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My company (a relatively large one) recently asked for volunteers to help and move furniture to the new office on a weekend in exchange for free pizza. We are not professional movers, but people with white collar jobs who are salaried. Many of us are already on-call and work more than 40 hours a week as is.

  1. Is this ethical?
  2. The person who organized the event complained that not enough people volunteered. Is this a justly made complaint?
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Snow Jul 17 at 5:33
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    Something similar happened in my company in November 2017, but volunteers, all of them salaried, were given hefty bonus pay as well as pizza (plus an alcoholic bottle of their choice at Christmastime). – J.G. Jul 17 at 16:20
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    @J.G.: What did they give the teetotalers? – Sean Jul 17 at 20:36
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    @Sean I was one of them. It was confusing because they asked what drink we liked without saying why, and I assumed it would be served to us there and then, so I asked for milk. In the end, I got two large two-layer boxes of chocolates. – J.G. Jul 17 at 20:38
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    This same situation occurred in Australia. It made national news news.com.au/news-story/fe2a0f73af792e49e20bb5462c045606 – Daveo Jul 18 at 5:06

14 Answers 14

181

So, they want 2,4, 6 or 8 hours work for some pizza...

And they now seem surprised that not enough people volunteered. If that is how they value your time, then I am not surprised.

They should be getting professionals in, for two reasons:

  1. the professionals won't break anything and have the knowledge, equipment and skills to move heavy and/or bulky items.

  2. the professionals are covered for the risks ie if they break something or hurt themselves.

So, no I would not have volunteered for this.

Edit: For is it ethical, well some say yes and others no, but does that make any difference to the situation? I don't think it changes the question - the company asked...

When asking for volunteers, what do they mean by "volunteer"? Is it compulsory? If so, then that is not asking for volunteers. If it is not compulsory then no-one has to accept. The subsequent complaint by the company after does lead one to believe that the company expected people to come forward ie it was not truly voluntary.

This reminds me of the old chestnut about 10 men in a line and one person was asked to volunteer by taking a step forward... 9 men took one step backwards...

The consequences of error by non-professionals doing the work are also interesting. Will the insurance cover the damages when people with no training did the moving, possibly without the correct equipment? What about personal injury claims... Will there be requirements for risk assessment and HSE (or equivalent Safety Executive depending on location) procedures?

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    Professionals are also fast at moving...it's time wise always worth it to pay professionals. – morbo Jul 15 at 22:33
  • When my company moved to a new location we (the employees) moved our personal computers to the new location (in the same building) during work hours on friday. A professional team of movers moved the furniture and boxes with smaller equipment to the new location at the weekend. That was okay with us escpacially because it was during work hours and the day was used to pack everything in boxes. – some_coder Jul 16 at 6:48
  • @some_coder "during work hours on a Friday" is not the same as coming in over the weekend for a bit of pizza... You were on your "normal" pay rate... – Solar Mike Jul 16 at 6:52
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    @SolarMike The question is whether what they are doing is ethical or not, and whether the complaint is just or not. The OP is not asking whether why should have volunteered for it or not. You have made good points, but haven't actually answered the question. – Nisarg Jul 16 at 8:50
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    @SolarMike The answer from Nimesh clearly addresses both the questions listed by OP. Your "answer", while making good points, doesn't even touch upon the actual question. Having said that, there is nothing stopping you from improving your answer. – Nisarg Jul 16 at 8:56
79

My company (a relatively large one) recently asked for volunteers

By definition it was voluntary. It wasn’t mandatory or forced upon any employee. You could simply ignore it if you didn't want to participate.

Is this ethical?

Whether it is ethical or not could be open to debate.

The person who organized the event complained that not enough people volunteered. Is this a justly made complaint?

As it was a volunteer job, the organiser has no grounds for making an official complaint.

They are just trying to guilt trap those who didn't participate. It couldn't be an official complaint, just a rant.


Some would have found it okay or maybe even fun-filled activity. Since it was just a volunteer thing and you chose as per your liking, you can simply forget about it and move on.

