my manager told a coworker to write an apology letter to a higher-up

A reader writes:

I’m semi-close with a coworker, Jasper, outside of work (friend of a friend), but I keep my distance at work because he has a pretty bad attitude problem that has gone relatively unchecked by management for a long time. We are not on the same team but work in the same area and our separate teams’ supervisors report to the same manager, Fergus, who is brand new to the organization.

Our organization has been getting a lot of new senior leadership in, and the newest C-suite member who’s responsible for our area showed up to our latest department meeting. Jasper has been upset about compensation models at our organization for a long time, and decided to confront this new C-suite executive about it in the department meeting. It was quite aggressive and Jasper even interrupted the executive while he was trying to respond to Jasper’s questions. This behavior, of course, was not well received by the executive, and shortly thereafter Jasper was called into a meeting with Fergus and Jasper’s direct supervisor. According to Jasper, Fergus is asking them to write an apology letter to the executive in question.

Assuming this is true, is this a common thing that managers do to address unprofessional behavior? I feel like it would do nothing to actually get Jasper to correct their behavior, and combined with some other decisions that Fergus has made lately, I’m starting to feel uneasy about his management style. What are your thoughts on this situation?

No, a forced apology letter is weird and infantilizing — and the optics are particularly bad in this case.

If Fergus has concerns about Jasper — and it sounds like he has good reason to — he should address those concerns, seriously and forthrightly. If Jasper’s behavior is serious enough to warrant consequences, Fergus should be forthright about those too, which could be anything from “this is affecting how you’re perceived and is harming your relationships across the organization” to “this will prevent you from being considered for the promotion you want” to “you will lose your job if this continues.” Those things are natural consequences of some behavior at work, and it’s Fergus’s job to be up-front about that.

But ordering someone to write an apology letter is … not the kind of thing you do with other adults. It might be reasonable to say, “I think you owe Cecil an apology” or “I don’t think you’ll be able to progress here in the ways you want unless you apologize to Cecil” or “in your shoes, I’d send him an apology because XYZ” or even “you need to figure out how you’ll repair your relationship with Cecil and share that plan with me.”

And hell, I can imagine situations so egregious that if an employee didn’t decide to apologize on their own, I might conclude things were unsalvageable (although this doesn’t sound like one of them).

But you don’t order other adults to write apology letters, particularly to higher-ups and particularly not for raising salary issues. And yes, the apology here isn’t really for raising salary issues — it’s for being belligerent about it and interrupting and generally being rude. (I’m filling in some blanks based on your description of Jasper … if I’m wrong and he wasn’t belligerent or rude and just interrupted once or something like that, then a forced apology is even more off-base.) But the takeaway in some parts of your organization is still going to be, “Fergus made Jasper write an apology letter for asking management about salaries,” and that’s a really, really bad look for Fergus and the company in general. If I were the executive who received the apology and found out later that he’d been forced to write it, I’d be pretty horrified about what signals we were sending — as well as concerned about why Fergus wasn’t able to take a more nuanced approach as a manager.

There are clearly some issues with Jasper. Fergus needs to address those. This isn’t the way to do it.

{ 168 comments… read them below }

  1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    “I will not confront and interrupt senior executives in all-hands meetings.”

    Write that on the board 100 times.

    1. Paulina*

      The teacher making you write lines – that’s exactly where my mind went as well. Not at all helpful in a work context.

      1. SparklingBlue*

        This goes for typing “I will not do X 50/100/however many times too–I once had a word processing teacher that made you type lines as a punishment.

        1. AngryOctopus*

          Well, it’s good for your typing skills?
          I had to memorize a Shakespeare speech for an English class at the same time I was taking typing. So I just typed the speech over and over until I could do it from memory. Win/win!

        2. Observer*

          I once had a word processing teacher that made you type lines as a punishment.


          How did they make sure you didn’t just copy and paste?

          1. MigraineMonth*

            I learned typing on a machine that was just a keyboard with a tiny built-in screen and a booklet. You were supposed to enter the lesson number and then type out the lines from the booklet. It was awful: if you missed one letter, it wouldn’t let you proceed until you’d typed the correct letter (IIRC there was no backspace, either); so you had to look back and forth between the booklet and the tiny screen and I kept getting lost.

          2. Paul Pearson*

            Ha, I had a teacher who did the same – they were enamoured of computers while equally woefully ignorant about them… so, nope, they didn’t make sure you didn’t just copy and paste and absolutely none of us were ever going to tell him

          3. Merry and bright*

            In the 90s computers weren’t that prevalent in schools, so I learned to type on typewriter. One of the class tools was white out for making corrections.

            1. Observer*

              In the 90s computers weren’t that prevalent in schools, so I learned to type on typewriter.

              Yeah, but the comment I was replying to was about a word processing teacher.

              1. Scarletb*

                When I was in middle school we still had some classes on using electronic typewriters, aka Word Processing Typewriters. I looked it up out of curiosity since I thought it was only an 80s-90s thing, turns out they’ve been a piece of tech (prior to the software) by that name since the 60s!

                1. Princess Sparklepony*

                  My dad’s assistant had a typewriter that worked off of a punch tape. For form letters. This was in the 1960’s we would play with the “confetti” it left.

                2. Reluctant Mezzo*

                  Our procurement office had common contract clauses on paper tape in the late 1970’s, though we were actually using punch cards (which I learned how to generate myself in a pinch when the G-2’s were at lunch, God love them).

        3. Heffalump*

          How does the teacher know that you didn’t just copy the phrase to the clipboard and paste it however many times?

          1. orange line avenger*

            I don’t think copy/pasting was a common function of word processors, back in the day when word processors were a separate machine and not a program on a regular PC.

            1. Technerd*

              Cut-and-paste was an early basic, in programs such as WordPerfect and WordStar back in the early 1980s. About the same time ctl-c and ctl-v made their debut. (just a bit of ancient technology history!)

