Today is Halloween. I will be at work. (I will also be wearing a lion costume. Long story).
But even though today is normally considered the scariest of all scary days, the truth is that work can be downright terrifying--even on normal days.
Don't believe me? Here are 17 of the scariest things people hear at work:
1. "The CEO and the executive team have been in there all morning!"
There's nothing more anxiety-creating than being at work, sensing a big issue is going on that you don't know about, and waiting for the news.
2. "Let me introduce you to your new boss!"
Unpack that, and there are at least two fear-inducing elements. First, you've got a new boss--someone you don't know! And second, this phrasing suggests you weren't even involved in the process of selecting him or her.
3. "How much did you have to drink at the office happy hour?"
Or the client lunch, or the Holiday Party--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--and yet your behavior apparently left somebody thinking you were drunk!
4. "There's a certified letter for you."
Nobody ever sends good news via certified mail. Chances are you've got a nastygram waiting from the IRS, another government agency, or somebody else you don't really want to hear from.
5. "I know this seems 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 do a lot of digital media ad buying in my day job, and 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 be there's a similar cringe-inducing fear in your line of work that you could articluate.
7. "You're going to be an hourly employee now."
As my colleague Suzanne Lucas pointed out recently, lots of salaried employees are about to become hourly employees, due to a change in federal law. Almost nobody is going to like the change.
8. "See me."
When I worked as a lawyer, one of my fellow trial attorneys mastered our boss's handwriting. As a joke, he once left a note on the computer of another colleague when she snuck out of the office for a couple of hours on afternoon. I think she was about to have a heart attack when we let her in on the joke.
9. "There's a message from your kid's school."
Start with the notion that it's scary as heck 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 cringe-inducing 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 way.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--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.