should you create a fake workload to test how much pressure an employee can take?

A reader writes:

My husband works for a small firm founded by veterans. Last week, his supervisor assigned him an extreme amount of work, including some tasks that weren’t fully feasible. He ended up working back-to-back, 11-hour, stress-filled days, including starting the second day at 6 am. At some point on the second day, he communicated to his boss that he could not meet the stated goals despite his ongoing efforts.

The third day included a performance review, off the usual review schedule. During the meeting, his supervisor revealed that the previous two days had been a deliberate test “to see how much he could take” and how he’d handle intense pressure. Apparently, senior management/executives had been involved in planning this, and they’d wanted him to eventually communicate that the workload was too much, as he’d done. His performance was considered a success.

My husband shrugged it off by saying that this must seem normal to people who have been in the military and are in sales, but I see it as unethical manipulation. With everything going on in our country right now, piling misery on an employee just to see if he’ll crack seems tone-deaf at best and sadistic at worst. What’s even stranger is that this workplace knows that my husband has generalized anxiety disorder, since he’d disclosed that earlier this year. Their “test” seems to have very clearly risked exacerbating his health condition.

My husband thought their aim might have been to assess his suitability for new responsibilities and/or promotion, but he has never received information that a specific promotion is being considered (or even possible, in these unstable times). Any hints to that effect strikes me as possibly more manipulation.

What’s your take on this?

They intentionally created fake stress and fake urgency to test “how much he could take”?

They are assholes.

If you think someone might have the capacity for more work, you can find that out by (a) giving them stretch assignments of real work that you actually want them to do and (b) being transparent that it may be too much and asking them to tell you if things need to ease up, and then making it safe for them to do that (including things like checking in regularly about whether they need more breathing room). You don’t deceive them about your intentions, try to make them more stressed than they need to be, or make up fake work.

And if what you’re really testing is how someone handles stress and pressure … first and foremost you need a reason for testing that. Is the job one that will require the person to handle high-stress situations? If so, you don’t just throw them in on their own — you work with them closely so you can pay attention to what support they need. And you’re up-front about that piece of the job and what you’re doing. (And if the job doesn’t involve the need to thrive under high pressure, then you do none of this because it’s irrelevant.)

What would your husband’s employer have done if he had “failed” their test and hadn’t pushed back on the workload? What if he had just worked 11-hour days all week and then collapsed at the end of it? All for a fake test?

Something is wrong with these people, and your husband shouldn’t be blasé about it.

{ 263 comments… read them below }

    1. Quill*

      In years to come, people clicking “random article” will have to crawl the archives to get these sorts of jokes. :)

        1. eggmcbubbin*

          I’m a relative newbie to askamanager. Thank you for Guacamole Bob! I read almost every comment to the update. Brilliant.

    1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      This. I was reminded of stories my partner told me about about combat training. I commented that it still can’t be the same as being under fire.
      He looked at me. Oh, OK then.
      He was also a corrections officer.
      Their training included proper use of tasers and tear gas.
      Yes, it was hands on.
      No, OP’s husband is not in combat or a prison. He is in the realm of the demented.
      This is not normal, not right and (what should be most significant to the assholes in charge) not productive.
      If they can’t determine how to delegate work without making people crack WITHOUT making people crack, they are not fit to lead.

      1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

        Yes! These guys took the end of a long string of steps and said, let’s start there.
        This really made me think. This is like one of those illustrations of “I became a success all by myself,” not realizing that his/her family was supportive of education, his/her school district had great resources, s/he was born healthy and smart.
        So do they think at ALL about the reasons for what they do? I’d never trust a deadline again, first of all.

    2. EPLawyer*

      It’s not normal in the military either. They don’t just dump you in a situation and go “okay do it.” That’s why its called TRAINING. Then they dump you in the situaton as a final test, with appropriate safeguards so no one dies. The military knows what it is doing (mostly). These guys do NOT.

      1. TooTiredToThink*

        My gut reaction was – don’t they also do sink or swim style tests with *teams* of people? I mean, I’ve never been in the military and can only go by what I see in movies or tv, but this just doesn’t even seem like something they would do to someone in the military EXCEPT in extreme situations where the person going into it knows they are going to be tested as such (like SEAL training, etc…)

        1. Lady Heather*

          Admiral McRaven’s “Make Your Bed” is a great read about life (and SEAL training) and it’s 9/10 teamwork.

          (He summarized that as a graduation commencement address – it’s on Youtube.

          1. UKDancer*

            Absolutely. I have seen programmes about SAS training and they do stress testing, making people do drill at 3am, kidnapping them etc. But all these people volunteered and expected a degree of harsher treatment as part of selection so they know it’s coming.

            Only a very small percentage of UK military even volunteer for selection. I dated a Rupert in the regular army briefly and he said most of them have more sense than to want to try for the SAS, you have to really want it to put yourself through it and very few people make it. The rest of the regular army don’t get anything like the same harsh processes.

          2. Hey Karma, Over Here*

            My nephew’s graduation. Totally worth the drive. I love my nephew and all, but let’s be honest, those things drag. I don’t even remember my own speaker, but I remember that one!

      2. Anne Elliot*

        And even in the military and paramilitary professions like policing and corrections, the employees or trainees KNOW they are being trained or stress-tested. They are not given fake scenarios that they themselves believe are real. So +1 to “these people are assholes” but to me it is this aspect that makes this situation unethical and far more likely to damage employee relationships with management, than to build them. The next time OP’s husband gets a huge assignment, how is he supposed to know if it’s real or bullshit?

        1. Wintermute*

          Bingo, they are briefed, they may not be given specifics but they are briefed, and then told on what criteria they are being evaluated, and then the test begins. SERE training doesn’t start with them ambushing you at an ATM at night and putting a gun to your back and a bag over your head, and that’s basically what they did here.

      3. juneybug*

        I agree – 20 years of active duty service in the Air Force and I was never “tested” this way. Challenged (stretch assignments) or trained for tough scenarios but never left on my own to see how I could handle things for no reason (there was always a reason why we train – pending war, possible chemical attack, what would we do if the military base was overtaken in foreign countries, etc.).
        Feel free for your husband to tell his veteran supervisors that the rest of the military is embarrassed by their actions.

      4. Ominous Adversary*

        It’s not normal in the military, but it’s very normal for abusive asshats as a way to see how much they can get away with.

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            yup. Rather than hope for a promotion, OP’s husband should be very very worried about what they might decide on next.
            And the company ought to be very very worried that he might not take the deadline seriously since he’ll just assume it’s another stress test.

            1. Amaranth*

              I hope it was a strange way to see if he could handle stress of a new promotion but it almost sounds like they were trying to trigger his anxiety.

      5. Genny*

        This was my first thought too. You don’t just show up at basic training and get thrown in the deep end. Breaking you down to build you back up is a process, there’s a clear purpose behind it, and you mostly know what you’re getting yourself into before so you can make an informed choice.

    3. Quill*

      I mean… hazing has long been known to be bad overall but *gestures at every military movie ever**gestures at campus greek life*

      There are plenty of people whose ideas of whether or not someone is “strong enough” are based on “how much can I duck with their heads before they get out of dodge?”

      1. Lady Heather*

        Heh, the newspapers attribute the increase in fraternity pledges to the need for more connection and interaction due to covid.

        The more likely explanation seems to be that hazing and initiation rituals have been suspended for the year..

      2. Observer*

        Hazing is bad. So much so that all the military branches officially ban it. And they tend to deny that it’s happening (and the promise to investigate when the evidence becomes too strong.)

        Which is to say that if they are ex-military, they may be bringing over some of the toxic culture – but they are still garbage. Because successful ex-military all know both what the regulations are and what ACTUALLY works.

      3. MMB*

        Hazing definitely happens, but only within a tiny, tiny percentage of greek communities. Unfortunately, you’re far more likely to hear about those examples than you are the houses that raise $20k, $50k or even $75,ooo a year for charities. {Shrug}

        1. Kate 2*

          Just because they raise money for charity doesn’t mean they aren’t ALSO hazing. All wolves need a sheepskin to hide under.

          1. Black Horse Dancing*

            Considering how endangered wolves are, can we please stop referring to them as dangerous/evil/vicious? They are family oriented, shy creatures and yes, they are predators but they are usually terrified of people (like almost all animals) and simply want to survive and live in peace. They also are much sweeter and kinder than a lot of people I know.

