SURVEY SAYS – What's the Stupidest Question You've Been Asked?

July 22, 2009 ( - I don't know about you, but during the course of any given day, I get asked a LOT of questions.

Mostly I have answers to those questions, sometimes I’m asked questions I don’t want to be asked, there are, of course, questions to which I don’t (yet) have answers, and sometimes – well, sometimes there are questions that don’t seem to deserve answers.  

Mostly I have answers to those questions, sometimes I’m asked questions I don’t want to be asked, there are, of course, questions to which I don’t (yet) have answers, and sometimes – well, sometimes there are questions that don’t seem to deserve answers.    This week, I’d like to know, “What’s the dumbest question you’ve ever been asked at work?”    

Now, needless to say, this is a survey whose responses are not readily tabulated – nor should they be.   And, while I might well have my personal favorite(s), there are so many good ones to choose from, I’m not even going to apply an “Editor’s Choice” to what I am sure may wind up being the year’s most popular survey.

Source Spots

But before we go there, I DID ask readers to identify the source of the dumb question – and the “winner” – by a significant margin – was “co-worker”, responsible for nearly half ( 47.4% ) of the submissions.   The boss was responsible for only a third as many ( 15.8% ), while clients showed up just 5.3% of the time.

The rest ( 34.4% ) cited “other” – a category that lived up to its name this week, but generally included other employees that weren’t really co-workers, management that wasn’t really part of their chain of command, auditors, IT staff, “everyone”, and miscellaneous people in the workplace.

Now, as for those questions – they start on the next page….and let me just warn you now, you won’t want to be drinking coffee (or any liquid) while you read them!

Thanks to everyone who participated in our survey!

And – if you missed yesterday’s survey – or want to add some more – I’ll keep the survey open.  I wouldn’t want to miss any more like these!  REPLY to this week’s survey HERE

