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I recently received an email from my manager about a "professional behavior reminder". It's very vague stating "Please remember to dress professionally and not speak negatively about the products you are representing. Failure to do this may result in termination". The problem is I cannot tell if I did something or if this is being sent out to everyone. It's written in a generic way that makes it sound like it was mass distributed. OTOH the "to" part of the email is only to me and I was not CC'd or BCC'd.

Maybe I'm over thinking this but what should I do?

  1. Just say OK
  2. Ask if everyone got the same email or just me
  3. Ask them to be more direct and tell me if I did something wrong

While I enjoy this job, it is part time and paid per hour. I would really like to keep this kind of correspondence to a minimum. The work is very independent and I would have to go out of my way to ask a coworker if they got it.

I actually just Google searched to see if such 'notices' are common, and found one roughly similar and useless. Seriously what's the point of such things, to make it easier to fire people by saying that they got a warning?

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    Do you have a trusted colleague you can ask if everyone got the mail? Dec 9, 2022 at 8:18
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    One note - you may well have been BCCed. When an email is sent BCC to everyone with no TO, then everyone sees it as "to" them.
    – Joe
    Dec 9, 2022 at 18:16
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    @LokiRagnarok One person already knows that the email was sent, so there's no risk involved in mentioning it to them, and knows for sure who it was sent to: the manager who sent it. Ask them "hey, was this sent to everyone or did I do something (and if so, what was it)?" Dec 9, 2022 at 22:28
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    @Joe my experience is, when an email is sent BCC to everyone with no TO, then nothing appears in the TO field, and you do not see your own name anywhere (happens with my work email and just tested it on Gmail). I would assume that if I am in the TO field, then the sender put me there...
    – wimi
    Dec 9, 2022 at 22:29
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    Do you think there is any reason for the reminder? have you done anything that you think the boss could take as "not dressing professionally" or "speaking negatively about products"? Dec 10, 2022 at 19:00

4 Answers 4

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Ask them to be more direct and tell me if I did something wrong

That.

Go to you manager and ask them. "I don't quite understand what this is about. Can you please explain if I did something wrong and what I should be doing differently? "

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    Do THAT, but make sure to do THAT in a non-confrontational manner to your manager. Dec 10, 2022 at 2:11
  • @Job_September_2020: How is the suggested wording "confrontational "?
    – Hilmar
    Dec 11, 2022 at 7:55
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    @Hilmar They may not have meant the wording; they may have been implying to OP that tone, word emphasis, mannerism/body language, etc, matter as well.
    – anjama
    Dec 11, 2022 at 13:19
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This appears to be a due diligence email from your manager.

Either you or someone did something and this is a notice to correct that, or there is a known pattern and this is a written warning so the next occurrence results in termination.

Your best options would be to acknowledge it and follow the directive or acknowledge it and ask for clarification.

It would not be in your best interest to ask your manager if anyone else got the email. Typically, you want to avoid speaking to your manager about any disciplinary actions regarding coworkers.

In this situation, I would recommend checking your company dress code and be sure you're within policy. I would also make sure you don't privately message or email anything (from company resources or to company resources) negative about your company products, including what you view as constructive criticism until you've received clarification from your manager.

I've seen plenty of notices similar to this. Lots of them are policy updates, some are reminders, some of them are sent to everyone but intended for one person. You can compare how it looks to other group or mass message emails the company sends.

However, with your name in the "To" field and the only disciplinary action mentioned is termination, I recommend taking this notice seriously. Notices like this are sometimes used as a written trail for the company to establish cause for termination. This can be used in conjunction with other evidence collected as well.

Or your manager is sending this email because some higher up thought they saw you with your shirt wrinkled and you rhymed the product name with a type of flower and the executive is just throwing their weight around.

Edit: In some email programs, you being in the "To" field and no other recipients are visible, it may be that the entire email list is blind copied.