            1. Dream Jobbed*

              Wolves are DANGEROUS! Two to four people in North America have been killed by wolves in its recorded history. Two (or four) whole people in hundreds of years! Obviously they are almost as dangerous as vending machines which kill 37 people per year. (More than sharks BTW.)

              Obviously I loath the Hollywood portrayal of wolves which is so ridiculous, and means a lot of innocent animals dying for a fear breed by fairy tales.

              Wolves are one of the most beautiful and least dangerous to humans beings there are. Would much rather run into them on a hike than a rattlesnake, or infected mosquito. Or a moose looking for a girlfriend – the most deadly mammal in Alaska. (Still nothing compared to mosquitoes though.) They are also incredible at balancing nature. Look up how the waters were cleaned up once wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone.

              1. FormerEmployee*

                They are great parents and the other wolves act like aunts and uncles.

                Besides, anyone who loves dogs should think kindly of wolves. They are essentially the living ancestors of your dogs.

              2. Anon1234*

                I live out in Manitoba and can confirm. Went out hiking one year and got caught after dark (the trail was supposed to be 7 km, what I failed to realize was the trail out to the trail was another 8), a wolf followed us at about a field’s lenth away until we got to our car. Didn’t do anything, probably just making sure we didn’t stumble on it’s young. We got into the car, and had a moose run out in front of us to try and challenge the vehicle to a duel, luckily my partner had the presence of mind to get the hell out of dodge or we would be pancakes on the road.

    4. Artemesia*

      This. There are a lot of sadists drawn to positions where they can ‘command’ people and some of them bring that with them when they work in the private sector. I know of a startup that basically worked to ‘destroy’ employees with harsh work conditions because they viewed work as some sort of ‘bootcamp’ — it was unnecessary and very damaging to many people — for no good reason except a psychopath on a power trip. They ended up punishing and driving out their most productive people (oh and they were unrelentingly sexist so that mediocre male employees were promoted over more productive (this was measurable) female employees). Naturally eventually they failed as a business.

      1. Some Internet Rando*

        “Naturally eventually they failed as a business.” This is the part I would worry about… this is bad leadership so does it mean the business may also be mismanaged and may fail? Tell your husband to start looking around.

    5. LookItsABird!*

      Well, it is both “normal” and “good” in a few highly specific fields. I did experience this in the military too, but as another poster said, not on a daily basis. But in aviation training, for example, it is very common routinely dump pilots in stressful and complex situations as part of normal training.

      For example, in the training of private pilots, usually about the third or fourth lesson, while we are working on other things, the instructor (I’m one) will cut the engine and tell the student they have an engine failure and they have to figure out what do do. It’s incredibly stressful (the first several times anyway). Other times, in simulator training, it’s common to dial in multiple failures at once driving the stress level and workload through the roof. Again, this is what you *need* to be able to do if you’re a pilot.

      But that is hyper-specialized, and as another poster noted, I always knew I was being trained, altho it’s a pretty real experience when your instructor does it to you in the airplane at 10,000 feet. :)

      So it has its place, but it doesn’t sound like that place had anything to do with where the OP’s husband was.

    6. Melissa*

      Even if it were normal in the military (other comments indicate it is not), if this were me I would be looking for a new job ASAP. I did not sign up for the military. Or hazing/psychological tests. Presumably neither did OP’s husband.

    7. Database Developer Dude*

      It’s not “normal” in the military outside of Basic Combat Training. I can only speak for the Army, though, not other services. Any of my Navy, Marine Corps, or Air Force brothers or sisters care to speak up?

  1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

    Nominated for worst bosses of 2020. Definitely strong contenders!!! I wonder if they did this to other employees?

    1. Sleepytime Tea*

      Seconded. This would make me absolutely furious. What total disregard for a person. And I’m not just talking about their emotional well being by giving them all that stress. Total disrespect for their time and just life balance as a whole. I am not a betting woman but I would bet that OP’s husband is salaried and didn’t get paid a dime for all the extra hours they put in, nor offered some comp time for the unnecessary and selfish stress they put him through.

      I would seriously re-think my employment after a stunt like this.

      1. Nea*

        Yes, I was reading that and when I hit the part about “seeing what you can take” I immediately thought “You can see me take my resume elsewhere!”

  2. Rafflesia Reaper*

    They thought they were testing how much stress he can handle, but they were truly testing how much baloney he can stomach.

    1. Software Engineer*

      Yes. And if the person tries and tries and cracks under pressure instead of asking for help… does that mean they can’t handle stressful situations or that they don’t trust their management? You have to make it possible and safe for people to tell you ‘this isn’t possible/I need help,’ after all

      And if you pull stunts like this then add an employee I would not trust you very much! Ick.

  3. Me*

    Some people actually snap under too much pressure.

    You’d think they’d realize that.

    What a bag of… something.

    1. Jill of All Trades*

      What a lot of people don’t realize is that “snap” from being under too much pressure can actually be the catalyst for mental health disorders. That definitely doesn’t happen to everyone, but it happened to me after being under a lot of pressure and being trained by unsupportive bosses not to complain.

      I would, and have, cracked under situations like this. Now I’m on medication and in therapy for literally the rest of my life, and wondering if I can even work full time at all.

      If I found out this was all due to some fake test to see if I could handle the pressure, you better believe I’d be talking to a lawyer and pushing for worker’s comp.

        1. Canary*

          They think it’s a temporary thing; you do something out of character or need emergency leave because of too much stress, but take a few days off and you’re back to normal.

      1. Quill*

        I’ve had monthlong (semester long, too) mental breakdowns and believe me OP’s husband’s workplace is going to manufacture themselves one of those sooner or later.

      2. Lime green Pacer*

        A family member had a psychotic episode as a result of too much pressure, combined with meds that reduced the psychotic threshold. Six weeks of hospitalization and four months of recovery later, they are just beginning to operate semi-normally. Still not ready to return to work, though.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        I am very sorry this happened to you. There’s a special place in h3ll for these people.

        And these fools are the same people that whine about health care costs.
        They need to be told, “But YOU are driving the costs, you are causing people’s health to fall apart.”

        1. I take tea*

          Stress can absolutely cause permant damage. My mother got permanent heart arrhythmia from being driven too hard at work and had to go on sick pension. Such stupid bosses.

    2. Kiki*

      It’s also such bullshit because a lot of people will react to this test by shouldering all of the burden on their personal time and in a personal way while the business takes on absolutely no burden. Already, LW’s husband took on extra hours and sacrificed several mornings and evenings on this “test.” And I’ve been in situations where I’ve had to work 12 hour days and stressful situations. I could “handle it” in that I did it and I did it well. But did I also have panic attacks in my free time? Yes. Did I binge on unhealthy food to cope? Yes. Was I so tired from working in my free time that I had no energy to do anything fun and become depressed? Yes. Did my company help me through any of that? No.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        This is a very good summary of what happens. And this also explains how overall health starts to break down and come apart. I find it very disturbing that we as a nation tolerate it.

    3. TardyTardis*

      You would think a company run by vets would remember that most vets have firearms. No threat, but…a thought.

    4. Salymander*

      And if they knew the employee had anxiety disorder and were testing him because of this? That is really terrible.

  4. Littorally*

    The difference between what you’ve described them doing to your husband and what Alison has described as realistic ways to push employees is the difference between setting someone up to fail versus setting someone up to succeed. It’s a damn classic in that regard.

    1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      setting someone up to fail versus setting someone up to succeed
      So much this.
      Worst case scenario should not be a goal!

    2. Artemesia*

      This. I hope now that the husband has ‘passed this test’ that he starts looking to see where he might take his talents and be better rewarded. No rush, but when they show you who they are believe them and look out for yourself. I’d be looking for other options – quietly of course.

  5. Eberronguy*

    This is an appropriate time for a puke emoji.

    Stress tests are for your heart, your PC, and some machines. Not for employees, especially not employees like your husband (or myself) that have anxiety issues.

    1. Paulina*

      Stress test situations are very carefully developed and fully supervised, so someone not under the stress can decide when to stop. This was not.

      1. Liberte Fraternite Mbappe*

        Stress test situations are very carefully developed and fully supervised, so someone not under the stress can decide when to stop. This was not.

        We don’t know that. My own guess is that if LW’s husband hadn’t spoken up by the day of his scheduled review, they would have told him that speaking up is precisely what they had expected them to do.