    2. OMG, Bees!*

      Heh, yeah, this has a very Bart Simpson “I am sorry for asking questions that make the teacher feel dumb” vibe

    3. Heffalump*

      There’s a passage in one of the Harry Potter books where some students are sent on some unpleasant mission, under Hagrid’s supervision, for some infraction. Draco Malfoy says, “I thought we’d write lines,” and Hagrid says, “What good is writing lines to anyone?”

      Someone who’s a bigger Potterhead than I am will be able to give the context for this.

      1. Jill Swinburne*

        You pretty much have it, basically Hagrid then went on to say ‘you’ll do something useful or you can bugger off’ (not in those exact words). Essentially, kids are disciplined by getting them to do something useful and helpful (and, presumably, memorable) rather than a pointless timewasting task that doesn’t teach them anything.

        Professor Umbridge’s take on writing lines, however, was somewhat different.

      2. Reluctant Mezzo*

        Although from what I heard about Ron Weasley’s handwriting, perhaps some lines might not be a bad idea.

  2. Lady_blerd*

    I was once told to apologize to someone for me yelling at them after they singled me out one time too many. I admit not my best behaviour. I was told to give a sincere apology to that person and I straight up said they can have an apology (to smooth things over) but they can’t demand that I be sincere. And I did do as told. so yes, demanding that Jasper write a letter is silly.

    1. Soontoberetired*

      i was asked to apologize to someone for saying congrats on the wedding to their son . it was public knowledge in our group but the co worker didn’t like the bride , or me, so I was out of line. I said sorry I mentioned the wedding that everyone else mentioned. I also stopped helping her with any of her work problems.

      several years later my manager admitted she handled the whole thing incorrectly.

      the co worker complained all the time to management about people she didn’t like. I was happy when she left.

      1. Dek*

        I’m getting flashbacks to that lady who felt personally insulted that her coworker wasn’t interested in/disliked the royals…

    2. Unkempt Flatware*

      Yes I was once told to apologize or else to someone who was very aggressive toward me by yelling, overreacting, and making up slights. I had to apologize for calling her dude. As in, “whoa! Chill out dude!” as she was aggressively gesturing at me over something minor. I lost all respect I had for the bosses in that situation.

    3. DrMrsC*

      I was asked if I would be willing to write an apology letter to an orthopedic surgeon after he had a temper tantrum and was basically calling for me head on a platter. The offense? I told a patient that they had a right to seek a second opinion after the surgeon had been dismissive and his office had blown not returned calls for 2 weeks. I did not apologize, but I did get punished/rewarded by no longer being “allowed” to treat patients referred by that surgeon.

      1. Irish Teacher*

        That’s utterly horrifying (and good for you for standing your ground) as it discourages people from informing patients of their rights and moves those most likely to do so away from the situations in which they are most likely to need to, which could lead to a patient not realising they could do this.

      2. Shelly the shoulder*

        very interesting!
        i was once dismissed as a patient of an orthopedic surgeon with terrible bedside manner because I asked follow-up questions that he thought indicated I wasn’t ready for surgery.

        sorry to know he/they/this type treats everyone similarly, like garbage

        very glad I found surgeons who listen and I hope you found a better boss

        1. Reluctant Mezzo*

          I remember one doctor who had a syndicated column who had very professional phrasing to explain ‘your doctor is a dangerous quack, run quick before he kills you’.

    4. ferrina*

      Forced apologies bring out the passive aggressive pettiness in me. I come from a family that had a first-world economy trading in guilt, so non-apology apologies were something we all trained in from birth.

      “I’m so sorry if you were offended! I had no idea that you were sensitive to feedback, though in retrospect it does make sense from both your work product and your social interactions. Of course, being able to take feedback gracefully is a critical skill, but of course that is your parents job to teach, and I am obviously not your parent and certainly didn’t mean for you to assume that I was treating you like a child. Obviously it was never my intention, and I’ll be much more careful with my comments now that I know that you are so sensitive to these kinds of things.”

      (note: if you are receiving an apology like this, know that that person isn’t actually apologizing and is likely trying to manipulate you into moving on without holding them accountable)

      1. AnonORama*

        Yes! My family generally doesn’t do this, but I’ve worked for a couple of abusive bosses who did. One literally said “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize someone could be so fragile and still appear to be a functioning adult.” (I called her out for making a comment about my clothes/body in a meeting.)

        1. Jan*

          Wow, how rude! I’d have said “I didn’t know a functioning adult could grow up without knowing personal remarks are offensive”.

    5. Charlotte Lucas*

      I was told to apologize to another team, and nobody copped to complaining about my words. (I was unhappy about having to keep doing a task that took time away from my actual work and that was supposed to go to someone else, and I did not mince words about it. Doing the work of 3 people with a new and unsupportive manager is annoying.)

      I basically blamed my manager for my behavior in my apology, and everyone understood.

      FWIW I am a woman, and I get the feeling that my (male) manager thinks women should only show “appropriate” emotions. He once told me to smile.

  3. Peanut Hamper*

    I used to teach middle school—and I never made students do this. If it’s not coming from them, it’s not sincere, and is therefore meaningless.

    This does not reflect well on Fergus or the management here.

    1. Snarkus Aurelius*

      I came here to say this.

      I distinctly remember all the forced apologies from bullies and my sister when I was growing up, including during primary school. Once an authority figure wasn’t around, they went right back to their shitty behavior.

      To this day, hearing an apology, even a sincere one, gets on my nerves. No matter how hard I try, my first inclination is to roll my eyes.

      1. allathian*

        I don’t think it’s right to force kids to apologize, either. Often it’s just a free get out of jail card that they use so that they don’t have to sit in the timeout corner or whatever.

        Kids are often pretty quick to apologize if they accidentally hurt someone else, but when they intentionally hurt someone, it’s a different matter.

