update: my manager makes us do mental-health surveys every day

We have so many updates this year that I’m going to be posting six to seven times a day this week — so keep checking back throughout the entire day.

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer whose manager was making them do intense mental-health surveys every day after discovering Brene Brown? Here’s the update.

Soon after I wrote into you, it became clear that the people I worked with/for were not willing to stand up, although we all were experiencing similar frustrations. I myself prioritized my mental health and decided enough was enough. I gave them one-day notice that I was quitting effective 4pm the next day (enough time to deliver back my work-from-home supplies and pick up my things from the office).

I have a friend who is still employed there who has shared with me that they’re still doing this, only now there is literally, as she put it, “a fake Brene Brown” to lead the group sessions. She shared a photo of this person, and I must say – her assessment is correct. This woman not only has the whole Brene thing down to the hair, but the bookshelf behind her is decorated in framed Dare to Lead quotes, a jar of marbles, a stack of all of her books… I would love for Brene to learn that her work is being used to manipulate employees because their boss just had a good experience in personal therapy and started reading her books.

The gist is – it sounds like everyone is leaving or looking to leave. Just in the time since this whole Brene thing started out of a group of fifteen, five employees have quit, mostly with minimal notice, and all within a four month time period. I honestly wondering how/why HR hasn’t stepped in and asked why there’s such an intense spike in her team quitting around her.

Moral of this story – If you have a weird fetish with a self-help guru, don’t force it on your employees.

Update to the update:

My apologies – I should have actually added this to my update…

When I quit back in August, I was two weeks into my job search. I quit on a Wednesday, on Friday I got a call for an interview. Within a week I was back to being employed and here’s the best part…

THIS PLACE IS AWESOME. I’ve never worked for a company that actually lives by how it presents its self. My work-life balance is actually a balance. I am free to work from home (during COVID but also whenever needed if my son needs to stay home from daycare). My direct supervisor trusts me to be an adult and do my job, management my responsibilities. My director speaks to my successes on the regular and will pass the baton to me to speak towards my ideas and plans instead of filtering them up through her.

This goes to say – there is SO MUCH better out there. If you’re unhappy at work, leave. If you don’t leave, you’ll just remain unhappy. If you find another crap job, see it as just a temporary change of scenery and keep pushing on.

The benefit of hitting my “had it” moment and just cutting the cord has so far outweighed the risk.

I now get paid more to do less (because my boss understands burn out and not being overburdened) with less stress. I am actually free to reach out and say “I can’t take this on” or “Do you have room on your plate to help me?” and my thoughts and feelings and general basic human happiness is valued.

What I have now is what every employee should have. I strive to work hard and present my best self every single day because I feel valued and respected. What is better than that?

{ 81 comments… read them below }

  1. Keymaster of Gozer*

    Things that improve my mental health: acceptance, accommodation.

    Things that make it worse: being told to quantify it every. Single. Day.

    1. ThisPostsOP*

      This! Part of my problem is that it doesn’t leave room for the bad days. Especially as someone who struggles with their mental health. It puts me in a position of feeling like I’m either going to “bring down” the group if I’m honest, or should just lie…

  2. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

    Insert clapping and high-fiving emojis!!!

    Am I the only one who thinks restraint has been shown by not forwarding the “fake Brene” photo to her publicist at the least? Or something? (Granted, I’m in saltier and punchier mood in general since March, because 2020, but I would likely have to talk self out of doing this! At minimum I’d LMAO with friends over drinks at the idea!)

    1. LifeBeforeCorona*

      I’m glad that I’m not the only one. Since March my tolerance for shenanigans at work is much lower.

    2. Mockingdragon*

      Agreed, maybe OP SHOULD contact her publicist or social media or something. I don’t know Brown’s work specifically but who knows, maybe she’d contact the boss and have a chance at making it stop.

      1. Booboo*

        Having the same hairstyle as a celebrity and putting their books on a shelf behind you is not, by any stretch of the imagination, “unauthorised use of their image.”

        I’m sorry but I think it’s naive to expect a self-help guru to be upset that fans are using her books in the workplace. She’d either not care or be actively thrilled.