        1. Lime green Pacer*

          Let’s assume that’s the case. What if the pressure was too much before then? They had no way of knowing what personal stresses their employee might already be under, plus anxiety disorder means additional stress from the very beginning of their “test”.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          They could have just asked him to let them know when he was falling behind.
          So simple, yet for these non-managers it seems it’s very difficult to just use their words. Kind of reminds of a constipated toddler……

        3. Paulina*

          I mean fully and actively supervised. As soon as he was working on his own, or went home, he wasn’t actively supervised any more. Most of the stress-test examples people have been describing do not have a “do this on your own without anyone else there” part, not extensively if at all. If you’re putting dangerous stress on someone as an experiment, you have to keep an eye on them throughout.

  6. Adrienne*

    deliberately triggering someone’s anxiety disorder is cruel.
    deliberately exacerbating someone’s health problems is cruel.
    They are mean and imaginative, which is a cruel combination.

    1. IsItOverYet?*

      agreed but want to add:
      deliberately seeing how much anyone can take by assigning impossible/overwhelming tasks is cruel – regardless of health/anxiety

      1. Archaeopteryx*

        They also essentially stole a bunch of his time, wasting it on work they didn’t need to be done. Who knows what he pushed back or rescheduled or would have done if his time was truly his own during this week of fake assignments.

  7. NYWeasel*

    Who are these managers that have enough free time to create fake assignments realistic enough that employees think they are real??

    1. Threeve*

      I think the work was real, it was just the urgency that was manufactured. I actually wonder if this was someone else’s work, and they used this “test” as an excuse to dump it on LW’s husband for as long as he could tolerate it.

      1. Marzipan Shepherdess*

        I think so too. His revealing his anxiety disorder may have prompted this godawful decision on the part of his supervisor; the latter may have wondered if the employee would “go ballistic”, have a public breakdown, start hearing voices, etc. and have decided to set up this incredibly stupid test to find out. Personally, I hope that the next thing that this clueless boss finds out is that the LW’s husband is leaving for a much better job!

        But this may also point up the flip side of disclosing emotional / mental health challenges and issues; they can easily be misunderstood and assumed to be fare more dire and dangerous than they actually are. Sometimes it really is the better strategy to keep personal health information private, not because it’s shameful but because it’s simply not your boss’s business!

      2. Paulina*

        Or they just piled it on him without thinking, and backpedalled to save face when he pushed back and someone realized how unreasonable they were being.

    2. Matilda Jefferies*

      That was my thought too. I barely have enough time to do my own work, along with managing the work of my team – I certainly don’t have time to be inventing extra work just for funsies!

    3. Not So NewReader*

      I am thinking of the little boy who cried wolf.
      Now the cat is out of the bag, this is how they treat people. I hope everyone there asks them every day, “Are you stress-testing me? Or is this a real assignment?”
      Who is going to believe them anymore when they assign tasks?

      Boss: Fred, we need x, y and z done by Friday.
      Fred: Yeah, Riiiight.
      Boss: No, Fred, I really mean it, we need x, y and z for Friday.
      Fred: Yeah, I got ya boss [wink, wink]. I’m right on it. [laughing]

        1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

          I think it’s important to understand the mindset of the employers. That they have a very skewed sense of how business operates, a very limited idea of to function. No idea how to manage, to incentivize, to simply talk to people.
          The best advice on this situation is to take everything they’ve shown her as who they truly are and how they think and decide what to do next. Job hunt? Assume every deadline is bullshit?

        2. WellRed*

          Lots of people write in with scenarios that they want her take on. This is batshit crazy and it’s a very interesting question.

        3. Observer*

          I agree with Alison. If you could get your husband to start working on an orderly exit, that would probably be a good thing.

          I just want to point out that there is a good chance that they did this because the heard about his diagnosis and want to “protect themselves” by making sure he can actually function (even though he’s BEEN functioning.) So talking to HR is probably not a good idea, but finding decent employers IS a good idea.

        4. Not So NewReader*

          OP, you can totally understand what is wrong here and why, but if your husband doesn’t get it, there’s very little you can do.

          My husband would just keep going and no amount of explaining or talking was going to make him change what he was doing. He was working 14+ hour days and getting paid for 8 hours. I tried to explain this was wrong. I showed him a court case that a competitor was involved in because of this crap. (Big case made headlines.) Deaf ears, OP, he had deaf ears.

          The only thing that I can think of here is asking him how much of this is he willing to put up with? When is enough actually enough?

          For myself, I just found things to do that I had always wanted to do but never had time. I just filled up my own time while he continued working. I do realize that your hubby is probably back to more normal hours, but the general suggestion here is until he is ready to do something different use your energy to do things you want to do. Try not to burn up too much energy on this until he indicates he is ready for a change.

        5. TardyTardis*

          So, what do they plan for next time, set the place on fire to see if he can get out in time? I wouldn’t trust those guys with anything.

    1. Kimmy Schmidt*

      Well, the LW is a spouse so they should recognize that this is bananapants but ultimately not get involved.

      If the husband wanted to do something about this, I think there is lots of advice from other letters. Talk to the supervisors to point out how ineffective this is, push back as a group, disengage and observe this as an alien culture, polish up the resume and start job hunting. Or just recognize that this is Not Helpful but ultimately decide that it’s not worth fighting.

      1. Ominous Adversary*

        But she IS involved, since she’s the one who has to compensate for her husband’s working 11-hour days and being under enormous personal stress that exacerbates his anxiety disorder.

        She of course can’t go to the managers directly, or ‘make’ him do anything, but this crap impacts her too.

        1. Liberte Fraternite Mbappe*

          That argument could apply to almost any instance in which a spouse butts into a work situation. Sorry, it doesn’t fly. It’s up to the husband to decide whether this situation troubles him.

            1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              No, she can show him “look Alison says your boss is an asshole. Time to spruce up your resume darling”.

          1. Junger*

            But they’re not inserting themselves in a work relationship, and nobody is telling them to.
            We’re advising the OP to talk to their spouse and convince him to take action. Which they would be entirely justified in doing.

      2. emmelemm*

        It seems this test was only done to him, presumably because he disclosed his anxiety, so there’s nothing to push back as a group on.

        1. Teapot Tía*

          Then I wonder if he has a potential ADA (or whichever nations disability) violation. Still, another vote for polishing up the resume here.

    2. Heidi*

      I think this is not so much about asking for advice so much as it is about reality testing. There are a number of readers who write in about situations they found weird and it turns out that it’s pretty standard for their industry (looking at you, academia). Then there are situations like this, where the husband thinks it’s fine and the spouse thinks it’s bizarre, and they are so far apart they need a third party to decide who is more in line with actual workplace practices. Husband doesn’t need to do anything now, besides maybe acknowledge that his spouse has a valid point. Spouse also doesn’t need to do anything except feel validated.

      1. Threeve*

        People underestimate the value of having an answer to “is this normal?” because everybody encounters confusing situations they have no precedent for, and immediate action is not the only reason to find out.

        Like…I was on a metro train where the lights in my car shut off for a few minutes while we were in a tunnel. Startling! I was getting off at the next stop anyway, but I was curious if it would have been smart to do that even if it wasn’t my destination. So I asked seasoned riders what they would have done and that will color my decision if it ever comes up again.

        1. boo bot*

          “People underestimate the value of having an answer to ‘is this normal?’ ”

          Exactly this. It will be helpful for the OP’s husband just to have his spouse able to confidently say, “Nope, not normal, this is terrible.”

        2. UKDancer*

          Definitely, it’s really useful, in an unfamiliar situation, to have some form of baseline for normal behaviour so you know if something is within expected parameters or aberrant. Quite often it’s hard to know if you’ve not encountered something or you’re new to a particular profession whether an experience is normal or not.

          Once you know that you can decide what you might want to do about the situation.

    3. Artemesia*

      He should be assessing his strengths, getting his resume in order and thinking about what kind of work and workplace he wants. Then quietly begin looking for better opportunities. No rush. No need to jump without careful consideration. But this may not be his only work option and there may be those that will provide promotion opportunities and not be managed by sadistic jerks. Best case, these are doofuses who believe they are doing something reasonable and important but are clueless and incompetent; worst case, they get off on hurting people and pushing people around. (they sound like people who didn’t fully understand the management gimmick seminar they attended)

    1. OrigCassandra*

      You are not. I think documenting this would be wise, in case it comes to an HR trip or (let’s hope not) a lawsuit.

