case we need coverage for X”, and then asked me a couple times in the following weeks how he was doing. I felt cared for, but not invaded. I think that’s the right tone to take with someone having challenges. Take an interest, but don’t make it your life’s work to rehash everything, and provide the flexibility you can to your employees when they need it.

          1. Duvie*

            When caring for my 94 year old father who in his last illness required months of radiation therapy in a location an hour away in a different country, my boss allowed me to set up my laptop in the clinic and work from there. Her feeling was that as long as I got the work done, it didn’t matter at all where I was doing it.

            1. Eeyore's Missing Tail*

              My dad passed away from cancer a month ago. When we were told he had 1-3 weeks to live, I really appreciate that my boss was fine with me to taking my laptop and working from my parents’ home. He passed away while we were on route to him. I really appreciate my boss letting me go spend what I thought were going to be his last few weeks with us. And I’ve been told to take off time as I need it.

          2. Less Nosy*

            This is the exact approach that my boss just took with me when my stepfather was incredibly ill last month. She let me flex hours, take PTO as needed, set up a remote office from his home so I could care for him. Every weekly meeting we had, she would take time to ask how he was, let me vent if I needed it (she had gone through something similar with her mom so she empathized), and clearly told me during every meeting that she did not expect the usual level of productivity from me during this time. Even after coming back home she has been understanding that it took a minute for me to get back to normal.

            There are certainly things that my boss does that are questionable, but this was NOT one of those things. In fact, that little bit of compassion went a long way in letting some of the frustration I’d had with her on other, littler things fall away.

          3. Liz*

            This was my bosses when my dad was diagnosed with cancer, 8 hours away, and I needed to go there a bunch of times, in a short period of time. Including the last time, when i THOUGHT I’d be able to work, but my mind wasn’t in it, and they just said do what you need to do, and just keep us posted. And when he passed away, they were wonderful, told me not to worry, and take as much time as I needed with my mom, to take care of things.

          4. GDub*

            When I went to be with my brother’s family when my brother died suddenly, my boss called our company’s office there, arranged for a cubicle set-up for me, and then called me and told me to stay as long as I needed to and that if I wanted to I could work from my brother’s house or the local office. He said that he thought things might get intense and that I might need somewhere else to go sometimes. I’ve never forgotten it.

        3. IWishIHadAFancyUserName*

          When my mother-in-law descended into a 5-year journey into dementia, my husband and I were her primary caregivers, as she lived next door to us. We lived in incident-of-the-day mode with her, resulting in many trips to the doctor and to the ER. Response from my supervisor at the time? “I don’t believe you that it’s all that bad.” She was snarky and snotty, and completely unsupportive. Never even got a “sorry you’re dealing with that”. I made sure it affected my work life as little as possible, but It. was. hell.

          Now she’s dealing with a relative who has dementia. And she’s no longer my supervisor. As much as I occasionally appreciate the karmic repurcussions, mostly my heart just breaks for her and her loved one.

          1. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

            I had a manager who was fine if you needed time off to care for a kid but got very weird when I needed time to take my MIL (elderly, early stages of dementia) to appointments. I found out later that manager had a messed-up relationship with her own mother and brought all that baggage to her direct reports when they had parental care issues.

          2. Mama Bear*

            I had a boss who didn’t understand why I would need to take time off to handle matters with our children when I had a spouse. Ironically, boss ended up having some serious struggles with their own kid and needed more understanding that they had been willing to give. Funny how that works.

            The OP’s boss also sounds like someone who likes to share the shiny new thing they found, even if the thing isn’t appropriate for that time/place/relationship. The boss should continue to work on *their* mental health and not force their homework on others. They are making their therapy about other people.

      2. Anony*

        [I’m who submitted this inquiry] – I think you’re right on it being performative, that’s the vibe I get. Also, after speaking with a few of my co-workers it’s come to my attention that a lot of the front-line employees are holding back/not being honest anyway in fear of being reprimanded, etc.

        1. Observer*

          If your initial push back is not successful, please go over your boss’ head if there is someone to go to.

          1. Nea*

            This is alarming enough that I’d be strongly tempted to bcc someone over my boss’ head immediately. Preferably on an email asking for specifics and procedure for declining.

        2. Evergreen*

          There’s no way this set up would lead to honesty. It sounds very much like people would feel the need to seem more upbeat than they might actually feel for fear of jeopardizing things. I know I’ve felt that way with my most recent boss who very much asks after personal state of mind in ways that are uncomfortable

          1. Anony*

            OP here – This is exactly what’s happening, so it’s being detrimental to some while having no real positive effect. If people felt truly empowered to speak honestly and the feelings/concerns could be addressed in an attempt to work toward a real change in the culture of the office, then sure – I could get behind it. But at least a handful of co-workers don’t feel like they can be truthful so things are glossed over.

            1. Happy Pineapple*

              I can only imagine. I’m not even close to truthful in my casual check ins with my managers, and I would be even more guarded if they made me do surveys like these. I don’t want to dwell on my emotions and mental health issues at work.

                1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

                  Exactly. But my reports would be “Engaged in my work!”, level 8 (because 9 and 10 would not look very believable). Every day. And it would be a complete and utter waste of my time.

                2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

                  If I had to do this, I’d probably just change the date each day and submit the same report.

                3. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

                  Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est (Ancille)
                  Feeling: Vivo
                  Intensity of feeling: X
                  Low point: 8:00 AM
                  High point: 6:00 PM
                  Goal: Mañana.

                4. Pennyworth*

                  My version would be
                  Feeling: Yes
                  Intensity of feeling: Yes
                  Low point: Yes
                  High point: Yes
                  Goal: Yes

                5. Mongrel*

                  Feeling – Uncomfortable
                  Intensity – 10
                  Low point – Having to share feelings

                  Then if there’s follow up just stick to “I’m not a sharer”

            2. The Grey Lady*

              That’s exactly how I would feel. I like Brene Brown and may talk about it with someone like my husband, for instance. But doing this kind of stuff at the office would make me feel incredibly uncomfortable, and I would definitely just be making it up.

              1. Mama Bear*

                Also, it’s public to the team, no? So why would anyone want to be honest?

                The other thing is if someone says “I feel like a crap mom/I’m struggling” what comes of that? Just the embarrassment of feeling like a public failure or does the coworker get some genuine help and understanding? Who benefits from this?

          2. Koalafied*

            Seriously. It’s hard for me to open up to even my close friends about certain things. Mundane annoyances and common problems, sure. Deep emotional crisis and secret hopes I’m afraid of jinxing? My barrier to sharing that kind of stuff with anyone but an intimate life partner is very high and difficult to scale.

        3. Richard Hershberger*

          Holding back? Hell, yes! There is absolutely zero chance I would give anything other than the most neutral answer.

            1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

              Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est
              Feeling: Paranoid
              Intensity of feeling: CLASSIFIED
              Low point: CLASSIFIED
              High point: CLASSIFIED
              Goal: CLASSIFIED

        4. Paulina*

          I wonder if your coworker that you’re (mostly) quoting has opted for another type of more extreme response: If you say you really want to know how I’m feeling and everything I’m dealing with, I’ll tell you. Still want to know? Think your workbook can help?

          1. Anony*

            They were the most known for being blunt and honest – sadly for us but happily for them, they’ve moved on to greener pastures in terms of employment. I’ve had other co-workers tell me they feel even less like they can be honest now because Jane Doe was always the trend-setter in calling out BS.

            1. Double A*

              I was going to say, when people ARE honest it’s like… Okay boss, what are you going to do about it? Jane Doe just told you exactly where she’s at. None of what she’s dealing with will be helped by this exercise, so unless boss is prepared to offer more PTO or take some other tasks of Jane’s plate so she can meet her goal of reading this book boss assigned her, then this exercise has just been proved to be totally pointless. Good for Jane, and I hope her baby is doing better.

        5. Zennish*

          If I were this boss’s boss, I’d definitely want to know this was going on, as it speaks volumes about a lack of boundaries, lack of judgment and poor understanding of the role of management.

      3. PVR*

        My grandfather died at the worst possible time for our company. His funeral was on the opposite coast but I was able to schedule my travel so that I would only miss one day. I was one of 2 people that did my job and I was young, I felt terrible for leaving the company in a lurch. But then on the way back home from the funeral, my flight was delayed multiple times and we did not get in until after midnight. The airport was 2 hours from my house. I went into work on 3 hours of sleep after a whirlwind of travel and emotions. And instead of being told thank you, I was told I told I had to work a minimum of 10 hours overtime. I was physically and emotionally overwrought. And I was actually entitled to 3 days of bereavement leave but I was too inexperienced to realize this. I regret to this day not honoring myself and my grief and love for my grandfather by taking every minute I was due, because in the end, the company couldn’t have cared cared less about my sacrifice from them and only wanted even more.

        1. Mama Bear*

          I’m sorry to hear you had to deal with that. I think a lesson most people need to learn at some point is that their company will never care for them more than they will care for themselves.

        2. TardyTardis*

          I am really surprised you did not follow the military recommendation, ‘there are very few relationships that cannot be resolved with the proper use of high explosives’. Or at least think about it.

      4. Gymmie*

        I just want understanding if I need to leave due to mental health stuff, but they will do this surface stuff but the manager is often not actually supportive in any meaningful way.

    2. Diahann Carroll*

      Yes! This is so helpful to someone experiencing a loss. My manager has always been really laid back about time off, but after my uncle died in May, he got HR to give me paid bereavement leave for a week and he just approved my leave for the last two weeks of the year today, no questions asked.

    3. SomebodyElse*

      Agreed… this is my approach too. And should be every managers MO.

      Seriously, why do people do things like the OP’s manager. Even if you are a health practitioner of some sort, it’s never appropriate with your employees. There shouldn’t have to be a rule in the non-existent manager handbook that says not to do this kind of thing.

      As for advice to the OP, I would just flat out refuse to participate. In fact, this is one of things that generally should just not be started in the first place. When the manager started these meetings, (I am not a person who uses the go to HR button) my first call would have been to HR. I mean honestly, at this point I’d find reasons not to go to the group meetings and would stop filling out the stupid little cards.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        If you’d get pushback for not participating, I’d vote for just answering with mild work-related things.

        -High point: Sending off the Llama report
        -Low point: Technical problems with the Llama data management system
        -Daily goal: Wrap up the edits for the grooming time analysis

        1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

          Yeah, I agree with this. At my job’s weekly check-in we have a place for “biggest challenge this week” but that’s meant to be like “oh, there’s a bottleneck with this” or “volume has picked up a lot, so we need additional coverage for X”. Sometimes someone will share something more personal, but usually it’s something silly like “prepping to go on vacation. Action step – Take lots of pictures!”

      2. Paulina*

        Yes, even if your boss is a therapist, they’re not your therapist, and you should be able to select one that works for you (or deal with things how you find best) without this blunt-instrument meddling in your psychological states.

        1. paxfelis*

          I wonder how “I do not consent to evaluation or treatment” would go over. Particularly if you had someone up the chain you could BCC to.

        2. Adultiest Adult*

          As a boss who is a therapist, we’re actually explicitly asked/told not to do this. If my direct reports need to talk, I will listen with understanding, but if they need more than that, my recommendation is EAP or their own personal therapist, for all of the reasons previously stated. Because boundaries, people!

    4. Sara without an H*

      +1000. “What do you need” or “what do you need from me” are the best responses any manager can make to an employee in a personal crisis. Anything else is just wrong.

      And I’m still flummoxed by the notion that any manager thinks they can read a book or watch a TEDTalk and suddenly be qualified to do things that, in real life, require a master’s degree at minimum, plus a state license.

      1. soon to be former fed really*

        I think those two questions are great for personal life use also.

    5. Sparkles McFadden*

      It was a relief that this was the first comment after reading about that workplace. It was like a “reset to normal” for my brain. Thanks…

    6. Mommy.MD*

      You’re a good manager. This forced psychotherapy at work by amateurs is way way off base. You are paid to do a job. Not fulfill the boss’s desire to be a therapist.

    7. Keymaster of Gozer*

      When I have a flare up of any of my mental issues (depression, schizophrenia etc) all I want from a manager is the understanding you show. They can’t cure me, and I know far better than them what I actually need.

      It’s usually time off too!

    8. Ezri Dax*

      Just want to offer some commisseration on being triggered by books like that at work. My boss doesn’t ask intrusive questions, thankfully, but she does think book club around authors like Brene Brown is a good way to end staff meetings. It has consistently been one of the most uncomfortable parts of my job. I’m a social worker, as are many of my coworkers, and I don’t really think this belongs at work or that it should at least be an opt-in activity.

  2. RobotWithHumanHair*

    Wow. I get the feeling that if I was at a workplace that required me to read this book and fill out these surveys, I would end up being Baker Acted rather quickly.

    1. juliebulie*

      I would have to write fiction. I’m not spilling my guts at work.
      Possibly I would steal from an episode of The Office, and use movie plots.
      Needless to say, this would take up a lot of time which would otherwise be spent doing my actual job… because I’d want to rewatch the movie to make sure I was remembering it correctly.

      1. LifeBeforeCorona*

        I would totally use movie plots for my answers. My personal life is is not fodder for someone else’s ego.

        1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

          Horror movie plots, I think. Because what this manager is doing absolutely qualifies as horror.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            Curr Mudgeon
            Feeling: Frightened
            Intensity of feeling: 10
            Low point: There is this creepy doll that appeared in my living room whose head turns like it’s watching me whenever I walk by
            High point: Getting my mail-order shipment of holy water
            Goal: Douse the creepy doll with holy water and use tongs to throw it into the barbecue fire

            1. Nea*

              I would either start writing stuff like this or make some absolutely neutral and useless version, print it out, post it above my desk with a huge neon pink post-it note reading “Photocopy master” and turn in a copy of the same thing Every. Single. Day.

