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5 Ways Leaders Can Avoid Sending Toxic Messages To Employees

Ever receive any of these one-liners from a new boss or one where trust wasn’t solidly built yet?

  • Call me first thing tomorrow

  • Need to chat

  • Are you there?

  • Got a quick minute to talk?

  • Can you stop by my office?

  • Connect ASAP

  • Text me. Important.

Sometimes obscure messages like these all too often prompt a sense of impending doom as employees anxiously ponder their boss's cryptic request for a conversation. The emotional toll of these types of messages especially when repeated often can be overwhelming. They may trigger feelings of fear, anxiety, and uncertainty about one's job security or performance, and if they happen to hit during off-hours the message may be perceived as nothing short of BA! (Boss Abuse). Even if the request turns out to be a positive one, it’s human nature to suspect the worst and stress over the outcome.

After a while, employees will mentally shut down for their own emotional protection. That initial fear of the unknown soon gives way to a mind-numbing mental resignation of ‘not again, now what!?’

Despite their negative impact, these messages continue to be an all-too-common occurrence in the workplace, highlighting the need for managers to consider the psychological safety and well-being of their employees. Here are five tips to avoid those cryptic requests.

  1. Just stop it already. Don’t be that leader who sends any sort of dreaded message of doom, especially if the relationship with your employee is new, or lacks a solid foundation of trust between you. Even if you have a great, long-term relationship with an employee, it’s respectful of their well-being to provide a bit more context.

  2. Be clear and specific: When requesting a connection with an employee, make sure to clearly state the purpose of the connection and what you hope to discuss. This will help to alleviate any uncertainty or anxiety the employee may have about the request.

  3. Use a friendly tone: When making the request, use a friendly and approachable tone. This will help to put the employee at ease and make them more receptive to the connection.

  4. Ask yourself why: If you happen to be that boss who sends cryptic requests, ask yourself what’s behind the need to do so. Busyness? Power play? Unaware of how others might be impacted by your actions? Think first before hitting send. If you’re OK getting a cryptic request from your boss, it doesn’t mean that your people are.

  5. Offer reassurance: Even if the reason for the connection is negative, let your employee know that it’s an opportunity to touch base and offer support if needed. This will help to reduce any anxiety the employee may have about the request.

It only takes a few more keystrokes to dispel a lot of anxiety. For example, “Call me when you can, I have a question on the Jones account.” Or “Please connect before you log off today, we need to reconcile the figures on this month’s targets,” can speak volumes of respect for employees’ well-being. If you’re not fully convinced, consider this recent Tweet from an employee:

"Just got a calendar invite from my boss titled, “quick chat – good thing” – and I have never been more grateful/impressed with anyone in my life. A workplace revolutionary!!” tbh

Dr. Merrylue Martin is President and CEO of the Job Joy Group and best-selling author of the Big Quit Survival Guide. To learn more, visit and connect on LinkedIn.


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