      1. JM in England*

        There would certainly be a lawsuit if the stress had caused the OP’s husband to have an anxiety-induced meltdown or, worse still, a heart attack!!

      2. old curmudgeon*

        Or the opposite alternative, where leadership doesn’t believe that anxiety disorders actually exist, and put the OP’s spouse through that experience in order to “prove” to him that he doesn’t really have anxiety and that any accommodations they may have granted can now be eliminated.

    2. Anne Elliot*

      OMG that had not occurred to me! That is so much worse!

      “You say you have claustrophobia? Please climb into this small dark box while we assess whether that’s REALLY the case.” That makes them not only assholes but sadistic assholes.

      1. Batty Twerp*

        Sounds like a dodgy trust exercise.
        “We don’t trust what you have said about your condition, so we’re going to test you.”
        Here’s the result – husband should *not* trust anything that comes from his bosses going forward.

        (BTW what *would* they have done if he had failed and ended up hospitalised? Does company provided health insurance cover acts of maliciousness?)

      2. Silence Will Fall*

        At my first “grown-up job,” I had a boss who once they learned I had an issue with unsteady heights suddenly decided that my job duties included performing every task involving the lift. They were going to help me “get over” my fears.

        The end result was that tasks that might normally take an hour took me an entire day because I would only work on areas I could reach without shifting my center of gravity and making the lift sway. Thankfully, my grandboss happened to notice me putting the lift up working on a 12 inch area, putting the lift down, moving it over 12 inches and starting over again and asked what was going on. When I let them know that I was avoiding having a panic attack 30 feet in the air, my time in the lift ended.

        My boss was actually fired shortly after that. It turns out I wasn’t the only employee he was psychologically torturing.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          omg. I let fly with the fact that I would not get up on a ladder and it cost me a promotion. I was told I was insubordinate. Meanwhile I had coworkers who said they would do the ladder work so I did not have to do it and I could have the promotion.
          Sick, stuff. Really sick. I never would have made it the going up 30 feet the first time. I give you a lot of credit.

      3. TootsNYC*

        maybe it’s not “we don’t think you have it, so prove it” and more “how is your anxiety disorder going to affect how you do your job?”

    3. boo bot*

      Nope. Either because they didn’t think it was real or because they wanted to try to provoke a panic attack.

      1. Artemesia*

        I somehow missed the known anxiety disorder. THIS is actually malicious then — no question. And the OP’s husband needs to recognize that and begin to defend himself perhaps with FMLA or a conversation with HR about the ‘planned anxiety testing’ as well as a job search.

    4. Quill*

      I mean I’ve had a boss that would totally have set off my anxiety on purpose so… it’s not out of the realm of possibility. I just wasn’t sure if there had been enough disclosure for them to actively be targeting him over it.

    5. NeonFireworks*

      I once had a boss who made a huge fuss about something trivial, made me rush to his side to fix a situation, and responded to my apology by trying to label me a high anxiety type.

      I thought about it for a while, then quit. It wasn’t worth the pay.

      1. Wired Wolf*

        My ‘supervisor’ was like this. There was a fair amount of misogyny/fear of female competence going on with him that he actually succeeded in infecting my manager with. I realized shortly before the furlough that he was trying to make me look bad through gaslighting and labeling. Being laid off was in some ways a blessing, as I could not work effectively with him breathing down my neck.

    6. Snow globe*

      I had that same thought (because otherwise it seems to much of a coincidence). Not necessarily that they don’t believe he has an anxiety disorder, but they are worried about how anxiety might impact his work if he is under a lot of pressure, so they wanted to see what would happen.

      1. TootsNYC*


        In fact, i can see them being a little worried about it–how will his anxiety disorder impact work?
        But it’s still mean.

    7. Third or Nothing!*

      Came here to comment this. There’s a certain subset of people who think that a lot of mental health disorders are mumbo jumbo and could be fixed with just a little gumption or more faith or whatever. My own husband has encountered plenty of those during his career as a welder. OP, I’d advise your husband to keep an eye out for any behaviors that indicate they think his GAD is fake. (One example that come to mind is giving him grief about using PTO to attend therapy sessions.)

    8. Marzipan Shepherdess*

      No, you’re not! I definitely think that this had a LOT to do with that, especially since it happened AFTER he disclosed his anxiety disorder.

    9. Observer*

      Oh, 100% they were testing. That’s why I would not talk to HR – they will take it as “proof” that he really can’t cope.

      There is so much wrong with the whole scenario, but this is the thing that is the most internally consistent.

    10. Vax is my disaster bicon*

      That was my thought exactly. They hear “anxiety disorder,” they decide they want to see how far they can push before he snaps. A “failed” test could be used as the pretext for denying opportunities that they’re determined to take away based on disability discrimination. A “successful” one could allow them to pretend he doesn’t need accommodations.

    11. Münchner Kindl*

      I’m actually suspecting they were looking not for a way to promote husband, but as a way to drive him to breakdown in order to fire him, because he told of his anxiety disorder.

      So if the broke down: they had a reason to fire him;
      since he didn’t, they have some bullshit excuse about stress-testing; and know they can abuse him in the future because he doesn’t dare speak out when he’s being abused (only the professional part about not finishing the workload on time).

      So advice would be to start looking very very quickly, this house is full of bees.

  8. Rainy*

    Absolute absurdity. And especially right now, when there are large outside factors affecting a worker’s ability to just leave a position that is turning toxic like this!

    I’d start job hunting, frankly. This is bullshit and it’s not going to stop.

    1. juliebulie*

      Oh, at a lot of jobs I’ve felt as though I were being tested… but the work was for real.

      Honestly, most jobs are stressful enough without putting phony work on people. That’s really rotten.

      And if this guy wasn’t paid overtime, I sure hope they gave him comp time for the extra time he spent spinning his wheels for nothing, in addition to whatever stuff he had to put aside in his personal life to amuse them.

    2. Regular Gone Anon For This*

      Where I work, this is the story we commonly tell ourselves. The “clients” we speak with on the phone are actually actors and the reality is we’re subjects of psychological testing to see how much people will put up with.

      It’s weirdly comforting and allows us to dissociate from the stress.

      1. Katniss Evergreen*

        There is a book called ‘Company’ by Max Berry where the entire plot is based on this. It’s hysterical – highly recommend.

  9. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

    “Apparently, senior management/executives had been involved in planning this, and they’d wanted him to eventually communicate that the workload was too much, as he’d done. ”

    So senior management has spare time for this garbage….

    1. Luke*

      I’ve had two toxic bosses in my career to date. One liked to tell her directs (us) that “Senior Leadership Wants (insert unreasonable request here)”.

      I came to understand over time , the VPs were assigning reasonable deadlines from their level. When it got to our boss, she’d wait until the end of her deadline cycle and pressure us to get 7 days worth of work done in 16 hours. The email subject line?

      “Senior Leadership needs this by COB!! today!!!” [High Priority]

      She was scapegoating the executives, betting us peons didn’t interact with them enough to know better.

      I agree with Allison- these guys are certified assholes.

  10. CBH*

    I’m assuming this is a private / public firm founded by veterans, not necessarily a business related to the military. That being said, if I were in that situation, I’d seriously think if you would want to continuing working for a firm like this. This is how your bosses treat your hard work? Yikes! I’d feel like a lot of trust was lost.

    Totaly side thought…. what would happen if your husband had a heart attack or something related because of the stress. Would they be willing to pay medical bills?

    1. Mockingjay*

      I work for a veteran-owned business and we would NEVER DO THIS.

      Forced stress tests are not how we operate. We take care of each other. Amazingly, the business has grown exponentially in the last 3 years and is doing splendidly, even in the midst of a pandemic.

      1. CBH*

        That’s incredible – Congratulations on your success!

        I’m thinking OP’s husband’s bosses are on a power trip and decided to flex their muscles. I am appalled that they would do this. I just feel like regardless of affiliation (military, civilian, private, corporate…) there would be so many trust issues after this.