  • "When someone starts off by saying, ""I have a dumb question,"" I usually interrupt them tongue in check and point out there are no dumb questions, just dumb people.   You see, I handle the payroll in addition to being the plan administrator.   So I get tons from, ""I didn't sign up for insurance so why are you deducting medicare?"", to ""why didn't I get paid?"", when in fact a timesheet was never submitted.  
  • The best was when a co-worker tracked me down to a bathroom stall to tell me someone was on the phone for me.   Then asked...wait for it....""what do you want me to tell them?"".   Taa Daa there it is, the dumbest question I was ever asked to field."
  • The dumbest question is the one not asked
  • Are you busy?   Well, I have piles of papers all around my office, my phone is ringing, there are two people behind you and person sitting in front of my workspace but no, I'm not busy at all, what do you need?
  • Do we have to pay vacation to the deceased employee? He didn't apply two weeks in advance.
  • "So are you Italian?"   I like Italian men!
  • Sadly, there are so many stupid questions that I am asked on a daily basis, I couldn't possibly narrow it down to one.
  • Years ago, I had a temp come in to help us label and stuff envelopes for a bulk mailing. The temp asked, me, "Where do I stick the address label?" What? Haven't you ever addressed an envelope before?! It got worse -- she then became concerned when she saw that the labels were addressed to the same person over and over -- Edward Jones, Raymond James ...
  • This may not be the dumbest, but it just happened this week so it's still in the front of my mind.   I received an e-mail from a co-worker asking if I had a copy of an e-mail that a carrier rep. sent to her and two owners of our agency a few weeks ago.    Hmmmm.   The person who originally received the e-mail asks the person who was never even copied on the e-mail to pull a copy out of her hat.    Ta-daaa!
  • In my opinion, "Can I name my ex-husband as my beneficiary on my portion of the 401(k) account?   Because I really didn't want the divorce, but he wanted someone else."   DUH!!
  • EVP of HR looking around a section of cubes - "Is this HR?"
  • "Are you in the office?", just after I picked up my office phone.
  • I used to work for a major publisher in the accounting area.   Our outside auditors were in, doing their year-end audit and I had one (who we affectionately referred to as "Duh") come up to me with some papers in his hand.   He was holding a journal entry with backup attached and he asked me, "Is this staple (yes, the papers were stapled together) your way of approving this?"   HUH???   I asked him to repeat himself and he said it again.   Apparently nobody had initialed the entry so he felt there was no approval on it, and he figured perhaps a staple would suffice as approval.   Considering he was holding a COPY of the original, I really didn't know how to respond.   Without a doubt, the stupidest question I've ever been asked at work---and the worst part is, this was an auditor with one of the Big 4 accounting firms!
  • """I forget what do you do when I am adding up a column of figures and there is a brackett around one of the figures?""
  • """I forget what do you do when I am adding up a column of figures and there is a bracket around one of the figures?""   This women had a college degree and I didn't....................:)"
  • Not so much a question, but we had an irate client threaten to call ERISA when they could not take a distribution because they had not distributable event.   I wanted to say I would love the number if they got one, I would love to talk to ERISA too!
  • While on a first date, I was asked if I could read.   My reply was "Yes, and [borrowing from Woody Allen] I've been doing my own reading since I was 21".   Needless to say, it was also a last date.
  • Considering that I read this at work, I would have to say the question above probably wins
  • As a summer job during college, my wife worked at Disney World in Cinderella's Castle's gift shop. She would often be asked "What time does the 4:00 parade start?"
  • Are we off on Friday or Monday for Memorial Day this year??
  • """Is it going to be a problem that I loaned all of the plan assets to a company that we just acquired? I was worried that Citibank might fail.""
  • This came toward the end of a 2-year DOL audit. My initial response was unprintable."
  • In Late 2008 I was asked, "I'm using the Plan's investment advisor so how did I lose money in my 401(k) Plan last quarter?"   This person literally thought that if you used an investment advisor you would not lose money.   Boy were they angry!   I thought this question is probably equally or more sad than dumb.
  • This may date me a bit, but when we first implemented a voice response system with our 401(k) plan record keeper, our CFO asked me if "woman who answers the phone" was employed by us, or the record keeper, and how much she was paid to read those choices to callers all day.
  • "A manager was opening up a Powerpoint presentation that I had spent the morning working on. He inadvertently did something to make the text SEEM to disappear. (It was really there all along; he just stumbled into a white background/white text situation.) Well, he called me over to his desk with a nasty tone in his voice, as though it was my doing. ""Look at this!"" he bellowed, and stared at me accusatory. He then folded his arms over his chest in a huff. I took over the mouse, saw what he did, and corrected it with two clicks. He saw then that, in fact, no, I hadn't spent the morning working on a blank slide, and yes, the text was there all along. So he apologized.   I'm not saying that it's dumb if you don't know Powerpoint, but it's SUPER dumb if you don't know Powerpoint, accidentally screw up my hard work, and then talk to me like I'm the idiot here."
  • Someone called my office and when I answered, they asked if I was in the office
  • I sent an e-mail telling someone that our carrier was finding someone in place of my vacating rep to look up the amount of the PBGC premium we owed (since the mailed instructions never arrived) and as soon as I received their answer that day I would forward it on -- the question in reply was, "OK but how much is it going to be?"   Hard to frame a diplomatic reply to that one.