    3. Kate H*

      This is exactly what I was thinking. At the very least it could be flagged as a company using Brene’s likeness (almost certainly) without authorization.

  3. EPLawyer*

    This is a GREAT UPDATE. So glad uou got out to a better place.

    Your former boss is weird and the company is weird for letting her be this way.

  4. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

    I believe Brené would be furious to know this kinda crap is going on. I hope Alison let’s us know if the word gets out. This is terrifying.

    1. Anonya*

      I agree that Brene, from what I know of her work, would be horrified! Vulnerability should not be used as a weapon.

    2. Nynaeve*

      Yes! I’ve only read, like, 2 of her books, but Brené Brown SPECIFICALLY calls out how “oversharing” and “letting it all hang out” is NOT vulnerability, how you should share your stories with people who have EARNED THE RIGHT to hear them (aka, not random bosses and coworkers), and what vulnerability at work should be connected to is meaningful feedback and disrupting a “blame and shame” culture.

      Like… did you even read it? Or understand literally any part of what she actually said?

      1. SinglePayerNowPlease*

        I’m sure that the bosses that do this think they are super special people in their employee’s lives. Ugh.

  5. DarthVelma*

    I know we’re mostly opposed to quitting with little or no notice around here, but your original letter was one of the few where I thought “Yeah, I’d nope out on the spot if my boss tried that.”

    So good for you for getting out.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Yeah – agreed. With nobody else willing to step up and join the OP in stating this isn’t acceptable there really weren’t a whole lot of other options.

  6. Thankful for AAM*

    Every time I see a workplace that does this I think I would do something like this:

    Feeling: violated
    Intensity of feeling: 10
    Low point: listening to everyone’s personal and private health info on a regular basis
    High point: Meh
    Goal: find a job that does not violate mental health privacy issues and the ADA.

    So happy for you OP.

    1. Beth*

      Yeah, I think mine would read:

      Feeling: Unimpressed
      Intensity of feeling: 5
      Low point: Being required to fill out this form every day
      High point: Any moment not spent filling out this form every day
      Today’s goal: Finish filling out this form so I can get back to work

      I’d just submit the exact same thing every day and see what happened.

  7. SheLooksFamiliar*

    OP, I had a hard enough when I sought help for my own childhood abuse and PTSD with an actual mental health professional. Daily ‘status checks’ or ‘surveys’ at work like you describe would’ve had me heading toward the exit, too. Congratulations on having the courage to leave such a place, and for your new role!

    1. ThisPostsOP*

      Thank you so much! It was a real struggle and felt really violating to work through this without the guidance of a therapist, just reading through this work and doing the “homework” through bouts of tears. To make matters worse, my direct supervisor is a perfect model for toxic positivity and deminishing REAL emotions!

  8. Barefoot Librarian*

    I ADORE this update. I know it was a leap of faith to leave and I’m so glad it worked out. Our HR manager (a dear friend) loves Brene Brown. I had never heard of her until I joined a book club with several admin people on campus. The first time we read a Brene Brown book in this book club, it was fine. The second time I quietly noped out. It wasn’t my cup of tea. At least my book club was completely optional though! It’s totally okay to dig a self-help guru, but not to force it down anyone’s throat.

  9. Bookworm*

    Wow. The original update is wacky enough, but the very happy ending (at least for now…) is the cherry on top.
    Congrats for sharing, OP! So glad it worked out for the better for you.

  10. Observer*

    I’m so glad you are out of there and in a better job.

    It also seems to me that HR and management at your old place lack serious competence, unless your manager has just managed to blind someone. Because that kind of turnover – especially in an economy like this! should be a waving red flag. Did they even try to do an exit interview with you?

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      You would think that would be a flashing neon red flag – but apparently not. Unfortunately there are still lots of crummy employers out there.

      1. Kate H*

        As someone who works at a company with extremely high turnover, it’s my experience that supervisors that are *this* out of touch are also very good at pushing the blame off on other people.
        “They left because they got a better offer.”
        “They left because they couldn’t handle a normal workload.”
        “We fired them for performance reasons.”
        “They left to spend more time with their family.”
        Combine that with upper management/HR not caring enough to do a proper investigation, you get a toxic workplace that never addresses its real issues.