        I personally have a stressful time going on right now (an amazing boss helping me get everything done – no issues whatsoever there) but I tend to panic a bit under stressful events. All I can think is my situation is very minor and manageable, but under something so high stressed I keep thinking of health implications…. in extreme cases heart attack, stroke, major burnout. I bet the bosses would wipe their hands of the situation and say husband should of managed his assignments better. I am so angry on OP’s husband’s behalf

      2. Artemesia*

        There are roque managers with military backgrounds who revel in bossing, stressing, abusing workers and particularly women. And they reference their military background to justify it. I have known a few.

        Of course effective military commanders are not like this either but there are plenty of people drawn to military who are authoritarian types.

        I had great luck hiring retired military people when I was hiring as they tended to be well organized and know how to get things done. We had a difficult sprawling research project involving sites across the country that would never have succeeded but for the ex sgt whom we hired to manage the date collection. But there are those jerks who focus on the ‘force’ and ‘ordering’ and ‘testing’ part of their experience and are a nightmare to their subordinates.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        It’s a serious problem when the public disrespects vets. It’s a much bigger issue when vets disrespect other vets.

        Just because the bosses are vets also does not give them a free pass on abusing vets.

      4. Luke*

        I agree, as a fellow veteran this isn’t remotely like how a well-run unit works.

        That said, the military has toxic leaders too. If someone joins at 18 and spends their entire professional career at one of these units, they can enter the civilian workforce completely unaware they’ve been led wrong. An ex-military manager who treats people badly might not have a reference besides 5+ years in a toxic squadron where abuse was “normal”.

    2. Syfygeek*

      Or if this was what caused the husband to snap and came back in the next day with a weapon to see how management deals with stress?

      I have worked with and for some real asshats. And none of them have ever pulled crap like this.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        And we wonder how this crap happens, well we can see a set up for it right here. Keep doing what you are doing, Management, and see what happens.

      2. OP*

        OP here. For the record, some of the people at my husband’s firm are vets. My husband is not a vet. (Neither am I.)

        1. CBH*

          Hi OP! I am so sorry your husband had to go through this. A Vet has earned a lot of respect. However vet or not the way your husband was treated is unacceptable. I hope he moves onto a job that better appreciates him.

      3. Happily Self Employed*

        MANY years ago, my ex-husband told me about how his company hired him during their post-mass-shooting reforms phase. Turns out the guy who snapped had valid criticisms of their management. (If someone couldn’t complete a project on schedule, they’d be fired for underperformance. If someone finished a project early, they’d be fired for being unneccessary. They fired the shooter for doing his job too quickly, and he really did come back the next day with a gun.)

  11. KHB*

    This sounds like a variant of the Milgram experiment (where the “correct” answer is to tell the person in authority that you won’t do what he’s telling you to do), except that the person you’re being instructed to inflict pain on is yourself.

    I can see how – sort of, if you squint – there might be a sensible purpose here in identifying which employees are going to try and BS their bosses and say they’re doing the work when they’re not? But a better way to make sure your employees aren’t BSing you is to create a culture where they don’t have the incentive to BS you.

    1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      Everyone likes to cite the Milgram experiment as evidence of how awful people are, but it’s really considered to be evidence of poor research ethics and a gross violation of the subject’s rights because they lied to them about the purpose of the task.

      It stands here, as well. The “experimenters” are violating the “subject”‘s rights by lying to him about the nature of the study.

      1. Quill*

        Milgram’s also a prime example of coerced cooperation, given how and where it was conducted. Much like the Stanford prison experiment, every angle you could measure it came up as BAD STUDY.

      2. UKDancer*

        Yes my ex was an anthropologist and he was firmly of the view that the Milgram experiment was ethically completely suspect and incredibly flawed. Any ethical study should absolutely tell people what the assessment parameters are and the nature of the study. Otherwise you’re being a jerk to your participants.

        1. Artemesia*

          While I agree that the Milgram study was unethical, you cannot study human behavior by telling subjects what you are studying and the ‘parameters’ of your tests.

          1. boo bot*

            Yeah, I could certainly be wrong, but my understanding was that the reason the Milgram experiment is no longer performed is because it was determined to be unethical – not because the data was bad. The results were found to be reproduceable.

              1. Librarian1*

                Yeah, when others tried to reproduce the study there was a very wide range in the percentage of people who complied.

          2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            This is a real problem for linguists – for example, as soon as you tell someone you’re listening to their accent, it skews.

            1. calonkat*

              General von Klinkerhoffen, it’s good to know this is a real thing! I was in an advanced linguistics course many years ago and the instructor was doing his thesis on my accent! I have never been so self conscious about how I spoke. Everyone in class took notes when I asked questions…

          3. Observer*

            Which is these studies need to be very carefully constructed and vetted before they are done.

            The Milgram work is ethically suspect on two general grounds. One is that it’s clear that the deception and other ethical “gray” areas went well beyond what would have been necessary for the purposes of the study. The other is that you have an ethical obligation to construct your study to minimize harm, minimize ethical problems and to maximize success. His study did none of those. In fact some of the lies he told probably directly skewed the results because the test subjects had the wrong information. At the same time, many were badly traumatized by the experience.

            1. Jackalope*

              On a meta level, his experimenters were also engaging in the same experiment in a way. They were inflicting damage on the subjects of the study (and fairly severe emotional and mental trauma for some) for the Good of Science, and continued inflicting it when the subjects were in obvious distress. But somehow I’ve never heard them referred to as awful the way that the subjects were. (Although I’ve heard criticism of the study, as had been posted here, so that touches on the same thing.) The différence with them is that they were causing REAL harm.

      3. Jackalope*

        Yes, thank you for pointing this out. One of the things that I think doesn’t get taken into consideration enough with this test is that we regularly inflict pain on others if we believe there is a good reason for it. I know I have caused my cats pain by taking them to the vet and then later distress by giving them meds. I’ve dug out splinters and cleaned skinned knees. Etc, etc. My doctor and dentist have regularly caused me small amounts of pain, and other people much greater amounts.

        So it may well be the case (as the study is trying to claim, and other studies following) that people will follow leadership into horrible actions. But it is also important to consider that people will cause pain to others when they believe there is a good or compelling reason for it, and that it will bring about good. This doesn’t always mean that they are right (evil leaders can bring about evil results), but the same woman in the later tests (they did some that were all female) who kept giving the shocks because she believed it was for some greater good also may have taken her kids to the doctor to get their vaccinations and secretly cried at home because she hated to see her babies hurt, but the same inflicting pain for good that got her labeled a monster in the test would get her labeled a good mom in real life. For example.

  12. CatCat*

    Wow. Woooooowwwww. I’d be looking for a new job. Any job where the workload exceeded my capacity and caused me stress like that would make me look for a new job (been there, done that, never again!).

    I’d be hard-pressed to imagine anything an employer could do for deliberately stressing me out with a fake high workload. Maybe abject apology for their moronic behavior/what on EARTH were we thinking/we will never do anything this mean again… PLUS a week off paid. But other than that, it would be unsalvageable and I’d be out. I could never trust their judgment again.

  13. OP*

    Hi. I’m the letter writer. I’m not sure why there’s an assumption being made that the workload was all fake. It was more like they piled real work on him with no regard for time management, proper apportionment of tasks to other employees, correct sense of urgency, etc. The situation was totally unnecessary and bizarre, but the tasks were included actual usable work, as I understand it. That’s a big part of why he didn’t call BS on this earlier on.

    I don’t think this changes the situation very much at all. I just want to ensure we have a proper sense of what could be indicated as “fake.”

    1. Lizy*

      Doesn’t matter if it was fake work or not. The test was unnecessary and – depending on the employee – health-threatening (see my “I’m livid” post below). I’m livid. I’m so sorry this happened, and from a company that was founded by vets… livid.

    2. serenity*

      Alison referred to the urgency of this “test” being fake, which…it was. So not sure where the gripe is.

    3. Anne Elliot*

      Thanks for clarifying, I definitely also thought we were talking about completely fake work. Still bizarre bullshit, though.

    4. The Vulture*

      I think for me this seems so much like a prank because it can only make sense using prank logic? And it has the end result of, I already don’t believe them, because they’ve started this off by lying to me.

      I can’t, and don’t, even trust their explanation. Does it really make sense that they would want this result? How would doing this improve their bottom line? Like, maybe that’s what happened, they purposely did this. and they wanted him to call bullshit on it. OR they purposely did it and were hoping they would get a crazy amount of effort out of someone for as long as possible and then try to make it seem like they have hearts, they said they wanted him to call bs on it even though they hoped secretly maybe they could get more. OR the supervisor came up with this for nefarious reasons and management is checked out. OR apparently management is on it but they really aren’t?

