As a workplace advice columnist, I hear some pretty strange questions. In between questions about getting along with a difficult boss or how to get a promotion, I sometimes receive much more bizarre queries.
Back in 2011, I shared eight of the oddest questions I’ve ever been asked at my blog, Ask a Manager – and in the two years since, I’ve received plenty of additional strange ones. So it’s time to update that list, with eight more of the strangest questions I’ve received from readers about their workplaces.
1. My boss keeps stealing my lunch
One letter-writer had serious allergies so always brought food from home into work to eat for lunch. Her manager had begun eating her lunch from the staff refrigerator almost daily – and when she tried packing meals that she could keep at her desk, he started raiding her drawers when she was in a meeting or away from her desk. When she asked him to stop, he just complimented her cooking.
Answer: A locking lunchbox! This letter-writer took the advice, purchased herself a lunch box with a lock, and solved the problem. And two other coworkers bought them too, indicating it might have been a more widespread problem. The boss, apparently, took it in stride.
2. Should we have to give group feedback while standing in a line?
One letter-writer reported that her manager had settled on a new way of giving people feedback on their work: The team would form two lines facing each other and then each person would give feedback to the person they were facing. The letter-writer, unsurprisingly, wasn’t comfortable with this new plan.
Answer: This sounds like some sort of catty teenage girl ritual where everyone tells each other what you don’t like about each other and then there’s crying and yelling.
There’s a place for getting feedback from people on your team who aren’t your manager. But you do that individually and with some dignity! These coworkers should talk with the manager and explain that they’re not comfortable with this plan, and that they want to handle feedback like normal professionals, meaning in private and not while standing in a line.
3. Our receptionist won’t stop hugging visitors to the office
One letter-writer managed a receptionist who would hug any visitor to the office – and not just any hug, but what the writer described as “demonstrative productions … a longer-than-necessary, full-body hug … She’ll loudly announce how good it feels to be hugged.”
Answer: This one requires direct and immediate correction. The manager should say something like this to the receptionist: “I really appreciate how friendly you are to visitors to the office. However, not everyone is comfortable with being hugged in a professional environment, and so we need to stop that. I know your intention is to be welcoming, but different people have different physical boundaries, and in an office, we need to err on the side of making sure no one feels uncomfortable from physical contact. So that means no more hugging.”
4. Our boss insists on being our life coach
One letter-writer’s manager was insisting on leading the staff in “life coaching” sessions every week. When some employees said they would rather not participate, he apologized that they were uncomfortable but said the sessions were a requirement … and that they needed to share goals from their personal lives so he could help them achieve them.
Answer: Obviously this is a ridiculous overstepping of boundaries. These coworkers should push back on this as a group. They should frame it as, “We like working here and want to focus on our jobs. We’re uncomfortable being asked to share personal issues in the office, and we want you to stop asking us to do it. We like having you as our manager, but we do not want you as a life coach. Please respect that and let us focus on doing our jobs.”
5. My boss is always making out with his girlfriend at work
One letter-writer reported that her manager’s girlfriend was constantly in his office (despite not working there), and they could regularly be seen cuddling or even making out with the door wide open. When she and her coworkers tried to enter his office to talk about work issues, they felt like they were intruding on a love nest.
Answer: Normally the first step here would be to talk to the manager when the girlfriend isn’t there, saying something like, “It’s hard to talk with you about work-related matters when Jane is here – is there some system we can set up to ensure that we have time with you when we need it?” However, this hormone-addled manager has already shown that he’s not concerned about normal standards of professionalism, so this might be a time when it makes sense to go straight to HR .. so that someone with more sense than the boss is aware of the situation and can put a stop to it.
6. A job candidate sent an invoice for her interview
One letter-writer reported that after rejecting a job candidate, her company received an invoice in the mail for both her prep time and the interview itself.
Answer: Take this as confirmation that you made the right call! And either ignore the invoice or send a quick email saying, “We received your invoice for your recent job interview. Since that was a job interview and not a consulting meeting, it must have been sent in error. Best of luck to you.”
7. Can your employer make you get a fake tan?
One reader wrote in about an office in the fashion industry that was requiring a new saleswoman to get a fake tan before going to a fashion show.
Answer: While this would be outrageous in most industries, the fashion industry does have expectations that would never fly in other fields – like being expected to have a certain look, wear certain brands, not wear anything from two seasons ago, and so forth. But ideally, the new saleswoman would speak up and say, “Fake tanning isn’t really my thing, but I’ll make sure that I look polished and put-together” and then would make sure she adhered to the general image that her office clearly wants to project, even if she does it while slightly paler.
8. An employee is putting magic curses on coworkers
The prize for the most bizarre letter in recent memory easily goes to the HR manager asking what to say to an employee who was casting evil spells on her colleagues – two of whom apparently got seriously ill soon afterwards!
Answer: Treat it like you would any other hostile threat from an employee, and tell her that it’s not acceptable to threaten to harm anyone she works with, and that threatening people with harm — regardless of the means — is grounds for termination. And of course, start reading up on counter-spells, potions, and hexes.