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    While it wasn't forced, the complaint afterwards certainly makes it feel like employees are being coerced into it. That makes it unethical IMHO. – berry120 Jul 16 at 8:46
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    "We are disappointed that there were only a few volunteers to work several hours on the weekend for free pizza. I mean who does not like free pizza?" It just seems a stupid logic for the company. That company is not valueing the employees' time and health – M.K Jul 17 at 6:22
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    @M.K "...free pizza and beer" is a completely different story. 8P – Forward Ed Jul 17 at 13:03
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    @ForwardEd As it needs to be said, not everyone drinks alcohol (or indeed likes pizza) so these sort of offers are not very well thought out anyway. – StephenG Jul 17 at 14:18
  • @StephenG Pretty sure that was a joke. – user73937 Jul 18 at 18:22
68

It is unethical, IMO:

  • First and foremost, the fact is that any time an employer makes a request like this at least some employees are likely to feel pressured to attend because they fear that an absence will be noticed and lead to poor treatment in some way or other. Such fear may or may not be justified, but is likely to exist. Thus expecting people to "volunteer" under such circumstances is coercive and thus unethical.

  • Also, the company is trying to get something of value (moving office furniture) without paying any thing close to what it's worth. (From personal experience, I know a professional moving crew makes thousands of dollars for a single day of work moving the contents of a house; I'd expect it to be (much?) more for a sizable office. Did your employer even spend $100 on the pizza?)

  • Additionally, the company is trying to get that low value from its employees without really paying them - instead of moving during a normal work day and paying you for a day's work, they want you to come in on your own time and the only offered compensation is a meal (and likely not a very good one at that).

  • As others have mentioned in other answers, there is the possibility that an employee could be injured in this activity. Will the company cover medical expenses if that happens? Will they pay the injured employee as if they are still working, or require the employee to take sick leave and/or go on disability leave (which may not pay the employee at his/her regular rate)? Likely these have not been thought through, but without a clear statement indicating that the company will pick up the expenses if something like that would happen, the employee can only assume that they would be the one absorbing such expenses, which is not a reasonable thing to ask by the employer. Even if the employer does pick up such expenses, asking an employee to volunteer and risk an injury isn't really reasonable or ethical, IMO.

As implied above, the company could have done more to encourage employees to attend: Pay the employees who came to help with the move or given them a day off. Another way to have "sweetened the pot" would have been to give away prizes to those who attended. Of course, they should have made clear what would happen if someone got hurt.

Addressing the issue of whether the complaint was "just": In my opinion, NO! Expecting people to give up a day of their free time to help their employer and offering nothing more than a few slices pizza is not reasonable. People do have lives outside of work and many of them aren't likely to change plans for a voluntary event at their jobs unless there's better compensation offered (or fear of reprisal for failing to come to the event). You don't say how much advance warning was given, but some people may not have been able to change their plans.

Maybe a little OT, but interestingly enough, I once experienced a sort of opposite problem: My employer of the time hired professional movers to transfer our offices from one building to a new one with more space. The move was scheduled to happen over a weekend. While we left the furniture for the movers, no one trusted them to move our computers safely. Even though we made backups, on the Friday afternoon before the move virtually everyone moved their computers themselves. While I didn't witness it personally, it became known that the VP who ran our office was livid.

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    "at least some employees are likely to feel pressured to attend because they fear that an absence will be noticed and lead to poor treatment in some way or other." - +1, this is exactly why it's unethical. You can't just wave the "oh but we were only asking" excuse around - people see past that these days. (Especially with the follow up complaint that not enough people participated.) – berry120 Jul 16 at 8:48
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    This is the best answer and the only one that really answers the question of whether it was ethical in a meaningful way. – R.. Jul 16 at 19:08
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    In addition, the asking and subsequent complaint contribute to a hostile work environment. This is wrong and the asker should've known better. – piRSquared Jul 16 at 20:40
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    Why are you starting this answer with "Going against the grain"? – gerrit Jul 18 at 8:32
  • One of my best-paid jobs as a student was moving computers. The company moving had hired professional movers for the furniture, but they didn't trust them at all to handle the computers. So they got two dozen engineering students for that part. Beer&pizza were provided, but that was on top of a pretty decent wage. – MSalters Jul 18 at 13:47
12

There is never any harm in making an ask.

As for the pay for the work, as pizza for hours of labor is well below the minimum wage, actually that is not unethical either. The terms were stated beforehand for you to either accept or decline.

Now, I recently volunteered for a task just like this a week ago. The CEO was there. Before, he did not know who I was, and now he does. Let's say for example that there is a big important, high profile project to lead and the 2 candidates are me and someone who did not volunteer. With everything else being equal, who are they going to give it to? I'm willing to bet they will give it to the person who volunteered over the person who did not. And the advancement in that person's career from that, and the salary that goes with it, will more than make up for the few hours of your weekend.

