I’d been fighting with my delete button for forty-five minutes, until I finally found the right arrangement of words.
There! I think to myself. I’ve complimented his contribution; made my own contribution without making a slight towards his, and I’ve included my thoughts about how to progress for next quarter. All in less than three sentences! I mentally pat myself on the back for successfully compiling what I feel is personally an even better response to my boss than my last. I hit the send button.
Closing my messages app, I eagerly open my Peet’s Coffee app. This deserves a treat. I select “Reorder” and confirm my usual pick-up location. I set up Spotify on my favorite Mood Booster playlist, and reverse the car. The coffee shop is only seven minutes from my house, but I can’t help myself. I’m checking my phone at every stop sign and traffic stop (and a little in between, too, since the car in front of me is going super slow).
No response yet.
When I enter the coffee shop, I’m surprised my drink is not already at the pick-up counter. It’s unusual for this team of baristas. I check my app to make sure I did in fact tip, which I did. I don’t let any hint of irritation taint my expression. Regardless of their slacking, I don’t want them to think I’m one of those “Karen” types, and I certainly wouldn’t want anyone to spit in my coffee.
There’s a guy around my age waiting in the long line at the pay area. He’s cute, and we lock eyes for the second he takes them off his phone. I have sympathy for him. I wonder if I should tell him about the app… It’s so much faster. He’d never have to wait again. Except…I’m waiting now. Now I’m embarrassed I even thought of it. He looks at me again, a quick flash, but definitely a look. I blush, and wish I had ordered my drink iced. Oh my god, I think he’s checking me out! Shit! I left my phone in my car! I don’t know where to look!
The barista saves me. Kind of. He quickly plops my drink on the counter, and rushes away without even his usual small talk flirtation. I can’t hide that feeling of confusion and irritation from my face. I feel my eyebrows drop over my eyelids and my nose crinkle upwards. I wonder if he’s mad I didn’t tip more. Or… oh my god, maybe I don’t look as cute today. I mentally assess my attire, but I can’t identify any reason for rejection.
Disappointed and annoyed, I take my coffee, willing it to make me feel better about this crappy Peet’s visit. One sip of my Pumpkin Oat Milk Latte, and my world has changed for the better. I’m eager to get back to the car to check my boss’s response – surely, he must have responded by now. Clicking the side button, my screen illuminates and I can see there’s a new message notification. Excitement slides my thumb up the screen, opening my password keypad before I have a chance to peek at the message preview.
Initially, I’m unsure of what I’m looking at. My message is the last one sent, and there’s no reply. Then realization hits, and I notice the small “thumbs up” icon at the bottom of my message, indicating one of the newer messaging features known as “reactions.”
I’m stunned. I feel a punch to my gut. Then, denial offers its salvation. Maybe he’s still replying…
I stare at my screen, willing the three jumping dots to do their dance, but they don’t show. A full ten minutes passes. My latte is gone, and I have to pee. I’ve reread my perfectly crafted message at least fifteen times. Still, there is no reply from my boss.
This can’t possibly be his response to my message.
I screenshot the message, which includes the small “thumbs up” icon, and send it to my boyfriend. His dancing dots immediately appear, quickly followed by his response: “????”
I roll my eyes, and my fingers are rapid against the keypad. “Rude, much? He didn’t even respond.”
He types back: “He thumbs-upped it. That means you’re good.”
My annoyance is as clear on my face as if I were face-to-face with him. He doesn’t understand!, I think to myself, but I still reply: “That’s like liking my post and not commenting! I spent like 45 minutes writing that message. The least he could do is acknowledge it. This is seriously offensive.”
My boyfriend’s typing dots appear and disappear a few times, and then his message finally arrives. It’s a shrugging emoji.
“Ugh!” I say aloud, tossing my phone to the passenger seat. As I’m driving, the irritation builds. I consider how to respond, or if I should respond at all. I go back and forth between telling my boss off or keeping it professional, or going to his boss with a complaint of harassment. It is harassment, I tell myself. The least he could do is tell me what he thinks about my ideas. Panic sets in a moment… Oh no! Am I going to get fired?!
I ask my boyfriend via text.
“You’re not going to get fired, babe. You just got promoted.”
This makes me feel better. For a moment. Then why the hell didn’t he respond? What does “thumbs up” even mean?!
When I get home, I’m pacing the house. In between biting my fingernails and checking my phone – still holding out hope that maybe my boss got torn away from his phone and is still working his way back to send me a proper response – I’m searching the web for what to do when you have an altercation with your boss. There are tons of suggestions about professional conflict resolution – don’t make assumptions, remain calm, acknowledge personal triggers, respectfully use “I” statements, address conflict in-person to avoid miscommunications, etc. – but none of it seems suitable for this level of offense.
I didn’t do anything. He’s the one being unprofessional here.
Next, I search “How to write a resignation letter,” and start surfing Indeed for jobs, which then leads to searching “How to improve your resume.” I’m scrolling through the results when something interesting catches my eye.
It’s a Quora post about someone who’s had a similar experience. It reads: My boss and colleagues are always responding to my emails with the “thumbs up” emoji and I have no idea what this means!!!! It makes me feel unappreciated and unimportant. I work really hard to share my ideas and offer my feedback, and it feels like they’re not even trying… or appreciating my efforts, for that matter!!!
I scroll through the comments, and so many people are having similar experiences in their workplace. I feel partly relieved that this isn’t just me, but the more I read, the more frustration rises in my chest.
This has gone beyond just me and my boss, I think to myself righteously. This cannot keep happening to us. Something has to be done.
I consider what I can do to help these people. I ask my boyfriend what he thinks should be done, but I only get a real-life shrug. After more pacing, more biting my nails, and one more trip to Peet’s (I put all my disgruntled feelings aside from earlier now that my mission has become so much more important; the barista totally tries to flirt with me this time, but to that, I stick up my nose), I finally realize what needs to be done.
I sit at my computer and open a new window. I’m thankful I created an account years ago when Britney Spears’ conservatorship was under review, and even though I have to reset my password to Reddit, it’s worth it. In just under an hour, I write what I feel will one day be a historically significant article on why our society must cancel this disrespectful and demeaning response. It takes me another thirty minutes to come up with an equally significant title, but I finally settle on the perfect caption: “Thumbs Down to Thumbs Up.”
When I hit the submit button, I smile, eager and excited at the thrill of those anticipated non-thumb-ups-shaped upvotes rolling in.
It only takes a moment for the anxiety to creep in…
What if someone downvotes it?
Mr. Meeks sits at home finishing up a work email to his boss. He summarizes his week, projects next month’s progress, and includes any additional information he feels necessary or specifically requested. In this particular email, he is delighted to include an update on the woman he recently promoted to sales manager.
He writes, “Angela is doing exceedingly well in her new role. I am pleased with the new accounts she has acquired, and her team’s numbers are only going up. Her input is impactful and demonstrates her dedication and knowledge of her new responsibilities. See the attached photo for her most recent ideas.” Mr. Meeks attaches a photo of the message he received from Angela earlier this week.
The next morning, Mr. Meeks finds a response from his boss waiting in his inbox. The message is simple and concise, consisting of one character: a thumbs-up emoji.
Mr. Meeks smiles at his boss’ approval as he pours his coffee and begins his weekend. Off to a great start, he thinks.