IT Employment optimize

Blackmailed by the CEO

Are you being asked to do pro bono work for company bosses? Take our poll and see how many IT pros share your pain.

Let me begin by saying that I am not being blackmailed by a CEO. I don't even think I exist on the radar of any CEO, much less be the target of his or her felonious behavior. But you might be.

I'm not talking about blackmail in the traditional sense, which usually involves photographs or fingerprints. I'm talking about the casual requests that come from CEOs or other company executives for you to take a look at their home computer or their kid's laptop. It's the kind of request that is, frankly, very difficult to refuse. In that sense, it is a subtle, unspoken form of blackmail.

I'm curious as to how much this really happens in the real world.

I once dated a lawyer, and I can't tell you how many times at parties, someone would corner the guy to get some free legal advice. And these were just casual acquaintances. It makes you wonder how entitled a company executive would feel getting free help from someone for whom he's already paying a salary.

So let's take a simple poll and see what we come up with.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

76 comments
champ158
champ158

The CEO of the company I previously worked for, Told me that he needed his new house that was being built wired with data, Phone, Cable, and speaker wire. He told me to put a project plan together than take my Telcom team to the house and ensure the work is done. we were paid on the clock. I was salery so on top of 3 major netwrork projesct I had going on now I had this to manage.

blogs
blogs

One item not considered is the nature of the compnay. Is it private (say a doctor's office) or public (General Electric)? Because if the CEO also owns the company, she/he is paying for your efforts however expended. What is the real line between company, and private work? Is there any? It is best to simply keep track of priorities with the requesting party - "Is straightening out your modem now more important than getting bookkeeper nr.3 back on the network?"

C
C

since my department is small and so the requests are infrequent. I also get the sense that the aid is very much appreciated and helps to raise my stature (and my job security). I believe in making myself the "go-to" guy in this way as a means of making myself indispensable. I should also mention that I do this on work time.

pkelley
pkelley

I have been asked by peers at my current job but they always offer to pay me for my services. And to be honest, if my managers were to ask me to do free work I probably would, I work for a non-profit firm and I know that my managers work their tail ends off to make sure they have the funding to keep me on the pay roll. Now at my last job, if a manager had ask I would have flat refused, this was the company that during an executive meeting the CEO actually asked, "Cant we just get rid of the IT department and take the computers to Radio Shack if they break?" This was a telecom company no less.

ChuckAB
ChuckAB

I have a sign posted on my desk detailing my rates. I don't do free work for folks at work - peer or boss. If they want my expertise, they will pay for it. I'm cheap, but not free.

adam.payne
adam.payne

I've been asked many times by various people at work to fix their PCs, router/modem, mobile phone etc etc. I even get asked outside of work by people who know me or know of me. I go to my local pub and get asked questions, I go to the newsagent and get asked questions, even going for a takeaway leads to someone asking me a question.

bala
bala

Its always a uni-directional type of attitude. They want help - you must help. And when you need help from them - you become beggar(worst than beggar). Its man eat man universe over here. First they bite the goat, then the cow and finally the human being. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

shodges119
shodges119

Hmm, what do you do? HR? Can you mow lawns? Laundry? Housecleaning? Wash a car? Since you can't do IT perhaps you also have a skill I need. I'll fix your computer and you ____________. Then we both saved each other time and money. Usually they walk away in a huff. But at least twice... My yard was mowed or car washed for free.

gary
gary

"Can you give me some advice about my kid's computer?" "I am looking at a new MacBook; what do you think?" "Don't worry. You can keep my notebook this weekend to reinstall it." It is all a form a pandering and IT professional will not escape it until the marketing folks stop selling the idea that a computer is easy to use. When people encounter problems they believe that any computer "expert" can fix it in just a few minutes. "Hey, what's a few minutes?", they wonder. Most messes cannot be fixed in a few minutes because by the time the "expert" sees them they are beyond the stage of "simple". However, the idea that the problem is not simple and that the expert cannot quickly fix it is inconceivable. Occasionally, I get calls from people about infected computers. My advice is to restore from an image backup. Backup? They never have a good recent backup. Sometimes, they do not even have the original installation CDs. So your alternative is to clean up mess and repair the damage. That can take anywhere from 3 to 36 hours depending on how bad the problem is and how careful you are. Let's say you to spend two days working on the problem and charge the client $1000. "$1000? The computer did not even cost that much.", he will scream. Ah, yes but how much is your data and functionality worth? Usually, they will stay, "Not a $1000". In that case, perhaps their vacation photos and Office software are only worth a dime. So, when someone comes begging for help, you have to manage the request in the most polite and efficient manner as possible. Think about it when a homeless person asks you for some help. Users with broken computers are just as lost and helpless as the homeless.