As for the company complaining, well, are they just asking a question on why the response rate was below expectations, or are they just scolding their employees? Once again, there is no harm is asking a question.

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    Nathan, thank you for your response. In my opinion, this is exactly what makes it unethical. People that have preexisting medical conditions or are pregnant can not be doing this type of work. If the CEO is going to chose to promote someone that showed up over someone that potentially has a medical condition that prevents this type of work then that is wrong. – sureal Jul 15 at 19:33
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    @sureal I suspect that those people could still show up and box up some papers, hold doors open for others, push a rolling chair, help direct people to the right drop-off spot, hand out drinks to their thirsty compatriots, or simply lend moral support. – A C Jul 16 at 2:24
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    This is basically a "for exposure" argument, and it's not at all clear that doing free stuff "for exposure" actually helps get paid work. It's just as likely to get you pigeonholed as "the guy who doesn't mind working for free". Meanwhile, if your co-workers are trying to play the same game, you'll end up competing to see who can do the most free work, which is essentially a dollar auction - worse than a zero-sum game. – Geoffrey Brent Jul 16 at 3:02
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    (Certainly it can be good to get yourself noticed by upper management, but it's far better to do that on the clock and in ways that are relevant to the kind of opportunities you're hoping to get. If the CEO is looking to assign an important project that has to be done right, they're more likely to give it to the guy who stayed home reading a book about project management than to the guy who moved furniture.) – Geoffrey Brent Jul 16 at 3:07
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    Surely "as pizza for hours of labor is well below the minimum wage, actually that is not unethical either" is not only unethical but ILLEGAL. And asking an employee to work illegally has to be unethical. – Owain Jul 16 at 11:26
11

1) Is this ethical?

While I think it's fine to ask for volunteers to do certain difficult to outsource tasks (like decorate the office for a minor holiday event), there are numerous companies specialized in moving office furniture. I strongly believe your company was just trying to save some money here. It's not unethical to ask for volunteers if it was truly a volunteer-based, no-strings-attached, no-one-will-get-fired-for-not-volunteering event,

2) The person who organized the event complained that not enough people volunteered. Is this a justly made complaint?

Honestly, complaining about not getting enough volunteers for 1) a laborious task and 2) a task that benefits no one but the company during off hours is frankly very ungrateful.

I personally would not have volunteered for this task even though I enjoy volunteering in general.

11

I'm currently a software developer who was once a computer repair tech, who also had to take day labor jobs in college, so I have (maybe) a unique perspective on this, as I have worked several sides of this question.

As day labor, I have helped set up cubicles and other furniture in an office environment, as well as moved furniture for large and small offices. All of this requires knowledge that most people don't have. I know this because I didn't know the "tricks of the trade" until I was in the trade. In my experience, not many people know how to safely move office furniture, let alone the electronic equipment.

When I was a computer tech, I was also hired to move electronic equipment between offices. While it was easy work for me, again, most people don't know the correct or safe way to move computers, laptops, copiers, networking equipment, etc. and then set it back up. Even in this role, we were only allowed to pack up the equipment into boxes and onto pallets. The actual moving between offices was still done by a licensed, professional, insured mover.

As a software developer, I would expect to not have to do heavy labor for my employer, unless it was an emergency, such as a networking rack or part of the building falling on someone. I.E.: someone is in danger and needs rescued. They pay me for my mind, not my muscles. I learned this the hard way, by volunteering as "the muscle" for things, then getting stuck being the "goto guy" for physical labor instead of mental labor. Most people think that if you can do physical stuff, you can't do mental stuff. Because this is often true, and the fact that employers will try to "save" money in any way, you can get pigeon-holed in a low paying job for not doing the high paying duties, even if your boss/manager/CEO is the one giving you the off-topic duties and preventing you from doing your real job.

That all said, asking you to volunteer for a labor intensive, dangerous job on the weekend is a recipe for disaster on many fronts. Not only can the equipment get damages, but also the employees. This is also taking pay away from people who do this for a living, or at least attempting to earn a living. As such, it's not ethical.

Also, getting a pizza lunch for doing this large amount of work is a slap in the face.

As for the coordinator of this task complaining about not enough volunteers, that verges on workplace bullying. That depends on the context and manner of the complaint. If it was an offhand comment, that could just be frustration that the task they are in charge of can't be complete. If it was belligerent and badgering, then it's something much more problematic and less than ethical. It may still not be exactly unethical, but it's also not 100% ethical.

