The Sensational Shift with Susan Bernstein, MBA, PhD
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Dear Manager: A Manifesto for Conscious Employees


Last week, I asked for your feedback about toxic work. I had just two questions on my brief survey:

1. What makes a workplace “toxic” to you? 
2. In your opinion, how do we prevent workplaces from becoming toxic?  

You sent me TEN times more responses than I usually receive to any post or survey! Clearly, by asking about the negativity and nastiness in the workplace, I’ve touch a nerve.

On Saturday, 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 the 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 was inspired to write a letter to my manager.

At first, my draft letter was full of nastiness. Then, I thought better of it. If I’m going to be a conscious, evolved employee, I wouldn’t write something full of toxicity. I’d be direct and upbeat as I attempted to sway my manager to treat me in a way where my best performance would naturally be evoked. So that’s the kind of letter I wrote, which you’ll find, below.

If you are an employee, I wonder how this 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 letter? Inspired? Angry? Something else?

I would love to see this letter as a type of “manifesto for conscious employees.”

I welcome your feedback. Please help me to transform what I discovered in your survey responses into beneficial shifts in how managers treat their employees…

Read the “Dear Manager” letter and see how it touches you…

Dear Manager,

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 you 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.

With care,
Your Employee

5 Responses to “Dear Manager: A Manifesto for Conscious Employees”

  1. Holli says:

    How BRAVE Susan to put this out there. That is my first hit. And wow…is my 2nd as I look to return to Corp. America after being in private sector for 10 years. While I am eager for a job, seeing things like this makes me do the hard work of asking a lot of questions of my potential employers. My mindset on my interviews is I am interviewing them just as much as they are interviewing me!

    As far as the letter, my first hit was there are a lot of “you” in it – which I think could be triggering to a manager, especially questions like “are you strong enough?”.

    I then think about the type of manager that this is being written to in the first place – and think this manager might not have the emotional intelligence skills to see past the triggers into the heart of the letter. A manager that has EI and mindfulness most likely wouldn’t be receiving this type of letter…

    I think the idea is wonderful – and for me I would craft it to ensure that it is a way to “open up” the manager rather than shut her/him down. I would also most likely focus it on inviting her/him into a live conversation where the non-verbal communication can happen, making the letter shorter and to the point.

    Which leads me back to why Leadership Coaching with a foundation in EI and Mindfulness is so vital for management at every level. These skills are not taught at any level of our schools starting in preschool – yet these skills are the vital missing link to transforming our world. I don’t know the exact answer to solving that one…and yet know that if we all put our embodied minds together we can figure it out!

  2. Ccarolyn says:

    The letter is too long. I would be direct or as a manager like to have some examples of what they feel is insignificant and is not contributing to the company. They have addresses the issues, but not provided and solutions. For instance set up a meeting with the team, create a strategy for the company goals and develop tactics and a timeline. Then assign tactics or ask for volunteers to complete each tactic.

    Bottom line. Don’t complain, present problems with no suggested solutions.

  3. Thanks for your insights, Carolyn. My intention was to sum up what I saw from all the replies I got on the survey regarding toxic work. I get that it’s long. And in this case, I’m modeling a composite of employees, so I didn’t get to specific solutions. I agree that a true employee with these problems ought to offer solutions. However, it’s also important for employees to tell managers what they need, such as clear goals, and rewards based on merits. That’s what the letter is intended to convey.

  4. Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Holli.

    Yes, EI starts in preschool. As an example, when we’re young and we have a big emotional reaction, even when it’s joy, that may be hard for a parent. If the parent feels overwhelmed or overstimulated by the child’s outburst of emotion — like when a kid wants to sing her heart out, and the parent has a raging headache — a simple, fast-acting strategy to stop the kid from singing is to scream and wag a finger, “Stop it! You’re too much!” The kid will almost certainly cease singing. She may cry. She’s been shamed. And shame is a super-fast acting way to get behavioral change, and it’s done all-too-frequently in organizations, particularly because the people doing those behaviors had them done to them. So they don’t know any better.

    We do need to open the conversation, as you suggest. Had I just written an invitation, that probably wouldn’t have gotten as much response. I hear you on that point, to open a dialogue. And fortunately, we have one here, between us, and other people who have reached out on the blog and via email to me.

    Thanks again for your thoughtful comments, and your commitment to EI at work.

  5. June says:

    Dear Ms. Bernstein,

    I thought that you might be the kind of person that is both willing and able to communicate about important inner-company communications and morale issues such as those in your “Dear Manager” letter, and I thank you for bringing attention to them.

    Over my career, sadly, I’ve seem most of these problems and know how common they are. I am also convinced that the ‘tone’ of an organization always comes from the top down, and that any employee’s ability – management included – to improve how all employees are treated is always limited by the people at the top. A company’s personality is always created and maintained top down – both via hiring and reward/punishment systems.

    Of course you can make a difference in your specific area, but repeated impacts from upper management with no sensitivity for morale can damage all you’ve done. I’ve seen it. Often you leave for saner pastures, and workers also leave as soon as they can… or they pray for their retirement date.

    So much talent lost or left unused. So much enthusiasm squandered. Few businesses have really measured the money left on the table due to a lack of a cohesive and inclusive management style and strategy, however I have always suspected that it would put a dent in the national debt.

    People and their talents are resources. It takes time and effort to understand how to manage well – it takes the same effort that most people put into personal excellence in individual production. But many consider this pursuit a “soft” target that they can avoid. They can hold their position without it just like those who have gone before them. Well, sometimes that’s true and sometimes it’s not. But it seems so much easier, eh?

    And training seldom exists to address the concerns in your letter. Often it takes a crisis that forces change, and many leave or loose their jobs because of it. Waste of talent, skill and potential is a terrible thing to watch, as well as to be subjected to.

    Entrepreneurs, business leaders, and sales people often have very driven personalities – and they usually need those skills. Sometimes they also have the skills to lead and inspire, and sometimes they don’t. Teaching them to acquire others who have those skills, and to value that contribution, would make a difference to the bottom line that they may not have yet perceived.

    Leadership at all levels of an organization can be taught how to proactively deal with the challenges and potentials of their staff responsibilities. How to avoid “fiefdoms” and promote collaboration based on skills, talents and interests that are tied to monetary as well as personal recognition options. Yes, it’s a little bit harder, but the rewards can be so much greater than can be imagined before you begin. I’ve seen that too.

    Thank you.

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