Career advice columnists get asked some pretty strange questions at times. In between the usual inquiries about how to deal with a micromanaging boss or the best way to ask for a raise, we sometimes hear from people with much more, uh, specific queries.
For the past four years, I’ve been fielding all sorts of workplaces questions at my blog, Ask a Manager. Readers write in asking about everything from how to survive the excruciatingly annoying coworker in the next cubicle to how to get along with a tyrannical boss. Some questions are funny and others are heartbreaking – but at times they’re downright bizarre.
Want a peek inside the oddest corners of my mailbox? Here are the eight weirdest questions I’ve received from readers.
One letter-writer complained that her employees burped constantly throughout the day, despite her “numerous” requests for them to stop, and wanted to know what her next step should be.
Answer: It’s true that some medical conditions make people burp uncontrollably (in which case the manager needs to live with it), but it’s unlikely that multiple people in this office are suffering from a burp-inducing medical disorder.
If the manager is determined to take this on, she could explain that regular burping creates the perception that the office is unprofessional and is disruptive. She could also say that performance reviews and raises take professionalism into consideration, and this will play into that. Or she could just lay down the law and tell the burpers that the antics need to stop, period.
One letter-writer reported that her boss required her coworkers and her to all share one email account and read all the messages sent to each other. His rationale? It would allow them to all stay in the loop about each other’s work. Unsurprisingly, the boss “is the only one who reads all emails and comments not only on pending work, but timeliness, and content of employee correspondence.”
Answer: The letter-writer’s boss is, of course, a control freak, as well as a bad manager. You don’t do something like this if you know how to manage effectively, and there are far more effective ways of overseeing work than rummaging around in people’s email. These coworkers should talk to the boss as a group and him that the current system is inefficient for all of them, that they’re going to set up individual email accounts like the rest of the world, and that they’ll use other ways to stay abreast of each other’s work.
This crafty letter-writer wanted to share a job search tip: He deliberately arrives late for interviews. Half an hour before the scheduled time, he calls to warn the company that he’s stuck in traffic. Confused about the technique here? He believes the interviewer will be impressed by his courtesy in calling.
Answer: Noooo. You shouldn’t be late in the first place, and alerting them if you will be is the bare minimum that would be expected from a job candidate in that situation. Expecting the interviewer to be impressed by the extra effort you made to call is like expecting to be thanked for making the extra effort to brush your teeth that day.
4. Can I be written up for spitting?
One outraged letter-writer wanted to know if his boss could write him up for spitting, explaining that he frequently spits while he’s smoking outside. He even indignantly pointed out that nothing in the company’s lease addressed the condition the walkway must be left in, apparently thinking that could be the only cause for concern about having a spit-spewing employee loitering around the building.
Answer: You can be disciplined or even fired for pretty much any reason your employer wants, unless (a) you have a contract that states otherwise, which most people don’t, or (b) the reason is based on your membership in a protected category, such as your race, religion, gender, national origin, or so forth. But it’s perhaps more important to know that chronically standing in front of your office spitting is bound to disgust someone.
One letter-writer kept finding someone’s fingernail clippings in her desk drawer and on her chair. She’d been keeping a nail kit in her desk and someone was sneaking in, using it, and leaving the evidence behind. When she talked to HR, HR suggested a “stalker” could be at work.
Answer: That HR rep gets points for creativity. It’s more likely that an unmannered lout is on the loose in your office and felt entitled to help themselves to your nail clipper in the same way they would your stapler. Whatever you do, don’t start keeping a toothbrush in there.
One letter-writer wanted to know if being on a reality TV show would hurt her ability to get a job later. In a display of impressive confidence, she added that she wasn’t currently slated to be on one, but wanted to prepared for how it might impact her prospects.
Answer: Even if you’re on a respectable show and conduct yourself in a respectable manner, any prospective employers who know you from the show will feel like they know things about you, and those things may not be accurate, relevant, or any of their business. You’ll come with baggage, which could be good or bad — maybe they’ll like the idea of hiring the guy from that show, or maybe they’d feel cheesy hiring that guy.
Worst case, you implode in some spectacular way, or are edited to appear like a jerk, or end up on a show that develops some notoriety. Then you’ve got the same factors above, but with a particularly negative spin on them.
7. How do I handle a coworker who wets his pants?
One letter-writer complained that her coworker was regularly wetting his pants during work and wanted to know what she should do about it.
Answer: Pawn this one off on HR immediately. Not only is the conversation a sensitive one, but there may be medical issues involved. I’m not sure anyone is well-equipped to handle this conversation smoothly, but HR probably has the best chances.
8. I think my coworker is moonlighting…as a prostitute
The prize for all-time weirdest letter: the writer was annoyed that her coworker kept leaving the office mid-day to tend to her “side business.” Yet the letter-writer was mainly bothered that she was stuck picking up the slack, complaining, “I have to finish the work she never got around to doing because she was out of the office most of the day.”
Answer: The letter-writer should probably pitch this as a Showtime series.