  • There are way more than two!   Why didn't the insurance company automatically add my child to my coverage?   They processed the claim, so they had to know about it!
  • Only young people can answer that. After five years you quit counting, after ten years you quit remembering   and after twenty years you quit noticing.
  • "How many snow days do we get?"    This was from a high school student working part time after school.
  • The question that drives me crazy is when someone asks "are you busy?" when my head is buried in papers or I'm typing away on my computer.
  • When I called our technology support team to get a "drive" added to the access on my computer, I was asked where that drive was located. Seriously?!? If I worked in technology, I probably wouldn't have been calling...
  • Why are you reporting participant loans as a plan asset?   Aren't they a liability?
  • "Can I ask you a question?"
  • What's the policy around here when someone's family member dies? I know we all signed that card, but am I supposed to send her an email or something?
  • I've never been a teacher but I hold to the teacher philosophy that "there are no dumb questions".   If someone really doesn't understand what is going on, I or somebody else needs to help them get it - or they need to spend more time on the issue themselves.
  • It came from a company salesman from the Midland, Texas office, who I had met once previously for a very short period of time, who swaggered through the back door of our office suite into my Houston Texas office, went to my office window, where he proceed to put one hand on the window sill and the other on his hip and proceeded to ask "Do you know who I am?" To which I truthfully answered, "Sir, if you do not know who you are, then I am sorry, but I can't help you." (It was one of the very few times in my career that I was so brazen.)
  • What time is noon Mass?   - Yes, I work for the Catholic Church
  • While I tend to agree with my college professors of long ago that no question is stupid, there are exceptions.   This is not a work-related question, but I get asked this question so often (even at work) and it never fails to make my mouth hang open.   I am female and 95% of the people I meet, upon learning that I have a twin brother, will ask me:   Are you identical?
  • In regards to a certain plan administrative tasks, "this is administratively too hard and our system doesn't perform the function, do we still have to do it?"
  • My favorite dumb question of all time...   "I read in the benefits package that Open Enrollment ends on Thursday May 21st.   When is the last day I can turn in my open enrollment form?"   It took all of my self control to not ask "When do you start reading comprehension classes?"
  • As a benefit specialist for a former employer, our department answered a lot of requests regarding plan account information from our employees. One employee who changed his login ID from his ss# to something he was sure to remember, called to ask if we could look it up and give it to him so he could look up the information he needed for his accountant.
  • Do you enjoy what you do?
  • I'd like to take my money out of my 401(k) account now--what do I need to do?
  • Our office administrator, who after around 10 years supporting an office administering 400+ DC plans, passed the CEBS exam and felt very wise. Thinking she had caught the staff sluffing off and not preparing government filings she asked if we had ever prepared "Form Five-Five-Zero-Zero" for our clients, oblivious that she had been typing our 5500's for years.
  • Smell this CEBS catalog - does it smell funny to you?
  • I have had a number of calls to help fix appliances.   It turns out our corporate phone number is one digit off of a well known appliance maker.   Even when I have explained to the individual that we cannot help them they are very instant that they dialed the right number and I should be able to send someone over.
  • My sister, and her 3 kids are on Medicaid but the coverage is not very good.   Can I put them on my insurance?
  • "Back in the 1980s,   I was the Controller of Zotos Int'l inDarien CT , a maker of professional haircare products.     We had a hot line for   beauty salons to call in on.    One night I was   working late   ( as usual) and   the night phone   bell   was ringing. I    picked up   it up to find it was the hot line ( this was before   we had direct inward dial phones).   On the   phone was a beautican from  who was giving her client a perm   but the woman was scheduled   brain surgery later that week.   She wanted to know    if   the anesthesia would affect her perm?    I would have thought that cutting open her skull would have a bigger impact!"
  • When the person wants me to do something for him/her, asks "Are you busy?" . . .and doesn't wait for an answer.   It's not only dumb but annoying.
  • Why should I have to clean up the toilet overflow?   (posed by the obvious perpetrator)
  • "Is a withdrawal the same as a distribution from a 401k plan?"
  • Does the company offer pet insurance?
  • "Why won't the computer let me take a loan from the 401(k) Plan?
  • -from a participant who elected not to defer, and had a zero balance in the plan"
  • A few years ago a recent finance college grad and newly hired Investment Analyst asked "I do not know how to operate this tape machine, can you show me?" to which I replied that it was your average calculator, had he not operated one before?    He replied "I only know how to use the one on the computer"!
  • "For a work-related one, it has to be: ""Why won't IBM let me have a Dell computer for my work laptop?   I can get one configured just the way I want it!"" 
  • Whatever gave you the idea that I was paying you to think? "This was actually asked of our legal counsel by a gal who worked for me.   I was on maternity leave and she e-mailed this question.   It has been 11 years...but we all still have the e-mail. 
  • How many does it take to make a unanimous decision?"
  • "What's the dumbest question you've ever been asked at work?"    (Sorry, I just couldn't resist; besides, it's hard to plumb the depths to find the actual dumbest -- it's a vast universe!)
