Nearly everyone in the workforce has had at least one terrible boss or faced outrageous expectations in the workplace. But some employers really take the definition of the word "demanding" to a whole new level. Few can top the employer described in a recent column on "Ask a Manager," though. A nonprofit employee wrote to the advice column to discuss their boss's request that employees traveling on business camp at state parks rather than sleep in hotels while they are offsite.
While the request was not worded as a demand, the tone of the email this new staffer received definitely makes it clear the organization was strongly pushing for employees to comply.
According to the advice seeker, the email they received said, “When we are traveling for work, we try, when possible, to stay at a state park — cabins in the winter, camping ‘normally’ in the summer since most cabins are booked for a week." By camping "normally" they mean in a tent, outdoors.
At first it might seem the request is to stay in line with the organization's mission statement, since camping in a tent is typically a lower-impact way to travel than a hotel or motel. However, cost seems to be a much bigger reason. "The state agency responsible for camping fees provides us a waiver so that we stay for free," the email continues.
Aside from the inconvenience of the request, the letter writer points out the risks involved. "I know at least one of my new coworkers feels as I do — we're not going to camp alone in a park in a tent." Good point! You don't have to be an avid follower of true crime to know this is a dangerous setup for a solitary traveler, especially a woman.
"Ask a Manager" guru Allison Green thankfully agreed and pointed out several more impracticalities with the request. "You need to show up for business meetings rested, washed, and productive — which an awful lot of people would not be after sleeping in a tent."
Can you imagine trying to shower and make yourself look even business-casual professional in a campsite? Even the cabins the email mentions aren't a restful or sanitary option. As the letter writer points out, their own boss has previously mentioned that many cabins in state parks have bed bug infestations. Yeah, that's a hard pass for me.
This camping-enthusiast boss isn't the only manager with a passion for the planet that has clouded their judgment of appropriate workplace requests. Another advice seeker wrote to Allison last year about a boss so enthusiastic about encouraging employees toward a greener lifestyle, she presented all her female staff with menstrual cups.
That alone would be an overstep, but the boss didn't stop at this inappropriate employee gift. She would badger employees when she saw them headed to the restroom with a sanitary pad or tampon and would ask, "are you still using those?" or "haven't you tried the cup yet?"
On top of that, at the time she presented the cups to her staff, one employee tearfully told her that, due to complications after giving birth to her last child, there was absolutely no way she could use anything but pads for a considerable time. Yikes! Even after one employee said she wasn't comfortable discussing her cycle at work, the boss still would bring up the cups.
Some bosses really don't see the line between manager and mother. One beleaguered "Ask a Manager" letter writer wrote in several months ago because her boss constantly demanded she and other employees eat meals she brings for them and even asks them to wear her hand-me-down clothes. Weird. How are you supposed to tell your boss you are a) a grown adult and b) not in the market for a new mom?
This last boss, "Jane," truly knows no boundaries. One of her employees, at the end of her rope, shared just a few grievances with Allison, saying "I could write you a novel about all the stuff she does," but the select examples she provided were plenty outrageous.
Unbelievably, the most minor among them is Jane's tendency to call workers after hours and on weekends for non-emergency purposes. For example, the boss once told her entire staff she was trying to lose weight and she expected them to hold her accountable to her diet. However, when one employee took her at her word on this, she became angry.
And speaking of diets, she demanded one staffer document everything she eats and the exercises she does at the gym because her body represented Jane's ideal weight. So we've got inappropriate prying into a worker's personal life and intrusive comments about a worker's physical appearance. Twofer!
The cherry on top is that Jane has called team meetings — as in multiple meetings — to help her complete her online dating profile. But the true kicker is that Jane's position is...
wait for it...
Director of HR.
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