              The book would mysteriously be accidentally left behind every day at work, unless there was an opportunity to ostensibly skim it at my desk.

              I know that when it came to the COVID-denier that we all agreed that corporate policy took precedence, but when it comes to a policy this invasive, they’re going to get the bare minimum of malicious compliance.

    2. Pommette!*

      I would avoid that by creating the most milquetoast, boring lie of a life. Innocuous feelings, with a steady intensity of 5 all day, every day.

      1. UKDancer*

        Yes, this is what I would do as well. Very boring and bland comments and the same one each time in the hope the readers would become bored and lose interest.

        1. Helena1*

          Yep, super-boring fiction is the way to go here.

          High point: bought some milk from the store
          Low point: We’re out of toner, and my colleague is being imprecise about whether we have any in the store cupboard
          Goal: Getting a haircut once lockdown is over!!!1!1!

          You are aiming for zero introspection or self-reflection. Your boss is enjoying this, so you need to make your answers as unsatisfying for her as possible. If she wonders if you are maybe a bit thick, because you don’t seem to quite get the point of the exercise, you are on the right track.

          1. willow for now*

            I see what you did there, with the imprecise colleague and toner! Thanks for the laugh.

    3. Keymaster of Gozer*

      My report: My god Cthulhu says all mental states are his to manage. As per my god’s orders I will report to him each day.

    4. Dizzy*

      I **love** Brene Brown, she’s my favorite researcher, and her writing was incredibly helpful to me. But I am AT WORK, why are you assigning me a book report???

  3. Not for academics*

    Stop reading the book.

    Stop responding to the quizzes.

    “Boss, this is negatively affecting my mental health and I will not continue to participate.”

    1. The New Wanderer*

      If you absolutely had to submit a survey or deal with your manager badgering you about it, I would cut and paste the exact same neutral stuff every time. Don’t invest any time or mental energy in it whatsoever. Mention to your coworkers that you are doing this. I hope the example given in the letter was the coworker’s attempt to shame the boss into realizing how invasive this is, but I suspect the manager will think “hey it’s working, employees are opening up!” and not “wow, I’m not equipped to deal with this level of stress and I have clearly overstepped.”

      I personally would raise this with my manager’s boss or HR because it is so boundary-crossing, but I know that’s not always an option.

      1. Helena1*

        Agreed – answers like the one in the OP are exactly the wrong approach, because the boss now feels like her underlings are confusing in her.

        You need to be boring, boring, boring, so she gives up and moves onto something else.

  4. ObamaGurl*

    I’m a manager, and can’t imagine thinking that I should be privy to such personal information. If my staff need to speak with me regarding a personal issue, or they need time off to deal with a crisis, we go from there, but actively fishing for issues is not helpful to anyone on the team.

    1. Ray Gillette*

      Seriously. I regularly ask my team how they’re doing, but in a general sense. I’m looking for answers like “everything is fine,” “busy but nothing I can’t handle” or “I’m overloaded, please help.” They’re welcome to volunteer more if they want to (“I’m dealing with a stressful family situation that’s taking up all of my non-working hours” is useful for me to know, and I don’t push for details), but I can’t imagine asking anything like what this letter writer describes being foisted on her. All of those questions are so ridiculously intrusive.

    2. Bekka*

      I am also a manager, and I agree. That said. I could see a version of this where the answers were expected to be about work challenges and achievements specifically, that could be effective – something difficult completed, an area that was challenging and could benefit from support, etc. From what OP has posted, though, that doesn’t seem to be the case here. I wonder if LW could write it that way anyway, if they can’t get the boss to excuse them entirely from this inane exercise?

  5. IStealPens*

    Can I also mention that this could potentially b a HIPPA violation? POTENTIALLY in that I don’t know enough of the specifics but making people discuss their mental health can be seen by some as a violation of privacy. And frankly just f-ing intrusive.

    And from personal experience, having to deal with your mental health issues at work in this manner just exasperates an already difficult struggle that is hard to forget about. I applaud your manager for sharing the wisdom and success she has found from therapy, but keep it out of work. Not all of us have had the same success with therapy, and having it thrust on you in this manner is just stressful . It also sounds as if she doesn’t understand that not everyone responds to therapy in the same manner, and those who haven’t (myself included) feel even more helpless and unable to make progress and just FEEL better.

    Just my two cents.

    1. Adrienne*

      HIPPA just regulates how Drs and other professionals use health info, it doesn’t protest people from over-reaching bosses. Unfortunately.

        1. Lady Heather*

          Didn’t the ADA say things about “You don’t have to talk about your health with your employer” though?

      1. dealing with dragons*

        HIPPA isn’t anything. HIPAA is.

        and correct it’s only medical professionals – if I overhear someone on the phone talking about their grody toe fungus then I am free to tell anyone else about it.

            1. Glitsy Gus*

              I work in medical research and at my last job, where HIPPA did actually apply, we had a sign up that said “DON’T ANGER THE HIPPA HIPPO!!!” with a picture of a hippo and the basic HIPPA guidelines. Anytime someone would do something that may be shady in that regard (it’s easy to go up to the line without realizing it when you’re doing clinical research) we would tell them, “the HIPPA hippo is watching you!”

    2. I'm just here for the cats!*

      It’s definitely getting into ADA territory. Especially if there is retaliation for not participating. I’m pretty sure depression and PTSD is covered under ADA. If OP says they can’t participate and then they get fired or something then there is a.violation and possibly a law suit.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Perfect–OP doesn’t even criticize boss’s activity, just asks for something legally mandated. And at the same time brings the activity to the attention of someone who one can hope will shut it down for the rest of the team.

    3. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      I agree with you that this just exacerbates a whole lot of stuff for people who’ve had bad (or even no) experiences with therapy. The other thing is that even if you’ve gotten a lot out of therapy personally, that’s because you’re sharing in a psychologically safe space that’s mostly cut off from the rest of your life. (And maybe therapy can be psychologically safe because it’s cut off from the rest of your life.) In any case, work isn’t insulated in that way, so it’s really messed up that anyone would expect work to work as a healthy therapeutic space.


      1. Marzipan Shepherdess*

        This manager is risking opening not a can of worms but a powder keg. She’s trying to put herself into a role that is WAY out of her wheelhouse and one for which she has no qualifications or justification. OP, yes, please do go over her head on this one if she won’t accept your declining to participate in this. She has absolutely no right to ask this of anyone! And HER supervisor may well be alarmed at her taking what SHOULD be work time to play therapist to her unwilling staff.

        It sounds as if she read a book and appointed herself the staff shrink, merrily plunging into waters that are far over her head. “A little learning is a dangerous thing…”

      2. ADHSquirrelWhat*

        That’s actually a HUGE part of what makes therapy work – that it is /separate from everything else/ and you are talking to someone that is /entirely separate from your life/.

        Your boss at work is the opposite of that. They are a source of stress – no matter how much you like your job and your boss, work has stress and the boss is part of that.

        And therapy is supposed to be a place where you can say /whatever you need to say/ – which again, is totally NOT WORK. Here’s a test – can you say “sometimes I just want to stab my manager with a fork” and not get fired? If no – NOT THERAPY. (also, if I could afford to get fired, that would probably be my status …..)

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Yes, exactly. I was part of a hypnotherapy group for a while and there was a wonderful vibe in the group, we all asked each other for updates on things they’d mentioned as needing to work on, we were all friendly to each other in the safe place our doctor had set up. But nobody asked for anyone’s phone number. If I pass one of those women in the street, we’ll smile and maybe say hello but that’s it, we don’t want to be friends outside that safe place which is separate from our lives.

    4. Tuesday*

      Totally agree with your comments on people talking about their therapy successes. People say, for example, “depression is very treatable.” Yes, it is, but so is cancer. Treatment is often not very successful. It’s fantastic that it is for some people, but I wish people wouldn’t assume everyone is the same.

      1. KoiFeeder*

        Also, there’s definitely some kinds of brainweird that make certain therapies less-effective or ineffective. I don’t do CBT, because my brain just doesn’t function in a way that CBT works with. If a manager mandated group CBT sessions and “graded” me on the results, I’d be quite put out.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          CBT tends to induce rage in me because it feels so invalidating and patronizing.

          I’ve also had moods where everything just feels awful and bleak in a way that can’t really be tied to a particular statement exactly, and trying to argue yourself out of that is pretty useless.

      2. Anon for this*

        This! My depression is absolutely treatable. In my case, “treatable” means “it is better than it was and I want to die roughly a quarter of the time rather than all the time, and I can do things like have a job and spend time with my family and still sometimes have enough of myself left to clean my home a bit,” not “I am cured.”

        Better is amazing, but it’s not the same as “fixed,” and “better” looks different for different people, and in some cases “better” doesn’t happen.

        1. Amy Sly*

          Changing my mental paradigm from “my depression is a disease like the flu” to “my depression is a disease like diabetes” was a huge help. My depression will never be “cured,” but it can be managed and controlled. Sure, my goal is to be able to do that with minimal medication, just as a diabetic should try to manage their diet to use minimal insulin, but that simply may not be possible.

  6. Observer*

    OP, when your boss gives you some mumbo jumbo about not stigmatizing mental health, please tell her that this is not about stigma but about managing your health according to the advice of your healthcare team, including the mental health professionals on said team.

    And please know that what your boss is doing is absolutely not ok, and IS doing hard to others – possibly even to people who don’t have diagnosed mental health issues.

    Reading your coworker’s entry made me cringe so hard. Your boss may mean well, but it really is cruel.

    1. I'm just here for the cats!*

      I think why this is becoming so more common is that bosses want to show their employees that they I understand and are caring for people with mental health issues and they want to end the stigma. But they go way over board and actually worse.

    2. Paulina*

      “End the stigma” isn’t done by pressuring people to talk about it! What managers like this are doing is going from “I want to help” to “since you work for me I can make you let me help and show that I’m helping.” It’s so performative and entirely inappropriate.

  7. For goodness sake, wash your hands!*

    I just ran an “in-charge” training (entry level manager basically) where I coached the folks taking the training to genuinely check in with their staff. I feel like I need to clarify that point after this nightmarish post.

      1. For goodness sake, wash your hands!*

        Yes, I definitely will. My point in that discussion was not to become invasive, but to go beyond managing a task list and manage the person.

    1. Guacamole Bob*

      There are some senses of “check in” that can work well and are totally appropriate. I have weekly checkins with my manager and with the person who reports to me, and we sometimes have a brief bit of personal talk as part of that, especially since we went fully remote. For example, my direct report bought a house recently and dealing with the excitement and upheaval and stress of that, so she’ll tell me something brief about unpacking or the yard sometimes. But that’s all stuff that she volunteered – if she says “I’m fine” in response to “how are you” then we just move on.

      There was also a practice at a kind of touchy-feely nonprofit I worked at of going around the table for a “check in” at the start of meetings. The idea was to share anything that was keeping you from being fully present in the meeting. This worked fine and was actually kind of useful because people shared that they were expecting a call and might have to step away, that they had a hard stop at the end, that they’d spent the last week deep in project X and weren’t up to speed on project Y, and occasionally more personal stuff like that they were getting over a cold and were unusually tired or that they were distracted by a family health crisis. But it was optional – there was no pushback on just saying “I’m here” and moving on.

      What OP describes sounds like hell.

      1. Triumphant Fox*

        Yes – I moved to one-on-ones every week instead of just the group meeting for this reason. How was your weekend? Is there anything else you need? It’s a space for people to ask questions, get resources they didn’t ask for when they thought they’d only be working from home a few weeks instead of months, and feel their work questions will have some of my attention at the top of the week. It also has helped our group meeting be more conversational and less of a boring laundry list of each person’s priorities for the week. I’m the only one who gets to listen to all the lists!

        1. Guacamole Bob*

          Yes, especially if you have an environment where you feel comfortable telling your manager that you’re at 60% this week because of your child care situation or other pandemic-related stress that affects work, having an obvious time to talk about that sort of thing without sharing with the whole team is great.

    2. Ana Gram*

      We had a really robotic grand boss for awhile. He didn’t do pleasantries and was pretty stiff in any type of verbal communication. Frankly, I didn’t care (I’ve been there long enough to be fairly friendly with the executive staff so I knew they weren’t impressed with so I decided I didn’t need to be either). But, there were plenty of newer folks who took his robot-like tendencies personally and thought he didn’t ask how about their kids, or congratulate them on a personal accomplishment, or whatever as a sign that he didn’t think they were very good at their jobs. This must have trickled out because one Monday he came in and asked everyone, person by person, how their weekend was. Well, that’s nice! Except his response to everyone was “that’s great”. My dog died this weekend. That’s great. I mowed the yard. That’s great. I got married. That’s great.

      Sigh…he almost got there. The point? It’s got to be authentic! These surveys are way too personal and odd. Just engage naturally with people and ask them what they need. And make space for them to be able to tell you what they need.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        “My dog died this weekend.”
        “That’s great.”

        WHAT?! That’s not just robotic, that’s like the world’s most lazily programmed robot.

  8. the consort Sha'ira*

    I’ve said before and I’ll say again that so, so many managers misconstrue “create an environment where people feel safe being vulnerable” to mean “force people to become vulnerable.” Been there, had that boss, 1/10 would not recommend.

    1. Boo Radley*

      I resent this behavior SO much. I had a previous manager, (who was a Senior VP at a multinational) call a team meeting where she expected us to share “a painful memory from childhood” among other invasive stuff. Rather than participate, I pulled forward my resignation three months, which left her in a lurch I hadn’t wanted to, but I was so indignant I could barely see straight and didn’t trust myself to give workable pushback.

      1. I'm just here for the cats!*

        Wow I think I would have stood up, said that’s noones business, and left the room.

