A reader writes:
I am really uncomfortable with a new development at my office and I feel like quitting is the only option now.
I’m an administrator for a private recovery and mental health center, not a clinical or medical staff member, so I’m not at risk for emotional burn-out. We were notified last year that we now have a mandatory group therapy session as a staff first thing in the morning (8 am) and before we leave (5:30 pm) and that all staff must participate. I’m a salaried employee and I don’t get overtime. I come in at 7 am and leave at 3:30. We’re expected now to stay until the 5:30 session, but I can’t alter the time I come in. I’m essentially working for an extra two hours for free daily. But that’s not all, this new policy is so screwed up for the following reasons:
1. We’re expected to fully “therapize” in the session — it’s not just checking with everyone on how their day was or like a morning meeting. We had to fill out paperwork about our childhood and life trauma that asked if we were sexually abused. I was horrified at the personal things our manager is expecting us to divulge to him.
2. Being forced to go to therapy at work, twice a day, performed by my own boss and in front of my coworkers feels invasive and kind of abusive. In short, it feels batshit. I have no idea where my boss got this idea – it’s not a state or executive board requirement.
3. It impacts my schedule in unfixable ways: each session is an hour so my day is a mad scramble of trying to fit in my important tasks around what I’ve started to call “my daily brow-beatings.” It makes me start my days on edge, and it makes work feel unsafe and weird.
I’ve reported my boss but our executive branch and board of directors are very, very slow to respond on almost anything. I rely on my job because the insurance is amazing but this is insane. I’m usually great at keeping my work life and home life separate but the idea of going to work now makes me nauseous. I actually vomited on the way to work last week just thinking about it all. I actually called in sick today because I just can’t.
I think I need to quit. I don’t think I could come back from this kind of mental warfare — this feels like a power play or some kind of mental game my boss is playing because he can. That being said, I feel like I should report him to the state board — this is an abuse of his license. Am I wrong here? Am I mistaking concern for the health of our staff for something else?
I wrote back and asked: “What do your other coworkers seem to think about this? Is your sense that there are others who would join you in pushing back on this? Also, how strong of a position are you in to quit without something lined up (in terms of finances and other job options)?”
We’re a small team of 15, so we know each other fairly well. We’re kind of split down the middle: half of us hate it and think it’s abusive at worst and a time waster at best, the rest of the staff either aren’t vocal about it or have openly said they think it’s great for team building.
I’m safely in a position where I can leave if I need to and just use my husband’s health insurance. I took this job after getting head-hunted for it and don’t want my resume to look like I’m flighty, but I also don’t feel that staying is healthy.
This is one of the worst things I’ve heard about in years of writing this column, and I really want you to leave.
Daily Twice-daily mandatory group therapy at work? A boss who requires you to fill out paperwork about childhood trauma and sexual abuse? And that’s before we even get into whole “hang around for two extra hours waiting to be violated like this” piece. It makes this office look like a paragon of health.
Some lawyer could make a good argument that this violates the Americans With Disabilities Act’s prohibition on employers asking for disability-related information beyond what’s job-related and consistent with business necessity, and that might be a route you want to explore.
But I’d also strongly consider banding together with the half of your team who hate this, and pushing back in the strongest of terms. You could, as a group, explain that you consider this intrusive and inappropriate, and that you’re not going to participate. And then you could all decline to participate in the meetings themselves, all saying something like, “I’m not comfortable participating in this” when you’re called upon. It’s possible that your numbers are strong enough to get this stopped, or at least to get it significantly weakened (like making it voluntary rather than mandatory).
But if that doesn’t work, or if your coworkers won’t speak up about it, then yes, this is abusive and intrusive enough that I’d seriously consider leaving over it, since you’re in a position where you can do that safely. I hear you on not wanting your resume to look flighty, but as long as you don’t have a pattern of leaving a bunch of jobs after little time, leaving one job without something else lined up isn’t likely to raise flags.
(Also, in just the last year, we’ve had this and this and now this. I hope this is some kind of alien experiment being conducted on us without our knowledge, because I can think of no other explanation for it.)