the 8 weirdest questions I’ve ever been asked

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 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.

1. How can I make my employees stop burping?

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.

2. Our boss makes us all share one email account

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.

3. I impress interviewers by being late

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.

5. Someone is leaving fingernail clippings in my desk

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.

6. Kim Kardashian, is that you?

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. Coworker wets his pants at work

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. My coworker is moonlighting as a prostitute … from our office

The prize for all-time weirdest letter: the writer annoyed that her coworker kept leaving the office mid-day ….to conduct a side business as a prostitute. At one point, the coworker entertained a client in their office bathroom. 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.

I originally published this at Intuit QuickBase. 

Posted in Uncategorized

{ 19 comments… read them below }

  1. Erica B*

    ha! those are pretty funny.. and you’re right, the “moonlighting” one would be great on something like skinamax… er Cinemax

    1. Henning Makholm*

      I have trouble understanding Alison’s point with “Yet the letter-writer was mainly bothered that she was stuck picking up the slack”. Why the “yet” here? It seems to indicate that this was a strange thing to be bothered about. But isn’t that, in fact, exactly your usual meta-advice to people with coworker problems: Don’t expect your manager to share (or care about) your moral outrage at the coworker’s behavior; focus on how the behavior harms your productivity. The asker there was following that guidance to an A.

      1. fposte*

        Alison didn’t say it was necessarily a bad thing, but it was a bit surprising. This was somebody using their workplace to commit illegal acts, which has considerable potential for screwing with the jobs of people near her even if she *was* pulling her weight. That’s a practical concern, not just a moral posture.

    2. Anonymous*

      How do we know for sure that the person was moonlighting as a prostitute? There wasn’t anything in that quick summary that really indicated that the person was really doing something illegal.
      For all we know, the person could have been doing something completely legit (albeit at a bad time) and the letter writer could just have been annoyed with having to pick up the slack.

  2. Dawn*

    Calling to say you’ll be late to an interview, then arriving late, just to show you’re responsible about notifying your employer? Where the hell do these people come from?? I’ll definitely have to keep that one in mind the next time I interview someone and they call to say they’re going to be late.

  3. erin*

    Ewww, I completely forgot about the nail clippings one! So yucky. But I’ll never forget the moonlighting coworker. Hehe.

    There are some weird people in the world.

  4. A. Nonymous*

    The pants-wetter and moonlighter were definite musts! I thought you’d put them first, but having those two last was actually perfect. Those two definitely need a second update.

  5. Scott Woode*

    Alison, I loved this new post, and I had to share with you that HBO did pilot and syndicate a show (“Hung”) that was a High School Teacher who was moonlighting as a male prostitute to pay off outstanding debts post-divorce. AND HBO On Demand just reaired the series starting with Season 1 Episode 1 this month. So check it out.

    P.S. A pants-wetter? Really? Did you ever find out what happened with that case? I’d love to know how that ended (my ex-partner had Krohn’s and it affected his employment, but only slightly).

      1. Joe*

        I was going to bring up Hung as well, because that exact situation (get a coworker to cover so he can go service a client) does come up. I’m surprised you didn’t like I, I think it’s pretty well done. The kids are kind of annoying, but other than that, it’s been interesting, and it’s nice to see some recognition that men can be prostitutes too.

  6. Natalie*

    The spitting guy certainly isn’t the only person to have this attitude, but seriously: if your standard for acceptable behavior is “it’s not explicitly prohibited by my lease” you are a jerk.

  7. Wilton Businessman*

    One step away from being hired, a candidate asks me “When do the medical benefits start because I’ve got this nasty case of hemorrhoids that I need to get looked at?”


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