I wouldn't volunteer for this "task" and I think I'd even talk others out of it. This is one (of many times) the "not my job" statement is a reason and not an excuse.

  • I sure hope that if part of building falls on someone it's not up to the computer car guy but up to emergency services (in-house if a large industrial plant, external in most cases) to come and help... – gerrit Jul 18 at 8:26
  • @gerrit, if I'm the first one onsite, then yes, it's up to me. – computercarguy Jul 18 at 15:42
  • You mean, as a first aider you help first until the professional medics arrive? – gerrit Jul 18 at 17:09
  • @gerrit, I mean that I help in emergency situations until my help is no longer necessary. If the emergency response crew can use my assistance and I'm still able to give it (as in being uninjured enough to continue to help), I will give it. – computercarguy Jul 18 at 17:31
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Is not ethical at all, in fact it is dangerous.

This young friend died moving furniture:

https://vejasp.abril.com.br/cidades/aluno-usp-morre-asfixiado-armario-poli/

4

Yes. Of course. I've had to not only move furniture in the building, but I have actually had to box up my stuff and move it to a new building, despite being a "white collar employee", in my own car.

Don't want to do it? Don't. But if you're not doing anthing, it's a great way to make friends with your coworkers, get a free meal, and look good for the boss.

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    Did you just say that a meal obtained while going to the workplace on the week-end and moving stuff for your company is free !? – Pierre Arlaud Jul 16 at 8:37
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    Where are you based? Boxing up your stuff and moving it to a new building is one thing, but coming in for free on the weekend and moving large items of furniture is a whole different story. I don't know anyone here (UK) that would dream of doing that for a large company. Never mind "free meal", if they wanted me to work on the weekend I'd be expecting overtime pay, not skimping out by just throwing 10 bucks on a pizza. – berry120 Jul 16 at 8:45
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    It's like the guy who offers to buy pizza for friends helping him to move his apartment. Can a few slices of pizza repay the time? No. But it's about being a friend, helping out, being part of the gang. If you're not interested in it, don't help. If you have no desire to give your company more than a penny's worth of free work, that's your call. But from a career standpoint, it's often a good idea to show up. Just the way it is. – Keith Jul 16 at 11:47
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    We're being hasty in our assessment of the pizza-value equation. Perhaps it was loaded with white truffles & wagu beef, and was indeed worth an equivalent to several hours of pay. – Graham Jul 16 at 20:07
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    @Keith No, that's a completely false analogy. I'd help friends move for pizza because they're my friends, I enjoy hanging out with them, and they'd help me do the same a few months down the line if need be. My employer is not my friend, they certainly wouldn't help me move for a pizza, and if you think a day at the weekend counts as nothing more than a penny's worth of free work, you seriously undervalue your time off. – berry120 Jul 16 at 23:20
4
  • It is ethical to ask employees to do minor jobs which are not part of their job description. Employers can ask an engineer to answer the phone and take messages for the boss if nobody else is in the office, they can ask a programmer to talk to customers as a sales rep, and so on.
    The two requirements are that the job truly is minor in relation to other tasks (it wouldn't be fair to turn an engineer into a full-time receptionist) and that the employee can do it competently (if the programmer is supposed to sell the product, he needs a competent briefing on what to promise/sign and what not).
    It is OK to refuse to move heavy desks, it is not OK to refuse to move files in easy-to-carry batches.
  • It must be understood that these minor jobs are part of the paid worktime. This can be tricky for employees with no fixed hours, but even these employees have a general understanding just how much work they are supposed to do. The minor jobs count against this understanding.
    The employer is free to offer extra pizza at unusual working hours, but that should not be seen as the 'salary' or 'compensation' for the work. It is a morale-building bonus.
  • It may be understood that sometimes work is done on weekends, or not. Moving stuff on a weekend is no different from finishing a project on a weekend.
3

So long as it is truly voluntary, I don't see any ethical problems. I'd characterize it more as a risky request. What some see as a team building opportunity, others see as pressure to do what they don't really want to do when they really don't want to do it.

People can complain about whatever they want. If the organizer's complaints are crossing the line to coercing people to do something outside of their job function, then yes it's crossed into an unreasonable case.

2

Depending on the company culture, moving can make a good team-building event. In this case, pizza payment is adequate and can even be supplemented unofficially with a bottle of beer.