        Another thing that I think is very important to teach kids is that someone else can apologize until they’re blue in the face but you don’t have to accept their apology if you feel that they aren’t sincere about it. And even if you accept their apology, this doesn’t have to mean that you forget what they did and give them the opportunity to hurt you again.

        The most effective way to teach kids to apologize sincerely is to model that behavior. Every parent makes mistakes and sometimes you can hurt your kid without intending to. If you do, the way to get past that is to apologize and to resolve to do better. Obviously apologizing for yelling at your kid when you’re in a hurry in the morning doesn’t really help if you keep yelling every morning, though. It’s a shame that so many parents never apologize to their kids because they’re afraid that doing so would undermine their authority when the opposite is true. At least assuming that you want to raise your kids to respect you but not to fear you.

    2. MBK*

      Apologies require two things to be of any use: sincerity and a real commitment to not repeating the same or similar behavior in the future.

      Making it about the words and the gesture and not the personal accountability is where a lot of people go wrong.

    3. Joie De Vivre*

      My sister went to family therapy with her in-laws. (My sister insisted on it). My sister demanded a forced apology from her MIL, got one, but was still angry that it wasn’t a sincere apology.

      I’m amazed that any adult would try to force another adult to apologize.

    4. Arden Windermere*

      Totally agree with this. My FIL made my BIL write me an apology letter for some truly egregious behavior and all I could think was “1. you’re not sorry and 2. you’re a 45 year old man and your father needed to tell you to apologize?!” Forced apologies just make things worse.

  4. Eldritch Office Worker*

    This screams “I have never successfully managed other humans but I saw this in a sitcom one time”

    1. Sloanicota*

      I agree, although I wondered what would be the appropriate response – just firing this person? I agree that subordinates shouldn’t expect to be able to be disruptive in meetings and keep their roles, even if they may have a good point about salaries.

      1. AngryOctopus*

        I think speaking to Jasper and telling him that 1-his behavior (being belligerent and interrupting) did not serve to make his point, esp as he wasn’t letting the higher-up answer and 2-he should think about making an apology to the higher up, as this incident does not paint him in a good light.
        There are good ways and bad ways to draw attention to yourself at work, and Jasper has chosen a bad way. That’s unfortunate because the topic is such a good one and clearly needs to be addressed. But confronting a new executive in a meeting AND angrily interrupting them when they try to answer is only going to make a point that you yourself are a ‘problem’ employee.

      2. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Depends on how the company handles behavior issues – very very few places will have a one strike and you’re fired policy. A write up, a warning, a performance plan, increased supervision, formal coaching…whatever it may be. The optics are a separate issue, and individual managers if not Fergus should have some sort of communication with the other people at that meeting to discuss the appropriate way to raise concerns about salary/benefits/policy etc. But the behavior should be handled within the bounds of a professional adult employment relationship.

      3. Peanut Hamper*

        It never should have gotten to this point in the first place. Management has a history of sticking their heads in the sand about Jasper’s attitude.

        Had they been doing their job, this never would have happened. Either Jasper would have gotten his act together or would have been fired for his attitude long before now.

      4. K*

        If it’s bad enough to fire them then do that, but I kinda doubt it was or they would have. If they have a point about the salaries then fix the compensation issue and you won’t get interrupted by your underpaid employees.

        1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

          Firing them has the same or worse optics problem as the apology. You don’t want to fire someone who can defensibly claim you fired him for asking a question about salary. Tell him he needs to act professionally and civilly and fire him the next time.

      5. Antilles*

        The appropriate response would be to have already dealt with the pre-existing attitude problem rather than letting it “go unchecked for a long time”.

        In a different scenario where this is a one-off, the answer would be to have a clear meeting with Jasper. Lay out that he screwed up, that this was not the time/place to get into that argument, that both Fergus and VP are ticked, and that you need to rebuild some bridges. And you actually can suggest apologizing as part of the last part, though it’s not ordering him to write a letter but more like “if you want to rebuild Fergus’ trust, you’ll need to admit to him that you were out of line”.

    2. Pink Candyfloss*

      Next thing you know Jasper will be getting called in to be fired by the HR person who cries the most.

  5. Doofus*

    The forced apology is pretty common in academia.
    I had to do it once. An administrator asked me what my title was and I said officially I’m lord high master of the universe but I’ll answer to senior assistant librarian. My boss told me I had to apologize but not why or what her actual complaint was. One of my hobbies is creative writing so I’m sure it sounded sincere.

    1. Artsygurl*

      I work academia adjacent and I am always baffled when people take themselves so seriously. I would have been tickled if someone had said that to me and likely would have kept it going, adding increasingly bonkers addendums.

      1. DramaQ*

        ooooh I can one up that. The animal husbandry technician that handled my mouse room had to personally apologize to a professor for not handling her rats dying in a “sensitive manner”. He was told that he needed to phrase it as “I am sorry for your loss but one of your rats passed away” when he called to inform her about it. He got formally written up and everything. I couldn’t believe it. The next time he called me I asked where were my sympathy flowers. :)

        1. Bluebonnet*

          Ugh, yet another petty professor! I know not all are like this, but the ones who are make life much harder for staff…

        2. MigraineMonth*

          I’m imagining the malicious compliance version of this where the technician calls every professor when he gets to a part in an experiment where he is supposed to euthanize a rat:

          “I’m so sorry, I’m sure you will be devastated to hear this, but your rats passed away peacefully ten minutes ago when I killed them as instructed. Should I go ahead and prep the dissection, or do you need some time to come to terms with your loss? I know the grieving process takes however long it takes, but you’ll only get valid results in the next two hours.”

        3. Heffalump*

          I’ll have to share this with my brother, a Ph.D. in experimental psychology, a/k/a “rat psych.”

          What’s the difference between a magician and an experimental psychologist? A magician pulls rabbits out of hats. An experimental psychologist pulls habits out of rats.

    2. Bluebonnet*

      People in higher ed can be petty. I (a low level staff member) got short with a staff member who worked with Payroll because they were unable to assist me in a situation (Think saying “thank you for your help” in a short manner, no direct insults).

