Strange Job Requests Can Cost Worker Trust

Drug-test coaching, checking roof for dead birds may be inappropriate

By Kathy Gurchiek June 25, 2014

You want me to do what?

Bosses can lose their workers’ trust by asking them to do things that go beyond the scope of their job, according to CareerBuilder, which found in a recent survey that 22 percent—or about one-fourth—of 3,022 workers in the U.S. said their current boss has asked them to do things unrelated to their jobs.

Brian Selander received an urgent request to find a bloodhound for a press conference when he was working on the 1998 re-election campaign of New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen.

“My manager decided we needed a bloodhound to ‘hunt down’ our opponent, who was refusing debates,” Selander said in an e-mail. They found one via referral from a retired police officer who knew someone who used a hound for hunting.

A few days later, Selander was “hanging off a scaffolding trying to affix a billboard to a building,” he said, noting “campaign jobs are fascinating.”

During a previous job, Dennis Tupper lived three doors down from his supervisor. His boss, who was attending a weeklong conference in Florida in January, asked Tupper to clear his driveway if it snowed while he was gone.

On the second-to-last day of the boss’s trip, a blizzard hit Tupper’s town, located on the North Shore of Massachusetts, and Tupper cleared the drive, because, he said, “it was the 'neighborly' thing to do.”

His boss was appreciative. Shortly after he arrived home, he came to Tupper’s house to give him a bottle of wine from his private collection and to thank him for helping him out.

“In retrospect, while the request was a little quirky, I didn’t think it was the worst thing in the world,” Tupper said in an e-mail to SHRM Online. “However, I wish he had told me about the snow blower he had in his shed in the backyard. It would have allowed me to shave an hour off of my work.”

Steve Miller recalled being asked to carry out some unpleasant downsizing-related tasks.

It was 1987 and “we were making great strides growing the business,”Miller said. He was a national sales manager with a division of the Adolph Coors Co. and a few years earlier had hired a team of sales representatives at the direction of the division president.

“While working with the representative in Atlanta, the president called to tell me the Coors board decided to sell the division. I was to terminate the rep in Atlanta and retrieve the company car, equipment, supplies, etc.

“He asked me to do the same in Philadelphia, Chicago and San Francisco the following three days. Not only was this request unusual, it was extremely painful because I knew what awaited me when I returned back to Golden(Colo.). Sure enough, the ax came down on me when I reported to the office on Monday. So much for carrying out company orders,” said Miller, a business placement coach who has been self-employed since 1992.

Among the unusual supervisor requests Harris Poll heard about in the survey it conducted among full-time, nongovernmental workers in February and March 2014 for CareerBuilder:

*Coach another employee on how to pass a drug test.

*Fire another employee and then drive the terminated person home.

*Order items on the employee’s personal Amazon account so the boss’s spouse wouldn’t know about the purchase.

*“Like” the boss’s Facebook videos.

*Be better friends with the boss.

*Give his opinion of his boss’s profiles on Tinder, a dating app.

*Climb on the roof and check for dead birds.

*Commiserate with the boss’s daughter-in-law about the death of the daughter-in-law’s cat.

*Find out how to obtain a death certificate for the boss’s deceased ex-husband.

*Pluck a client’s unibrow before a photo shoot.

And the real eyebrow-raiser—visit a voodoo priest.

Matthew Reischer, a junior associate in a small criminal law office in Queens, N.Y., and his boss, a partner in the firm, were headed to court to file a motion when the boss insisted on driving to the Jamaica neighborhood in Queens, to have a Haitian voodoo priest perform a ritual and bless their case.

“I totally refused, but he insisted,” recalled Reischer of that moment seven years ago. He waited in the car while his boss went in.

“I do not know, nor do I ever want to know, what happened inside that day, but the ruling came down in our favor,” he said in an e-mail.

“[I’m] so glad I never went in, as I believe in karma and do not like meddling with the forces of nature.”

Kathy Gurchiek is the associate editor at HR News.

Job Finder

Find an HR Job Near You
Search Jobs
Post a Job


Find the Right Vendor for Your HR Needs

SHRM’s HR Vendor Directory contains over 10,000 companies

Search & Connect