It may equally well not fit in the "team-building" frame.

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    You don't mention what country you're in. In the US the combination of "team-building", "white-collar", "furniture moving", and "bottle of beer" would not fly for even a second. – Bob Jarvis Jul 16 at 17:12
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    @BobJarvis I'm in the US and you're overstating your case. It's not unthinkable. – Kevin Beal Jul 17 at 22:07
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1st question: It is ethical. Only unprofessional. May ring an alarm bell.

2nd question: No, it's unjust, unethical, and must ring an alarm bell.

1st: Although a true professional company would never ask such a thing, some rapidly growing companies, while trying to be professional, may act completely unprofessional. As long as it works for both sides, it's up to you to join it.

Back in time, I was doing things not in my jobspec, overtime, moved heavy furniture as few minute-work... But, when I was moving my own flat, I was given the company car. I took last-minute dayoff's.

But beware: This type of companies most likely do their all other professional work with the same unprofessional approach, and sooner or later this unprofessionalism may reflect your actual tasks, beyond you can tolerate.

  1. No, no. This is unacceptable. No company that claims being professional would put such pressure. Expect the same approach when it comes to bonuses, dayoffs and other HR related issues.
0

I agree with all of the other answers, with one caveat -- if this was "just plain office furniture", yeah -- hire movers. The other caveat is "small startup", but the OP said this is a large company.

The only instance where this makes remote sense is when what's being moved aren't things which can readily be dumped in boxes, taped, tossed on a truck, hauled in, and dumped in a new workspace. For example, I once moved $2M worth of computer equipment in a co-workers pickup truck ... after hours, at night, off the loading dock (no, really) ... because we couldn't count on "the movers" to not break everything.

The other instance, which is completely unethical, is where "volunteers" are rewarded with "first dibs" on the best spaces.

TL;DR - Large companies should only rely on "volunteer movers" for specialized items which require specialized skills. Small companies may ask for "volunteer movers". "Volunteers" shouldn't be given special rewards, like choice office space.

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    Specialized items requiring specialized skills should have specialized movers. While you may know some of the special usage information, you aren't a mover. If this is important to the business, it should be important enough to hire qualified individuals. – cdkMoose Jul 15 at 21:33
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    I believe it was intended to mean, with special equipment as in, weird lab prototypes, or experimental things that only the person(s) who built it would know about...in that case, they'd be the most qualified to deal with taking such a thing apart and moving to another place.... – morbo Jul 15 at 22:39
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    @morbo not so sure, there are many instances of users of things who have no clue how to repair, mainitain, move or store them properly. As an example look at the drivers of cars... – Solar Mike Jul 16 at 6:22
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    @SolarMike those people are not the ones i mentioned. – morbo Jul 16 at 9:53
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    "I once moved $2M worth of computer equipment in a co-workers pickup truck [...] because we couldn't count on "the movers" to not break everything." So what would have happened if you damaged something, or someone swerved through an intersection (or whatever) and hit your coworker's pickup truck? – a CVn Jul 17 at 20:11
-3

They asked you to voulunteer. They are not forcing you do it so its not unethical.

Voulunteering shows that you value the success of the company, which may make a good impression on your boss.

Also if you help participate in the setup then you might get to have some input on where everything goes.

If its just regular furniture then I don't see how its any different than when anyone else asks their friends to move their stuff into their new appartment/house.

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    It's different than helping a friend move to a new home because it's your employer. They have control over promotions, salary, and even whether you continue to be paid. – GreenMatt Jul 16 at 15:12
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    @GreenMatt And of course there's no expectation of reciprocity here - if OP needs to move house, the CEO isn't likely to show up to help with that. – Geoffrey Brent Jul 17 at 5:04
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    "Voulunteering shows that you value the success of the company, which may make a good impression on your boss" If the success of the company hinges on them not having to pay professional movers for a day's work, then it's a company you're best out of ASAP. – berry120 Jul 17 at 14:57
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    @berry120 They didn't say that the success of the company depended on it. If you have to make up details, then just stop. – Kevin Beal Jul 17 at 22:10
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    @KevinBeal Again, it's implied, and again, you're nitpicking. I've explained at some length why I believe your take on this to be completely wrong on your original answer (which you've since deleted) - I'm not going to have a rehash of that same discussion here. Continue with others if you wish, I'm bowing out at this point. – berry120 Jul 17 at 22:43

protected by mcknz Jul 16 at 18:23

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