        1. OrigCassandra*

          This can extend to whole professions, honestly. A consulting/punditry outfit in my profession once published a talent-management piece that included data on what managers/administrators attributed turnover to. The subtext in the writeup was crystal-clear: “we can’t believe these people believe this nonsense.”

          In fairness, part of the issue here is the implicit but ironclad (in my profession) expectation that departing employees not talk negatively about the employer, even in exit interviews. Employers will absolutely give poor references for this. I’ve never bothered doing an exit interview for this reason, especially not when Toxic Ex-Job offered one.

        2. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

          I’ve had a chance to have fun with that, while maintaining both my integrity and reputation though.

          “NotQuiteAnonForThis left because she didn’t like doing specialist teapot designing” said the upper manager to someone else in my industry. The someone else who I ran into at a conference, and mentioned this to me, with my reply being “oh there must be a miscommunication; I left specifically to DO specialist teapot designing with the new company, that’s exactly what I was hired for!”. Repeat a few different times, and suddenly there’s a few questions floating around via whisper in the industry over why I must have left, since old-job manager is obviously lying.

    2. ThisPostsOP*

      Nope! No exit interview. I even took it upon myself to email HR and offer to do one along with one of the other individuals who had quit. However, our specific departments “assigned” HR person was my Director’s (group therapy pusher) MENTEE! So… There’s that. Upon my leaving it also became clear the HR rep had broken confidentiality and told my Director things I had shared with her while trying to get guidance/help!

  11. Lore*

    If OP does not want to out the company I completely understand. But I work for Brene Brown’s publisher and if this seems worth pursuing I can easily get the info to BB’s publicist or editor.

    (Adding link so this goes to moderation; I’m happy to have the poster contact me directly at the email address I put below.)


    1. ThisPostsOP*

      I would actually love to communicate this to her if possible. I would like to think someone who does the type of work she does in HELPING people, would be intrigued to know that her work is being used in ways that actively hurt people. Not only is it damaging, but it’s actively turning people away from/off of her work.

  12. BJS*

    I’m so glad to read a happy update! Brene Brown is…something else. I read Rising Strong a few years ago, but found myself rolling my eyes more often than not. That said, I did enjoy Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert – that was way less self-help and more advice for creatives.

    1. Observer*

      I don’t think the problem is Brene Brown, though. I don’t know enough of her work to know if it’s actually any good. But it doesn’t really matter. No matter how good the advice is, that does NOT translate into FORCING people into public self disclosure, never mind every. single. day!

      1. UKDancer*

        Absolutely. What I’ve read of her work I quite like. The problem comes when you try and force people to do mental health surveys every day. I’m pretty sure that’s not what she had in mind in the book. I always read it as things leaders should do themselves rather than things they should compel their unwilling staff to do on a daily basis.

        Like a lot of the stuff I’ve had to read on management training, my general opinion is that she makes a few good points but that doesn’t mean I believe everything she says.

      2. ThisPostsOP*

        This! I actually enjoyed her work, on my OWN time, in my own comfort space and at my own pace as a tool to do some self-work as a person who struggles with mental health (diagnosed PTSD). However, once it was being forced onto me and I watched it be used in such a crap manner just to justify my employers own need for validation and to feel like she wasn’t “losing control” of her team and it was just a few bad eggs and not fundamental mistrust and frustration with how the organization was being run and people were being talked to, etc… It turned me off entirely.

  13. RJ*

    OP, this is a great update. Congrats on having the courage to say no to these shenanigans and finding a better place to work.

  14. CaliCali*

    I really love Brene Brown, who is a professional researcher and academic, not just a “self-help guru,” and many of her conclusions are the result of years of study and data collection. BUT this whole thing seems the exact opposite of what she tends to promote, which is the cultivation of self-worth and learning to overcome the destructive effects of shame. I think her appropriating her whole persona in order to extract the max from employees is creepy at best and disingenuous at worst, and I’m glad you’re out of there, OP.

