Corporate games

What your boss should never ask you to do

Elizabeth Bromstein|

It’s good to be the boss, so they say. But sometimes the people in charge get drunk with power, don’t they?

Managers, like everyone else, are just trying to get the job done. But it can be easy to lose sight of what is and is not appropriate to ask of employees or candidates.

Managers will ask things that involve humiliation, grueling physical activity, potential injury, and unsettlingly personal errands. Here are five examples – some of them far too common – of requests or demands that bosses may make of employees or candidates that we think they shouldn’t.

Partake in demeaning competitions: The Local reports on Clio Alamnsa of Mataro, Spain, who, in October 2012 took part in a bizarre three-day selection process to become a cleaning products salesperson that left her with a broken back.

Applicants were made to compete against each other in games such as standing on chairs and trying to push each other off. In one event applicants were made to compete to pick up a €50 note from the floor.

“He threw it on the ground and it was like an avalanche,” Almansa told El Mundo. “Even if I’d kept completely still I would have been dragged along.”

Almansa was trampled and left with a crushed vertebra.

This company should be ashamed of itself for putting unemployed people through such a useless spectacle.

Participate in ridiculous team building activities: Sure, they’re trying to foster a collaborative environment but not everyone wants to get muddy and bruised playing Paintball or is comfortable falling backwards into each other’s arms in a rousing game of “Trust.” And if people aren’t happy doing these things, being forced to do them isn’t going to make them any happier.

There are examples out there of bosses a widely circulated article on “What bosses should never ask staffers to do,” and this was one of them.

The only people who enjoy this stupid ritual are single people with crushes on their co-workers. Everyone else has friends and families (see above) that they already have a difficult enough time fitting into their schedules. When someone hasn’t spent any quality time with their husband and children all week, the last thing they want to do is sacrifice an entire afternoon or evening being forced to make small talk with people they don’t care that much about. Also, this always means they either have to a) come alone because their partner isn’t invited, or b) find a sitter because they feel obliged to bring their partner.

Why would you do this to anybody? Don’t they have any friends of their own? Can’t they party with them?

The boss’s (very) personal errands: Last year, Liberal Senator Colin Kenny made headlines when a former aide went public with allegations that, when in his employ, she had been asked to perform tasks not in her job description, like arranging Kenny’s credit card payments, finding him a personal trainer, and picking up his erectile dysfunction pills. If the first two requests don’t go a step too far, that last definitely does. To top it off, the woman was being paid with tax-payer dollars.

If you are a personal assistant whose job description includes picking up your boss’s dry cleaning and walking their dog, that’s acceptable. But asking someone to run your personal errands whose job description does not include them is inappropriate. And nobody should ever be asked to pick up something as personal as ED medication. In that case I’d tell him to pick up his own Viagra.

Evaluate themselves or their peers: This one is contentious, and a lot of companies do this, but these are also included in Jeff Hagan’s article, and I agree with him. Here’s why:

It’s management’s job to evaluate staff, and making them do it themselves is lazy. Asking people to evaluate their peers puts those with a conscience in an uncomfortable situation, should they have something negative to say. I am very uncomfortable when asked to evaluate my peers and I have given overly positive reviews thinking it’s always better to err on the side of kindness. Also, it gives those with petty issues a platform to vent. For both these reasons, peer evaluations are unreliable. And they foster an environment where people have to wonder what is being said about them – so, pretty much like high school.

Self-evaluations, meanwhile, are pointless. Who cares how people think they’re doing? Just tell them.

If a manager is not capable of evaluating their own staff, perhaps they should look at their management strategy.

You can, of course, refuse to participate in any of these things, but, unfortunately, it can be at your own peril. Even if you can’t get fired for it, it can affect your relationship with your boss and co-workers. Just know that we feel your pain.


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  • http://about.me/davidalangay David Gay

    Despite the disturbing examples mentioned, this article in general is not a surprise. This is an employer’s market in this Age of Austerity and jobs are extremely scarce, so employees are being asked to do things they did not originally agree to do at the time of hiring. This practice is especially true where downsizing occurs and new items to the job description are added. As a result, we have employees doing things they are not trained to do, and are at risk of harming themselves if not their fellow coworkers.

    In some cases, employees can in fact be fired for not complying with some requests, but it will be sugarcoated by the employer during the tribunal as a “oh, so and so has a history of being difficult and non compliant during his/her employment, so we had to let him/her go”. Hearing and lawsuits could go on for months if not longer, and since the now-fired employee is out of a job, they cannot financially afford to pursue the employer for damages.

  • Marie-Eve Duval

    When you get to middle management, peer review should be taken into consideration, because often, the superior is not involved in the day-to-day. How is the management suppose to evaluate the performance when they are not involved into the work?!