  • While I often remind people that the only stupid question is the one not asked, a partner at my firm called last week to have his direct deposit for payroll changed.   I pointed him to where the form is on our intranet, and after looking at it, he asked if he needed to open the new bank account first before completing the form.
  • Wouldn't work be so much easier if you didn't have to supervise employees?
  • Employee to supervisor: "If I have the leave time available, why do I have to ask you for permission to take time off?"
  • last spring - "Now, when my account loses a certain percentage of money, I'm still keeping all that I've put in.   I'm just losing that percentage of the gain that I've received in the past.   I'll always have my contributions.   Right?"
  • "I think the question that comes up every year and leaves us shaking our head is ""Do I have to do anything if I don't want to make a change?""   It comes up at open enrollment every year and every year we go to great pains to tell people up front what is expected of them.   They either haven't read the material that costs a fortune in time and hard dollars to prepare or they are so insecure in their understanding that just need to hear us say the same thing we said in print.   Either way, we waste a lot of time answering what has already been addressed.   Not funny or absurd at all but very frustrating for us benefits folks who work so hard to get the information out there."
  • From an auditor....independent, one that we pay....What's the difference between your semi-monthly and bi-weekly payrolls?"""
  • What day is Fourth of July?
  • Do I need to do anything for open enrollment?   We've announced through multiple emails and a home mailing that 5 medical plans are ending and one is evolving into a 90/70 plan from a 100/80 plan, we're adding a dental plan and the medical plan designs of all are changing.   How lucky to do you feel today that you will be in the plan you want to be in come 1/1/09 if you do nothing?
  • Can I use bereavement leave because my dog died?
  • Not really a question, but a co-worker who had been working with DC Plans for several years once told me that she was investing in her personal 401(k) very conservatively in her 20's and 30's and would begin taking on more risk as she got older.   I was shocked to hear that since we worked in the industry for so long.   I think her cutting edge strategy may have enabled her to get a job managing Target Retirement Date glide paths for multiple fund families. Who knows, it could be working out for her in this market!
  • I was once asked by a plan participant what it would take (as in a bribe) for me to help him get his pension plan distribution without the required spousal consent.
  • I was asked if the distribution forms for a beneficiary required the decedent's signature.
  • Can you just tell me how to answer the questions? -- right after being told we can not advise you or complete the request for COBRA stimulus form for you.   (By the way, instructions are on the form at the start of the questions on someone's personal situation [and how would I know about their personal situation] and they tell the person that replying "NO" to any question makes you ineligible for the stimulus credit.)
  • If I can get marriage license showing I married my dog, can I add him to my benefit plan?
  • I don't see my Obama stimulus money on my paycheck.   When will I start getting it?    This from a plan participant in one of the retirement plans we manage.   Note:   We don't do payrolls!
  • Too many to list, but the more experience within my job I acquire the more I realize my definition of "dumb" has expanded, but my patience level has also expanded.   I now sit patiently until the individual has finished, count to 5, and answer in my "best supporting actor voice" for the play "there's no such thing as a stupid question".     I have many Oscars now.
  •   I got a hospital bill from January 2009 that you need to get paid for me.   They said I had to pay it because I don't have medical insurance.   Me:   You declined medical coverage for 2009, so unless you have other medical insurance you would be responsible for the bill.   Employee:   Huh?   I have to pay it because I don't have insurance????"
  • Is rock salt poisonous?
  • What is a PIN number? (Could not get access to their 401k account)
  • "I run our employee stock programs   and am asked all the time how's our stock doing.   My standard answer is if I   knew that I would not need to work here!"
  • I don't know if it's the dumbest, but would be the most ridiculous, crossing the line of work related activities.   Okay it was 1997, I was asked to return via company mail my boss' wife's's oflingerie order that she didn't want.   So I boxed it up, weighed it and slapped postage on it.   Unbelievable, the woman didn't even work!   Sad thing was I later returned unwanted orders to Victoria Secret, too.
  • "#2   Please fax me the distribution.   I would like it in 20s.  
  • #3   I NEED a hardship because they have a giant chocolate bunny downtown, and I HAVE to have it for my granddaughter's Easter basket.
  • #4    Did you know the second check you sent me bounced?   (Participant called claiming she had never received her check, so we sent her a copy of the front and back.   She received the copy, cut it out and deposited the copy.   And the Bank Teller took it despite the fact that the copy said VOID VOID VOID all over it!) (Our bank of course, rejected it the second time around.)"
  • Upon Submitting a request for UNPAID leave for FMLA rehab and recovery after surgery.   My boss asked "Do you really need to be out that long"?
  • This one was asked by a manager: "I wonder why they don't celebrate the 4th of July in?"
  • This wasn't at my office -but I guess does relate to someone's work.   We were at lunch and asked our waitress "What's the soup du jour".   She explained she would have to ask.   She came back and explained "it's the soup of the day!".   Not sure who she asked - but hopefully it wasn't the boss!
  • Oh, there are so many, I don't even know where to start!
  • What is this on my pay stub?   I never signed up for a 401(k) deduction.   That was after 2 years, 104 deductions on pay stubs, 2 annual reports, 6 quarterly reports and 4 deduction verification forms (requiring her signature).   I wondered what exactly she wanted for documentation.
  • Why can't I borrow from the 401(k) plan if I'm not in it?