To prevent toxic work, would you give your manager a letter like this?
I recently asked for feedback on a survey, with the key question: What makes a workplace “toxic” for you?
In just two days, nearly 75 people answered the question. A few days after, I sat down at a cafe for three hours to pour over your responses.
My heart ached. I read about the hostility, chaos, internal competition, bullying, lack of clarity, and a host of other toxic situations that many of you are facing.
I wanted to fix your toxic work problems. But how?
I imagined myself in your place, as the employee.
And I felt inspired to write this “Dear Manager” letter.
If you are an employee, I wonder how this “Dear Manager” letter impacts you? Would you send it to your manager? As is? Or would you modify it in some way? If so, how?
And if you are a manager, how would you feel about receiving this “Dear Manager” letter? Inspired? Angry? Something else?
Comment below, and let me know what you think of this “Dear Manager” letter.
I want to share with you the real reason I joined this organization, so you know how I’d like to be managed.
Naïve as it may sound, I want to make a meaningful difference in the world. I’m here because I like waking up in the morning, knowing that my actions can bring some ease or joy in the world.
So please avoid giving me little piecemeal projects, especially without enough context. Show me where the activities I’m doing fit into the bigger picture. I care about the impact of my work. I’m not one of those people who can silently be a “cog in the wheel,” nor am I content to mindlessly “go through the motions” here at work.
Along those lines, when the strategic focus is either unclear or keeps shifting, then the work I’m doing changes day to day. That feels dizzying and unsettling. Please work with the senior leadership to clarify and focus on a few sustainable goals and objectives. I’d like to work towards those for at least a few months or quarters. That way, I and my colleagues can all know what our targets are — and feel more united in meeting them.
Otherwise, when your senior managers keep changing your minds about where we’re headed, it’s hard to trust you. Who wants to pour out their heart and soul into a project (not to mention giving up our personal lives to work long hours) only to discover a few days or weeks later, that that a once “monumentally important effort” is suddenly being terminated? It’s so disheartening.
When you want me to do something, please give me clear guidelines about what success looks like, how my work fits into the bigger whole, and the date by which you need the finished product. And then give me the latitude to do it, my way. When people micromanage me and pester me about every tiny detail, I feel angry and incompetent.
Trust me. Coach me. Show me how to see strategically. When you give me the lay of the land, instead of the narrow view, I see how to make my greatest contribution.
I commit to doing excellent work. I’m more prone to do it faster, more accurately, and more creatively when you and your fellow managers voice your appreciation. Please don’t hold back. I’m more inclined to give my utmost when your praise outweighs your criticism. Sure, I like hearing you say “way to go!” I’m much more energized and uplifted when you point out the specifics of what makes my work valuable, like “those graphs you a suggested and created made a very persuasive point in the meeting.” Then I know what excellence looks like, and I’ve got the fuel to do more.
In the same vein, almost nothing brings me down faster than when managers reward people on factors other than the merits of their work – like their appearance or their chummy relationship with senior executives. When you award bonuses based on those arbitrary conditions, how can I measure up? It’s a disincentive to do my best.
Worse, when your fellow managers encourage me and my coworkers to compete against each other, that’s soul crushing. I crave camaraderie and collaboration — not nasty, unnecessary conflict and drama. it’s also frustrating when you tolerate any form of shaming or intimidation from my colleagues or your fellow managers. That kind of unfairness makes me angry enough to stifle my creativity and talents.
Help our organization to avoid the kind of confusion, competition, negativity, and nastiness that make for an unhealthy, toxic workplace. Please foster caring connections and positive contributions.
Like so many of my co-workers, I’m eager to excel. To access as much of my potential as possible. To reach for the next rung on the ladder of success.
Are you strong enough to be “for” me and develop my talents?
Because if you’re too weak, or afraid, imagining that by growing me you’ll somehow be threatened – well, I’ll have to go.
Actually, the biggest factor impacting whether I stay or go is my relationship with you, my manager.
Like it or not, you exact a lot of influence in my life. If you were to take on an angry demeanor, start scheming in ways that go against our organization’s stated values, or stop looking out for me, that would bring me down.
I hope you consider that the way you treat me colors many vital aspects of my life — including how relaxed and kind I feel in all my relationships, the ways in which I’m able to spend my leisure time, and even what I feel confident enough to purchase. No matter how strong I try to be, the quality of my interactions with you impacts my self-esteem.
Bottom line: Give me context, set an achievable plan which does not change day to day, develop my trust and respect for you, offer praise, improve the organization, and understand the impact you have in my life. When you look at me, please see the positive contribution I want to make – – to out team, to our organization, to our clients, and yes, even to the world.
You have the ability to support me in bringing out my best. When you do, I’ll do everything possible to delight you.
Let’s foster a continuous and open dialogue about how I can serve our organization while developing my skills and talents. When we keep the lines of communication open, honest, and authentic in both directions, I trust we’ll have a stellar relationship that makes both of us happy to come to work.
I want you to feel so proud to tell anyone and everyone “this is one of my very best employees.”
So, let’s get started! I’m raring to go.
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