      The payroll person called the dean of my entire department to complain. The dean called me and asked me to apologize to the payroll person. I ended up leaving an “apology” voicemail on the payroll person’s voicemail. Most awkward situation ever. Didn’t that dean have anything better to do?

      I am generally a too-nice person, so of course this would happen the one moment I chose not to be nice. I am not sure if this affected anything, but the payroll staff member was male and I am female. Heaven forbid a woman who does not smile over the phone!

    3. K*

      Perhaps by support staff in academia but no professor I know would ever accept being forced to apologize to an administrator.

    4. Nesprin*

      Sorry, what? Academia is entirely ridiculous almost always, but I have never ever heard of this particular strain of ridiculous anywhere I’ve ever worked.

      1. metadata minion*

        There’s a particular type of faculty member who *really enjoys* lording it over the staff, and I could absolutely see one of them deciding that someone making a very tame joke was being “insubordinate” and “disrespectful”. Sure, I wouldn’t make that joke if it was a very formal sort of situation, but just talking to a professor doesn’t automatically make situation formal. :-/

        I’ve never heard of someone having to write an apology like that before, though, and even if you did, the assignment would normally be accompanied by “yeah, I know this is bullshit and you weren’t remotely inappropriate, but I need to smooth things over with Professor Grumpypants or he’s going to make it a Thing all semester”. We do a lot of annoying things to appease faculty, because not appeasing them is more annoying. I’ve also gotten quite good at my sparkly-customer-service version of “Dude, we are not making 50 copies of your textbook because a) that’s not our job and b) that is in fact illegal”.

    5. Theon, Theon, it rhymes with neon*

      I never had to write a letter of apology in grad school, but I was ordered by my department head to lie about why I was dropping a class taught in another department. I had to say that it was because I was too busy with other classes, and not what the professor I was emailing full well knew, namely that he taught so many factually wrong things (this was an intro language class) that our most recent class period had involved me raising my hand to correct him on a major grammar point something like 10 times. He clearly didn’t know the language in question–he even said he had only spent one weekend brushing up on it before teaching the class. He also threatened to throw chalk at a student for asking a question he thought was stupid but I thought was reasonable. It was not an inappropriate question, it was about the grammar of the language!

      But I had to say I was too overwhelmed with other work to finish his class. The steerswoman in me still hasn’t forgiven that.

      (My mother did make me write a letter of apology in high school, to my English teacher, for asking what he majored in, after he insisted that “The volleyball team played good” was correct and “The volleyball team played well” was incorrect grammar, because “volleyball game” was a noun and adjectives modify nouns.

      Okay, I see there’s a pattern to the letters I have to write; I clearly have very little patience for teachers who don’t know the grammar of the language they’re supposed to be teaching!)

      1. MigraineMonth*

        I did a semester abroad program in high school, and apparently they called my parents to complain that I was “sassing” my teachers. They really did not like me correcting them, even when it was just a cheerful “Hmm, I don’t think that’s right; I think it’s ___ instead.”

        1. Theon, Theon, it rhymes with neon*

          My teacher took it pretty well and didn’t think the apology letter was necessary! I had just made the mistake of venting to my mother after school, and she freaked out and made me write a proactive apology letter.

          It was a serious question, btw; I wasn’t trying to be obnoxious (although it would have been totally in character for me to be obnoxious). 14-yo me just genuinely wanted to know what his degree was in, because it couldn’t be English!

          Spoiler: it was English.

      2. Minimal Pear*

        Steerswoman like the book series? I love those! I was just doing my semi-regular check to see if there are updates about the last two. (No updates.)

        1. Theon, Theon, it rhymes with neon*

          Yes, steerswoman like the book series! It hurts me to lie for exactly the same reasons.

      3. Jaydee*

        Oh, see clearly you had never heard of a silent noun before! It’s like when a letter is silent in a word. But instead it’s when a noun is completely absent from a sentence containing an adjective that allegedly modifies it. /s

  6. Vignette*

    but did they tell him to write a letter or did they suggest it? is Jasper accurately relating the conversation or is he embellishing it?

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      What does it matter? LW’s question is regarding having to write a letter in general. Jasper’s behavior is not what’s in question here.

      1. Olive*

        Because based on Jasper’s other behavior, I wouldn’t trust him to be honest in describing exactly what he was told to do and how he was to do it.

      2. Decidedly Me*

        The LW mentioned that this situation is making them uneasy about Fergus, so whether Fergus actually did this or Jasper is just embellishing makes a big difference.

        1. ferrina*

          Could be both- Fergus could have genuinely suggested something bonkers and Jasper may have embellished it. LW said that other decisions Fergus made has made LW uneasy.

          I’d definitely keep my head down and stay well away from this whole situation if I was LW.

    2. amoeba*

      That would be my question – I can imagine it going something like Alison suggested would be reasonable (“I think you owe him an apology”) and Jasper making this into “he said I need to write an apology to him!”

      1. M_Lynn*

        That’s how I read it. Nothing coming out of Jasper’s mouth should be taken at face value. He doesn’t seem to have the best judgement and I can’t imagine he retells stories about his own disciplinary meetings accurately.

      2. pally*

        Yep! Having to write this apology because management “told him to”, makes him look sympathetic to others. Knowing he shouldn’t have behaved as he did, he’s probably trying to save a little face here. Portraying himself as a victim of some dopey management direction serves that purpose (at least in his mind).

    3. bzh*

      This! Jasper is clearly an untrustworthy narrator. It is quite possible his management handled it exactly as Allison suggested and Jasper is retelling the meeting like the petulant child he is. The LW is questioning his management chain’s handling of the situation, but so far this new manager seems to be the only one confronting Jasper’s attitude problem.

  7. pally*

    “According to Jasper” may be part of the issue here.

    I wonder if Fergus did say something along the lines of, “I think you owe an apology”.