      Normally, I’m definitely, sounds like hooves, it’s a horse, but if someone tells me, I’ve seen it, it’s actually a unicorn, haha, actually, it was a horse all along, then I no longer trust them, so then I’m diving into their clearly terrible ideas/motivations, why would they lie to me, is it actually the last of the really great Whangdoodles?

    5. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I read it as fake-urgency of assignments. I’m not sure how anyone would even fabricate actual fake-work!

      1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

        It’s quite feasible in my field (user centred design). You could brief someone on a fake but realistic-sounding project, and have them do an enormous amount of work that would never be used.

        (In fact I’ve produced enormous amounts of work that were never used [grammatically that just sounds wrong], but that was due to unclear strategy and shifting priorities, not insane or sadistic management.)

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Ah this is fair! I have had plenty of projects that were just for the sake of “Can we do it? Yeah we can but now we don’t wanna.”

          I still don’t think of them as “fake” work because it’s all still something that we are doing to see if it’s possible then just scrapped because it didn’t fit the brand or whatever it may be.

          So I guess my boss could be a turkey and never anticipate needing it but requesting a bunch of similar tasks!

          Mission, find us a solid gold llama, and GO!

          1. Happily Self Employed*

            I worked for a company that had a pattern of getting 90% to completion on new product development and dropping each project. I was in the blueprint department and got to hear all the anguish of the engineers who never got to finish anything.

            Turned out there was some kind of plot in upper management… they planned to tank the stock price, then buy the company for cheap, and finish allll those products quickly for a turnaround. I think they managed to get rid of the plotters.

    6. Observer*

      It does help – but so little that it doesn’t really matter. They created an untenable situation for no good reason. And it was deliberate.

      These are NOT good or trustworthy managers.

    7. Not So NewReader*

      I understood it to be actual work. I understood that the size of the load was fake- it could have been distributed out or it could have been done later or whatever.

      Basically they singled your husband out to see if they could break him… apparently after he disclosed about anxiety….
      They are sadists. That’s it in a nutshell.

      I really don’t care about their smoke and mirrors explanation that they wanted to see if he would tell them he was overloaded with work. That’s just a bunch of gobblygook. They could have just ASKED him, “Hey if we ever give you too much work load will you tell us?” Easy, peasy. But that is not what they chose to do. So to me, I’d have to believe that something else is going on such as someone is getting their jollies by trying to crush people.

      I had a boss try to break me. In the end, I think that Boss was a little afraid of me because I just went on. It could be that your husband sees a similar thing from his vantage point. He believes the powerplays will pass and he will work without further problems.
      Time will tell. You eventually will find out if they do this again to him or to someone else. (I am guessing this WILL happen again. But maybe not to him.)

      You know one thing you can do here? You can tell him that he deserves a better employer than this place. You can tell him he is a fine, fine worker and good employers would be pleased as heck to have him.
      You can encourage him to let his cohorts know this is what management is doing they are testing people like this. When bosses do this crap and then they discover their team is talking about it openly and freely the bosses can sometimes stop that particular behavior. (Then generally they develop a new one and the cycle begins again.)
      Whatever way you decide to go be sure to keep telling him he deserves a better employer.

    8. LGC*

      To be fair, I’ll admit I read your initial letter as saying the work itself was fake! It might not have been clear.

      That said – you’re right, it doesn’t change things.

  14. CommanderBanana*

    Man, just when I think I’ve seen it all. This is ridiculous bordering on psychopathic and I think the LW’s husband may want to seriously think about staying with this organization.

    I’m just imagining what future “tests” will look like.

  15. The Vulture*

    The problem with this, and pranks in general (I realize this is not maybe strictly speaking a prank, but it certainly calls to mind a prank) in the workplace, is that at the end it can do nothing but damage your relationship with the workplace and lose trust in them. Because, after knowing they would do this, if something seems off ever again, it’s like, well, I could work hard at this, or it could all be a trick at my expense.

    If this were a reasonable thing to do and could accomplish the goal they are ostensible looking for – which it’s not and it won’t – it would still be all to their benefit and none to yours, which makes it a shitty thing to do.

    1. cmcinnyc*

      This. Next time it’s all-hands-on-deck, a part of me would be thinking Really? Or is this nonsense? I would not trust my management team at all after a stunt like this.

  16. Lizy*

    Are you f-ing kidding me?!?!?! The company was founded by vets and what – they’ve never heard of PTSD?! I literally am LIVID for your husband, OP. My hubby has PTSD and can’t function on a daily basis with normal tasks and if I found out a company did this BS to “test” him I would very likely become one of those spouses who interferes with their spouse’s work because WHAT THE ACTUAL F.

    I can’t. I just can’t. Completely aside from the current climate this is so tone deaf I just can’t.

    Vets have gone through enough testing. Because being in a watchtower and having to shoot at kids/teens driving through barriers after being told to stop and then having to live with the fact you liked some punk kids because they were so brainwashed they drove through barriers at a base to kill you and your fellow soldiers – that’s not “test” enough, obviously. (Actually happened. Yay, war.)

    I’m livid. I literally don’t think I’ve ever been this ticked about a post here before. I couldn’t even read Allison’s response.

    L. I. V. I. D.

    1. Naomi*

      YUP. This really read to me like getting a benchmark for the maximum amount they can overwork him in the future.

  17. Mama Bear*

    That would be motivation for me to find another job where they didn’t get their jollies manufacturing stress during an already stressful time. I would be angry to find out what the real deal was. They have no sympathy or empathy. IMO, he needs to dust off his resume.

    1. Becca M*

      This was my reaction exactly! How do you trust upper management on anything when they pull stunts like this?

    2. Anne Elliot*

      Me too. If there was any feasible way to quit, I would quit. I don’t see how I could ever get over being manipulated and lied to, with my time and emotional well-being so little valued. This is not advice to the OP, but I personally would feel that strongly about it.

    3. AKchic*

      Having worked for people like this, they will justify his quitting with “we don’t need ‘that type’ working for us. He can’t handle it and wasn’t a ‘real vet’ anyway. He’s not ‘like us’. No wonder he’s not in the service anymore.”

      They continue to blow smoke up their butts and gas themselves up as being The Badasses of the Service when in all actuality, they probably were just mediocre at best. They wanted to be the hotshots and talk up their military time, but they generally revere war movies in order to “borrow” stories because their own have no action or adventure that they craved.
      (I submit my 1st ex-husband who literally made up his service, and my 2nd ex-husband who, while in the service, never saw combat, but lets people think he did by hinting darkly at what he’s “seen” and at his “wartime injury” as if an Alaskan winter is really the worst, and falling off of an icy wing because he was goofing off and damaged his knee is really he injury he wants to tell people about)

  18. KoolMan*

    OP, in the military people get long holidays after difficult postings. Will the veterans be willing to offer the same to your husband too he should ask.

    1. Kate*

      …as someone who has actually done this, I am sure I would NOT call it a holiday. It’s called reintegration leave for a reason. They don’t want you going straight from an environment where you are expected to kill people to your quiet suburban street with your spouse and kids. That tends to end badly for everyone involved.

  19. SheLooksFamiliar*

    If my bosses gave me a project created solely to test me, I’d be looking for new bosses in a new company. We used to call that kind of thing ‘jumping through flaming hoops.’ We might have also said we worked for clowns and not a circus, but I’m trying to be polite here.

    Good leaders can assess abilities and/or readiness for more responsibility in sane and defensible ways. What OP describes is flaming hoops.

    1. Sans Serif*

      Yeah, I’d be looking right away. His next 11 hour day should be spent updating his resume and applying for a new job with non-sadistic bosses.

  20. NW Mossy*

    This is ludicrous.

    One of the core principles of effective performance management is that you explicitly tell people what your expectations are and then assess their performance against those expectations. You don’t come up with super-double-secret coded expectations and haze employees through them like this is Skull and Bones or something. Good grief.

    For the life of me, I will never understand this weirdly pervasive theory that the “best” way to make a person “one of us” is to put them through some level of suffering because everyone who went before them suffered in that way (see also: medical residency). I mean, yeah, there’s some psychology behind that, but why risk breaking people when there are far more humane ways to achieve the same result?

