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We asked a psychologist for his take on Mark Zuckerberg's controversial email to staff. Here's what he said.

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Chelsea Jia Feng/BI; ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images
  • A Meta lawsuit revealed emails Mark Zuckerberg sent to his employees in 2016.

  • In one, he sternly told his team to "figure out" how to get past Snapchat's encryption.

  • A therapist and psychologist said this can have different effects.

Newly unsealed emails in a lawsuit against Meta show that Mark Zuckerberg directed Facebook employees to track encrypted user analytics from Snapchat, a competitor, in 2016.

Beyond the ethically murky request to get through Snapchat's encryption, Zuckerberg ended his email with a stern, "You should figure out how to do this."

"The tone of this email is all about the task. No niceties," Ronald Riggio, a professor of leadership and organizational psychology at Claremont McKenna College in California, told Business Insider. He said this is "not uncommon" in bosses.

While curt, shame-based tactics can negatively impact employees and backfire on the business in the long run, Riggio said context is key, and that's not necessarily the case.

Stress is a murky motivator

The reason bosses send urgent, condescending emails is simple: On the outside, it can look like fear is a strong motivator for some people, Annie Wright, a licensed therapist, told BI.

She said that for people prone to hyperarousal of the nervous system when stressed, "an email like this might generate activity, determination, rapid action to soothe and please the boss." A people-pleaser might leap into action.

It might achieve immediate results but lead to high employee turnover. Bad bosses are one of the top reasons people leave their jobs.

Additionally, Wright said that some people might react differently by shutting down. They experience hypoarousal of their nervous systems and freeze under pressure.

An email like Zuckerberg's can increase the chance of employees needing therapy to cope with a toxic work environment.

It creates a specific workplace culture

Riggio said the bigger issue with Zuckerberg's email is his unethical request — something that the tone of his email made it more difficult to say "no" to.

He said it can be hard to stand up to somebody with as much status and power as Zuckerberg, especially if their boss is task-focused.

"That's why a lot of leaders get into trouble," he said, referencing the recent Boeing controversy. In creating a strict, top-down, non-collaborative culture, "they do things, and the people following them look the other way or just continue."

Good leaders have more empathy

At face value, Riggio said there's nothing wrong with a "you can figure this out" email — depending on a boss's relationship with their employees.

"If the relationship has been one where you challenge your employees to take initiative and come up with novel solutions or be creative with how they're doing the task," he said, then a statement like that could signify trust rather than judgment.

Zuckerberg's unearthed 2016 email comes when more companies seek emotionally intelligent leaders who empathize with employees' emotions and make workplaces more unified and successful.

"A good boss, a good leader should do both: they should get things done, but they should also nurture the people who are following them," Riggio said.

Read the original article on Business Insider