        1. Boo Radley*

          Luckily this wasn’t sprung on us. She wanted us to build a powerpoint of none-of-your-effing-business items for a leadership off-site. A painful childhood memory was only one page. It stinks, because I totally get where she was coming from. Our team had gone through a rough roller coaster with previous leadership, and she firmly believed that we couldn’t move forward unless we were fully invested in one-another as a fully fledged team. This may or may not have been true, I suspect not, but I don’t know. Too bad I value my privacy more than I value team success.

          1. JustaTech*

            Good grief! That’s a really weird way to address previous bad leadership.

            Here’s the thing: not only do I not want to share a painful childhood memory (my dog dying? My grandmother dying? Being the bottom of the pecking order in middle school?), but I also really, really don’t want to have to hear my co-worker’s painful stories.

            I’ve had work friends share their deeply personal, painful histories with me and quite frankly, I wish they hadn’t. I did not need or want to know the details of your drug use or abusive family or any of that. It’s fine that people want to share the broad outlines of their lives, but I have a vivid imagination and good memory. I’m going to remember that horrible story vividly for a very long time. And of course there’s no way to ask them to stop without being a total jerk and ruining the relationship.

            Boo, you totally made the right decision, and I can’t possibly imagine how it could have lead to “team success”.

      2. Anonymous for this*

        I don’t think she knows what she is getting herself into.

        I’ve experienced a range of trauma, the ‘objectively bad even for trauma’ type that made trauma-specialized therapists want to puke or cry or throw things.

        I can speak matter-of-factly (and without internal distress) about painful childhood memories that don’t bother me much because I’ve got a lot of memories that were a lot worse. Or I can broadly outline a trauma whereof I don’t mind acknowledging the trauma (but can’t think/talk about the details), but the outline is bad enough in itself.

        I’d be tempted to weaponize my experiences to make her feel very, very uncomfortable.

        “I spent several months in a physically abusive conversion therapy-style treatment program that left me with lifelong severe physical disabilities.”
        *shocked pikachu face* “Thank you for sharing that with us, what was it like?”
        “There was an non-disclosure agreement as part of the settlement, so I can’t, sorry.” *insincere smile*

        1. Anony*

          This is actually quite similar to my situation (objectively bad even for trauma) and it’s frustrating because as much as we’re encouraged to share all of a sudden, the times I have chosen on my own to speak from my experiences prior to this starting were labeled as me being “negative”. Once I shared a story that wasn’t even a bad one (and not even one related to trauma, it was more of a silly thing in my head) and it was met with “ugh, you have the most depressing stories” and I was literally walked away from. So now to be in this group setting where it’s being encouraged – I’m getting whiplash.

          1. Anonymous for this*

            This cycle is very painful:
            Person asks question that is none of their business
            I answer, either because I’m fine answering even though the question was rude, or I answer because I’m caught off guard and don’t know how to say that it is none of their business
            Person rejects me or even becomes angry, offended or scholdinge because the answer was not what they liked to hear while eating lunch

            Because of abovementioned physical disabilities (that can be very visible) I am on the receiving end of a lot of ‘What happened to you?’ (by total strangers on the street/people I’ve met once whose name I don’t remember/people I’ve met a few times whose name I do remember, but who I am still not on ‘sharing medical history’ terms with). When I answer, they look horrified and physically recoil, and then they look to me as though it is my job to comfort them or tell them it was not that bad.
            It is not my job to comfort them and it was that bad.

            It’s hard.

            I’m sorry for your situation. I hope you can find a way around this.

            1. Marie*

              *hug, if you want one*

              I’m sorry that all happened to you. I hope you can find some peace.

        2. PVR*

          But you also don’t necessarily know what other people on the team have gone through so sharing some of these experiences may indeed shock/shame the manager but trigger other members of the team.

      3. Observer*

        That’s ridiculous. Every time something like this comes up I wonder what people really expect.

        1. char*

          They probably expect things like, “I broke my arm” or “I was bullied in 5th grade” or “My goldfish died”, without considering that some people had much, much worse childhoods than they had.

          1. ADHSquirrelWhat*

            and by “bullied” they probably mean “pushed around a little” not actual organized bullying that truly is traumatic and takes a lot of effort to recover from because it resets how you view people.

      4. The Grey Lady*

        I probably would have said:

        “When I was a child, I kept having this awful nightmare where I grew up and worked for a pushy boss that forced me to share painful memories in front of everyone. And I was usually naked. Oh, look where I am. Guess I better take off my clothes and get it over with.”

        1. Boo Radley*

          LOL! It’s such a shame, because she really was a nice lady. Before she was promoted to the role we actually spent a decent amount of time together on an international project. I also interviewed her for the position, she seemed preternaturally competent and her legacy team seemed to love her. I think she just read the wrong management book too recently.

      5. Quill*

        I just had a freeze response in my cube.

        I mean, one can pick from more mundane things, but the minefield she just made for people with PTSD…

      6. Zombeyonce*

        “A painful memory from my childhood? Well, I skinned my knees a lot. That’s not what you meant? Sorry, it’s all I can think of.”

        1. willow for now*

          Haha, sounds like all my confessions when I was 8. I’m 8, how much could I have sinned?

          1. Quill*

            I pity the priests who got piles and piles of “I pushed my brother and I said a bad word when my mom told me to clean my room”

      7. Non*

        Yeah, I’ve had a manager do that.

        Blank stare. “I’m legally prohibited from discussing my worst childhood memory”. I continued staring blankly until they moved on.

        I’m not actually legally prohibited from doing so, but the court records were sealed so that’s as good an excuse as any. Manager was not happy about that, tried cornering me afterwards about “not being a team player” and I ended up going to HR about it.

    2. Ali G*

      But being “vulnerable” means you are safe to admit errors and to show your feelings (as appropriate), not sharing the status of your mental health.

      1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

        Ugh. That’s a terrible application of the word. “Vulnerable” is so loaded with negative connotations.

        1. Lyudie*

          It’s how Brene Brown uses it though (iirc it’s been a while since I read the book).

      2. the consort Sha'ira*

        No, vulnerable doesn’t necessarily mean safe. Vulnerable means vulnerable. A safe workplace means people are comfortable showing vulnerability because they trust that they’re in an environment where they can be human and less than perfect. Pressuring people to disclose deeply personal things puts people in a situation that is vulnerable, whether or not they’re comfortable with it, which completely defeats the purpose.

        1. Marthooh*

          Yeah, this. You should make sure your employees feel safe, not make them feel vulnerable. Shudder.

          1. the consort Sha'ira*

            Right. There’s plenty to be said for modeling vulnerability as a leader and making employees comfortable enough to take risks! Brene Brown is popular for a reason. But she’s never asked people to build a culture of vulnerability by getting employees to bare their souls like they’re on the therapist’s couch before launching into the quarterly forecasts, because that’s not appropriate.

  9. Toodie*

    Some how I feel this is more about the employees providing support for the manager’s needs than the other way around.

  10. SometimesALurker*

    To the bit addressed to managers — EXACTLY! And if you are a doctor, therapist, or life coach, you are still not your employees’ doctor, therapist, or life coach, and that matters.

    1. Vistaloopy*

      Exactly. I’m a psychologist, and I work with psychologists, and the thought of any of us doing this to each other is horrifying. (I’d like to think most therapists, doctors, etc have better boundaries than this anyway.)

  11. Nonprofit Nancy*

    As a matter of sheer practicality, while waiting / applying the strategies Alison suggests, I’d also say it’s *more than okay* to just answer the questions neutrally and pleasantly, or keep them mostly work focused. Sometimes people get wrapped up in feeling like they have to be honest or, to quote Ms Brown, “vulnerable” – but that’s an illusion IMO. You’re mildly frustrated to still be waiting for the TPS reports, but you’re optimistic about getting all the paperwork done on schedule. Your mood is fine. Wash and repeat. If your boss truly insists on you going deeper, that’s the perfect opening to discuss how this exercise isn’t working for you.

    1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      People shouldn’t have to be vulnerable unless they want to, also. Vulnerable means vulnerable. I don’t leave my front door wide open to be vulnerable just to make a point, why should I leave my brain wide open for the same reason?

      1. Anony*

        This is a great analogy! Vulnerability for the sake of vulnerability is useless and exactly what it seems like.

    2. Guacamole Bob*

      Yes, assume that all these questions have an unstated “in terms of your work” as part of the question.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*


        While I may overshare at work sometimes, this sort of intrusion just squicks me out. My answers would be “annoyed about work people asking about my personal business”, “angry with nosy managers”, etc. I would also be looking for a new boss.

        1. Guacamole Bob*

          I’d go more for “Frustrated with the delays on project X”, “glad that Project Y is being well-received”, etc. But I’d be thinking your answers in my head!

        2. Librarian of SHIELD*

          There’s a difference between choosing to overshare and being coerced into sharing something you don’t want to share.

          For example. I don’t mind if my coworkers know about my PTSD. But I will tell them about it on MY terms and no one else’s. I choose which pieces of me I’m going to give away and who gets to receive them. My boss doesn’t get to choose that for me and make me give people I don’t trust more of myself than I feel safe with.

      2. Blarg*

        Yup. We actually have a weekly leadership meeting via Zoom that starts with a poll question asking how people are feeling *in terms of work.* It’s a color coded scale, and it helps the other senior managers know which teams may be overly stressed or have too much on their plate. Sometimes people share how they are feeling personally but that’s not the expectation.

        So I’d just answer like that. Feeling: frazzled. High point: x project is nearing completion
        Low point: y contractor still hasn’t executed the contract

        And look forward to:
        High point: I talked to HR and this is the last one of these I’ll be doing

    3. Lady Heather*

      This seems like a good moment to express my perplexity at the concept of ‘trust exercises’, like trust falls and other things like that.

      I’m autistic, I’m good at metaphors and comparisons but not at subtle linguistic confusions.

      So, if anyone is interested in explaining to me why a trust fall is a trust exercise? To me, a trust fall might qualify as a trust final examination, but it’s not going to build or improve trust (which is generally the point of an exercise – to get better at something, right?) and who in their right mind would do a trust fall with someone they didn’t already trust, so isn’t it kind of a moot thing?

      Insert any other vulnerable risky activity in place of trust fall, like ‘share private stuff’ or ‘climbing with coworker holding the safety rope’ or whatever.

      1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        I think that in the context of when we do risky-stuff-we-wouldn’t-regularly-do trust exercises as team-building activities, the idea is that these are people we have (hopefully) come to trust in one domain. Now you’re getting the opportunity to leverage that trust in another setting, which is where the building and improving part is supposed to come into play.

        Using your classification, a trust final examination would really just be going to the office and interacting with your colleagues day-to-day, because a final examination is usually on a topic you already know. If you’re good with metaphors, it’s the difference between using your running skills to run increasingly faster 5ks versus trying to run a 10k once you know you are capable of running 5k.

        It draws on the same idea that we often feel closer to people we’ve had more shared experiences with. Trust exercises are a really artificial (and ineffective) way at shortcutting the ways that people naturally build intimacy with each other.

      2. Coder von Frankenstein*

        The idea (I think) is to inculcate a habit of trusting people. You are put in a situation where you *have* to trust another person, and when you discover that the person can in fact be trusted to catch you, it will make you feel more comfortable trusting them in the future.

        It’s a really stupid idea for a whole bunch of reasons (I may trust you to catch me when a whole bunch of other people are watching and your only task is to catch me, but that doesn’t mean I trust you to deliver the TPS reports on time when you never ever have). But that’s the theory as I understand it.

        1. UKDancer*

          It’s a silly idea. The person I trust the most at work is the least likely to catch me in a trust fall because of the 2 walking sticks he uses. On the other hand I would rely on him to do the TPS report without question. The company employs him for his mind not his dexterity in catching falling colleagues.

          In my book trust has to be earned through what do you on a regular basis, not through how you handle a particularly forced and artificial situation.

      3. New Jack Karyn*

        I recall a high school (middle school?) PE class which tried to incorporate a trust fall. The teacher set us up in groups of four or five kids, and we were seated in circles. One person was supposed to get up, stand in the middle of their small group circle, and fall backward.

        They didn’t have the other kids stand up, get closer, or stand behind the fall-er. Shockingly, one girl fell into a gap between her peers and completely hit the deck.

        1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

          We had to do a ropes-course type trust falls thing in middle school, too. A student had to do a trust fall off a platform and a group of students had to catch them. I was one of the catchers and I am small. The student going off the platform was large and when he landed, it hurt me pretty badly and I dropped him.

          Instead of caring that I got injured in class, the teacher yelled at me for being untrustworthy.

          The other sort of group activity involved people getting picked up and carried, and the teachers told everyone that they had to “be adults about touching each other because we trust each other” but surprise surprise a bunch of girls got groped anyway and no one cared because “this was to show trust.”

          1. Gazebo Slayer*

            That is absolutely disgusting, and yet unsurprising.

            Any teacher who’d ask middle schoolers to do trust falls is either too naive to be a teacher or is intentionally encouraging bullying. I 100% knew kids who would have let a classmate they didn’t like hit the ground. I didn’t even consider the groping possibility, but I should have.

      4. Lady Heather*

        Thank you for your responses.

        I still don’t think I get it. A trust fall exercise that consisted of ‘first we try it with a ridiculously big safety cushion and a harness, then with a smaller safety pillow, then with a big safety pillow but no harness’ would at least make sense, but ‘trust that I won’t, for any reason, not even a heart attack or an epileptic seizure or an earthquake, allow you to get a traumatic brain injury and perhaps a skull fracture’ does not make any sense whatsoever.

