First Read:

“Not Enough Details” Boss, Part One

The first day back from Spring Break, Rose and her fellow science teachers got together for their weekly brainstorming and planning session. The whole meeting got hijacked when it was revealed that all of them had spent Spring Break coming up with similar lists of conditions and ideas. They compared notes and worked on being cohesive in their message and only when they had 20 minutes left in their planning time did they realize that none of them had actually been able to plan for their next lesson. They all walked into their first lesson the next day minimally prepared, tired from sleepless nights, and, for the first time all year, anxiously awaiting the end of the day so they could just get away from the college.

√ Rose is a teacher at a small public school and a member of the teacher’s union
√ A new Provost came in 2 years ago in an effort to help the school’s failing finances
√ The school put in a huge program to up enrollment and did so successfully
√ Simultaneously, the teachers started taking more effort to connect and refresh their lessons
√ At the end of the year of increased enrollment, the Provost announces a need to cut expenses through a brief and incomplete email
√ Rose and her fellow teachers expend a lot of time and energy anticipating what the “expenses” are going to be and how to protect their jobs, wages, and pensions
√ This affects their mental health over their spring break and impact lessons on the first day back as the teachers took their department planning to caucus and plan for the impending discussion about reducing expenses


What a ridiculous waste of time and energy! All the productivity lost, all that genius put into counter arguments instead of lesson plans. And all because the Boss, the Provost in this case, didn’t give them a full picture of what was going on.

What the Boss should’ve done: If you are a Boss who believes in a less-is-more attitude with you staff, I should warn you that there is a fine line where this can hurt you.

Here, all the Boss had to do was change his message.

The message he sent the Union Business Manager was, “We need to cut expenses and would like to meet with you and your people about it.” Wtf, Boss? No wonder there was a TON of speculation.

Here’s another way to do this:

Despite having a great year in terms of income from tuition, we find that having to support a larger student body leaves us in the red in a number of areas. Since we can’t keep tapping our reserves and we’ll need a few years to raise tuition to a level that can meet the demand on services, we would like to explore cutting expenses temporarily.

We do not plan to ask for cuts to wages or pensions, but would like to engage in some creative brainstorming with our teachers to find some ideas. (Or, alternatively, “We do plan to ask for cuts for wages and pensions, but would like to engage in some creative brainstorming with our teachers to find alternative ideas.”)

Our hope is that some of the ideas we have come up with can be jumping off points for our teachers to find better solutions to a temporary problem. Solutions will be generated from within our faculty and staff, so nothing we come up with will be enacted without their serious input.

If you have ideas ahead of time, please let me know, otherwise enjoy your Spring Break knowing this is a problem we can deal with once everyone is rested and returned with fresh brains.

More words, for sure, but it gives a fuller picture of where this is coming from, how to handle it, and what is expected of the staff.

More, Bosses. Give them more.

What the workers should have done: Rose is clearly a dedicated and conscientious worker. But having such little information sent her into a tailspin about the security of her income and how to build barriers to protect herself. Her Provost unintentionally created resistance from within the workforce by not giving her and her fellow teachers more information.

However, Rose also has something she could have done differently.

If met with a Boss who doesn’t give enough information, there is one simple solution: ask for more.

Asking her Union Business Manager to seek it out, or seeking it out herself with the understanding and permission of her fellow union members would have eased this situation significantly.

The Provost may have given her more information. Yes, we want to entertain opening the contract. No, we don’t want to cut wages. Yes, we want your input. Actually, we have a proposal already and want to see if it’s something we can enact quickly.

If not, or if his information caused more questions, she could either continue to ask them or dedicate a particular amount of time to brainstorming, then leave it alone. Spending her plane ride brainstorming was great. If she and her fellow teachers planned a meeting back at school for comparing notes, this would’ve ensured that not only would she have gotten her ideas out pre-vacation, but provided a guarantee that they would be vetted and improved upon once she returned.

If additional ideas surfaced over her vacation, setting a timer for 15 or 20 minutes for getting her thoughts out would be a great way to contain the panic. She could give herself space for contemplation, ending it after her 15 or 20 minutes so she could go back to enjoying the sun.

Intentionality kills panic. For Rose, being intentional in what she wants to learn or create in that time would have killed the panic so she could show up the first day of school and give her students what they came for AND ensure that she got all her thoughts captured for the work ahead with the Provost.