    1. I edit everything*

      Getting a tattoo of a phrase is very different from taking someone’s life work and using it for evil and profit.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      People* get tattoos when the advice or art means something to them… that’s got to feel good to an author.
      OP’s former manager is missing a point of the author’s teachings and misapplying it… that is a very different matter.
      (*I have no tattoos but I appreciate the importance they can have for others.)

      1. UKDancer*

        Yes. I mean I think there’s a difference between choosing to have something tattooed on yourself because you personally find it meaningful and trying to make other people obey the recommendations that author made in the way the OP describes. I don’t know Brene Brown but I could see her being touched and moved that someone thought enough of her work to want it as a tattoo and at the same time displeased by someone else imitating her in such a way as to make their staff miserable.

        I am not a tattoo person (because there’s no single thing I’d want on my skin permanently) but I know a few people who’ve had a meaningful word inked on and I don’t think it’s a bad thing if it works for them. I mean to each their own.

    3. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

      I’ve read the replies to my comments.
      I saw boss’ actions as more sycophant-like, not creepy “take over someone else’s life.”
      But I see that now.
      It’s the crossover from fandom to standom.
      Not fun at all.

  15. Janon*

    Why is it that the companies/managers that try this stuff are always failing hard at the basics of managing? It reminds me of when I worked at a company where the boss made us do a curriculum about “character” with homework and weekly meetings to learn about different traits such as “honesty” and “commitment” – of course it turned out the boss was have an extramarital affair with one of the (also married) reps and the two of them ended up running the business into the ground.

    I’m so glad you got out of there OP, and I wish you all the best!

    1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      Oh lord so much this.

      Trust exercises, retreats, emotional surveys, all of it.

      How about everybody does their actual jobs, and get measured for their contributions? Is that really so hard?

        1. ThisPostsOP*

          It was forced sharing while actively complaining about people oversharing too and how that’s inappropriate… But also encouraging being honest and speaking your truth while pushing toxic positivity… So much whiplash with the entire process.

  16. double spicy*

    I’ve been a huge fan of Brené Brown’s work for years, but OP’s boss really crossed all the lines here. (Fun fact: one of the key topics in many of her books is having boundaries. I can’t imagine she’d be pleased about the fake Brené Brown either!)

    Congratulations, OP, on your new, healthier workplace!

  17. cubone*

    My work also has a FAKE BRENE BROWN. I have fantasized so many times about emailing Dr Brown to ask for advice on how to handle this person. I posted about her once in a Friday open post, but essentially, this colleague has a coaching business dedicated to “living a wholehearted life” (a direct BB quote), constantly talks about vulnerability and being ourselves, and did a similar thing to this OP, though not daily: my Fake Brene tried to implement “mental health check ins” to open EVERY meeting, and if you passed, she would glare at you with the force of a thousand suns. She is the meanest, cruelest person I have ever worked with/have ever MET in my life. She has made multiple people cry in meetings by making passive aggressive or outright harsh comments and I’ve caught her in dozen of bold faced lies. Meanwhile, every day, a new post on her “wholehearted coaching” business socials about authenticity, leadership, vulnerability, supporting your team, etc.

    I don’t want to risk armchair pathologizing, but more and more, I have to wonder if some people who are aggressive, combative and cruel might just have discovered they can easily co-opt this kind of language for a “more flies with honey than vinegar” approach? That if they say words like “authenticity and vulnerability”, people will take them at face value and they can continue being abusive and exploitative with a veil of protection. Of course, I couldn’t begin to guess if this is subconscious or conscious, but I am fascinated that this is not a one-off and that there seems to be a whole segment of people using this language/ideology of authenticity and compassion to be straight up awful, abusive people.

    I would love to hear more thoughts and experiences from others! Also, Alison, I don’t know if these stories are common enough, but I would be over the moon if you ever got the Real Brene Brown to weigh in on Fake Brene Browns in the workplace.

    1. OrigCassandra*

      It’s fairly well-known that in situations of domestic abuse and/or violence, standard counseling methods should not be used because abusers pick up the terminology and use it to justify their abusive behaviors, commonly proving able to hoodwink counselors about what’s really going on.

