the special notepads, the staggered departures, and other stories of ridiculous policies at work — Ask a Manager


Last week I asked about ridiculous policies you’ve encountered at work. Here are 18 of the most ridiculous you shared.

1. The notepads

I had a boss who insisted that only her notes could be on yellow legal pads (8.5 by 14), and her sales staff all had to take notes on white paper at letter size (8.5 by 11). She also insisted that whenever we ordered new pads of paper, we order equal amounts for her…this naturally resulted in us having an insane amount of unused yellow legal pads, since six sales people obviously go through way more smaller pages of paper than one boss. The guy who trained me rolled his eyes when he explained the rule, then opened a desk drawer to show a whole stack of the yellow legal pads. He told me to make sure to save space in my desk for them, because boss regularly ran out of room and stashed them in the employees’ desks, but to under no circumstances ever use it. If I accidentally did, he said to sneak the whole legal pad out of the office, because boss would lose it if she saw a missing page and/or a piece of yellow paper in a trash can.

2. The locks

The staff break room had lockers. Theft from the breakroom was endemic, so many started bringing locks to use for the duration of their shift so that wallet, phone etc. (which you couldn’t have with you on the floor) wouldn’t get swiped. Locks were banned and would be cut off because it was a “visual representation of mistrust between colleagues”. I quit shortly thereafter, I was going to work right from university so had to bring stuff with me and the minimum wage paycheque wasn’t enough to cover my losses.

3. The coats

No coat racks for employees’ coats and no hanging coats on the back of your chairs.

I worked for a company where the CEO worked with a designer to design a brand-spanking-new open concept (blech!) suite of offices with blinding white walls and light beige furniture. After we moved in, the CEO wanted to keep the place looking like a picture from Architectural Digest, which led to a number of ridiculous policies, but the no coat racks policy (having a jumble of multi-colored coats would be horrible! horrible!) really took the biscuit for me. We were told that we could leave our coats in our cars since it wasn’t really that long a walk from the parking garage. It actually can get cold in the the DC area in the winter, and it also can rain a lot, for which you might want a raincoat, as well.

You know how big office buildings have random columns in them for beams. I had one coworker, who was not the least bit popular on our team, walk in one morning with the biggest Command hook she could buy, slap it on the back of one of those columns where it wouldn’t be visible from the rest of the floor, and hang up her coat. We still didn’t much like her, but we respected her a whole lot more for that.

4. The homework

I had a part-time job during high school in a supermarket, where many students also worked in the evenings and weekends. Students weren’t allowed to do homework in the staff canteen (the only place staff members had available to sit in), either before our shifts started or during breaks, as it “wasn’t restful” for the full-time staff to witness.

5. The wave

At my partner’s call center job, there was a married couple who were both on the phones there. When the wife got up to use the bathroom, she would wave at her husband as she went by his desk. That’s it – just a wave, no chatting. It’s a small room so you basically have to go by everyone to get to the bathroom. The Powers that Be didn’t like her having such a fun time on her way to the bathroom that they wrote her a prescribed route to the bathroom that wouldn’t go near her husband’s desk. You know, so she wouldn’t be stealing from the company by … waving to her husband.

6. The reviews

My last job (small museum) would not let us work in our offices for a period of about 8 months. One person (literally one person) commented on our FB page that the public floor did not have enough staff to assist people. The director flipped out and declared that no one was allowed to work in their office until we had 100% positive feedback. We had to take our laptops out and find a place to sit. I left well before the ban lifted, but one of my coworkers indicated that another person had left a 3-star review shortly after office work was reinstated, and they all had to go back to working on the public floor.

7. The packing tape

I used to work at an org where many staff attended conferences and took display materials for booths, etc. There were a few assistants and we were responsible for packing up materials such as books, leaflets and so forth for shipping to the conference venue. One senior staff member got so annoyed by the sound of scotch tape that we were no longer allowed to pack materials within anyone’s hearing distance, and had to carry all the stuff to send (books are heavy!), packing boxes, tape, etc etc over to the other building, usually requiring multiple trips and making the whole process take three times as long.

8. The spacing

When I worked at a small museum about a decade ago, management’s MO was that any incident had to have a new rule made. At one point we were told that while in the galleries we had to stand two arm-lengths apart, and measure that every time another employee came in the room.

9. The sign-ins

We had to sign in upon arrival or be counted as late. But the log book was in the boss’s office, and she was always late. We were expected to hang around her door until she showed up (instead of getting a jump on the day’s work–we were salaried teachers, so we’d always arrive early). If we showed up before the boss and just started working, we’d be counted late.

