we got quizzed on our new boss’s horses, family, and vineyard

we got quizzed on our new boss’s horses, family, and vineyard


A reader writes:

I’m a contractor at a big company that has some ongoing labor disputes. While I’m in a different division than the several others that have strikes planned, it has bled over into some of my team in that we’ve been asked to add coverage to some areas during planned strikes. A few months ago, we had a reorg and have a new grandboss, “Alex.” Alex is new to the company and has done a lot of work to try to get to know the business and the people involved. The attempts have mostly seemed practical and sincere.

Unfortunately, recently an all-day event was scheduled under his auspices and it included sending a survey out ahead of time with questions like, “What don’t you know, but would like to know about Alex (personally or professionally)?” “What do you believe are Alex’s expectations of us?” “What has surprised you thus far?” It was made clear this survey was not anonymous. I found the questions tone-deaf and very off. Why would I care about details of this person’s personal life? This was supposed to be a meeting of all the people under Alex to discuss, one had assumed, business and answer questions about the future of our teams and management under the new leadership. I simply didn’t respond to the survey.

I got to the meeting and there was a slide show showing Alex on many horses and wandering through a vineyard playing. The first 20 minutes were all the executives giving each other gifts, on a podium, and sharing with us their plans for the holidays. It turns out they all own horses. Interspersed throughout the day were trivia questions with prizes (from Alex’s winery) for knowing things like, the names of his horses, or children, on the name of the wine he makes at his vineyard. One of the questions someone had put in the survey was about how he handles work life balance. He responded by humble-bragging/complaining about how early he has to wake up to tend to the horses before doing this job while also juggling his vineyard. How universal he imagines that struggle to be is hard to imagine.

I’m a contractor whose contract might arbitrarily end nine months earlier than agreed upon because someone made a mistake in the system about my end date and no one has corrected it and time is running out so, despite everyone wanting me to stay, I might yet still be terminated in about a week because the right hand isn’t talking to the left fast enough and at a company this big, sometimes these things happen.

Overall, I found the meeting deeply offensive. Renting out a fancy venue that’s normally used for weddings for an all-day meeting to learn about this person’s Christmas plans and be quizzed about his horse names while I’m not sure I still have a job and there are strikes planned against the company seems tone-deaf beyond comprehension. Our last meeting of this sort had protesters outside.

We were promised another survey will be coming and we were twice told we should feel we can be completely honest. I have a very hard time believing my feedback, attached to my name as it will be, would be welcome at all, given how negatively I feel about the situation. I’m worried the next survey might be mandatory. How do I go about threading this needle?

But don’t you want to be tested on the names of his horses??

Dear lord.

I assume that in Alex’s mind, this whole presentation (and quizzing! quizzing!) about his horses and spouse and children and vineyard and magnificent flowing hair and so forth was somehow about “being authentic” and “getting to know you.”

But yes, it was tone-deaf in the extreme.

And making you watch executives give each other gifts on a podium?

Somehow it’s not surprising that your company is having labor disputes and being protested.

I mean, it’s awfully surprising that they’d do that in the face of those things, but also … it’s not.

In any case, as a contractor, I’d leave it alone.

It might be wise to leave it alone as an employee too (although if you were an employee in good standing with some capital to spend, I’d encourage you to speak up). But as a contractor who’s currently dependent on your company’s good will to fix that end date mistake and not accidentally terminate you nine months early, it’s just not worth spending capital on. And it’s in no way your responsibility to educate them on how off-putting their ostentatious display of wealth inequality was — and especially not when it could come with personal cost to you.

If the next survey turns out to be mandatory, fill it out as tamely as possible. This is the time for the blandest of bland corporate pablum, not real feedback.

See if you can get some of that wine, though.

we got quizzed on our new boss’s horses, family, and vineyard was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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