    Jasper responded with, “Fine, I’ll write one up this afternoon.”

    And Fergus simply acknowledged this. Violá! Fergus told Jasper to write an apology.

    1. Schrodinger's Hat*

      Agreed on this. Reading this seems like the situation may have been recounted to the LW by Jasper. I couldn’t help but wonder if “you should probably write this person and apology if you want to maintain your job here” became “she’s making me write an apology!”

    2. HonorBox*

      I was wondering the same thing. While I don’t want to question Jasper, it would be interesting to hear how the suggestion of an apology was presented to him.

    3. Observer*

      “According to Jasper” may be part of the issue here.

      Very much this. I think your scenario is possible. I could think of a lot of other scenarios as well where what Jasper is saying is not quite what went down.

      OP, I have no idea if Fergus is a good manager, but do yourself a favor and take anything Jasper says with a grain of salt. I don’t think he’s lying, but by your own description, this guy has enough attitude issues that I wouldn’t quite trust his perception of things.

    4. Cat Lady, Esq.*

      This is how I read it. Jasper can’t be trusted at all – OP is already keeping a distance from him and his judgment is poor, as shown during the meeting with the exec. I wouldn’t trust a word he says.

  8. Turingtested*

    Maybe I’m reading too far into this but so much time is wasted at work trying to teach people lessons. Jasper’s was way beyond professional norms at any job. But the punishment is also unprofessional and bizarre. So often behavior goes unchecked and gets worse and worse and then blows up.

    I blame Fergus. All the tacit approval he’s shown for inappropriate behavior was bound to catch up with both of them.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      Fergus is new. So Jasper’s behavior really isn’t on Fergus, but on Jasper’s supervisor, who is unnamed. That’s the person I’m really giving at least 50% of the side-eye to. (Fergus, of course, is getting the other 50%.)

      1. Observer*

        So Jasper’s behavior really isn’t on Fergus, but on Jasper’s supervisor, who is unnamed. That’s the person I’m really giving at least 50% of the side-eye to. (Fergus, of course, is getting the other 50%.)

        I agree with this. I might allocate a bit differently, but fundamentally I think you are totally on point.

      2. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

        LW doesn’t say that Fergus is new. LW says that new management has been coming in, and describes the exec in the meeting as “this new C-suite executive”.

        1. OP*

          I’m the LW/OP. I said this elsewhere but Fergus has been here less than 6 months and claimed when he was first hired that he was going to “fix” all the problems our previous manager had allowed to build up.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I think I agree, if I understand your point correctly. The point shouldn’t be teaching lessons, it should be correcting behavior and setting expectations moving forward. Forcing an apology doesn’t do that.

      1. Confused teapot maker*

        Think I agree too. I know there’s been times when I’ve wanted an apology because somebody has screwed up and I need some sort of reassurance that they realise they’ve made a mistake. An apology is a pretty good indicator of that. (I have, for clarity, never asked somebody to write a letter of apology!)

        But it shouldn’t be about getting somebody to “feel bad” because they’ve “done bad”, which I think is a trap that can sometimes be fallen into.

    3. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      Agreed. Jasper is not a child and the Fergus is not there to shape his character. He is there to manage Jasper, and that is not about turning Jasper into someone Fergus likes or making him think differently, but about making sure his behavior towards coworkers and in the workplace is conducive to the smooth running of the business. And that generally means enforcing behavior that is professional and considerate of coworkers and ensuring they do their job appropriately.

  9. Beth*

    “Dear sir, last week I confronted you on the street and told you to your face that you were the veriest blackguard. I have been informed that I must write and apologise, wherefore I now state that I am most truly sorry that you are the veriest blackguard.”

      1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        just in your general direction while staring at you menacingly! But not at you!

    1. Heffalump*

      Is that a literary allusion that I’m missing, or did you make it up out of whole cloth? If the latter, good job!

      Of course it’s an axiom that when you really do owe someone an apology, you don’t say, “I’m sorry you’re upset.”

    2. Cannibal Queen*

      “I called the honourable Member a liar it is true and I am sorry for it. He may place the punctuation as he likes.”

  10. Hannah Lee*

    This seems like a case of Fergus letting Jasper slide in day to day stuff, but wanting to fix the Jasper-damage when it – oops – oozed out on to HIS manager Cecil (instead of oozing all over people Fergus doesn’t care about)

    And he’s picked a pointless and ineffective way to try to ‘fix’ it’. Which is consistent with his ongoing pointless and ineffective attempts to manage Jasper in the past.
    For example, the fact that Jasper displays ‘a pretty bad attitude problem that has gone relatively unchecked by management for a long time’

    “I feel like it would do nothing to actually get Jasper to correct their behavior, and combined with some other decisions that Fergus has made lately, I’m starting to feel uneasy about his management style” You are correct, and Fergus’s management approach is … not good, based on what you’ve described.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Yep. It’s not about what Jasper did, it’s about it being public and reflecting poorly on Fergus. Fergus should be considered with great skepticism moving forward.

  11. RJ*

    I just quit a job for a few reasons, but mostly for not apologizing.

    A long-term employee was having a personal crisis at the job I had just started (1 month). Her MIL was dying, her husband was emotionally falling apart and she was very close to her husband’s family. She came into my office (we have no HR) and I let her vent for twenty minutes. She is a top producing engineer and a long term employee.

    At an administrative meeting while we were discussing several issues, he chastised me for the ‘small talk’ time I wasted and stated that it caused a productivity issue. Without detailing what she had shared with me, I explained that she was having a personal crisis and that I didn’t think it was relevant that I kick her out of my office while she was in tears.

    He was blank faced and waiting for an apology. I had already found several red-flags and had started a new job search, but knowing that this was the way he viewed and handled an employee situation showed me how little he cared about his staff. Given the high turnover rate and financial issues I encountered, none of which he shared before despite the fact I asked, I was just stunned. And he still expected me to apologize which I did not do. I just had to share that today with someone.

