Here's my ongoing list of the scariest things you can ever hear at work. Also, 7 other things worth knowing today.
Today is Halloween. Even though today is normally considered the scariest of all scary days, the truth is that work can be more terrifying. Don't believe me? Here are 17 of the scariest things people hear at work:
1. “The exec team has been meeting all morning, and it doesn’t seem good!”
What’s more anxiety-creating at work than getting the sense that you’re outside the loop on a big issue, and waiting for the news?
2. “Let me introduce you to your new boss!”
This one is a double-whammy. First, you've got a new boss! Change is scary! Even worse, the phrasing suggests you weren't involved in the process of selecting him or her.
3. “Um, how much did you have to drink at the office happy hour?”
Or the client lunch. Or the Holiday Party. Or else, any work event where alcohol could be involved. Oh man, what did you do? In a way, it could be even worse if you hadn't been drinking; yet your behavior apparently left somebody thinking you were drunk!
4. “There's a certified letter for you.”
Nobody sends good news via certified mail. Chances are you've got a nastygram waiting from the IRS or some other government agency, or somebody else you don't want to hear from.
5. “This might seem like bad news. But, it's really good news.”
Poor managers find a way to say things like this all the time. No, it's bad news. The only thing to find out now is what kind of bad news.
6. “Did you forget to put a cap on that ad auction?”
This one's a little personal to me, since I used to do a lot of digital media ad buying in my job. Every once in a while I'll sit up short and think: Wait, did I forget to check some box on a form and accidentally spend a ton of money? I'll bet there's a similar cringe-inducing fear in your line of work that you could articulate.
7. “We’ll be making some changes to our remote work policy.”
This is a post-pandemic one for sure, and it’s another double-whammy. First, it might mean that whatever comfortable work-from-home arrangement you’ve had is about to be disrupted. Second, since it’s being announced to you, it likely wasn’t your idea.
8. “See me.”
I’m still laughing at this one 20 years later. When I practiced law, one of my colleagues mastered our top boss's handwriting. As a joke, he left a post-it note on the office chair of another colleague who had snuck out of the office for a couple of hours one afternoon. He almost had a heart attack.
9. "There's a message from your kid's school."
Start with the notion that it's scary to hear that there might be some kind of bad news about your child. Add to this the fact that whoever relayed the message didn't get the details. There's also the concern that even if your kid is okay, you still might have to leave work to take care of him or her.
10. "The board members are here a day early."
Or the potential clients showed up ahead of time—basically anyone important that you have to meet with, and that you might not be ready for.
11. "Funny, the CEO never used to travel to India."
Wait, are they going to outsource some jobs overseas? Are they going to outsource me?!!!
12. "Be honest. You're not happy here, are you?"
Hearing these sentences--especially from a boss—is not good news. Either you've created an impression that you're not engaged with you work, or else your boss wants you to leave, and is just hoping you'll be the one to make the move.
13. "We'll announce the details of the layoffs next week."
What's worse than hearing bad news at work? Hearing a little bit of bad news, with the promise of more bad news later. Far better just to deliver it all at once.
14. "Um... How long did it take you to finish that project?"
One way or another, somebody is questioning your productivity with this kind of question. The little "um" at the start gives it away. Either you're in danger of being replaced, or your work simply isn't valued.
15. "Were you aware that our policy prohibits that?"
Yes, you knew whatever you did was prohibited. You just embraced the idea that "it's easier to get forgiveness than permission," and now maybe you're finding out that it isn't actually easier.
16. "Oh, you didn't get that bonus?"
There are some organizations with near total transparency about everyone's compensation. Other ventures—not so much. So fearing that a colleague got a raise or a bonus that you didn't-until or that others flat-out just make more money for doing the same job as you—creates anxiety...
17. "You're lucky to have a job here!"
If your boss is telling you that you're lucky to have a job, that suggests he or she doesn't think the company is lucky to have you. If you have any self-respect, it might be time to think about moving on.
Okay now it's your turn. What other phrases should be on this list of the scariest things to hear at work? Let us know in the comments below.
7 other things worth knowing today
Elon Musk is expected to lay off hundreds or even thousands of employees at Twitter today. One reason for the haste: If they’re employed on Tuesday, they qualify for quarterly stock grants. Musk also fired the CEO and other top leaders within hours after taking over Twitter last week, arguing he had done so “for cause,” which could let him avoid paying tens of millions in severance. (Axios)
Weekend tragedies: More than 150 people were killed in a stampede at a Halloween celebration in South Korea, with untold more injured. Separately, at least 80 people were killed in India when a footbridge packed with sightseers enjoying holiday festivities collapsed and plunged them into the river below. (NPR, Reuters)
Security arrangements for members of Congress and their families are coming under increasing scrutiny following last week’s attack at the home of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in which her husband was severely wounded. (WSJ)
Beneficiaries of climate change? English wineries. In the spring of 2016, something happened that sent the wine community into a bit of a tizzy: In a blind tasting, a selection of English sparkling white wines were chosen over comparable French champagnes. ... While the United Kingdom’s chalky soil is all-but identical to the soil in the Champagne region, its climate—until very recently—simply couldn’t compete. (Smithsonian)
YouTube’s richest creator MrBeast is seeking to raise money at a $1.5 billion valuation in what could be a massive milestone for influencer-led business. (Fortune)
How a 32-year-old high school dropout built a business (Shipt) and sold it to Target for $550 million. (CNBC)
Who on Earth thinks it's progress that a new car no longer has a latch to open the glove compartment, and you instead have to go through a 3-step process via a touch screen just to reach your car registration and whatever other junk you keep in there? (The Autotopian)
Thanks for reading. Photo credit: Unsplash. I’ve written about some of this before at Inc.com. See you in the comments.