      It would not surprise me were the same true of otherwise-useful frameworks, Brown’s included, in workplaces. (Now I’m curious enough to start searching the organizational-behavior literature…)

      1. cubone*

        That’s a great comparison. I’ve started using the terminology and coping methods I worked with a therapist on (coming out of an abusive relationships) to handle my Fake Brene Brown and well, it helps quite a lot.

        I hope you do a thorough lit review and publish a paper on this :)

      2. Gazebo Slayer*

        Yup. And it’s certainly not unheard of for bad managers to use similar tactics to domestic abusers.

    2. misspiggy*

      I’ve met a lot of people exactly like this in the nonprofit sector. They are far worse than someone who’s openly mean.

      1. cubone*

        Yup, nonprofit here. I hate to say it, but we’re also in an area of charitable work that is getting a lot of attention the last few years and I have noticed a considerable increase in new hires in the executive and senior leadership level that are, well, cruel, aggressive, and unreasonable in their expectations. I’m not a fan of promoting the “work in non-profit because you CARE” (in that it can easily encourage an unhealthy work life balance and sense of responsibility to your job) but my god, its so clear these people want the resume boost and the accolades for the work we do (while treating everyone like garbage).

      2. Artemesia*

        Me too. The kind of personality that becomes a TV huckster, or a cult pastor, may also choose to adopt the language of personal development to dominate others in a different like work setting and it is hard to combat especially if you are in a weaker power position because it is so ‘nice’ and ‘understanding’ and ‘concerned’ while twisting the knife. I have seen a few in action in academia and in non-profit management as well as professional coaches or counselors.

    3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      Yes, I’ve definitely noticed this. I learned some communication techniques in order to work for an NGO, and when I then tried to teach a trainee the same, she came back the next week telling me she’d mentioned them to her husband, who immediately said it was manipulative. Turned out his boss had been using them to manipulate staff (whereas in the NGO context it was more about gently helping children to work through tantrums).

    4. ThisPostsOP*

      You’re hitting a point here that I hadn’t even mentioned in my original post or update… This same woman who is pushing this (to my knowledge, it’s STILL going on) once violently slammed her notebook down on a table at the START of the team meeting and screamed out for people to get off her team if they felt undervalued and stated she’d “personally escort you off the property now” and by violently yell… I mean she deep-voice YELLED. Then my immediate supervisor puppy-dogged after her as she stomped out of the meeting room.

  18. The Other Dawn*

    “I honestly wondering how/why HR hasn’t stepped in and asked why there’s such an intense spike in her team quitting around her.”

    I wondered this, too, at a previous company. I was only there for 10 months, but in those 10 months the department turned over 150%, and I’d heard prior to my arrival the manager had gone through several admin assistants. For some reason it was never questioned. My guess is senior management cared more about the fact that he was great at his job, which was in compliance and risk management. But they ignored the fact that he was absolutely terrible at managing people. A couple years later, though, I’d heard he was shown the door, much to the relief of a few people I knew who were still there (in other departments).

  19. Pipe Organ Guy*

    “Authenticity.” Yep, I’ve seen that used by petty tyrants to get their way. A couple of years ago, a colleague of mine, a very fine music director/organist at a large church, told me tearfully that things were going south with her position. A new pastor had come on board, and she was busy ripping apart everything my colleague was doing, calling it “inauthentic.” There wasn’t much I could do but offer moral support. I wasn’t surprised, though, when a few weeks later the word rolled through our professional organization that my colleague had been fired. At least when the pastor was searching for a substitute organist, I had the pleasure of turning her down.

  20. LogicalOne*

    This reminds me of a friend of mine who’s boss has a company-wide meeting weekly just to check in on people, see how they’re doing, and to update everyone what’s been happening in the last week and what is to come. Meeting once a week with 100+ people via Zoom is a bit excessive. It would drive me bonkers after a while.
    I am glad the OP found a new job that values her and treats her like an adult. Kudos!