        It reminds me of a conversation I had with my PE teacher when I told him I felt unsafe because the fellow students who were supposed to catch me if I fell were 1) not trained people-catchers and 2) not paying good attention half the time and 3) occasional bullies, and he said ‘you can trust you are safe because I am responsible for everything that happens in this gym’. Which.. what the feeb?
        (I’ve got to give it to him though – the student catchers never dropped me, although I never gave them a chance as I didn’t fall. The time I broke my leg in class – which set off the series of events that led to my amputation – was when the teacher was supposed to be catching me.)

        But, eh, if I ever have to do trust falls at work.. I’ll ask a series of prying questions about liability insurance, accident and life insurance, worker’s comp insurance etc and ask to get it all in writing and I think they’ll cancel the activity then.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          I hope your family sued that irresponsible POS for every penny he had. I’m so sorry.

    4. Senor Montoya*

      AGreed. I don’t think OP should feel in any way obligated to say “these mental health check ins are bad for my mental health”.

      Bland and boring, that’s the way to go.

    5. Double A*

      I like the idea of putting the emotion of “Fine” and giving it a rating of 5 every day.

  12. MommyMD*

    Hell no. Tell them this is counterproductive for you and you’re not participating. Complete BS having you go through this because your manager has become obsessed with therapy and is playing therapist. Are they paying people to read books on their own time? I bet EVERYONE hates this. You are there to perform WORK duties. Not for psychoanalysis.

  13. Roja*

    Yikes. I have, in general, had amazing bosses that I’ve wound up being much closer to than is the norm. And this is so far outside of what I would be comfortable with even with the bosses I’ve been closest to.

    I don’t have any advice, OP, except to say that this is not normal and you shouldn’t feel like you’re “just not being vulnerable enough” if you don’t want to confess the inner workings of your soul on a daily basis to your boss.

  14. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

    These kinds of issues that keep happening made me think about an issue with how we do boundaries:

    If *some* people want to share fairly intimate details about their emotional health at work, on some level that’s their choice, and sometimes they think they’re starting a healthy trend. When it becomes something that a lot of people are doing, or gets worked into a group exercise, then it’s a new norm that creates a bunch of problems for other people because the risks of sharing aren’t the same for everyone.

    Not following norms can hurt someone professionally, so someone who wants to opt out of that kind of sharing is in a Catch-22 situation: you can either open your personal life up for potentially career-damaging scrutiny, or you can choose not to share and appear to be at odds with your team’s culture.

    So jumping back to that thing about boundaries being an individual choice: they are, but we’re all responsible for our team’s culture so there are consequences to an individual or a couple people having very open boundaries. At some point it becomes important to ask yourself if the people around you are likely to get the same kind of reaction doing what you do. If the answer is “very likely not”, then it makes sense to step back. This isn’t about supporting stigmas about mental health, it’s about caring enough about your team to not unnecessarily create a no-win situation for them.

    Does this make sense to anyone? It’s an idea that’s been bouncing around in my head for a long time but it’s hard to articulate.

    1. Anónima*

      Yes! I don’t want to hear about this stuff either. There’s no place for it in the work environment.

    2. Mockingjay*

      These caring/sharing moments don’t help employees at all; they add burden. Boundaries need to be set with this boss.

      “Boss, I know you have good intentions with the survey and these weekly meetings. The workplace is not appropriate for these conversations. I appreciate you caring; however, I already have a excellent medical team so I won’t be discussing my mental or physical health with you or the team.”

      I’d also start skipping the daily survey. “Sorry, didn’t get to it today, working on the X project. I sent you the files for review; did you have a chance to go over them?” Redirect to work.

    3. Anonym*

      This is beautifully articulated. It’s not enough to just let people opt out. Managers need to remember that everything they present to people comes with a side of “your choice about this may affect your career and reputation.” All the good intentions in the world don’t remove the catch-22 of there being a price for opting out.

      Re-reading your post and committing it to memory.

      1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        Aww, thank you. As a data person by vocation, it’s actually nice to be able to write things that are valuable to others every now and then. Maybe I need to start cross-stitching that comment and selling it on Etsy?

        But yes, I agree with you that managers *especially* need to be mindful of the kinds of boundaries they’re norming as well as their differing privileges when it comes to the ability to opt out without penalty. Not only in terms of their actions vis-a-vis their team, but peers’ actions with respect to each other – that latter part gets ignored far too often. Intent isn’t magic; we play that card very often to give people the benefit of the doubt and be compassionate. The only challenge is that “intent isn’t magic” is sometimes very much at odds with expecting all team member to be responsible for stewardship of your organization’s culture.

    4. Lora*


      This is why air traffic controllers, military etc hide mental illness instead of getting treatment. This is why LGBTQ+ folks stay in the closet. If you are your real self in some fields and lines of work, it will absolutely be career limiting.

      Also? I sorta feel like if someone doesn’t figure this out, as you have, upon sober reflection, then they are also not the right person to be implementing a strategy of radical honesty and vulnerability. Truly such people have led blessed lives, charmed to avoid the pitfalls and misfortunes the rest of humanity suffers.

      1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        I agree with you that one probably shouldn’t be managing people if they’re not down with being able or willing to acknowledge the power and privilege that they are afforded, at the very least, as managers. (Whether they get around to recognizing their other axes of privilege is another thing altogether.)

        The absolute worst epic trash fire managers I’ve had are people who doggedly wanted to believe that they were one of us…until they wanted to impose sanctions. This is how you end up with managers who abuse boundaries, sexually harrass, and like in the OP’s case, use their direct reports as support group facilitators. If as a manager, you have the presence of mind to try not to take on power that you can potentially abuse, you won’t pull this kind of nonsense.

        Then again, being aware of these issues maybe makes it really difficult to be an effective manager. Many of the people I’ve know who’ve been shoulder-tapped by senior leadership for management roles but have turned them down are folks who understand power and priviliege well enough to not make these kinds of mistakes.

    5. ADHSquirrelWhat*

      I think it’s about our society’s lack of consent as a general concept.

      I mean, we have to WORK at opting OUT of things that everyone agrees suck. Like telemarketers calling about that time-share on Mars, or wherever it was – and yet you have to go out of your way to say “I DO NOT CONSENT TO THIS” and still fight to get it recognized. Over and over.

      Work is “I consent to do these tasks and support the business in exchange for this money and benefit agreement”. Which is not blanket consent for anything that comes down from above, nor should it be. And yet – to oh so many people, it truly is.

      Open boundaries means THEY consent. Their choice. It should NEVER meant that they consent /for other people/. Because no one can consent for someone else.

  15. Anónima*

    Horrendous. Really horrendous.
    I do like Alison’s suggested script “That’s more personal than I like to go into in work” and I shall be using this.

  16. I'm just here for the cats!*

    OH MY GOD!! What the heck is going with your boss. I work with psychologists, counselors and social workers and we don’t do anything like this. The closest we came to is an optional group meeting before COVID shut our campus down. And that was just sort of a check in, what are we feeling and what can we do. And that did not include the director or assistant director, just the office workers and a few of the counselors.
    You need to push back. Get a group of people and push back. Heck show you boss the comments here. This is not ok, it can and probably gets into HR iffy issues, and it can be detrimental to people who are already in therapy.
    Please write back with an update, and I hope your boss sees the light!

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Key part: “and what we can do”.

      Limit the discussion to work issues and use a solutions based focus. Even if the solution is “Try x, if it doesn’t work, try y.” Some things don’t have to be a hard finite answer, options can be just as valuable.

  17. EDinTX*

    The damage that Brene Brown has done to my work like is incalculable and if I ever meet her on the street, I will definitely be giving her a price of my mind.

    1. Nonprofit Nancy*

      Oh man I thought people loved her stuff. I admit I’ve never read her but I’m willing to say she’s being misapplied here.

      1. A*

        haha yes definitely being misapplied here – definitely a brene brown lover over here but this is not in the spirit of her work at all. I would actually LOVE to hear from her about what she thinks of managers doing stuff like this and the damage it can cause. would be very interesting.

      2. Anon Anon*

        I love Brene Brown. I find her books really useful. However, I equate her books to the Bible or other religious texts. They can all move you towards personal growth and reflection if you relate to the contents of the book. They are pointless if trying to shove them down someone else’s throats.

        And I do wish more manages would start thinking about self-help guru’s more like they do religion. If they wouldn’t shove religion down their employee’s throats they also shouldn’t be shoving self-help guru’s down their throats either.

      3. Little My*

        yeah, I feel confident that Brené Brown would never in a million years recommend a manager mandating reading one of her books for a team in a field unrelated to her research, much less mandating that questionnaire. In fact, one of the best things I’ve got from her is learning how to observe and establish appropriate boundaries with others and take accountability for your own actions and behavior without expecting others to do that work for you. She is explicit about not abusing others by airing your feelings out of context. This is wildly inappropriate on every level.

        I’m sorry you’re going through this, OP, and EDinTX, I’m sorry you’ve been at the receiving end of people doing similar stuff. It sounds horrendous and you are right to be grieved about it.

        1. Emmie*

          She actually has a book, Dare to Lead, about courage and vulnerability in the workplace. She also has a companion Dare to Lead workbook on her website for teams and leaders to use discussing the square squad that the OP talked about. I love Brene Brown and her messages resonate with me. Yet, I would never want to discuss most of those items with my coworkers or managers. It is way too personal.

    2. Anony*

      I think her work in terms of SELF (keyword here) development is really well done, however I see and hear more and more about managers bringing it into the workplace. I think the problem stems from her Dare To Lead book which comes with a whole slew of “group activities” etc. DESIGNED to be used in the workplace… The problem with this is that even in being geared towards work environments, it still asks participants to devolve deeply person information such as: what vulnerability *feels* like for them, what they grew up believing about vulnerability (que a childhood trauma trigger here), etc.

      One question involves listing what your “armoring up” process feels like. As someone with PTSD, asking me to describe what my “armoring up” process feels like is deeply personal and not something I should be asked to share or even required to think about as a work task.

      1. Little My*

        I’ve never read that book. As stated above I’m a fan of hers, but dang am I in agreement with your assessment here 100%. That is not something I would be comfortable in a million years sharing in a work group!!!

      2. Paulina*

        Just because material is potentially applicable in the workplace, doesn’t make it something to be worked through openly in the workplace. SMH. There’s a huge chasm, indeed an ocean, between “exercise to think about” and “you will work through this in front of me and each other.”

        Trying to force openness is counterproductive.

        1. MayLou*

          I misread your final sentence while scrolling and thought it said “Trying to force orgasms is counterproductive” and really, doesn’t that highlight the issue here? Some things are perfectly appropriate in private with people you trust and with consent, but outrageous when required in the workplace.

    3. Observer*

      You are placing the blame in the wrong place. I’m not going to say that I read all of her work. But I don’t think that she advocates anywhere that people force others to be vulnerable, or that employers (or others in positions of power) force people to expose their issues.

      What I’m seeing is a combination of people misunderstanding and misapplying stuff on the one hand and using their power to force THEIR version of “good health practice” on people with zero standing or training to even suggest anything. Brene Brown is not the only one whose work has been (mis)used this way.

    4. LaMont*

      Yeah, she spoke at my last workplace and my deep-in-the-throes-of-a-midlife-crisis-breakdown boss (great at work! clearly going through it otherwise, though) wanted to go and take me along. I shouldn’t have been surprised, after hearing about acupuncture, a psychic, and other assorted LA pseudoscience, but I was so relieved when a meeting got in the way.

  18. Mannheim Steamroller*

    [My concern comes from the fact that in addition to reading the book as a team, we now have a weird “group therapy” sort of session weekly where we’re expected to have done some homework (reading and completion of “exercises” in the workbook).]

    If you’re non-exempt, then all that “homework” must be PAID, possibly at time-and-a-half.

    Beyond that, all this “therapy” doesn’t serve an actual business purpose.

    1. juliebulie*

      Oop you beat me too it. I was wondering if they were expected to do this on their own time, because then it would be easier to say no. I would find it a challenge even to do it on the clock.

    2. DEN*

      Oh, goodness, no, this is obviously done on your own time, not on paid company time. I got called into a meeting with HR and my manager to discuss this very issue. I did not read the stupid book about how we’re all supposed to be emotional elephants and not logical riders after my manager spent weeks dancing around the timecard issue, never telling me outright that I was not getting paid to read it but also never telling that I was. HR told me that I was not a team player, while also refusing to tell me outright that reading it was or was not required or if I was or was not getting paid for any time spent reading it.

      One of my biggest regrets from that job was not being willing enough to burn my bridges to tell HR that they were trying hard to violate labor law. Never did read the book, and I don’t think HR was quite stupid enough to document any of that debacle in writing.

      1. willow for now*

        Your first paragraph reminds me of the “pieces of flair” conversation in “Office Space” and I am cringing.

  19. Colorado*

    No. Just no. This is incredibly invasive and I would flat out refuse to participate. End of story. I’m sorry you’re dealing with this bullshit, especially in a time of crisis. And I love me some Brene Brown too, but no.

  20. DarthVelma*

    Feeling: Tired of this bullshit
    Intensity of feeling: 10000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000
    Low point: Boss trying to force me to share personal shit that isn’t their business
    High point: Telling my boss to fuck off
    Goal: Have boss actually fuck off

    1. Third or Nothing!*

      LOVE IT! Now I want to write my own.

      Name: Third or Nothing!
      Feeling: Annoyed
      Intensity of feeling: OVER 9000
      Low point: Hearing this BS
      High point: Flipping the table
      Goal: Figuratively burn this mofo down.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      While I would not write exactly what people are saying here, I have written a tamer version:

      What you do not like about your job:
      “Filling out this form every year knowing nothing will change.”

      As the years rolled by I shorted it to:
      “This form.”

      When bosses don’t care that you right this stuff, you then know your problem is twice as big as originally estimated.