    1. sofar*

      I had a boss who did this under what she convinced herself were “good reasons.” Her whole philosophy was, “People will always only do about 60% of what you give them. Give people more than they can handle, and they’ll produce more work.” She literally used to say, “Start from the position of unreasonable, and negotiate from there,” when assigning work.

      But this is the perfect recipe for burnout. I learned to be very blunt with her and say, “I can do XYZ. That’s it.” But I never got over that sinking feeling of having to negotiate everything.

  21. CW*

    Seriously, yikes! As someone who has anxiety and takes medication for it, this would make me crack. Your husband needs to look for a new job immediately. This is a huge red flag.

  22. LabGirl*

    That’s a fantastic way to get a person to forever mistrust their supervisor and senior management. I know I would! What else will they do to “test” him?

  23. Keymaster of Gozer*

    Yeah, I’d like to thank all the firms who DID NOT do stuff like that. I don’t need any more workplace PTSD or another nervous breakdown thanks.

    Seriously, that is one of the most vile ways of treating other people I can think of. What next, hazing rituals?

  24. MassMatt*

    This is awful. It reminds me of the NJ governor shutting down a lane of traffic on a bridge “coincidently” near a town whose mayor did not endorse him. Traffic was backed up for miles through this town, someone died in an ambulance that couldn’t get him to the hospital. When it blew up into a scandal, the explanation was that it was a ‘traffic study”, as though the best way to study traffic is to shut off lanes on a bridge and wait to see what happens.

      1. MassMatt*

        I know his name, I left it out to reduce the chance of getting into a partisan political fight in the comments. Probably not many reading this thread anymore, but anyway we may not have seen the last from Christie, memories are short and people have come back from worse.

  25. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    This isn’t normal. This isn’t “war” and no, many veterans don’t want to play games that are attributed to war like tactics either, so I flinched at the “oh must be a military person thing!” reasoning. What a bunch of d-bags.

  26. LGC*

    My reaction to LW’s husband’s bosses does include a d’oh, a puke, and an angry face.

    Like…I can KIND OF see the point in stress testing, but this is pretty manipulative. Is this common in his field in general?

    1. LGC*

      Okay, so…yeah, I hit submit and rethought what I wrote. I was thinking that there could be a situation where this is considered reasonable, but this is…hazing.

      If you’re doing a stress test, you should at least tell the person in advance. You don’t do drills without zero knowledge that drills can happen.

  27. Delta Delta*

    It strikes me that over the first day or so when the work was ramping up, that husband stepped up and did his best to keep up with it. but since he wasn’t in on the secret that this wasn’t the real work load and was actually some bizarre test, he wouldn’t necessarily have known he could say it was too much. We all have times that are busier than others, and I can see where in the first day or so it might have seemed like they were getting slammed with work.

    But when they revealed it was to find out his cracking point, that would be the time I’d beat feet and get out of there. People with military backgrounds are generally … normal. These people do not appear to be normal. Run away.

  28. learnedthehardway*

    So, is this a common practice at this company, or was your DH the only one selected for this particular bit of bullshit?

    If it is common practice, the entire culture is full of bees and your DH should get out pronto.

    If he was specifically selected for this, he should also get out, he should look at whether he was targeted due to his generalized stress disorder. Was the company testing whether it was real / how much stress he could take? Were they trying to cause a breakdown so he would have to quit? Did they think he would go on disability?

    Frankly, it would serve the company right to be socked with a lawsuit of some kind.

  29. Absurda*

    OMG, letters like this make me really appreciate my non-asshole bosses and the buffer they provide between me and their asshole bosses. I mean, who does this? Nope, not normal at all.

    What, exactly would they do if someone failed this “test”? There are people who will not push back and the impact can go far beyond them.

    At a previous employer I had a manager who never, ever pushed back on her managers about anything. They would demand all kinds of complicated reports from her that she just could not produce because we were still doing everything in Excel and not the specifically designed application that the company had purchased but refused to implement. She absolutely would not push back and say she couldn’t get them the reports they wanted because they hadn’t given her the tools to produce them. This not only impacted her but the entire department because we were all trapped in this cycle of trying to produce something worthwhile without the proper tools to do it.

    I would also think this “test” (seriously, WTF?) would really negatively impact traditionally disadvantaged groups like women, minorities, LGBTQ, etc. These groups often feel like they have to “prove” themselves and so can’t push back when unreasonable demands are made.

    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      My colleague was like that too. Fresh out of uni, felt she had to prove herself. Married to a lawyer who came home late at night so no incentive to get home early. Meanwhile, for me, it was my first job after spending six years at home with the kids. So I had to leave pronto to pick them up after work. The boss kept piling work on her, she would groan but stay late till it was done, without ever asking for anything in return. I would say, sorry, no. If you pay me over time I might just take it home and do it once the kids are in bed. She was the golden girl, I was the mean lazy bitch. Funnily enough, even when the boss ran the stats and saw that actually, I got more done working only part-time than her more than full-time, he didn’t change his opinion. He based his opinion not on how much we got done but how much we kowtowed. He couldn’t give a toss for productivity, only for loyalty.

    2. JM in England*

      There are some managers who expect you to make the proverbial silk purses out of sow’s ears……

  30. deesse877*

    If you are not James T. Kirk, then there is no need to put you in the Kobayashi Maru simulator.

    [Which is to say, solidarity to OP and spouse, and…small note of disappointment that the nerds are not out in force today.]

    1. UKDancer*

      And even the cadets in the Kobayashi Maru knew it was a simulation. They may not have known there was no way to win, but they knew they were in a simulator room and not really being put through the loss of the ship and all hands.

      This is more like taking them to the neutral zone and seeing what they do.

      1. Metadata minion*

        Yeah, I assume there are simulations of this sort of thing in, say, emergency medicine so you learn how to deal with not being able to save a patient.

    2. Third or Nothing!*

      Oh the nerds are out, we’re just too irate to make the references I think. My husband has general anxiety disorder and I am still seeing red. [insert red shirt reference here]

      1. Octavia Keats*

        This is like reverse Ender’s Game.
        OP’s spouse thought he was saving the galaxy for reasonable adults, but he was just being trained by [redacted].

  31. WFH2020*

    That so called test is Abuse, in my eyes. Knowing about the husband’s anxiety disorder and following through with this confirms it.

    I think his manager failed the test. The manager should have spoken up and told management it was inappropriate and abusive and come up with other appropriate ways to address workload abilities and limits.

    I would look for a new job. If they got away with this once, what will they try next?

    1. FormerEmployee*

      Thank you for the waterboarding reference.

      It crossed my mind that perhaps the one thing the OP should be grateful for is that they didn’t waterboard the husband!

  32. Fulano*

    Former senior military officer here: Unfortunately, while not official policy, many military asshats do this “testing” to make it easier to rack ‘n’ stack their employees for annual performance reviews. “If I can’t shoot at you, I have to test your worth somehow…!” is a common refrain. This is one reason I steer people away from working with the Vet-Bro grey economy. As it is on active duty, it’s not how well you do your job that counts, but what you’ve done for me (the supervisor) that matters.

  33. Jennifer*

    Military “I’ll make a man out of you” mentality. Gross and toxic. I’d suggest that my husband start a job search. But if he’s content there and doesn’t want to leave, not much you can do.

    1. Yes Anastasia*

      Lol, the pop culture reference my brain went to was the Tento di Cruciamentum from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

      LW, even if your husband is a badass vampire slayer, there is no need for management to play mind games with him. It’s truly bizarre (and even more egregious during Quarantimes, when everyday life is already extreme).

      1. UKDancer*

        Yes that’s a better simile. The cadets in the Kobayashi Maru knew it was a training simulation even if they didn’t know what to expect. They knew at some level they were still in a simulator. Just as pilots know when they’re in a flight simulation exercise. As realistic as it may be, it’s still a simulation.

        Buffy in contrast didn’t know that the Cruciamentum was a test, she was faced with the situation with no knowledge of what was coming. The company is treating the OP’s husband like a slayer.

  34. Paulina*

    As soon as I read the header, I was reminded of Betteridge’s law of headlines: if it ends in a question mark, the answer is “no.”

  35. nm*

    It’s the dishonesty that bothers me. If I were in this situation I would feel like I can’t trust my boss to tell me what they actually want from me!