delphi9_1971
delphi9_1971

I get asked all the time. But have minimized how much with the following: 1: I tell someone is that they have to bring the computer to me. This reduces the number of desktop units as people don't want to carry them in. 2: Right at the get go, I tell them it is my lowest priority and that company projects come first. This means it may take a few weeks for me to get to "their" computer. Often people don't want to wait. Sometimes even when I have the available time, I still wait a couple weeks to look at the computer. In this way it adds value to paid services that they can get on their own. Also, I never bring up the fact that I do paid work outside on my personal time. If someone wants better service and me to come to their house for money. They have to ask me. It avoids a conflict of interest.

unhappyuser
unhappyuser

I usually say no because I'm very busy outside of work with other things and usually don't have the time to help them. Also, the last thing I want to do after hours is computer work! If I do agree to help someone (usually because "the guy the looked at it made it worse"), I always make it clear that it's never for free. Everyone has been fine with that so far. I'm also willing to barter if they're interested! EMD

PoconoChuck
PoconoChuck

The most notorious request for tech help came from a manager with whom I had a shaky relationship. It was 12 years ago and while I had a sense I should look for a new job in the new year, the manager had been acting in a friendlier manner during the week before Thanksgiving. She asked me to resolve an issue with her personal laptop, which I did over my own lunch break, and I actually considered it might have become a turning-point in our relationship. At 2PM that same day, I was called to a meeting with that manager and VP and was told I was terminated.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Hey it's working hours, they are the boss. With me it's not blackmail, it's misuse of company assets..... :p You want me to do it my free time, for nothing. No one has`ever been daft enough to think I'd take that. I'd tell them to take their face hence, just on general principles. There are advantages to being a stroppy git.

mschlepphorst
mschlepphorst

An interesting dilemma. Consider this in reverse. You are a CEO, and an employee asks a favor from you - say a reference, or to network on his or her behalf. Doing you a favor may cost them some time - getting the word into the right ears, making some phone calls which inevitably ends up requiring them to play catch up and chit-chat for much longer than they want to just to put in the good word for you - might be 15 minutes, might be hours because there are subsequent phone calls, or coffee-meets, etc. It might also call in some favors they've accumulated over the years. Should they be compensated by you? Or do you think that because they make more money, they shouldn't be compensated? Or is this expected of them, but they don't have the right to ask for a favor in return? Or there is no tradition or expectation that they should be paid. Isn't time worth money? The point of networking in general is to help someone else out so that when you need something they can help you out. Sometimes the networking favor is just passing on the good word, sometimes its helping someone rewrite a resume, make an introduction, or help with a chore or errand. There certainly are limits - the guy who had to give us his Christmas plans was pushed past a reasonable limit. There is an age-old, time honored tradition here. You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours. The point is to look at the gain versus the pain. If I did (and have) helped out, I would expect that when I needed a favor it would be returned. This is called labor bartering, and it is a very, very, very old tradition - goes back to before there was money.

mjd420nova
mjd420nova

I guess you could say that I have used that method but in reverse. Maybe even a barter is more like it. I agreed to do a home service for a client without charge for consideration in an ongoing contract worth a cool million a year. The frightening thing was that I never did anymore for free. I wasn't even asked for to do any service for anyone that is wasn't directed to bill or maybe look the other way. Not if I was the one providing the service. Some of the others in the contract may have asked them but they always refused as I knew they would. One thing to remember is that what goes around, comes around.

martian
martian

I think the poll would be better served if a 4th choice was available. Namely: Yes, I've been asked, but was offered compensation for my trouble. So my "NO" answer would become this new one...

davidt
davidt

Yes, but I consider it a "bonus" because I'm still on the clock at work while I'm at their house (or have the system in-house), and they invariably pay me cash for the work. This apparently has been the norm here at this company since long before I arrived.

etherfix
etherfix

It happened once, but was an extreme case. The owner of the business asked me to swop out a switch for a router over the weekend. New & eager, I agreed. Part of the network was non operational after the changeover on Saturday. I panicked and called my mate who is a senior admin elsewhere and we went back on Sunday. The labelling on the rj45 ports was wrong, despite the fact that the owner who installed the network was marketing himself as a "data cabling expert". He blamed me and would not pay me. I paid my mate for coming out on a Sunday out of my own pocket. The owner was a particular brand of pushy jerk but I will never ever get caught like that again.

LeonBA
LeonBA

I've been asked by peers, but not by managers. There's no option in the poll for that.

