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Home | Got a Minute | Bad bosses | No. 109 – Can my work force me to put pronouns in my email signature?

No. 109 – Can my work force me to put pronouns in my email signature?

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31 May 2023

I am a cis woman and I don’t believe in the latest movement to use pronouns. I have refused to add pronouns to my work email signature, even though my work requires us to do so, because it is a violation of my freedom of expression and opinion. I received an email from my team leader informing me she has addressed my refusal with the CEO and HR. After that, I phoned in sick a few times to avoid confrontation since I felt bullied and targeted. I have since handed in my resignation and have found myself at the doctor’s office requesting time off for my mental health, just to see me through my resignation notice. Can an employer force you to use pronouns? Any advice or direction would be greatly appreciated.

First, I do not believe it is helpful for any organisation to force someone to add pronouns to their email signature. While you have outlined reasons not to do so because of your belief around free speech, there will be others in your organisation who may be uncomfortable being forced to disclose their pronouns for reasons of gender identity. What might have been well-intentioned by your employer is fraught with challenges.

Second, and unlike you, I see the “movement of using pronouns” as a relatively simple way for us all to demonstrate support for the LGBTQIA+ community and those whose gender is not as fixed as you have experienced. Just as you have regrettably felt bullied and targeted for your views, those with fluid and non-binary genders have experienced similar, many their whole lives. As you have regrettably found, the impact on mental health for those unable to express themselves can be profound.

I do not believe any employer should force someone to share their pronouns, but I do believe respecting people’s pronouns is about respect and inclusion. I am confident your employer will be able to find a path through this with you if you are open to talking to them about your experiences, and being open to hearing the experiences of others in your organisation.

I currently work at a large organisation and my immediate manager is causing me a great deal of stress. Due to his schedule, he is often up by 4am, so I wake up to multiple emails of tasks I must complete for the day. When I come online he immediately calls me to discuss the emails, even though I haven’t had a chance to digest. This bombardment of communication causes me a great deal of anxiety. He has just gone on leave (HR forced him to, as he never takes leave) and I was looking forward to the reprieve, however while being on leave nothing has changed, and he is still constantly working. He is a great supporter of me professionally, but I’m beginning to think if this continues I’ll have a breakdown. What should I do?

This sounds like an untenable situation and either you, your boss, or both of you are likely to experience burnout, or a ‘breakdown’ as you describe it, unless something changes. Burnout is a serious health and safety issue and your employer has an obligation to provide a safe working environment – and that includes making sure you are only working reasonable hours and being asked to meet reasonable standards and expectations.

You mentioned you are in a large organisation, which hopefully means you have policies, HR support and perhaps an EAP provider you can speak to about this. I am not sure from your letter if you have tried speaking to your boss, but if you have and that has not helped, I would ask your HR support for advice on the options available to you.

There may be an opportunity to transfer within the organisation if no action will be taken to manage your manager’s work demands. Either way, your employer has an obligation to take preventative measures now to avoid you needing to seek medical or psychological support for a breakdown. Do take care and be sure to seek help now.

My boss pitches himself as my mentor (I didn’t ask for that relationship) but I also have 25+ years experience leading teams and delivering complex projects. My boss recently went on leave for six weeks and I stepped up to manage and settle in a new team. It was hectic, he left many things unfinished, but we achieved a lot and created a great team culture. On his return, there have been direct snippy comments towards me in private and team meetings. I feel uncomfortable, anxious and my gut says I can’t trust him now. Do I talk to him?

Your boss sounds patronising, insecure and now threatened after you successfully managed his role in his absence. Unfortunately, unless he is self-aware about his own behaviour and wants to help you succeed, speaking to him about this is unlikely to lead to a positive outcome and only lead to greater frustration for you. If you can, go and speak to his boss (who you reported to for those six weeks) about the possibility of taking on a new leadership opportunity now you have proven yourself and can show you can shine.

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