Thursday, August 14, 2014

Bosses ask the darndest things

The Guardian recently asked readers to send in the oddest (generally inappropriate) things that there managers had ever asked them to do.

Not surprisingly, there were a lot of goodies.

On fellow reported that a friend was asked to break in his boss’ shoes for him. (Let’s hope the boss got blisters, anyway.)

Another person said that a colleague who was leaving the office because her water had just broken was criticized for “abandoning her job.” (This reminds me of a colleague who was laid off while pregnant and showing. When she told the HR person who was seeing her out the door that it was going to be difficult for her to find another job, the HR manager told her to wear loose clothing and pretend she was fat.)

One guy was asked to remove a dead cat from under the hood of the car of his boss’ daughter. The cat had been strangled in the fan belt. Which explained why the car hadn’t started…

Then there were the garden variety requests – like ordering flowers for both wife and mistress. (No small thing, apparently. I have a friend who works in high-end retail, and they have to be very careful about delivering anything, especially sexy lingerie.)

Anyway, it got me thinking about odd (generally inappropriate) work requests I’d gotten.

Numero Uno happened when I was a product manager, reporting to one of the few female VP’s in the company.

I was asked to come up with the plan for product enhancements, the market research, revenue outlook, and cost benefit to justify the plan, and the script for a demo for a rough prototype.

Great! Happy to do it. My product, after all.

Alas, I was told by my boss, I would not be attending the meeting at which all this was presented. She was going to be taking care of that.

Product managers, she assured me, had never been invited to participate in the meetings at which senior management decided whether or not to keep investing in their products.

I made a strong case for my presence – and for product managers in general – to attend the meeting, but she insisted that it was just not possible.

To add insult to injury, on the day of the big meeting, I had to surrender my PC for the day, as it was the only one on which the prototype demo could be run. So I had to spend the work day using a battered old spare PC squirreled away in a glorified storage closet.

Grrrr, grrrr, double grrrr, triple grrrrr.

As lunch time approached, my boss stuck her head into the glorified storage closet and told me, “I think I’ve found a way for you to get into the meeting.”

I asked her whether she wanted me to talk through the research, explain the proposed features, give the demo.

Oh, no, she told me, “Since it’s almost lunch time, I thought you could go out and pick up pizzas for us. Then, when you brought it in, you could just stay for a while.”

My jaw went completely slack.

I told her that if she wanted someone to fetch lunch, she could ask our admin, but there was no way I was coming into that meeting as the waitress. I went to business school precisely so I wouldn’t have to take food orders, hand out napkins, and serve the grub.

Furthermore, I told her that, as the only woman participating in that meeting, she shouldn’t have been the one jumping up to take the lunch order, either. (We both knew that she was always, but always, the one who did so.)

So there.

She was pretty much in shock that I wasn’t going to make the pizza run. “You’re usually so easygoing, I didn’t think you’d mind.”

Anyway, after the meeting she swung by to apologize, and told me I was right that she shouldn’t keep playing the good girl who took care of the hungry boys.

The only other odd work request had happened years earlier.

Before I went back to business school, so I wouldn’t have to be a waitress, I did scut work in the economics department of a large bank.

At one point, my boss – the chief economist – decided that he’d have everyone work on some research on the New England economy, specifically, the New Hampshire economy. And that he was going to provide this research to a senator who was running in the Democratic primary for the presidential nomination.

Although this was post-Watergate, and people were growing a bit more conscious of what you could and couldn’t do for a political candidate, none of us gave second thought to preparing briefing materials for the good senator.

Until one day, when it dawned on one of the senior economists that this might not be a good – or even a legal – idea. (She was a Republican, so probably wanted to rat the big boss out for helping a Democrat.)

Anyway, she stopped by the bank president’s office and – so she told us – presented him with a hypothetical, what if situation.

The president was able to quickly interpret the hypothetical, and was told, “You tell J that he’s got 24 hours to get every piece of paper that mentions anything about working for the senator out of the bank.”

This was on a Friday, so us trusted troops were invited to work on Saturday, purging the files. We put them in cartons, taxied them off to the chief economist’s condo, and shoved them under his bed. He then made Tex-Mex food for all of us.

Those are my top two. I’m sure there are others – make that I know there are others – but I’ll save them for another day.


Thanks to my sister Trish for this idea.

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