  36. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    Yes what they did is absurd, and IMO your husband should be more rattled by it. But I wouldn’t harp on him about it. Express your thoughts and opinion and be supportive as needed. He’s an adult and this is his job, and it’s not really your place to attempt to force him to make changes.

  37. irene adler*

    On the other hand, going forward, any time an employee receives a sudden pile up of tasks, they know all they have to do is let the boss know-sorry, can’t complete all of this in the time specified.
    So they won’t get to play this game too many times before employees figure it out.

    Still, a nasty thing to do to anyone.

  38. Ciela*

    I was once given actual work, with deadlines, that was impossible given how time works.
    I already had one project that would take about 50 machine hours. Not great, but I can pull in other people who work different hours than I to help. Then I got another project with another 50 machines hours to also be done the same week.

    I explained that I could do one or the other by Friday, but not both. I was told “oh, other people will help, we’ll get it done.”
    Ummm, no. There was no way to do 100 machine hours of work in 96 hours. I do not have a time machine.

    In not my finest hour, I broke down into hysterical crying. One of my co-workers called the customer (same contact person for both projects). “Oh, they don’t need to be done this week. We have until the end of the month.” Well gee, there’s a big difference between 3 weeks and 4 days.

    But to make up fake deadlines to compress work into an unrealistic timeframe? That’s just mean.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I can’t believe it took you breaking for them to call the client!

      If we’re tapped out and can’t make it happen in their time frame, the first reaction is to say “Let’s talk to the client and let them know it’s not possible.”

      It’s worse to FAIL a client and drag it out, than to tell them that they either have to wait or find another supplier. I’ll can a supplier faster than they can spit if they start missing deadlines, when they can just say “I need you to extend this deadline in order to get it done. Otherwise we can’t accept the order.” o.O

      1. Ciela*

        When the second giant project has handed off to me, I ran some numbers, explained that there was no way to do 100 hours of work in 96 hours. Not just 96 business hours, but actual hours. One of my bosses said “don’t tell me how long things take” and the other said “we’ll get it done” No explanation of how to stretch the time / space continuum.

        Thankfully since that incident, if I explain, no, that is not a realistic timeframe, I do not get that kind of push back. I now get, “oh, well X can wait until week after next” or “they only need half of this by Friday” or some other helpful input.

  39. Molly Coddler*

    OP, did they do this to other employees? If not, it seems a bit suspicious to me that they would be doing this to him specifically after they (his workplace) found out about his anxiety disorder. Is this perhaps targeted? Good luck to both of you!

  40. AKA*

    Where are my US navy chiefs in the comments? There is a 6-week season in which this is done intentionally to test that first class petty officers who have been selected for chief petty officer can handle being a chief. They are given more work than they can handle and A significant number of extra tasks and have to figure out how to prioritize their time and delegate their responsibilities. And yes, they are usually up extra early and leave extra late. It’s not reasonable to apply to a civilian office, but it is definitely a Thing in the US Navy.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Yes but in this situation you describe, they’re handed that much work and expected to handle it, knowing full well it’s a lot and will take you to your limits. With prioritizing and delegating where necessary. They’re still expected to figure it out! That’s one thing. But in this situation, they say they were waiting to hear someone push back and say “uncle” to them. You don’t admit defeat int he military usually, so it goes against the grain here.

      I mean I’ve been dumped on and just expected to deal with it. That’s a thing that does happen! But the fact this is a “test” and the answer to the test is “tap out”, it’s what makes it so strange and ethically challenged.

      1. Sacred Ground*

        And by the time they’re eligible for E7, they’ve been in the service for a decade or so, have already had such heavy loads imposed on them at times before this, and they know full well that this stress test is temporary.

  41. Extra Anon*

    I almost wonder if this was to establish a baseline should he ever ask for accommodations and a claim that it would pose an undue burden.

    I was put in a somewhat similar situation — not fake urgency, just an utterly absurd and unrealistic set of new responsibilities at a giant health care facility that everyone loves, at the beginning of the pandemic. It was so bad that I had a sudden and scary escalation of symptoms of a chronic illness that could have caused me serious harm by the third day. Which was also my last day. I got home and assessed things and decided that risking my health by working in a hospital was one thing. Risking my health cause they randomly decided to foist this entire workload on me was not something I was willing to do. Knowing my leadership, I chose to just quit without notice. I’d only been doing the newly assigned/created role for three days. Took three months to find another job. New job is phenomenal. And my health recovered — no recurrence of the terrifying symptom after that day.

  42. Marthooh*

    So now I guess “a small firm founded by veterans” gets the same red flag as “we’re like family here!”

  43. Lilyp*

    Oh my God I can’t even imagine. I know I’m lucky in my relative career security but if that happened to me I would quit on the spot. I could never trust anything they said to me ever again. What the eff.

  44. Sabine the Very Mean*

    In work and in life: best not to test people without their knowledge. It mostly serves to disappoint the tester and alienate the tested.

  45. Curmudgeon in California*

    If I were the OPs husband, I would brush up my resume and start circulating it NOW, before the next little “test” further erodes his mental and physical health. Crushing stress is bad, crushing stress done as a “test” is worse, IMO. His management is sociopathic from what I can see.

  46. HarryBadger*

    This email has vindicated something I thought was BS in a previous role of mine. I was part of what could broadly be described as a Project Management apprenticeship years ago.

    Upon reaching the end of the year we were supposed to undertake a final fake scenario project to showcase what we had learnt. Unfortunately the person running the apprenticeship was wildly inconsistent about her expectations on this project, at times expecting us to go into a ridiculous level of detail and then reversing tack and saying we were going too far in depth and she’d just wanted an overview. She frequently changed the goalposts and tore us down in feedback emails as well as playing a “difficult stakeholder” in the scenario.

    I later found out that some of it was a deliberate attempt to see how we handled pressure, and because I have resting stoneface she kept ramping up the pressure to try and get a reaction. I was close to filing a harassment grievance with HR and was talked out of it, partially because the head of our division (who was part of the final judgement panel) stepped in and ignored her to promote me.

  47. Jennifer Juniper*

    I’m guessing the husband’s employers are trying to get rid of him because he disclosed he has General Anxiety Disorder. He may need to document everything and speak to a lawyer just in case.

  48. OP*

    Hi there. I’m the OP. I want to state that I think Alison misread my letter and mishandled the answer. My letter never said that the tasks my husband was assigned were “fake.” This is a word that Alison put in her headline and response. The tasks were real tasks the firm needed done that were much in excess of my spouse’s usual workload. While that might seem small, it gives the entire situation a very different cast.

    Overwork and being pushed to do more and more (often with no more compensation) is a common problem in some work/national cultures, and it often occurs amid mismanagement, disregard for people, and (sometimes) manipulation. This case of it involved quite a sudden ramping up plus some awkward communication, which is what induced me to write about it. But this issue of excessive real work is more subtle, widespread, and important than a supervisor weirdly making up fake tasks.

    Sensationalizing this by falsely claiming that the work was fake led to an odd, overheated answer and a few pretty off-base comments. This was unhelpful, and if I had this to do again, I absolutely wouldn’t. In fact, I don’t think I’ll be reading Ask a Manager in the future, either. Quite a weird experience.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’m sorry to hear that! I understood that it was real work — it’s the workload itself that was fake (which is what the headline said) and the urgency that was fake. It certainly wasn’t my intent to sensationalize or mislead; the situation is quite awful enough without anything being added to it. I do stand by the intensity of my reply.

      But certainly it’s possible for any advice giver, including me, to miss nuance that you, as the letter writer, will naturally have a better grasp on.

    2. Victoria*

      Straight up, that’s a weird take. Your letter wasn’t clear that none of the work was fake and you can’t expect that a 4 paragraph letter will convey every detail. You got an answer based on the facts as she understood them. If it wasn’t useful to you you can ignore it. But coming here and trashing someone for trying to help you (for free!!) is rude and overblown.

  49. Persephone Underground*

    Haven’t read all the comments, so apologies if this is redundant, but… It sounds like they were *deliberately targeting* the husband *because of* his anxiety disorder. Why else would they suddenly need to see “how much he can take” unless they were looking at him as weak because of the recently disclosed disorder? This smells really fishy to me- not just @#$holes, but ableist @#$holes. I guess he proved to them that his disorder won’t stop him from handling pressure like this correctly, but I’d keep an eye out for other stunts targeting his anxiety in the future. This is serious.

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