      1. JustaTech*

        Malicious compliance isn’t a good or healthy thing, but sometimes it’s the only way to go.

        In 9th grade English class we had an assignment to write a poem in class that started “I write poetry because…” based on some poem we’d just read. My friend was in tears because she couldn’t think of anything to say that was “real” or “true”.
        I said “Start with ‘I write poetry because Mr Block is making me.’ ‘I write poetry because it is an expectation of my education.’ Write how much you hate it. Just write something!”
        And she did, and she didn’t get in trouble, so either he didn’t read it or thought it was deep or didn’t feel like dealing with her parents being irritated.

        Sometimes when you ask a stupid question you get a unpleasant but compliant answer.

  21. juliebulie*

    Are they supposed to be reading that book on their own time? (“Homework”) Because hail no.

    1. I'm just here for the cats!*

      Ohh! This is a good point because if they don’t get work time to read, and it’s mandatory this can cause some labor issues. Especially if they are hourly not salaried

      1. Anony*

        I’m actually not sure of the expectation and am unaware of it being communicated. I have been reading and completing the group exercises on work time.

        1. Jennifer Thneed*

          Keep on with that. It’s the safest (to your mental health) assumption. I mean, your boss is asking you to do it, right? It’s a work task.

  22. Lucky*

    I would love for Brene Brown to bust into the comments like the Kool-Aid Man saying “noooooo, not in my name!”

  23. Tuesday*

    My suspicion about managers who do stuff like this is that they’re kind of like voyeurs. They want to see further into the lives and minds of the people they work with than they have any right too. I don’t think they’re really just trying to be supportive.

  24. Coco*

    I would be so tempted to say:

    “I have a note from my tennis instructor (or therapist/ doctor), and he would prefer it if I didn’t expose myself to any training that might derail his teachings.”

    But in all seriousness, sorry you’re going through this. Maybe you can band with other people who are uncomfortable with this amount of sharing.

    1. TooTiredToThink*

      Since this manager is so clueless as to what they are doing as managers, that would be a good response.

      But yeah, I have had some psych training and I have been in a seminar about C-PTSD and I’m just sitting here gob-smacked at what OP is going through. I wish I had more advice other than, this is not normal; this is not ok. You are not a failure for wanting to step away from this intrusion. I’m halfway tempted to say that maybe the manager needs a copy of the Boundaries book (it is Christian based, so probably not, but still…. something)

  25. I'm just here for the cats!*

    Also, if the OP has the guts.i would totally put something on the homework like my low point today was I had a panic attack after reading the book because it is causing some PTSD issues. High is that I have an appointment with HR! ( I hope there is an HR or someone above boss because this needs to stop now)

  26. AlexandrinaVictoria*

    My manager has started using the pain scale in our 1:1s – you know, the smiley face for no pain to the crying face for a pain rating of 10. Ugh. I could have been fine, but seeing that damn thing pushes it up to 10 every time.

    1. Mockingjay*

      Ugh. I am so sorry.

      We have to do Personal and Professional Bests to open our weekly status meeting. I don’t like it, but it’s a minor annoyance at a company I’m happy to work for. Most of the time we offer innocuous personal stuff: saw a movie, tried a new recipe. When things are not great, fortunately my team is like minded and we’ll say bluntly: “No bests this week; still trying to get the Grainger product out the door (it’s LATE) and the in-laws have overstayed their welcome.” After everyone chimes in, we move on the status meeting, which is issue-focused and pretty effective.

      1. Coffee Bean*

        I would be so tempted to provide information such as “I am fully recovered from my epic case of explosive diarrhea” as my personal best.

    2. Nea*

      Is this…
      Is this some sort of emotional pain sticker? Because I would absolutely go with physical pain every time. Preferably by saying “Thanks, I’m good, I’ve got aspirin if I feel any pain.”

    3. Jennifer Thneed*

      Ooh, I have a suggested replacement for you! And in looking for it, I found this page, which talks about them in general and it was interesting:

      And it includes the one I was looking for, the one from Allie Brosh. The scale itself is included in the list above, but the post is SO WORTH READING, both for the explanations and just because:

      (…it’s been 10 years???!! Wow.)

  27. PartialToPort*

    What does this manager intend to *do* with all this information? Has she said what she hopes to accomplish here? How does she intend to protect the extremely personal information she’s trying to collect?

    I have no idea who Brene Brown is — a quick Google search didn’t tell me much — but I’d like to think any ethical self-help or advice-type person would be horrified at having their work used as the pretext for something like this.

    1. Anony*

      Everything is shared publicly in a group setting. So no information is really being protected. Sure there’s a level of “what we do here is confidential” but that doest’ stop anyone from taking notes on their own, going home and telling their friends, or even talking to friendly co-workers about what transpires during the meetings. There are notes that are taken by one member of the team that are never shared or seen by anyone else though, which has been noted a suspicious from other front-line team members as well.

      1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

        This reminds me of third grade sex ed, run by a gym teacher who did not seem thrilled about having been assigned the task of running third grade sex ed:

        “Uh so, everything that goes on in this class, it’s private. You can’t talk about it outside of class or tell it to anyone else because it’s a secret.”

        First, have you not met nine year olds? That is just not going to happen. And second, as a teacher he was a mandatory reporter, and if someone had said something indicative of abuse he would have absolutely had to report it to someone else. So why make a promise you can’t keep?

      2. PartialToPort*

        Wow. Is it possible to ask what the notes are for? Why the manager needs to record and retain this information? (I understand that she’s so far out in left field people might not feel comfortable asking something like that.)

        This is really just awful.

  28. Coco*

    I’d be so tempted to say:

    “I have a note from my tennis instructor (or doctor/ therapist), and he would prefer it if I didn’t expose myself to any training that might derail his teachings.”

    But in all seriousness I’m sorry you’re going through this. Maybe you can band with any other coworkers who would prefer not to go through this and push back. Esp against the homework.

  29. CM*

    Brene Brown talks so much about “vulnerability” and even explicitly says people should be vulnerable at work. But I think she could do a better job clarifying what that means. In her examples about vulnerability at work, she talks about things like admitting when you made a mistake, or being willing to hear negative feedback and the concerns of coworkers. But, together with her idea of “bringing your whole self,” it can so easily be construed as “let’s all share our emotions about every aspect of our lives” at work instead of “let’s acknowledge that emotions ABOUT WORK matter.” For the OP, my guess is they’re better off pushing back against this whole exercise. But another possible approach, if the boss is really stuck on Brene Brown, would be to try to explain this distinction to the boss and focus the vulnerability talk on work rather than personal issues.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      Admitting to a mistake: This depends entirely on the boss. One reason I have been with my guy for over ten years is that if I screw up, I can tell him, and the discussion that follows will be about how to fix it. I have had previous bosses where the discussion wouldn’t go that way at all. (Oh, and another reason I have been with him so long is that he likes that when I screw up, I will immediately tell him.)

    2. SomebodyElse*

      There are other sources for appropriate ‘workplace vulnerability’ Lencioni is a decent one. (FTR I think it’s a lot of hooey but if I’m going to be forced into team building it’s not the worst I’ve had to endure). His focus is squarely in the work appropriate camp. All work… nothing personal.

    3. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      It’s interesting that you mention this, because Brene Brown definitely discusses the differences between oversharing and work-appropriate vulnerability.

      “Oversharing is not vulnerability. In fact, it often results in disconnection, distrust, and disengagement.”

      Like yes, we do need work-relevant vulnerability because without it, you end up with the people who can’t admit mistakes, can’t accept feedback, and can’t reflect on outcomes. Those are things that work within the context of work relationships. Although, as I read Brene Brown’s quote on oversharing again, I wonder if most of the problem comes from inherently poor boundaries/”we’re like a family” to begin with; I don’t know how you get a tight definition on work-relevant in a situation like that.

      1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

        OK, so as an engineer and a (mostly, I hope) rational person, I have to ask – what do people see in this BS?

        Electrons don’t lie to me. And I can’t lie to electrons. Errors and mistakes are going to show up – you can’t convince the electrons to hide my mistakes from the boss.

        So there is literally no other way to go than to admit to yourself that you made a mistake, admit to others that you did so, and then either fix it or get help from someone else in fixing it. If you make a mistake, it’s not a failure of morality, or courage, or willpower, or anything else other than the exercise of your rational, yet fallible, faculties.

        And you know what? The electrons aren’t going to chew me out, or give me the stink-eye in the hallway.

        We’d all do better if we acted like electrons.

        (rant over)

        1. DarthVelma*

          “If you make a mistake, it’s not a failure of morality, or courage, or willpower, or anything else other than the exercise of your rational, yet fallible, faculties.”

          I want this on a throw pillow.

        2. New Jack Karyn*

          Depends on your workplace culture. If you get absolutely chewed out over mistakes–even if you’re the one who found and reported them–you might be tempted to hide them too. Or minimize them, or try to redistribute the blame.

        3. ADHSquirrelWhat*

          But if we were like electrons, we’d all be in a valence shell, and then there would be bickering over which shell is the best one to be in, and how Sally over on Hydrogen is being a snot about being all by herself, and the gossip about the Oxygen foursome ………

          More to the point, the electrons might not lie or chew you out, but your coworkers aren’t electrons. Something with a solid “does it work yes/no” is pretty easy to verify that it’s right or it isn’t, but most things people work with are a bit squishier than that. And all it takes is a manager that “only wants to hear solutions, not problems” or somesuch to have everyone finding creative ways to lie on the job …..

        4. No One is Purely Rational*

          Your colleagues and bosses aren’t solely fields of electrons, though, as your comment acknowledges. They are people- when they know about multiple methods of expressing themselves, hopefully they will choose the most constructive (even if only because in transactional relationships like workplaces, that method is the most likely to result in a result they desire).

          Constructive communication seems to be one of the major themes of this excellent blog, IMO. For example, if you’ve burnt popcorn in the microwave and now the break area smells bad, it’s far more constructive for your colleague to approach you with “Alton, the automatic popcorn setting doesn’t work very well- could you set the timer for 2 minutes instead next time?” than to glare at you in the hallways. If you accept that feedback, you get an unburnt snack and your colleagues aren’t burdened by an unpleasant smell.

      2. Anony*

        Work relevant vulnerability is great when it can actually exist. The problem in this situation is no one even feels safe enough to be truly honest, so it’s coming off as “well we don’t really have any deep issues to address” or at least, not as deep as they truly are.

        Also – yes, there is definitely an expectation of “family” and being close. But there’s a lot of confusion because we’re also told things like:
        -Positivity only
        -Basic niceties are the only conversations outside of work that should be going on
        -You only speak about accomplishments, issues, etc. in one-on-ones

        1. Sara without an H*

          Oh, dear, this adds yet another layer of obnoxiousness to something that was already rotten. Unfortunately, I can’t offer anything but sympathy. I know it’s rough right now, but have you considered looking (discreetly) for another job?

        2. ADHSquirrelWhat*

          …… so you’re supposed to open up and be vulnerable, and also not say anything? At the same time??????

          and /gag/ on positivity only /redacted swearing/ garbage. Life doesn’t WORK that way. Things GO WRONG. Slapping a smiley-face on issues doesn’t solve things!

          Emotion policing. My status really WOULD be about wanting to stab with a fork.

  30. Megumin*

    All of these surveys and exercises that these managers do sound exhausting. Who has time or energy for that? Do the managers not have enough work to do?

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I think it’s more about how they “think” they’re supposed to manage than not having enough to do.
      And most of them probably do have good intentions, like they really want to “manage with compassion,” or “bring their whole self,” and all that. But their good intentions can quickly devolve to oversharing or being intrusive.

  31. san junipero*

    The OP is all kinds of YIKES, but I have a related question. I’m 10 months into my first management position, and while I think I’m doing an increasingly good job with professional structure and limits (i.e. setting expectations and deadlines, giving and receiving feedback, etc.) I want to make sure I’m also setting appropriate *personal* boundaries.

    I run a small team at a small startup, and while we’re diverse in some ways, we’re very similar in others and get along well. I’m definitely on the casual/friendly side in terms of personality, and passionate about advocating for my team, so I’ve told them more than once they can come to me with anything — especially because we had some lapses in communication when I first started that I really don’t want to repeat.

    Yesterday, one of my reports told me that she wanted to talk about some struggles she’s been having, so of course I invited her to talk. Some of the conversation was clearly within bounds and relevant to our work, but it got more personal after a while, and something she said also led me to divulge some information about my history with chronic illness.

    I’m struggling to pinpoint anything that was over the line (except for one question I actually did flat-out say would be inappropriate for me to answer), but I guess I’m mostly just trying to ascertain where the line should be, by most professional standards. Was it kosher for me to tell her about my health situation? Should I have insisted on keeping the conversation work-related?

    1. AnotherLibrarian*

      So, once my boss walked in on me bawling at my desk. She asked what was wrong and I confessed I’d been put in high dose estrogen. She said to me, “Oh, I’ve been there. You just cry if you need to cry. ” And I nodded. We were the only two people on our office, so I wasn’t bothering anyone else and knowing she’d been on the same thing before and understood that my weeping uncontrollably for the day had nothing to do with her was a great comfort. So, I think sometimes as long as you don’t get into details, it is okay to let your staff know you “get it” and also that you won’t pry or expect them to be your support network.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s hard to answer without knowing specifics, but in general you’re allowed to be a human as a manager, and to have warm relationships with people with some amount of sharing that you’re both comfortable with (though you should be especially alert to signs they’re not comfortable). There’s no blanket “never share a personal health issue with an employee” rule. AnotherLibrarian’s comment above is a good example of this.

