One employee wanted to start late to get nails polished, another to put a cat-sitter on company expenses.
British training company DPG, which runs courses accredited by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, asked HR professionals what the oddest questions they’d received.
And then they called on HR experts what the ideal responses to such strange requests would be.
Paul Drew, managing director at DPG, said. “Part of working in HR is taking the usual with the unusual. Dealing with weird and wonderful requests can be entertaining [and occasionally taxing], but maintaining a professional outlook is the most important factor.
“It’s important to strike a balance between being open to out-of-the-ordinary requests and maintaining a level of standards. Sometimes, however, you might just have to disappoint the employee making the request.”
HR director Scott Agostini outlined a general approach to handling odd requests. “It’s good to try to generate a two-way dialogue with the employee to make sure you understand the motivation behind the request. This is usually an area in which managers start making assumptions.
“Then, when you talk to the employee, make sure you tell them that you will be putting the request through some decision-making criteria.”
These criteria, he said, should include the potential impact of solutions to the client and to business operations, and whether fulfilling the request is something that could be done for all employees and whether it would start a precedent.
“With these three things considered — in addition to the ubiquitous, ‘are we required by law to grant this request?’ – you can usually cover all of the potential objections that management might throw at you about granting a request, or you will have compelling reasons to give the employee about why the request could not be granted.”
Factbox: Odd HR requests
A late start to get nails painted
DPG’s experts said beauty treatments aren’t really what flexible working arrangements are intended for, and suggested a half-day’s leave as a solution.
Using spare budget for hair and make-up for the office party
DPG said few companies would approve such a request, and asked Cathleen Snyder of Strategic HR for a good response.
“I’d say, ‘Unfortunately, we’re not able to accommodate your request. This party is intended as a celebration of the past year for the company. It wouldn’t be appropriate to open it up for anything outside of that. Especially since we’re not able to do it for everyone.’”
Requesting expenses to cover a cat sitter
DGP said this may be possible, depending on company policy and the individual’s position, but few firms would allow it as an expense claim when either annual leave or, if that’s not possible, working from home for a few hours a day might serve, depending on the employee’s position and workload.
A sick day after a late night
Many companies would see such a request as a lack of commitment, but DPG said context is important, and HR staff should speak to the employee to find out about the reasons — it’s possible the staff member could be dealing with bereavement, for example.
If, on the other hand, it’s simple a case of burning the candle at both ends, unpaid leave or a late start would allow the employee to catch up on sleep.
Do employees need to declare if they’ve been arrested?
This request has to be handled careful to avoid seeming accusatory, DPG said. What appears to be a suspicious question may be innocent curiosity. They recommend outlining the company’s policy clearly and offering the opportunity for a private chat if there are any concerns.
Asking to work from home — just to watch the tennis. Requesting managerial visits to employees’ homes. Asking how frequently drug tests are done — just after New Year.
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