  21. WFH with Cat*


    First, best update ever. OP, I am glad you are free of that horrifying workplace. If you end up getting word to Brown about how her work is being used and abused, I do hope you will update us … But in the meantime and henceforth, fly! be free!

    Second, omg, the stories in this thread. It’s awful that so many people are injured by venomous, manipulative people claiming false concern and “authenticity” (and other buzz-words, but I have a particular dislike of that one). I wish all of you the best, whether you have already escaped your workplace tormentors or are still job hunting. God speed / good speed to you all!

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      “Authenticity” sets my teeth on edge. There are definitely a number of ways it can be abused:
      1. “Nobody is allowed to have any boundaries. There’s no such thing as an overly personal question or a TMI disclosure, because Authenticity!”
      2. “I’m not being a jerk/bully/bigot/just plain inappropriate/annoying, I’m being Authentic. How dare you interfere with my expressing my authentic self?”
      3. “My work is authentic. Your work is artificial and fake and therefore bad, because you don’t have the same interests/experiences/tastes.” (I’m always wary of people who fixate on “authenticity” in artistic pursuits.)

      1. KoiFeeder*

        I had an art teacher with a fixation on “authenticity” and surprising no one it was actually a fixation on what he (yep, straight white dude) deemed to be objectively correct art, artistic practice, and even artistic materials.

        I did not like him very much and I certainly didn’t learn anything from him.

  22. TardyTardis*

    It’s easy to say ‘leave’ but if you live in a semi-rural town and you’re stuck it’s not quite so easy. Especially if the job has benefits, and that’s a rarity. It’s not always easy to move when your family is rooted deep in a place, and you don’t know if there’s a job two hundred miles away.

    But I’m glad for all the people who have more opportunity. Hate to be Debbie Downer, but there needs to be a reality check at times.

    1. Pennyworth*

      I often sigh with envy when OP’s are able to escape from a toxic workplace into a new, better job relatively easily. I’m glad they got out too, but as you say, it’s not always possible.

  23. Name (Required)*

    If you think about it these weekly mental health check-ins actually helped OP’s mental health. 100% NOT in the way the boss anticipated, but because of the inappropriateness of them the OP’s mental health is much improved.

    1. ThisPostsOP*

      Sadly, my mental health is still quite garbage and I struggle with reliving the scenarios I was put through/in in addition to the hindsight 20/20 of “I wish I did this” or “I should have done that” – but my situation has improved! :)

  24. Former Employee*

    There is something about the real Brene Brown that sets my teeth on edge.

    The idea of a living hologram of her would be more than I could take, especially in the workplace.

    Fun Fact: I’ve read that as many as 10% of executives are sociopaths. Since they don’t suddenly appear as full-fledged execs, they must come from somewhere.

  25. babblemouth*

    I am *so over* the involvement of companies in their employees’ mental health issues. As an employer, you help care for your employees mental health by making sure they can have a good work-life balance and access to health care. But they need to really do it. For everything else: butt out.
    This year I’ve seen mental health webinars, free access to mediation apps, recommendations to take mindfulness breaks… and absolutely nothing directing manager to lighten workloads, no way for employees to escalate or ask for help when managers bully them, no formalized way to push back on constant overtime… Sharing your feelings in a meeting like this, or 10 minutes of mediation a day, or a mindfulness lecture can do nothing against the stress of overwork, bullying and 24 hours surprise deadlines from a manager. Worse, it gives the company the veneer of caring for their employees’ mental well being, when really it’s the opposite.

    1. ThisPostsOP*

      Agreed! Employers can best support mental health by offering great mental health coverage or additional services as part of their benefit packages. Inserting yourself or your beliefs onto your employees or demanding they talk openly about their concerns/personal issues/even workplace issues is NOT it. But in addition – being flexible as much as you can be. Some days I struggle to do BASIC human needs tasks for myself or my family and feeling like I’m failing as an employee or risking my job because I’m unable to perform 100% makes it so much worse. I’ve found that for me personally, a day to reset and just create a task list from all the things I need or want to do (all the way down to including a shower or eating lunch to documenting program fundamentals or creating work plans for program improvement) is a huge help and can often times have me start the next day ready to go.

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