      That said, I probably wouldn’t keep telling people they can come to you with “anything” — because that’s probably not true. You don’t want someone to come to you with detailed accounts of their divorce or so forth. Most people don’t want their manager to be the type of person they could and would take *anything* in their life to — or more to the point, they don’t want their manager to see themselves that way and put that expectation on them. So there’s probably a better way to say what you’re going for there.

      1. san junipero*

        That’s fair, although I’ll have to think about the best alternative. My main concern is that I don’t want to make it seem like I’m cutting off ALL personal talk, because the original problem was that one report (ironically the same one, in fact!) was afraid to tell me she was falling behind due to extreme stress. We may have swung slightly too far in the other direction now.

        I guess I should just make it clear that if they’re having a problem that affects their work, I want to know so I can best address it as their manager, rather than being a counselor or a friendly shoulder to cry on.

        1. CM*

          This one seems pretty easy to course-correct. I think the occasional conversation about a personal struggle is fine IF it’s initiated by the employee and it’s work-appropriate (health or family issue, yes; extramarital affair, probably not). Ideally both of you would keep it professional after that and not ask for or deliver daily updates about the personal matter. But if one person is oversharing, I think the other one can pull it back by briefly acknowledging the personal conversation (“I’m sorry to hear that,” or “That sounds rough,”) and then redirecting the conversation to work.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          Maybe this doesn’t happen to everyone, but I never said that I would or would not listen to personal problems. However, I came across as very work focused and very busy. So on the surface at any rate there really wasn’t time for personal chatter. This worked until it didn’t. SOME HOW, they managed to decide that I would be a source for life advice.

          Most of the time, I was able to redirect the conversation to a pro.
          “That would be a good question for a tax prep person.”
          “Perhaps your child’s doc will have some ideas, I think you should ask the doc.”
          “Umm. Not real sure on that one, maybe the attorney for the estate can help there.”
          Here you can additionally express empathy and concern without getting down into the nitty-gritty of the problem. Then you can offer what you can do, “Let me know if you need PTO.” Or, “I realize X is a huge project for one person, if you want support on that so you can leave when you need to, I can get Bob to help you.”

          When folks are facing difficulty and a person offers to help it can be challenging to figure out what type of help they are offering. Be specific with the types of help you can give them. And try to keep that message fairly consistent, so you don’t accidentally favor one over another.

    3. MissDisplaced*

      I think there has to be this cutoff where you are caring and relatable about what’s going on with them, but also keeping a distance giving or receiving what could be construed as overly personal or intrusive information.

      Basically, ask what they need from a work perspective (time off, flexible schedule, understanding about medical appointments, awareness about possible adverse health or medication effects, assistance if ADA accommodations are needed, etc.) and try to help as best you can with getting them that efficiently. If the company has other resources you can refer them to, it’s also fine to point them in that direction if they weren’t aware of it (like EAP services), or to act as a sort of intermediary between the employee and HR if need be.

      1. san junipero*

        “If the company has other resources you can refer them to, it’s also fine to point them in that direction if they weren’t aware of it (like EAP services), or to act as a sort of intermediary between the employee and HR if need be.”

        I think this would be much easier for me if we had literally ANY resources, but the closest thing we have to HR is blisteringly incompetent and we have virtually no other employee support. Hell, I’ve stepped in to fill some HR functions at times (ahh, startups).

        I think I can avoid giving too much information, and honestly I’m okay with the stuff I did tell her, but do you have any thoughts on what I could say if I feel like I’m starting to receive too much? Especially if I have to kind of… jump in on a monologue?

        1. ADHSquirrelWhat*

          I would think something along the lines of “I am not qualified to act as a therapist” can go a long way.

          Also acknowledging that “you do know that I cannot actually do anything about X” type language, if it’s relevant – when you can do something, knowing is good. When it’s totally outside the work-sphere, knowing doesn’t help.

        2. nymitz*

          “I’m sorry you’re going through (situation), that sounds very difficult. Is there anything you need from me that will make it easier for you to keep up with work / take some time off / reduce your anxiety / whatever’s appropriate for (situation)?”

        3. I coulda been a lawyer*

          I’m very fortunate to have an EAP program, and management reminds us often that if we need it we should use it, along with taking advantage of our generous leave when we need a break. We take calls from people stressed about all sorts of things. We don’t provide mental health services, but we sometimes refer people to support services, also including food banks. 211 is a great resource.

    4. Shared*

      It’s fine to discuss how your health situation interacts with your work situation… as long as you are open about your health situation with the office in general. As in, you’re okay with the office knowing that you have a severe peanut allergy, even if you don’t discuss the logistics of carrying an Epi-Pen to meetings with each individual employee.

      A reporting employee cannot be expected to keep non-work confidences on behalf of a manager. That expectation does not exist because the report doesn’t have that responsibility towards the manager in the way that the manager has towards the report (like knowledge of confidential health/personal/life events for FMLA or planned-absence purposes).

  32. char*

    My workplace has been sending out optional daily surveys to fill out that are way less intrusive than the OP’s example – basically just, “What’s your stress level?”, “Are you feeling sick?” (followed by checkboxes of COVID-19 symptoms), and “Is there anything you want to talk to us about?”

    I was fine with filling them out at first, until I learned that answering anything higher than a 2 out of 5 for stress level would lead to someone contacting you immediately to check in. Even though the check-ins were low-pressure and well-intentioned, that was too much for me. Usually if I’m stressed, it’s because I have work that I urgently need to do, so I’m even less likely than usual to want to take time out of my day to discuss my feelings! So I stopped filling out the surveys at all.

    Luckily, the surveys genuinely are optional, and no one has even mentioned that I stopped filling them out.

  33. anneshirley*

    oh, yikes. I have an aversion to anything that requires spilling personal information — I’ve encountered less weird version of this in group training/bondings (usually when I was in student leadership) where you are expected to share something personal/that you struggled with/something most people don’t know about you. That last one isn’t even that weird, I guess, but I balk even at that. If most people don’t know somthign about me, it’s usually because it’s private and personal (and in my case, has to do with mental health). That being said, I am willing to offer up personal info and I think it’s great for sharing about mental health to be more normalized, but if I’m going to tell someone I have OCD it’s going to be a thing that I fully initiate.

    This is super weird, even if well-intentioned…I agree that it does seem performative. I have no tips other than sending my sympathies.

  34. HannahS*

    Also want to add: even if you ARE a doctor or therapist, you’re aren’t THAT PERSON’S doctor or therapist, and have no standing to be.

    When recently in a session like this, led by a doctor who should have known better, I said, “I’m not comfortable participating in this” and then escalated the complaint afterwards. Response was empathetic but kind of confused, because even people who are really mental-health savvy are not necessarily savvy in good workplace boundaries. One phrase I found helpful was, “…healthy workplace boundaries with colleagues…”

    Creating an environment of support is possible without mandating disclosure!

  35. Richard Hershberger*

    -Name Richard
    -Feeling OK
    -Intensity of feeling 5
    -High point first cup of coffee
    -Low point unsatisfactory bowel movement
    -Daily goal improved regularity

    1. Anonym*

      *high five*

      I think I just interrupted my partner’s work call by laughing too loudly.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        You reach a certain stage of life and regularity becomes a sincerely held daily goal.

      2. Richard Hershberger*

        And for the record, I am fully prepared to discuss my bowel movements, both qualitatively and quantitatively, every day, with spreadsheets and Power Points, for as long as it takes.

  36. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

    At one point I had what purported to be a “professional communications” course. I was the only person in the class of 25 who said no thank you when the day’s “go around the room” question was “Tell us about a personal relationship you’d like to improve,” and the instructor mentioned it at literally the next six class sessions. “Oh, I bet Red’s not going to be comfortable answering this type of question.”

    I really enjoyed writing my course feedback survey for that one.

    1. The New Wanderer*

      They asked you about personal relationships in a professional comms course? Yuck. I’m glad you opted out, and I kinda hope you leaned into it too when the instructor kept bringing it up. Like, yep, of course I’m going to keep my personal stuff separate from my work.

  37. The Magic Rat*

    Man, there is no world where I’m putting honest answers on this survey. Every day is getting something vaguely positive, something vaguely negative, and an obvious goal. What are they going to do, fail me for cheating?

  38. CatPerson*

    I suggest:
    Feeling: Good
    Intensity of feeling: 5
    Low point: None
    High point: None
    Goal: Finish my work for the day and have dinner.

  39. Dr. Anonymous*

    Sometimes it helps to use people’s own pseudo-therapy speak to get what you need in a crazy situation, though I freely acknowledge you should never have to do that.

    But if it comes to that, you could use Brene Brown’s own words on courage to push back: “Courage – Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor—the Latin word for “heart.” Courage originally meant “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” Today that means: • Talking about how we feel• Asking for what we need• Being ourselves• Being kind to others who are trying to be themselves• Learning how to be brave and afraid at the exact same time.”

    “My heart tells me this exercise is wrong for me. I feel violated. My true self is to keep my feelings private. I want others who want to share to be allowed to do so. I feel afraid that my opting out will be seen as being a poor team player, but I am brave enough to speak my truth.”

    1. Umiel12*

      I think I have shared this before, but I was in a “team building” group at work one time, and the guy running the group wanted to call on each of us to ask us to share one personal thing about ourselves. The first guy he called upon said, “My name is Bob, and one personal thing about me is that it is against my personal belief system to share personal things about myself at work.” After that, everyone else gave the same answer. The guy running the exercise was clearly very pissed off, but I thought it was hilarious.

      1. The New Wanderer*

        This would reach 101% for me if he said “My name is Bob” and his actual name was Chuck.

    2. Tobias Funke*

      I am a therapist, and when people try to nonconsensually therapize me, I absolutely do this. I will vomit back as many therapy buzzwords as I can think of. They generally don’t try it again.

  40. Umiel12*

    I am a licensed professional counselor, and I’m a manager. I am not the counselor of the people I manage, and I wouldn’t want to be. It would be really bad for me to force my staff to participate in the activities that are described in this letter, but it’s even worse for someone who doesn’t know what they are doing to force it. Actually, I hope someone who was credentialed in these types of activities would know better than to try to engage their own employees in it.
    Over the years I have had managers and peers try to get a pseudo-therapy group going for staff, usually under the guise of team building (or what I call forced fun). I have always just flat-out refused to do it, but I know some people don’t feel comfortable being so assertive. Usually my loud assertiveness helps some of my quieter peers feel more comfortable about speaking up.

    1. Observer*

      Well, if what we’ve seen on this site is anything to go by, when it’s someone who supposedly does know what they are doing that engages in this stuff, it’s pretty much a den of dysfunction.

  41. Rainy*

    I can’t actually give a detailed account of this because I have stuff to do this afternoon and some of it means not randomly crying while doing a video presentation, but I suffered through the most excruciating “processing exercise” in staff meeting this morning. It was one of those “when one door closes, another opens” things that encourages the narrative “suffering is good actually” and is such an easy sell to people with privilege and uncomplicated backgrounds, and so intensely disquieting to everyone else. The next time I get a prompt that makes me close the email with a snap and say NOPE, I am skipping staff meeting, because on top of quarantine, I literally cannot handle being encouraged to put a bright shiny face on the fact that I have Seen Some Shit.

    Managers, please stop doing this stuff. It’s not cool. It makes you feel better because nothing bad has ever happened to you. It’s not like that for everyone.

    1. Lynn Whitehat*

      “the narrative “suffering is good actually” and is such an easy sell to people with privilege and uncomplicated backgrounds, and so intensely disquieting to everyone else.”

      Yesssssssssss. So much of this.

    2. The New Wanderer*

      There are people who are paid to talk about their tragic backgrounds and how they overcame various limitations and found success. These people are motivational speakers, invited to speak, and PAID for sharing. If you are not in that job, you should absolutely not be doing that at your job.

      I’m sorry that happened to you.

      1. The New Wanderer*

        (Also to clarify, that last sentence should end “you should absolutely not have to do that at your job”)

      2. ADHSquirrelWhat*

        Also, there’s a huuuuuuge difference between /overcoming is good/ and /suffering is good/ and I REALLY REALLY wish we’d stop as a society blurring that difference.

        That it can be learned from does NOT make it a good thing! Suffering still sucks! It does not suddenly become magical rainbow sparkles because you learned from it, or overcame, or whatever!

        Seriously – suffering BAD, people! Stop fetishizing it!

  42. MissDisplaced*

    I’d be like

    Miss Displaced
    Feeling: Bothered and Annoyed
    Intensity of feeling: 10
    Low point: Being forced to share my feelings and do therapy sessions at work because my manager finds it life altering
    High point: Avoiding doing this and finishing work without being interruped
    Goal: Stop wasting time filling out these stupid Brene Brown forms about my feelings.

  43. X. Trapnel*

    My husband, a maintenance engineer (machines, not computery stuff), and his colleagues do a daily morning meeting with their bosses where they have to choose a smiley face sticker that reflects their mood for the day, stick it on a board in front of each other and the boss, then “talk about their feelings”.
    These workers are without exception, highly skilled tradespeople in their fifties, not wee kindergarten kiddos. It drives them nuts.

    I’m glad I work on a farm. My boss and I communicate in grunts from about 4am till 7am and nobody gets butthurt about it. The cows haven’t yet developed an HR department and none of them read pop psychology books.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      How would anyone know in the morning what their mood for the day will be?

    2. HailRobonia*

      Cow responses:
      -Name: Bessie
      -Feeling: In a bad MOOOOOOd
      -Intensity of feeling: udderly overwhelming
      -High point: my horns
      -Low point: my hoofs
      -Daily goal: overcome my herd-les.

          1. old curmudgeon*

            Well, you guys really milked that for all it was worth, didn’t you? There was no lactose of cheesiness in those comments.

