My boss forwards fluffy kitten e-mails!

Should someone inform the boss that these chain letters are bogus and scary? Should I send a link to

By Cary Tennis
November 13, 2007 4:22PM (UTC)
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Dear Reader,

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Dear Cary,

I work with reasonably well educated people, but my boss insists on sending around those "this happened to a friend of mine" chain e-mails. You know the kind. The ones that talk about children getting their legs crushed by the Taliban, or people flicking their headlights and picking murder victims; the ones that usually end with a prayer, a picture of a fluffy kitten, an animated butterfly, and a request that you send it on to 15 people so that you can save a life. They go out to the entire office.

I desperately want to reply -- to send a link to Snopes, to explain how space monkeys won't fly out your nose if you use air freshener. But it would probably be damaging to my career to do so, right?


How do I stop the fluffy kitten nightmare?

Fw'd Off

Dear Fw'd Off,

Here are some possibilities:

Your boss does not have enough to do.

Your boss is stupid.

Your boss thinks everyone else is stupid.

Everyone else is stupid.

These e-mails are a psychological test.


This e-mail is a psychological test.

The most alarming possibility is that your boss is actually stupid.

If your boss can't recognize a bogus chain letter, or even thinks it's OK to give the impression that he can't recognize a bogus chain letter, you are not in good hands. Your boss has to be smarter and better organized and more real-world centered than anyone else in the office. So I would treat this as a sign: You have to start looking for employment someplace that doesn't function like an episode of "The Office."


I mean, your economic future is in this person's hands. Can you really trust someone who forwards chain e-mails about fluffy kittens to make the prescient call on a tough business decision, to see reality clearly enough, to understand the motives and tactics of competitors well enough, to balance risk and benefit with enough cool-headedness to make the right decision time after time? Can a person who forwards fluffy kitten e-mails actually have those qualities? Maybe, but it's not a good sign.

It's not just the fact that your boss may well lack the hardheaded discernment necessary to guide a company through difficult challenges. It's also that you can't do your best work unless you are working with people who share your assumptions about the world. Diversity in background and temperament is a good thing, but you have to have a shared set of assumptions about the environment you're operating in and how the world works. You have to operate from a shared set of facts: The regulatory environment is such and such, the prices of our competitors are such and such, our position in the market is such and such, and ... we are not the kind of company that forwards fluffy kitten e-mails. Or are we?

Confusion about such a fundamental matter is a bad sign.


A boss has to be able to distinguish the real from the bogus.

Otherwise, your boss may be tricked, hoodwinked, bamboozled, conned, made a fool of! You may wake up one morning to find that he has sold you all into slavery! Whoops, he'll say. Sorry! Honest mistake! But you will be in the hold of a slave ship on your way to perform sex acts with monkeys in front of a live television audience! How did this happen? Your boss failed to distinguish the real from the bogus.

You can't have that happening. Better to get out now. Start looking for a place where they at least pretend to know what's going on.


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