10. The vacation time

I used to work for a company where employees accrued vacation days based on months worked … for the following year. What this meant was that your first year, you had zero vacation, absolutely no way to take time off – which sucked for employees. It also meant that anytime an employee left or retired, the company had to pay them out for their unused vacation, which was at least a year’s worth plus whatever they hadn’t used in the current calendar year. So it was a huge financial liability for the company and a headache for the accounting team.

No one liked it – not employees, not managers, not accounting. But the CEO insisted it was the only reasonable vacation policy, and would not hear anything to the contrary.

11. The books

I worked for a publishing company that published a variety of print media. One of the senior managers in the books team implemented a rule that marketing material could not use the word “book” or “books”. So we had to promote the books without saying they were books. Fwiw, this guy was a classic example of the Peter Principle and didn’t have a clue what he was doing.

12. The t-shirts (and also the potatoes)

At my public library we are not allowed to buy t-shirts (for programs, giveaways, etc). The reason? The county finance department defines t-shirts as underwear, and we can’t buy underwear with public funds.

It’s as stupid as it sounds. (And in an interesting twist, the county neither has official control over us nor any of our funding—we get tax dollars directly, and we have our own finance department. But our finance department isn’t blameless either—they refused my request to buy a $4 sack of potatoes for a potato stamp class, on the basis that I might defraud the library and take home leftover potatoes.)

13. The goodbyes

One summer I worked at two retail chains that apparently were really strict about what phrases you used to greet customers and say goodbye. Unfortunately, both these jobs were not strict in the same way– the allowed phrases were different and had no real overlap. One job was a faux-beach cool atmosphere so we had a lot of insufferable phrases we were supposed to use like, “Welcome to the pier!” even though we were in a landlocked midwestern city in the dead of winter. But there were some options that were normal, albeit a bit casual. One of those phrases was, “Have a good one!”

Well, one day I had the audacity to say “Have a good one!” to a client who was leaving at my other retail store. I don’t know if the customer actually complained or if a manager just overheard me, but a few shifts lager I was given A PRINTED LETTER telling me how inappropriate it was of me to have said, “Have a good one!” to a customer and that doing so again would lead to my termination. I clarified that it was just this phrase I used, there was nothing else I had said that contributed to this. They said that “Have a good one” is both a command to the customer and slang and therefore inappropriate to use in the workplace with a customer.

I get that we all have our pet peeves with language, but come on! I’m trying to tell somebody that I hope they have a nice day! And I don’t think that this had been new or groundbreaking slang for at least twenty years when I said it.

14. The scandal

I was one of several temps at a hospital. The break room we were told to use had windows on all four walls. So you could see in, nothing was hidden. I was banned from having the same lunch and break times as another temp. Only the one other temp, who was an 18-year-old male. I was a chubby mid thirties female. Apparently it was unseemly for us to be in the room together at the same time.

15. The departures

This was in a fundraising office of a college. People tended to leave for lunch, and would sometimes leave the office early depending on the schedule for the week (had to work an event that evening, had had a long travel day earlier in the week, etc). We got feedback that people weren’t allowed to leave the building and be seen walking to the parking lot at the same time, because it made it look like (to whom??) we were leaving work to go socialize with each other, which made us look exclusive and lazy.

So, one person would leave … we would watch them from the window … once they reached the parking lot, another person would leave … repeat.

16. The comp time

I once had a salaried job where you would get comp time for coming on time and staying late, but not coming in early and staying until your usual end time. It didn’t matter what your shift was.

This worked out great for the people who worked from 8 am – 4 pm and were quarterly asked to stay until 6 pm. Not so great for me and some others, who regularly worked 10 am – 6 pm, and were quarterly asked to come in at 8 am and stay until our usual 6:00pm.
At the end of the day, we’d all work the same 10 hours. But nope, the policy only gave comp time to those who stayed late.

17. The scam

I worked for a financial services firm that made it a standard practice to lie to financial advisor candidates and tell them that they were interviewing for a regional director job, “but it’s a technicality that you have to spend a little time being a financial advisor at one of our offices first.” There was never a regional director job opening — it was all an act to flatter their egos and get them in the door. My audits with these folks were always very awkward when they would explain condescendingly that I shouldn’t waste too much time on them because they were only here until their REAL job started…

18. The banked leave

I once worked at an office where you accrued leave in dollars. If you were paid $10/hour and had 10 hours of leave, you had $100 banked for leave. If you got a raise, your money banked for leave did NOT increase. If you are now making $11/hour but still have $100 banked for leave, you can now only purchase 9 hours of leave. The owners gave someone a big raise and that person had a lot of hours banked for leave. The worker left right after the raise and the owners never got over the “injustice.”



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