    Fergus needs to address several issues with Jasper, but writing a false apology is not the way to handle it at all.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Good on you for seeing those red flags and leaving.

      I recently received apologies from a few coworkers after an incident that caused me to have a big out of character emotional reaction. They were sincere, they weren’t solicited, and I appreciated them. I also very much noted those involved who did not feel the need to apologize – they were the ones who typically put a lot of stock in the idea of holding power over others.

      Apologies can be very important, but they’re meaningless if they aren’t sincere and too often used as a means of control.

      1. RJ*

        Thank you.

        I agree. Sincere apologies are the ones that really matter and show both empathy and the desire to make amends. Insincere ones do nothing but poison relationships and breed anger issues when you’re in the position of having to issue one. Even worse are the people who know they should apologize, but hold back for power issues. I’ve dealt with these type of people as well as they are always the one you have to monitor closely.

    2. Bluebonnet*

      Some people like that male supervisor can be so clueless! Ugh! Sometimes emotions carry over to work when life is exceptionally hard.

      It sounds like you made the right call with listening to the long-term employee and ultimately quitting when scolded.

      1. RJ*

        Thanks. Sadly, he was not only a supervisor, but the owner of the company who in the wake of some catastrophic financial decisions was now looking to get maximum results (90% of time on billable projects) from his staff. This event was just the final layer on a snowball of red flags I encountered after only 1 month.

    3. pally*

      If 20 minutes is such an issue to productivity, then there are bigger issues going on.
      Sheeh! Glad you bailed.
      I hope this long-term employee you wrote about has found better as well.

      Maybe they should hire a bunch of robots instead of people.

    4. Cat's Paw for Cats*

      I’m so sorry you had to endure that and glad you only had to waste a month of your life on that place. Those poor employees.

  12. Pink Candyfloss*

    TBH it sounds like Jasper isn’t the only problem; there are issues with Fergus as well. How deep does this toxicity go through the org? Is it related to why so many new C suite folks of late?

    1. OP*

      OP here. Fergus has been our manager for less than 6 months. When he was hired, he came in claiming he was going to fix all the problems our previous manager allowed to build up. I was optimistic at first but now I’m unsure.

  13. Dead Can Dance*

    I also wonder if Jaspar is telling the truth. If so, clearly not what one should do in a management position. However, having seen enough Jaspars in my life, and it’s best to take whatever they say with a handful of salt. It’s quite possible their manager said something reasonable and Jaspar has spun a story to get others on his side. Ironically they think their manipulation is okay and usually harm the people around them that they think they’re trying to help.

  14. danmei kid*

    This reminds me of the time during the televised Obamacare hearings when two Texas and Florida reps got into a heated argument. One said “I will await the gentleman’s apology” and the other said “You will wait until hell freezes over.” Maybe Jasper should stand his ground!

  15. Alex*

    I that when managers demand apologies, it is so that they can check off the box “addressed problem” and move on, because they don’t actually want to deal with it. That was certainly the case when my manager forced my coworker to apologize to the group after some bad behavior. It was obvious that my coworker did not think he was in the wrong. He had been rude to the group in a meeting, and one of my other coworkers complained to the boss that he was very disrespectful and rude. During his “apology” he said “Boss asked me to apologize, but first I want to make sure you know how wrong you all were and why I was rude….” But…my boss considered the matter done with because he apologized. Actually addressing the problem would have been too much work.

  16. K*

    If I received an apology that I letter found out the writer was compelled to write I wouldn’t be pleased. That’s not sincere.

  17. Texan In Exile*

    My super-tactful, thoughtful, so, so good at what she does former co-worker, K, responded to what she thought was an anonymous survey about a presentation an executive had given. Her feedback was objective, true, relevant, and very polite because that’s how she is.

    The executive flipped. Someone tracked down who had given the feedback (these surveys are never anonymous) and told our boss to tell K to apologize.

    Which K did.

    A week later, she quit for the new job that took her only one week to find.

    1. Dancing Otter*

      “I am sincerely sorry that I answered the survey honestly. I also regret believing when I was told the survey was anonymous.

      I hereby tender my resignation.”

      Hey, it says she’s sorry…

  18. M*

    I just can’t see the letter ending up being anything other than “sorry you guys pay me so abysmally.” It’s true that Jasper shouldn’t interrupt or be belligerent but his case just sounds so much more sympathetic (I’ve gotten emotional over being paid inadequately too) that this could backfire. I’m curious how this is going to play out.

  19. totaleclipse26*

    The last time I was forced to write a letter of apology I was at the most 14. It was after some artwork was knocked over and smashed on the floor while the teacher was out of the room. Nobody would admit to being the one who knocked it over. Perhaps 75% of the class weren’t in the room either when it took place so she couldn’t give the whole class lines or detention as a punishment. The teacher didn’t want to let it pass without punishing anyone so she ended up making us all spend the rest of the lesson writing a letter apologising for the artwork getting broken. I remember struggling to think of anything to write that didn’t imply that a) I did it b) I know who did it or c) I think my writing this letter is a stupid idea and doesn’t achieve anything

    1. Sleve*

      Firstly, I entirely disagree with this method of punishment and I think it’s ridiculous.

      That said, I think totalelipse26’s inability to come up with anything to say is reflective of the gap between those who believe that “I’m sorry” contains an admission of guilt and those who don’t. To me, “I’m sorry that the artwork was broken” doesn’t imply responsibility any more than “I’m sorry it rained on the day of your picnic” does. In my mind “I’m sorry that…” = “I regret to hear that…”, unless explicitly followed by the word “I”. This has caused problems for me in the past with people thinking I was owning up to stuff I hadn’t done, so I try and be really conscious of it now. I don’t think either approach is right or wrong, but I do believe it’s useful to know the psychology so one doesn’t accidentally get caught by it.

      Brains, huh? Considering the complexity of trying to run a neural net on a serving of warm haggis, I’m amazed that any of the outputs are ever compatible at all.