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    My guess is that somebody else has been pulled up for something, and they've been spoken to specifically in more detail. But for whatever reason (and I'm not entirely sure what is the precise purpose) they've emailed the whole office with something vague. If the company was seriously interested in changing everyone's behaviour they would arrange training and tell you (the OP) what to do differently. So I assume they don't expect you to act differently, they just want to cover their asses, to demonstrate that they have emailed everyone.
    – Stuart F
    Dec 9, 2022 at 21:43
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    "Either you or someone did something" This. Last time I got such an e-mail, it was by an overstressed manager in response to someone from a different division getting laid off because they made an enemy out of their manager. Entire team got one. Someone did something they shouldn't have, paid the price with their job and everyone got warned not to do anything remotely similar. Never found out the details, I left that company out of my own volition 3 months later.
    – Mast
    Dec 10, 2022 at 10:51
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    If I wasn't friendly enough with my immediate line manager to ask about something like this, I'd be looking around for another job. Dec 10, 2022 at 22:00
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Depending on your workplace and any related regulations or contracts that might or might not apply, this could be contrived to constitute a formal performance notice and a lead up to a firing where they will use it as evidence of a performance issue and your having been given due notice (for things like avoiding paying out related unemployment, vs, say, simply laying off a given employee).

It might not be about you, it might just be a routine thing managers are expected to send each of their staff regularly, but that's a risk that might not be worth taking: only you can really decide that, short of getting someone to answer about what triggered it being sent as addressed.

Personally, if it were me, I would:

Email

(not simply "talk to" until after having sent something recorded, given the format of what was sent to you) the manager in question a reasonably formal, polite response saying (paraphrased) that you appreciate the reminder, you always strive to conduct yourself in that way, and if the notice is in response to any specific event where such conduct is believed to have occurred on your part, you would appreciate being made aware because you are, yourself, unaware of anything related having happened, you would hope that they would of course feel free to always come to you directly with any related concerns so you can make sure you are meeting their expectations, but you are concerned since the email you received seems to be addressed to you personally and you would like to make sure any perceived issues can be cleared up appropriately.

If you are invited to talk in person about this ("come to my office"/etc), and if it turns out that this is about someone else, follow up with another email that thanks the manager for talking to you about it and for them clarifying that it wasn't about you or anything you had done (don't, hopefully obviously, mention anything about anyone else, if they reveal anything of THAT nature: keep your "thank you" email firmly contextualized in just yourself), or whatever information they do divulge as it relates to you specifically: for example, if they say "this doesn't constitute a formal performance warning letter for you" include that wording in what you send them.

Save hard copies of all of the emails (including all responses) someplace where you will have continued access to them. Ideally the first email elicits a response such as "Oh it's not about you, I can't say who it's about, but you've always been great" and now you can keep a saved copy of that in case something does turn sideways later.

That might be more "confrontational" than you're comfortable being (because some people will always be inclined to see a formal response to a rather formal invocation as "confrontation"), but I've been burnt before taking someone's "oh it's just a regular/procedural/whatever thing and doesn't mean anything" at face value.

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One part of managing is setting clear expectations. And to make it clear and consistent, it often bears repeating. Repetition makes clear what you really value, because if you value it, you will repeat it until people are annoyed. But this repetition will make clear, this was important yesterday, and it is important today, and it will be important tomorrow. Some people will find it repetetive and think it's clear already, but some minor annoyance is a small price to pay to ensure the core message stays clear.

Either this, or somebody in the organization ran afoul of it, and they thought it bears repeating the message before the action repeats.

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    I had the situation where someone in the company did X which was badly wrong, and then everybody was told not to do X.
    – gnasher729
    Dec 9, 2022 at 10:09
  • Right, but it wouldn't have really cost the manager much to start the e-mail with "Dear Team X" or "Hello everyone" or something, or with "Dear sculptorwolf" instead, so as to make clear whether this is a PSA or a personal reprimand.
    – TooTea
    Dec 9, 2022 at 13:48
  • @TooTea the question was: What's the point of such messages. It wasn't if it can be done better. It sure can. But managers are people too, they learn they should do X, but they don't do it perfectly. Especially not the first few times around.
    – Benjamin
    Dec 9, 2022 at 13:54
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    This. And the manager is failing completely when they say "Dress Professionally." Does that mean a business suit, or steel-toed safety shoes, hard hat, and hi-viz vests? Because both of those qualify as "professional." A clear dress code should be provided. Dec 9, 2022 at 17:29
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    I have received such emails and they almost always cause an uproar. Pro tip: include a sentence like "this recent didn't involve all of you, but I am taking this as an opportunity to remind you all of our policies"
    – stannius
    Dec 9, 2022 at 23:34

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