  44. LSP*

    My manager and I have big picture check-ins every other month (but are in nearly daily contact about project work). She’ll usually ask about how I’m feeling about work, how I’m handling the lock-down, how my kids are doing, etc. If I need something, like more flexibility, I ask for it. She’ll sometimes offer up a suggestion that I take some time off, or something like that.

    That is the limit of her meddling in my personal life, and that is part of the reason I like and respect her so much.

  45. memyselfandi*

    I listened to the podcast ‘By the Book’ which is all about self help books. Last season they had a regular contribution from a professor who studies the self help phenomenon. Really interesting. In one session she talked about Brene Brown, of whom I was unaware. Not positive. I’m supposed to be on a virtual meeting……I haven’t read all the comments so if someone else said this, sorry!

    1. Observer*

      The truth is that Brene Brown is not the problem here. I don’t know if her work is good, bad or indifferent. But the reality is that she could be the most brilliant person providing the most excellent self help advice, and this would STILL be ridiculous. Because she’s not suggesting that supervisors to what this supervisor is doing.

      1. Dizzy*

        It’s SO GOOD. The field of vulnerability and authenticity is really understudied–after all, what does “vulnerability” mean? How do you test it? Her description of the shame web and the shame box explained so many things. I found her writing, specifically Daring greatly, when I had been out of the Army for awhile and was struggling to reintegrate–the military isn’t big on feelings–and it had a huge impact on me.

        But that’s the thing: it had an impact on *me.* I used it in conjunction with therapy to address issues I was having, personally. When I was done with it, when it served its purpose to me, I put it away and focused on other things. I would 100% recommend it as reading, but I also wouldn’t be put out if someone didnt read it or doesn’t like it.

        It’s just a book, and Brown is one researcher among many. Maybe it would help you to read it, maybe not! As with all things that get a cult following, one single thing wont work for everyone and its incredibly inappropriate for a manager to say “We’re all going to Do Growth OR ELSE.”

  46. Inquiring Mind*

    I’d love to know what boss’s therapist would say if they knew about this terrible practice.

  47. Helen J*

    Do these people think because they went to therapy they are suddenly experts who can fix everything with group sessions? I go to work to earn a living, not tell my boss that I was abused when I was child or that I’m struggling with whatever (that has nothing to do with work). Maybe work is an small escape with what I’m/employees are dealing with. Unless the explicitly ask you for help, leave them alone!

  48. Jim Quarantine*

    I’m pretty sure my answers would quickly become:
    Feeling: None of Your Business
    Intensity of feeling: None of Your Business
    Low point: None of Your Business
    High point: None of Your Business
    Goal: Work goal for the day.

  49. CouldntPickAUsername*

    god between this and the Zoom 3 hour thing I’m beginning to realize how many jobs I’d get fired from because heck no would I be doing this.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          I’ll make four.

          Anyone for Euchre during the 3 hour Zoom amateur therapy malpractice session?

  50. SaffyTaffy*

    What is it about Brene Brown that makes people, like, become members of the Church of Brown and shoehorn her quotes into EVERY SUBJECT and post about her ten times a day? Like I know 5 or 6 people in different parts of my life who can. not. stop. talking about her.

    1. Rainy*

      It’s like the high school (mostly) boys who’ve discovered Nietzsche, but grownup, and for (mostly) ladies.

      1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        Oh God, or Cheryl Strayed. I feel like Wild has completely supplanted Eat, Pray, Love‘s role as a Certain Type Of Woman’s self-discovery bible.

  51. yala*

    “Reading this book has triggered sessions of me profusely crying out of nowhere, and having flashbacks of abuse.”

    Oh, man, I feel that. Around the beginning of lockdown, our manager assigned us some meditation videos on our training site. At first I thought it was just an optional “Hey, here’s something available if you want it”–she’s done that before. But it turned out no, no it wasn’t. And she could see whether or not we had watched them.

    I can’t meditate. I’ve tried following along with apps from my therapist and we’ve found that mindfulness exercises and meditation just *increases* my anxiety and can trigger a day or so of dissociation.

    I at least had the option of just letting the video play with the sound off and hoping she never asks us anything about them. What your manager is doing is just…creepy. I’m so sorry you’re having to deal with that, and I hope you can get her to back off.

    1. Quill*

      Yeah, I can only meditate when I’m feeling ok overall, and after yoga. I have too many twitches.
      Several years ago it was a complete no-go zone.

    2. UKDancer*

      Yes I’ve had a colleague who desperately tries to get us to do mindfulness exercises and it just doesn’t work for me at all. I usually become so focused on whether I’m breathing that I nearly hyperventilate or stop breathing and then I panic and feel more stressed.

      When I do ballet I get all the same benefits that people ascribe to mindfulness type meditation, my mind clears and I come away feeling amazing and in synch with my emotions. But I don’t get there by sitting still because my mind won’t clear without my body being engaged.

      1. yala*

        Yes, exactly! For me, it’s roller skating. It’s like mediation, but it actually works. One of the Little Things I miss so much right now (it’s too hot to skate outside, and I wouldn’t go into the rink right now for a million bucks. But I really hope it survives)

        I think mindfulness is great for some people, but it’s definitely not a one-size fits all (don’t even get me started on breathing exercises. If I become aware of my breathing, it takes DAYS before I stop feeling like I’m not getting enough air unless I take a deep breath)

      2. allathian*

        Same here, only for me it’s Tai Chi. I’m not supple enough to do yoga, but doing the same moves in the same order just gets me in the zone. Mindfulness excercises don’t work for me either.

      3. Rainy*

        Active meditation. I think it’s very common for active meditative activities to be more productive for individuals than the “sit on the floor and think of nothing” type.

        For me it’s yoga. And gardening, weirdly enough.

  52. Pommette!*

    As a certified crazy person, I find the intrusion of the mental health wellness trend into my life incredibly frustrating.

    Yes, every person should be given tools to improve their own mental well-being, and the support, time, etc. that they may need to figure out how to apply those tools to their own lives. But no, I do not want you to push your tool of choice on me while I’m trying to do my thing at school, work, or at the Thanksgiving dinner table. The fact that gratitude journaling (or whatever) helped you does not mean that they will help me. In fact, a lot of things that might work for you will actively harm me. It’s (genuinely) lovely that these things helped you deal with the non-pathological anxiety or blues you experience. That doesn’t mean that they will translate to my brain. And the whole “it is your responsibility to be as healthy as possible at all times, and to work as hard as possible on your health” ethos that comes with the wellness craze is… a problem.

    I can only image how hard it must be for OP in this situation, to have someone with authority making them engage in what are harmful exercises. Sympahty!

  53. Anonymouse*

    Is the manager sharing her personal survey with the team?

    Is the manager sharing her personal survey with her boss?

    Can the manager be distracted by reading another pop psychology book?

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      Sadly, I suspect that the answer to the first two questions is “yes” and to the third question “no.”

    2. Observer*

      Well, it sounds like the answer to at least #1 is yes. But it doesn’t matter. Just because she’s ok with it, doesn’t mane that anyone else should be forced to do it.

  54. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

    If you aren’t comfortable engaging just come up with a generic cookie-cutter response and then copy and paste that as applicable every day. e.g.

    -Name “Jane Doe”
    -Feeling “Eh, good and bad in equal measure, you know how it goes”
    -Intensity of feeling “5/10”
    -High point [something that you achieved that day e.g. “I completed the proposal for the X project!”]
    -Low point [something that you need to work on e.g. “Still haven’t resolved the problems with issue Y”]
    -Daily goal [to work towards addressing issue Y, or whatever]

    I think she has taken the book and method a bit too much to heart in order to fix the problems she sees… I bet her therapist doesn’t know or approve of this “utilisation” of the book.

    Your boss is firmly in the “receiving therapy” rather than “taking care of others’ mental health” right now, which is dangerous. I think the only thing you can do if you don’t want to push back is seem to engage, but in a superficial though seemingly thought-out way.

    1. Delta Delta*

      I was thinking something similar but more effusive.

      Name – Jane Doe
      Feeling – super! thanks for asking! (followup with “all things considered, I couldn’t be better, I must say”)
      Intensity – 14/10 would recommend
      High point – this beautiful day we have been given!
      Low point – who can be low when we’ve got this beautiful day!
      Daily goal – bottle this happiness so I can use it again tomorrow!

      1. wendelenn*

        Now I have “Who will buy this beautiful morning?” from “Oliver!” running through my head!

  55. Pigeon*

    I know the past few years my office and many we work with have made a huge push to be more open and supportive of mental health. Which is great! But it could come with a flip side of expecting everyone to be comfortable talking openly about their private mental health with their colleagues. (Think about how some people have issues respecting boundaries when it comes to physical health ailments.) So in trying to embrace this culture, it’s not beyond my imagination that some managers could initiate bizarre group sessions like this.

  56. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

    Name: Gollux
    Feeling: worried (gestures at world outside)
    Intensity of feeling: ? Trying not to think about that
    High point: Remembering Ehrenreich’s Bright Sided
    Low point: Realizing that book is relevant to my situation
    Goal: Find my paperback copy of Bright Sided and reread it.

    It’s a book about Toxic Positivity, which is definitely relevant here.

    And then any future answers would be things like “Goal: Finish rereading chapter 3 of Bright Sided.” and “High point: telling Fergus about Barbara Ehrenreich’s book.”

    1. Sara without an H*

      Another Bright Sided fan! Yay! (And can you even imagine anybody trying to pull this kind of dreck on Barbara Ehrenreich?)

      1. nep*

        Ehrenreich is brilliant.
        Thank you, Sara without an H, for teaching me the lovely, highly useful word ‘dreck.’

      2. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        It’s really interesting that you mentioned Ehrenreich, because I always understood Brene Brown’s work as being a complement to Bright Sided and anything else that pushes back against Toxic Positivity. Brown’s sort of on the same page in that we need to stop penalizing people for acknowledging that things suck. It’s just the Instagram platitude crowd that’s co-opted her work for their own nonsense.

        1. Sara without an H*

          That’s interesting. I’ve never actually read anything by Brown, so I didn’t know that.

          1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

            Yeah. Well, that’s just my interpretation, but her work doesn’t truly fall into the same sort of positive psych stuff that the facile social media meme people keep pedaling. Her most significant work as a scholar-practitioner (and as a pop psych writer) is about shame, which…isn’t exactly positive.

            It’s the same unfortunate thing that happened when some concepts from Buddhism/eastern spirituality were co-opted by people looking for a high-minded justification to not put effort into maintaining their relationships. So now we’re stuck with this BS idea that Buddhism consigns social isolation and rejecting agency in our relationships as a necessary path to enlightenment, which really isn’t that simple at all. But I digress, that’s for my book deal ;p

      3. Jennifer Juniper*

        When I hear myself barfing out Toxic Positivity nonstop, that is an early warning sign of a depressive episode. This is followed by barfing up Bible verses at random and babbling about group karma as punishment for collective selfishness.

  57. Granger*

    This feels like a (VERY) misguided attempt to connect with and get buy-in (or affect or re-define the company culture?) from younger workers – maybe? JUST NO OBVIOUSLY, but perhaps that was part of the motivation?

  58. Director of Alpaca Exams*

    This is giving me non-literal flashbacks to 2004 and the San Francisco dotcom where we were all supposed to take time out of every day to lie down in the break room and listen to Eckhart Tolle. At least we didn’t get quizzed on it or made to report on our mental health. Yuck.

  59. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    I would nope right out of those meetings. Nothing about this is even remotely okay, and managers need to stop with this BS. Work is about working. It is not a support group. Make employees aware of any programs offered as part of their benefit package and then mind your own friggin’ business. OP this isn’t wrong because of your personal experience. Nobody at your workplace should be trying to pry into your personal business.

  60. Boba Tea*

    I’m so sorry that they are putting you through this. As someone who has worked in mental health settings as well as a person with mental health issues myself, I am appalled! I’m not sure how big your company is, but is there a compliance line? You and/or a trusted team member might consider leaving an anonymous message that a supervisor is asking staff members to disclose sensitive personal health information in a daily survey that could open up the potential for discrimination claims. This is something that higher-ups should be concerned by – I’m sure they don’t want to open up the possibility of lawsuits. I’ve called my company’s compliance line before about other things, and I recommend using *67 to conceal your phone number if that would make you feel more comfortable. (Note that *67 does not work for 800 numbers. When I’ve worked for companies with 800 number compliance lines, I usually borrow the phone of a friend or a family member with a different last name. For extremely big issues, I’ve considered buying a “burner phone,” e.g. a cheap track phone, and not setting up the voicemail to protect my identity. Typing out what you want to say with text-to-speech is an option if you’re concerned about your voice being recognized). If there’s no compliance line, contacting HR with the aforementioned anonymity measures could be another way to report this issue.

    Take care, and I hope your company resolves this soon. Thank you for your letter, because this is a practice that employers/employees need to know is not acceptable!

  61. Regular Here*

    I mean, I have EUPD, so my answers about emotional state would have changed during completing the paper, and back again, and back again again.

    I would quietly decline, or complete all answers with “don’t know” or “n/a”. This is a hill I would die on.

      1. Regular Here*

        I mean, I just can’t express how triggering it would be to have to interrogate my mental state DAILY in this way even as a private exercise. Do they really want to read “suicidal ideation – 10” five days a week?

        And that’s before we even get into the stigma associated with chronic mental illness.

        My boss and I have an excellent working relationship going back to the days where “cut and paste” frequently meant actual scissors and glue. He has not the first idea that I have ever had a moment of mental health difficulties, and I plan on keeping it that way.

  62. RagingADHD*

    Manager needs to talk to her own therapist about her lack of personal boundaries.

    This is so inappropriate, I can’t imagine any competent therapist doing anything but shutting it down, hard.

  63. NW Mossy*

    The Venn diagram of people who encourage radical levels of emotional sharing at work and people who respond in professionally appropriate ways to such sharing is two circles that will never touch.