GSG
GSG

I was hourly at the time, so I said that I'd be happy to do it, but needed him to email my manager that the overtime and travel time were pre-approved since it took administrative approval for OT and travel, and so that it could be added to the payroll system. I was enthusiastic, happy, naive, cooperative, and there's not one thing he could do about it. He knew exactly what I was doing, but he couldn't come out and tell me that I'd have to do it on my own time. Of course, the approval never came in and some other schmuck in IT got the "pleasure".

wolfanotaku
wolfanotaku

One of the worst things about this is when after fixing a friend or co-workers computer you become their personal tech support line. I remember when a neighbor asked me if I would come over and set up their new internet, and I understand this. To no IT pros it might be a little daunting when they send you that box of stuff. Especially since the ISP had told him it would be really easy to get all of this computers to use the same modem. Well he did pay me a little but that 40 bucks became his ticket to constant technical support. At one point I had to very nicely say, "There's a 1-800 that you are paying for as part of your monthly bill, you should probably call them."

jck
jck

power corrupts...and absolute power corrupts absolutely. However, I've had a lot of really great bosses. One even paid me to come help him with a computer issue. But what's worse to me than the CEO doing it, is the person who will do it as an arse-kiss to get brownie points and stuff. To me that kinda of brown-nosing not only is selfish, but it reflects badly on your peers as other executives might be told of this and begin to think the IT department is their own little pool of free/cheap labor for personal use.

NotSoChiGuy
NotSoChiGuy

But I have yet to do it for free. I had an exec agree to pay my consulting rate, and was more than happy to oblige his request (and threw in some help on his A/V setup as a good-faith measure). My favorite is when someone doesn't come flat out and ask. Rather, they skirt around it by saying something like "you know, I've been having XYZ issue on my machine at home...." and expect that you'll be 'nice enough' to offer support. Someone (director of a key business unit) was really bugging with me with that once, so I said "Sounds like someone used your personal PC to go to some hardcore porn or criminal hacking sites. I suggest you take it in for service or reformat it yourself ASAP". Of course, we were in the middle of the cubicle jungle, and I have a voice that projects quite nicely. Surprisingly, he never asked again! ;) I also had a request once from a VP of accounting. Once he had finished making his request, I immediately asked for some tax advice. He had a good sense of humor (I knew this ahead of time), and got the hint.

avatar_man
avatar_man

Happens all the time. The look on other "professionals" faces when informed that their degreed, proefessional I.T. staff doesn't do free work, pick up laundry or watch their kids is just classic. When told that "no, that is not going to happen", you would think you had slapped someone across the face. Attorneys and Doctors seem to be the worst offenders.

web_chik
web_chik

I didn't take the poll because none of the answers exactly fit. I have never been asked by my manager or CEO but I have been asked by peers and by members of our Executive Board.

JimInPA
JimInPA

Is it Andy Rooney? :D I have not been asked by bosses. I have been asked by peers that I consider friends. I have agreed to do it before but I make sure that we have an understanding that they do not publicize that I did it. I did get paid one time although I insisted that she didn't she was much more stubborn than I. I think she felt bad because what was supposed to turn into a simple hard drive replacement turned into a LONG job.

Breezer85
Breezer85

... you mention i'm a techie people seem to have this very eerie "ooohhhh" then you just know what's coming next! Maybe i'll try and tell the next person i'm a microbioligist, soon get them of my back!

jdclyde
jdclyde

it is only time, so it doesn't "cost" YOU anything to fix their system. I had someone try the "if it was such a simple solution, why should I have to pay you that much?" My answer, if they didn't think it was necessary, they should have fixed it themselves.

csyst
csyst

and people wonder why malicious things such as viruses are created by some tech people

I_Borg
I_Borg

Stroppy Git = "cantankerous bas***d" (illegitimate child)

santeewelding
santeewelding

Is that with a hard or soft "g"? Goes good with "stroppy". I'm writing it down.

cary.ellis
cary.ellis

I agree with you scratch my back I'll scratch yours, but it seems that no-one is scratching my back. We aren't talking about writing a recommendation - that is a legitimate business action. Networking is business, fixing a home computer outside of company time is NOT business. A better comparison to how I see things is that the company accountant has no problems asking me to take a look at their home computer because it is running slow; but when I ask that person to take a look at my taxes, they have no problem telling me that they charge for that. And then on top of that, when I reminded this person of the work that I did for them, they tell me that "this is different."