  20. So confused*

    This reminds me of a kdrama my friend and I watched where “misbehaving” employees had to write a Letter of Reflection (with length, margins, and font size set) when they got in trouble.

  21. Cat's Paw for Cats*

    Seriously. We are not children. A forced apology is meaningless. I would not hesitate to counsel an employee that they are required to control their emotions in the workplace, but no apology is required.

    By the way, I was horrified to find the doctors who expressed concerns about murderer Lucy Letby were forced to apologize for having the temerity to suspect her. Even if she had been innocent, they owed no apology for questioning the safety of any employee.

    1. Observer*

      By the way, I was horrified to find the doctors who expressed concerns about murderer Lucy Letby were forced to apologize for having the temerity to suspect her

      I agree. On one level, it was the least of the problems in that whole situation. On the other hand, it’s a huge red flag for how dysfunctional the management was.

  22. Cthulhu's Librarian*

    I kinda wonder if there may be cultural issues at play here. While in the US and UK, the whole formal apology thing is very much Not Done, there are more than a few cultures where it is a Significant Event, seen as vital for a variety of reasons. It is a public showing of fidelity, acknowledging that one is placing the harmony of the organization above and beyond oneself and one’s reputation/ego.

    I still think it’s bad management. But I just wonder if there may be a cultural element that is being neglected in conversation here.

  23. christina*

    This just reminded me of two experiences at an early in my career job with two terrible bosses. One, I was an admin for this department and was tasked with organizing an event that our CIO would be attending (my grandboss). This was my first time organizing the event, I booked it like I had done every other event up to that point. Got to the event and turns out the process for booking this one room was somehow different than every other room, which no one told me. It turned out fine, no one else was using the room. But my boss made me write an apology to the CIO and his admin for not booking the room correctly.

    Second, same department but under a different manager (who reported to my previous boss). My first time working on a big project, I drafted an email that would be sent to the whole university, sent it to several people on the project team to review multiple times, including my boss and the project lead. Both gave their approval. Scheduled the email, it went out – turns out no one who reviewed the email actually clicked on any of the links because the key one didn’t work. It was fixable with a redirect, but project lead was furious, and my boss wrote me up for not checking my work (while saying she didn’t have time to check my work, which – again, this was my first time working on a project like this and I was new to the role). One of the many many red flags from that department’s management.

  24. blood orange*

    Though I agree with Alison’s response, I’m not sure how confident OP can be that Jasper’s version of that conversation is super accurate. I would just take it with a grain of salt and weigh that against what you already know, and see in the future, from Fergus. If Jasper is known to have a “bad attitude problem” and has “gone relatively unchecked by management”, that’s not someone who’s word I would take at face value.

    If instead of demanding an apology Fergus advised Jasper that it would be in his best interest to apologize for his behavior, that sounds reasonable. I’ve had a manager in the past who advised coworkers to apologize to me for their behavior… I really didn’t need the apology (and one of them in fact did not apologize), but I do think in those cases it was smart of him to advise them that their behavior may have compromised their relationship with me and it would be wise to apologize to smooth things over.

  25. SHEILA, the co-host*

    I’m guessing Fergus has no idea how to manage Jasper’s attitude, so he has just avoided doing so until now. Now that the new executive has called him on it, he still has no idea what to do but realizes he needs to do something and this was the first thing that popped into his brain.

  26. Akcipitrokulo*

    “ACCORDING TO JASPER, Fergus is asking them to write an apology letter” (my caps).

    Chances are the suggestions AAM made for what would be reasonable regarding letting Jasper know that an apology would be in his best interests is exactly what did happen, and Jasper is interpreting that in a confrontational way.

  27. ThisIsNotADuplicateComment*

    If there’s someone higher up/in HR that you trust I think this would be worth raising with them. The new C-suite person probably won’t assume the letter was forced unless they’re told and Fergus either needs training or to stop being a manager and that won’t happen on its own.

    1. Observer*

      If there’s someone higher up/in HR that you trust I think this would be worth raising with them

      Nope. I agree with the problem this poses, but the OP should not do anything about it. There are two reasons. Firstly, they don’t actually know what happened. For another, this is not the OP’s to manage. Sure, it’s lousy management, if true. But outside of genuine ethical, legal or safety issues, it’s not the OP’s job or place to manage or train upper level management,

  28. Heffalump*

    Alison’s “I think you owe Cecil an apology” is certainly reasonable, but what if Jasper refuses to apologize? If A is a jerk to B, then IMO, A does owe B an apology.

  29. Limdood*

    scrolled down a good way but didn’t see anything about my first thought.

    people are jumping to Fergus being a poor manager or Jasper misreporting the facts…

    … but what if it’s the executive? let’s face it, work stories are full of examples of top management with egos bigger than their sense, demanding respect to the detriment of efficiency or doubling down on mistakes because they can’t admit they’re wrong.

    I don’t think it’s a stretch that maybe the executive is personally offended, or the manager has reason to believe that Jasper’s behavior will rebound on him…. or possibly the whole department.

    in such a case, if said manager lacks the power to stand up directly to the exec, and the manager wants to keep Jasper (which we don’t know, but hiring is a pain) and has reason to believe that Jasper would balk at writing one with less than an explicit order (which the story might well support), than an ordered apology letter (likely followed by keeping Jasper away from the execs) is probably the most diplomatic.

    sure it’s a lot of “ifs”, but it’s mostly “if the brand new exec has an easily bruised ego” which doesn’t seem a stretch at all. it certainly seems just as likely as the manager believing a forced apology would have any lasting effect.

    1. OP*

      Honestly you could very much be right about this. Fergus has just also proven himself to be a “yes man”. He has frequently volunteered my team to do tasks that we don’t actually have the means to do because they’re coming from the c-level and he doesn’t want to say no, even if the task is actually not possible. But part of this could definitely be from the c-level being somewhat unreasonable and Fergus feeling like he can’t say no.