  64. nep*

    Oh my goodness. Boundaries smashed everywhere. (Borders on proselytizing.) Listen up, managers everywhere: Not OK in any way. Alison’s response spot on.
    Sorry you’re having to deal with this, LW.

  65. Raindancer*

    Years ago, I worked at a highly dysfunctional law firm (years later, multiple attorneys were disbarred) where, after a move to a larger office, the entire company had to read Who Moved My Cheese? We all then had to submit what was basically a book report, explaining which mouse were were. Stupid busy work, but it didn’t take that much time.
    The best part about the whole thing came years later in the midst of a flurry of firings. When one of the employees was fired and filled out her unemployment claim, in the “reason for dismissal” field she wrote only “They told me my cheese had moved.” This was back when someone from the EDD actually called to confirm all the information on your claim before approving it. The EDD employee asked, “So, they told you your cheese had moved? Did they say anything else?” “Nope.” She got approved.

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      Ha! I’m so glad the attorneys there got disbarred. Nice to know there’s at least some justice in the world.

  66. dedicated1776*

    This exercise would not work for me either. I have no mental health issues but I am very private and also not interested in a lot of self-reflection. I would probably take the path of least resistance and just make some stuff up, or share really mundane aspects of my life. “Low point: We ran out of cheese and I really wanted some. High point: My cat sat on my lap and purred.”

    1. RussianInTexas*

      Same. I would make my answers excruciatingly boring. And I would make them up in the first place.

    2. nep*

      I get it. But this would be enabling bad behaviour, imho. Of course, not yours to take on and correct.
      (Love your responses.)

    3. Jennifer Juniper*

      That would set off a round of squeeing from me and a demand for cat photos/videos and endless cat questions.

      And then the meeting would devolve into Kitty City.

  67. lazuli*

    I am a therapist, and I work in a large clinical setting with a bunch of other therapists, and we NEVER do this sort of thing. We’re a more share-your-feelings group than it seems like is usual among many of the commenters here, which makes sense to me, and people’s emotions and mental states are honored as valid, but we don’t do therapy on each other, because we’re each others’ coworkers, not each others’ therapists. Seriously not ok!

  68. St. Rose of Lima Beans*

    This also skirts things like ADA and discrimination violations. Like, your health info or mental illnesses are protected info.

  69. RussianInTexas*

    Name: Smaug
    Feeling: enraged
    Intensity of feeling: 11
    High point: burned some townies
    Low Point: a hobbit stole some gold
    Goal: burn more townies

  70. Bob*

    When you do go to your boss as a team, be ready with options, one of them being making sure they offer benefits coverage for therapy if an employee needs it. Sometimes people who mean well need to do something in order to feel satiated. So if you already have great mental health coverage and they are this type of needing to do something perhaps they can codify what is available and even offer mental health days once in a while?

  71. Academia Blues*

    I feel like some of the comments shift a bit of the blame from the OP’s manager to Brene Brown. Which is sad to see cause Brene Brown is a red herring here – the manager’s actions would be reproachful no matter what books she used – but she managed to collect quite a lot of negative comments.

    1. Dr. Anonymous*

      I agree. I don’t object so much to the self-help gurus (most of the time), but please save me from the True Believers.

  72. Probably Taking This Too Seriously*

    So, I’m not the only one whose boss took a perfectly good TED talk and hit us over the head with it? I recently left a company that abused the concept of Radical Candor. Not sure which is worse.

    1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      That makes me sad. Radical Candor is maybe one of the most important books (and blogs) I read early in my career, in that it taught me how to be good at soliciting and receiving feedback.

  73. Ellen N.*

    I’d never heard of Brene Brown before reading this post. A quick internet search of her name shows many references to Christianity and statements that her books promote Christianity. If this is the case, it should be easy to bow out as it is illegal in the U.S. to force employees to practice a religion.

  74. HS Teacher*

    I had a boss who got really into Dave Ramsey. My personal feelings about him aside, I had zero interest in sharing my personal finance issues with my coworkers, boss, or anyone else.

    Now that I think of it, he was into some steps about highly successful people for a while, too. Basically, the one to two times a year he’d read a book, we had to hear about it and be pressured to live it. No thanks.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      Now that I think of it, he was into some steps about highly successful people for a while, too.

      Our President/CEO got enamored with that a few years ago. I objected the whole way, but was forced into two remote sessions and two in-person sessions a few months later. I’d call it a complete waste of time, but I did get paid to sharpen my satire saw, so there was that…

  75. Seriously?*

    If boundary-stomping boss thinks she is running some sort of therapy group here, is she on the edge of practicing medicine without a license? Therapists, social workers, even masseurs and hairdressers have to be licensed in my state.

    When I was at university, one of the English lit instructors decided we should have an “encounter group”. For those fortunate enough to have missed this pseudoscientific claptrap, everybody was locked in together without possibility of escape, even for unscheduled bathroom breaks, while they all probed their own and each other’s psyches; it frequently devolved into personal attacks on the more vulnerable or less liked members of the group — and that was in the hands of a trained therapist, which this idiot definitely was not.
    I went to the dean of women to report him, and behold, he never so much as mentioned the idea again. (Sometimes “in loco parentis” actually did protect students.) He also was not there the next term, but that could have been totally unrelated.

  76. Hank Stevens*

    I am on the down side of a 35 year management career and I don’t get it. What the hell is wrong with some managers? Just thinking about collecting this intrusive information from all of my employees daily mentally exhausts me. My motto has always been to be there to listen, refer an employee to a professional when in doubt and treat everyone as respectfully and fairly as possible in the work place, but in the end I’m their business leader not their psychologist or friend.

  77. nnn*

    Between this and the three-hour zoom meetings, I’m like, don’t employers have actual work that they need done any more?

    1. Anon for this*

      Silly nnn, you’re supposed to do it in the evenings after all the zoom meetings!
      /what, me, no I’m not bitter

  78. LizM*

    Oh geez, daily emotional surveys sounds exhausting. I don’t talk to my husband about how I’m feeling that often.

    The thing is, trust has to be earned, it can’t be mandated. I actually really liked Brene Browns leadership book, it helped me develop my own style of leadership, and I do try to model work-appropriate vunerability (like I told my team I was struggling some with balancing my son’s distance learning with working full time, and if they’re having issues with dependent care, or other complications from world events, they should let me know so we can figure out what flexibility we have. I didn’t go into details about the literal poop-show that he and my dog created when left alone in the back yard for 10 min, because it’s a funny story to tell friends over wine, but not work appropriate for a team meeting).

    But I always thought about it more of modeling openness so that folks could come to you when they need to, not forcing them to open up before they’re ready.

    1. Observer*

      I had to laugh about your son and dog. But really, as someone said, this really is not about Brene Brown. It’s about a boss who is taking some ideas that she doesn’t quite understand and mis-applying them in a boundry stoming abuse of power. Not a reflection on Brown.

    2. Jennifer Juniper*

      I see this as an Orwellian kind of engagement survey. If you don’t put down the answers your boss is looking for – BAM! Lowered performance review.

  79. Titta*

    Hah, even without managements guidance, my co-workers seem to think it’s okay to share their emotional trauma in the break room…. They are generally nice people, but I have been here for six months and I already know, in detail, about two abusive exes (one pyhsicallly abusice locking-their-wife-inside-their-home -type and one addict lets-gamble-our-kids-savings -type) and one traumatic suicide in the family. I mean… I symphatise, but I really wish I didn’t have to hear this stuff from colleaugues on a weekly basis. There is nothing I can do and it’s making me anxious.

    So nothing but good thoughts for you OP! Please push back on this one.

  80. Jennifer Juniper*


    Anyone else getting a Dolores Umbridge vibe off the manager? I can easily see this being used to turn the employees against each other, so they can’t push back against her doing something else unreasonable. Or a clique of mean girls/guys developing who bullies anyone who stands out in any way. Or a Machiavellian back-stabbing coworker doing the same to get a better-performing colleague fired.

    The possibilities for sheer nastiness are endless.

  81. What the ??*

    I have BPD and have had periods of keeping these graded emotion diaries to use in a therapeutic environment with my therapist and NO ONE ELSE. The point of them was not even for my therapist to make comments or judge, but for me personally to monitor my mood changes and how the activities I did or didn’t do that day have impacted them. What is your manager thinking? This is ludicrous and makes me so feeling: angry, intensity: 8

  82. Database Developer Dude*

    Mental health assessments at work? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA… Just…no. I would refuse, even if it meant my job. Attorneys eat this kind of thing for breakfast.

  83. 2 Cents*

    OP#2: you need to cut yourself some major slack! It’s an idealist thought (that employers love) that your “personal life absolutely does not impact work-life.” That would only work if you’re an android. You are human. And as far as COVID productivity, just about everyone had a rough patch (or is still experiencing one) from this pandemic. It’s ok it affected you!

  84. Dizzy*

    I always wonder what would happen if I was in this situation and got real honest. Sure thing, boss, I’m SO glad I have someone to talk to, do you mind if I tell you about being raped in graphic detail? I’m sure you’ll be okay with it! You wanted to help me with my mental health, didnt you?

    I did a lot of therapy and I also just do not care if people know I’m a rape/domestic violence survivor and I still think its horribly invasive.

    I’m a helper by nature (I was in undergrad to be a therapist until I dropped out for medical stuff) and I understand the desire to Help and Make It Better. But, all these bosses seem to want the fun, uplifting, buzzword part of helping. Do they understand the depth of what they’re demanding? I doubt it.

  85. AD*

    I have a 12 year old Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, and I can tell you that this is a terrible idea. Your boss is not qualified to perform group therapy on a captive audience. If I were in your shoes, I’d get a doctor’s note from my therapist permanently excusing me from participating.

  86. 40 Years in the Nonprofit Trenches*

    So much wondering… I wonder if just saying no could fall under ADA reasonable accommodation for the OP. I wonder if the manager is in effect practicing medicine without a license. I wonder whether this workplace has an HR department and how they feel about a manager obliging her team to go through daily therapeutic exercises without an actual therapist and what legal liability might arise for the employer if someone, I don’t know, has a mental health crisis as a consequence. I wonder what the OP’s coworkers are saying offline about these team exercises and whether a group intervention might be warranted. I wonder where the grandboss might be around this kind of insanely intrusive, unproductive, and potentially dangerous management practice. But that’s just me.

  87. cmcinnyc*

    This is a trend, and my guess is that it’s a dysfunctional/misguided response to a genuine desire to do better on mental health. When my kid was in elementary school, they had what was called Social/Emotional time with a sort of pschology-lite bent. In 4th grade my daughter answered a question with, “I think that’s a personal question and I don’t want to answer.” Under pressure, she said, “Call my mom.” OP is not 9 years old and “call my mom” is not a professional response, but the “this is a personal question” response is valid.

    Psychology is a little like religion in that there are very different types/applications/underlying beliefs and people can be passionately positive or negative about this stuff. It is so very stupid to be wading into this as a manager. I would completely lose respect for a manager who tried this. I would forever regard them as a busybody and a fool.

    1. Arts Akimbo*

      Just FWIW, your daughter is a rock star!! If everyone were as good at boundaries as your 9-year-old, the world would be a better place!

  88. TheOriginalPrincessKate*

    OMG, this is terrible, and yet I would have So.Much.Fun. with this. And I couldn’t get in trouble, because a) I’ve always believed I was switched at birth with a princess; b) I love math; c) office supply issues REALLY bother me; d) I have very shallow hobbies, and d) you just rotate your low point with your high point. The key is to be creative with both

    Feeling: Royal
    Intensity of feeling: (insert trigonometric or advanced math equation that when solved, yields a number or tanget/cotangent, etc. I would Google about 30 in advance so I have a list)
    Low point: When I saw that the supply room is out of 5mm blue gel click pens
    High point: My Pat McGrath Mothership VI palette arrived
    Goal: Make sure to ask Susie to order more 5mm blue gel click pens

    Next Day:
    Feeling (same)
    Intensity (new equation)
    Low point: I didn’t have time to create a look using my Mothership VI palette
    High Point: Susie said she ordered 5mm blue gel click pens
    Goal: Create a look using my Mothership VI palette

    Next Day:
    Feeling (same)
    Intensity (new equation)
    Low point: We ran out of neon Post-It notes
    High Point: Created bomb look using Mothership VI palette
    Goal: Ask Susie to order neon Post-It notes

  89. Semi-anon*

    I’m a manager AND a licensed psychotherapist, and this is MIND BOGGLING. I would *never* put my team through something like this, because I’m not their therapist, I’m their boss. I also can only imagine that this person’s therapist would be extremely aggravated to hear that she thinks she’s suddenly skilled enough to do this sort of thing. (Not that any length of time in therapy makes this this okay, but jesus they JUST started together.)
    Semi-anon for this but if you recognize the Gravatar, hi! I’ve been away but I’m back and I miss you! :)

  90. Leela*

    To the managers that do this…is it possible that you just feel so helpless because you CAN’T offer excellent mental health benefits or flexibility at your job, so you’re just trying whatever you can think of to try and be helpful?

  91. BSWoon*

    Hi hi hi! OP!
    I too have been diagnosed with C-PTSD and I *do* have a background in social work and can tell you this is not a good idea. Holy crap. Tying someone’s mental health, especially recorded! Non-anonymously! to their job is a nightmare, especially for people like you and me.

    You’re already dealing with so much, including negative self core-beliefs. Why in the hell would they ask you to evaluate this crap at work?!

    Ugh. I don’t have any new advice. Try to gang up with others. Push back!!

    More than anything I just wanted to pop in and say I hear you, I feel your pain. C-PTSD is no joke. I myself have to take 3 half-days a month for treatment. Stick with it though. You’re worth it.

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