Jalapeno Bob
Jalapeno Bob

Although I have never been asked by officers, such as the CEO, or by managers, I am often asked by technically challenged peers from other, non-technical departments.

ncudmore
ncudmore

Of course there is also the CEO's request being intercepted by a 'manager' above you and then you being told '"we" can not do this', when in fact you know darn well a, you can do it, b, the resources are sitting around not doing anything. And c, it won't take much effort or time. The last time this happened to me, the CEO wanted something done not for himself but a charity. I guess it's a bit like the old bit from Star Trek, "How long to re-fit?" -- Kirk, "Eight weeks. But you don't have eight weeks, so I'll do it for you in two." -- Scotty, "Do you always multiply your repair estimates by a factor of four?" -- Kirk, "How else to maintain my reputation as a miracle worker?" -- Scotty. Management like to be seen to be in control and to work miracles.... It won't do if someone else tells Kirk two weeks in the first place....

curtis
curtis

Seems to me you have to catch this early and hit it hard, so you don't get a reputation as a pushover. That kind of reputation could even prevent you from advancing in the company if people think you're weak or menial-minded. I flat out refuse to do any off-hours work for free. If it's convenient for me and the requester isn't likely to screw me, I'll offer my consulting rate.

jdclyde
jdclyde

Accountants.... They will want you to fix their PII400 for free, because the part it took to fix their system was a used part that you pulled out of an old system you had in your basement, so it didn't "cost you anything".....

I_Borg
I_Borg

...that you havn't been taken on that rollercoaster ride. I have been supporting three of my execs for 9 years now and can't seem to shake them. On the plus side, I have survived three rounds of lay-offs during that time. Food for thought...

jdclyde
jdclyde

Told the guy to buy me a six pack. Instead, he threw a $20 on my desk and told me to buy a case. B-) If you do a good job, people will respect that, and you. I regularly go to our company presidents home to work on his system, but it is a home office (bad hip, so can't get around easily), so that isn't in the same category as this discussion of "personal" computer. It is a company asset used for company business.

Betageek52
Betageek52

...give them 3 or 4 things it 'could' be, 1 or 2 of the things you think it is, and then tell them that, without checking out the machine personally, It would be guesswork. My fees for that are....

cary.ellis
cary.ellis

Then, instead of getting tech requests, people will be asking what their rash is, or if their cough sounds bad... I am a techie and my wife an attorney, so we get constant requests. There have been several times that we have been to a family members/friends/co-workers/neighbors house where I end up working on the computer while she is writing their will, etc.

C
C

...that I'm an international arms dealer. It just sounds way cooler ;-)

adam.payne
adam.payne

Excellent idea, i'll have to try that.

ninja67555
ninja67555

when we fix a problem, we get gasps of amazement but if the client/co-worker/friend asks what i actually did and i explain it, they shrug and say "is that all that was wrong" here's an example a school network had a horrible birds nest of ethernet cables and underneath was a switch. one of the students plugged both ends of a patch cable into the switch and knocked out the whole subnet. it took me 40 minutes to label & untangle the wires and spot the problem. they guy i was doing the job for was watching my progress. the network was down for days beforehand and the contractor was too busy to call out. he wasn't impressed by my efforts and i never heard from him again (or got paid a dime) to him, all i did was remove a patch cable now i'm like a magician i never reveal my secrets

toni.bowers_b
toni.bowers_b

Normally, a peer wouldn't be in the position to affect your job as someone at a level higher than you would be. The point of the blog is that people in higher positions have something to hold over your head when they ask.

I_Borg
I_Borg

...for not telling them how hard it was to find and procure "for cash" (no receipt) on the "Black Market". (because they really have no idea)

jck
jck

the cheapest/penny-pinching people? the wealthy. My neighbor in Oklahoma for 20+ years was the daughter of the wealthiest family in that part of the state, and 2nd to maybe E.K. Gaylord and his family. She would always try and get me to mow her yard or watch her kids for free. She was a nice lady, but acted like she had no money. Then, there were the times I worked in service jobs where tips are your mainstay. The people you knew who were wealthy generally were the worst tippers. The one guy I met who was really generous that was super wealthy was the grandson of a family who has a famous food product line. He would come in the liquor store where I worked a 2nd job, and tip the workers at Christmas because we helped him all the time with things during the year. He was really a genuine man...and never stuck his nose in the air. But, I think the monetarily elite just are that way because they are always taught to watch everything and meiser their money as a rule of thumb. But yeah, most of the accountants I know are cheap...lol

TonytheTiger
TonytheTiger

a very large plate of home-made chocolate-chip cookies :)

JimInPA
JimInPA

I used to clean VCR's in exchange for pie's :D

jpb
jpb

Egads, hast though not heard of Google?

I_Borg
I_Borg

...Who is E.K. Gaylord???

Betageek52
Betageek52

I prefer a tupperware container chock full of chocolate fudge (NO NUTS). Of course, I give back the container later on.

Jerry.Aultman
Jerry.Aultman

I always tell everyone that I can be bought for a plate of home made chocolate chip cookies.