  30. Dek*

    I was told to write an apology letter to great-grand-boss for not responding to plans for an extra-curricular meeting I wouldn’t be able to make. It’s hardly the most infantalizing thing I’ve dealt with, but it still felt very uncomfortable.

  31. Jamie (he/him)*

    I was told by my grand-boss to write a formal letter of apology to a coworker after I asked them to do something that was their literal job, they rudely point-blank refused and I replied with “OK, thanks.”

    “Sarcasm has no place in a modern office”, apparently.

    My over-the-top, rending of garments, begging for forgiveness formal letter of apology was not judged as sarcasm by the grand-boss for some reason. My lazy coworker never refused to do their part of the job again, mind.

  32. PlainJane*

    Ugh, bad handling all around. Jasper did need to have a conversation about the behavior, but the letter-writing thing…

    Thanks for confirming that this is weird. I was once forced to write an apology letter for asking for time off during the summer (our busy season), explaining that I knew I was causing a disruption and inconvenience for my colleagues.

    Context: My friend was getting married and asked me to be in his wedding party, and I needed four days off to travel across the country do a few wedding things, and come back. I had (and have) weeks’ worth of PTO to use. I knew it was weird for that reason alone, but the whole, “You must write a letter” thing always struck me as bizarre and petty.

  33. RedinSC*

    I don’t know that Jasper is the most reliable narrator here, though. I suspect the request/command came down more like what Allison is suggesting and Jasper is reporting that he’s being told to write an apology letter.

    I’d take anything that Jasper says with a grain (or 5) of salt.

    1. LegalAriesCatLover*

      This!! Thank you for making this comment (and I am glad I read through to find it before making my own.)

  34. Irish Teacher*

    Assuming Jasper is giving an accurate account of events, my guess is that this is less about him and more about Fergus wanting to prove to the C-suite executive that he has “dealt with the matter.” I suspect the point is to ensure that the C-suite executive can see the “consequence” he gives Jasper.

  35. until next time*

    My organization has a history of forcing executives and board chairs of subsidiary organizations to write apology letters to the CEO of the overseeing organization after particularly contentious meetings. ***EXCELLENT*** morale boosting all around.

    In unrelated news, I submitted resignation last week.

  36. Fives*

    Years ago, my boss played a minor prank on me. It didn’t hurt me or embarrass me or anything, it was more a mild inconvenience and annoyance. I didn’t throw a fit or say anything about it, but they were highly offended when I didn’t cackle with joy over it. Because I didn’t react like they were hoping, they made me go to my surrounding coworkers, including one who happened to be near my cube when it happened, and apologize for my attitude. So I did. All three people were shocked about the apology and said nothing had happened and there was no need for it.

    So glad I’m not there any more. That boss had a habit of being… infantilizing isn’t the right word but it’s the end of the day and it’s all I can think of. :)

    1. Observer*

      I think that demeaning is more like what you are looking for.

      I’m so glad you’re not dealing with him anymore. What an awful person to work for.

  37. Sarah*

    I’m always amused by Sr execs who hold these forums with their underlings to get feedback. And then when confronted with feedback, said in a unpolished manner, demand apologies, or standby while their mid-manager toadies do the dirty work. Grow a thicker skin or just admit you don’t want to actually hear from your team.

    I was 23 and raised a similar salary concern in a meeting about how we could improve retention. Several other colleagues did too, one aggressively so. He was met with a potentially racist insult from the exec. Later that week I was told by my boss never to do that again. My colleague who was the victim of the potentially racist insult was forced to write an apology to the exec. I learned early that if the meeting is large enough, just don’t participate. If the meeting is small, come up with some basic unthreatening question (Is our company simply great or the greatest!?) to ask the exec.

    1. OP*

      Normally I would agree with you but I was in this meeting and Jasper wasn’t just giving feedback—he dominated the meeting. He was so rude and unprofessional that even other people who are critical of management’s handling on compensation (myself included) were uncomfortable with how Jasper handled it. None of the rest of us even got a chance to speak or give our own feedback because of it.

      1. Observer*

        If his judgement is that bad, you really can’t take anything he says about this seriously.

        That doesn’t negate the issues that you are seeing. The two things are not mutually exclusive. Just make sure you are basing yourself on the things you actually know rather than what Jasper says.

  38. Hamburke*

    i used to make my children sincerely apologize using the 4-point apology template (1-what they did wrong, 2-why it was wrong, 3-how they are going to correct it and 4-asking for forgiveness). they hated it but it’s a great tool to have and has ruined relationships for them (bc they recognize when an apology is not sincere). I can’t see another adult forcing me to apologize, in writing no less, to someone especially in a work setting. that’s just not done. if it was egregious enough to force an apology, it’s egregious enough to fire them.

  39. Kimberly*

    I don’t make my 2nd graders apologize. I teach them how to apologize properly and that an apology without a change in behavior is worthless. I also teach them they don’t have to accept a meaningless apology that just said not meant and not followed by corrected behavior.
    (We have a DV shelter and an extended family that fosters in several households in our catchment zone. So we have kids with trauma from family violence. The last thing we want to reinforce is that an apology cleans the slate.)

  40. AusLibrarian*

    I’ve been on the receiving end of a forced written apology. A co-worker went for me via email, because she couldn’t go after the colleague who she was really upset with. Unfortunately, the (drama loving) colleague she was (rightly) upset with was there when I received the email and immediately went and reported it to our (spineless) boss. The two colleagues had a long running feud and were as bad as each other, but the one who went running to the boss was manipulative and *seemed* less problematic.

    The spineless boss promptly went to her even more useless boss, who then mandated a written apology. To me, an insincere apology is worse then no apology, but I had no say and was expected to just go with it and be the bigger person (a theme throughout my working life in that organisation). I subsequently ran into the colleague in the lift, who promptly burst into tears and offered a genuine apology, which I was happy to genuinely accept.

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