Have you ever heard of the Cobra Effect?

It comes from an apocryphal story if I remember correctly, so who knows if this really happened, but the legend goes that there was an area in India with a huge cobra problem. There were too many of them and they were an enormous public danger.

So the government of the region instituted a bounty; bring us a dead cobra, we’ll give you money.

As a result, many poor folks in India turned to a new profession: cobra breeding.

People of Reddit, What stupid rule at your work/school backfired beautifully? from AskReddit

The point of the Cobra Effect story is that even rules with good intentions can have unexpected side effects and exploits. Let’s see if Reddit has some more examples…

1. The bean counter.

My old workplace had a control freak bean counter.

At one point she decided that any purchase of équipment must come with documentation showing that we had search around the internet and prove you got the best deal. Honestly it was unenforceable, so our supervisor just told us to ignore it and that he’ll deal with the backlash.

So one day, I had to buy some tools for the workshop, and I happen to come across a bunch of coolers on sale. It just happened that we needed coolers to transport stuff, so I bought one.

I brought it back, we measured it and found it was the perfect size for what we had planned.

Turns out that time the bean counter was watching us. She came strolling in my supervisor’s office with a printout from Amazon and the boss in tow, saying that she had found a similar cooler for cheaper.

My supervisor took a look at the printout.

“So you found a cooler that’s 2 dollars cheaper.”


“How much time did you spend looking this up?”

“Just one hour of work”

“And you think Rum should have spent one hour of his workday to shop for coolers?”


“You do realize we pay Rum 17$ an hour? We need 3 coolers. Right now he grabbed those cooler while out on a supply run. And you’d rather have him spent 1 hour of his day, at 17$ an hour… to save 6$? And while we’re at it!”

Supervisor pulls out a broken vice grip from under his desk.

“… this is the Cheapo brand vice grip you approved. Now, this is fine for your regular at home needs, but we’re a workshop and need some quality stuff. We been using a Goodstuff brand vice for 3 years. Cheapo lasted 6 month. Do the math”

– Rum_N_Napalm

2. Line by line.

Management decided that lines of code written per week was a good metric for determining software engineer productivity.

You want a 3 line function stretched out into 50 lines? I’m your captain.

– smares21

3. Bathroom blues.

A boss was worried we were “stealing time” by using the bathroom for too long. So being the nutjob he is he locked all the bathrooms in the building except the ones he could see from his office door, shut of water to them, put out of order signs on them, and he would sit there with a stopwatch timing us between walking into the restroom and walking out (these are all one-at-a-time restrooms) and then would call out the time. This was STUPID over the top and almost positive is illegal but he never made a policy officially restricting bathroom time… he just wanted to make everyone feel uncomfortable if they took too long.

I discovered that with my height it was really easy to go through the drop ceiling and over the half wall and I was the only other person using the men’s besides my boss, who is short… so I went in… locked it from the inside and did my business and climbed out the ceiling leaving the door locked so my boss could not get into the bathroom when he needed to go and was forced to use the ladies… which led to our female employees complaining that he was taking too long in their bathroom.

To this day I don’t know if he ever figured out how I was doing that.

– geoffbowman

4. Breaks are breaks.

I worked on this company that had mandatory 1 hour lunch breaks. Since we ate on the premises, our lunch break was often 15 minutes or so. We tried negotiating having shorter lunch breaks so we could leave earlier and beat traffic. Next day an e-mail was sent from the own stating the fixed work and break hours for the whole team, and they were to be followed no exceptions.

Cool! Next week, a big client called about half way through our lunch, and nobody moved. It rang and rang until said owner took the call, talked to them, and immediately came to scold us. “Sorry, boss, as per your rules, we are off until 1PM, no exceptions”.

A couple of weeks later, we did some work on site for the same client. They were, to be honest, one of the coolest clients I ever had in my life. They took us out to lunch, and while talking we ended up relaying the owner’s rule. They had a big chuckle over it, and while the project lasted, they made a point to always call while we were at lunch break just to annoy owner.

– LGMHorus

5. Tag me in.

Back in the early 00s, my high school implemented a policy that you had to wear your ID tag at all times.

If you didn’t have it on, you were sent home.

So many students “lost” their ID tag to go grab food or skip a class.

We were the only graduating class to wear them all four years. The policy ended soon after.

– sushinova

6. Just say yes.

I worked at Starbucks for like 5+ years before and during undergrad and at one point our district manager thought it was a good idea to implement a “just say yes” policy, where we literally weren’t allowed to tell the customer no.

Lasted for about 3 months and in that three months our unaccounted product and waste went up over 300% because when the POS didn’t have a way to punch in a customer request we had to just do it anyways.

We also got complaints from stores in surrounding districts because they had angry customers who were requesting things that were against local food service code, and told them that we did it for them at our store.

I knew exactly how that policy was going to play out and I just laughed every time management was freaking out about the problems it was causing.

– yunglilbigslimhomie

7. Clean up your act.

The dealership I was working at decided they wanted to save money by not having the cleaning crew come in after hours.

People started leaving the dealership to go home to go to the bathroom because they were disgusting.

I lived pretty far away so I would just go use the GMs private bathroom.

– Jeheh

8. No cash.

Couldn’t buy drinks at lunch with cash money, had to buy some voucher. They were just cheaply made laminated pieces of paper.

This was 2001, I was 13 and bored. Scanned the vouchers and printed them out on paper that kinda matched the colour of the vouchers. and laminated tem myself. They were horrible made and not even the right colour on the backside. Also crudely cut out. I ‘made’ about a hundred of them of passed them out after I tried paying with them for myself and encountered no problems. Made some new friends and upped production. Took them about three weeks to find out but by then the fakes ones had intermingled with the real ones and had already been resold to students via the student office. About half of the vouchers sold were fakes.

Drinks were cash only from then on. They had no choice to accept the fakes one for a little while longer though, as they had sold and charged for some of them.

– VloekenenVentileren

9. Keep in touch.

A place I used to work had a rule that executive-level staff needed to be contactable when on leave, so they had a section on the leave form for the address of where you’d be staying and a contact number.

Some knuckle-shuffler in HR decided it applied to all staff and the shenanigans began. People would put down the address and phone number of sex shops, sports grounds, medical clinics. I gave the latitude and longitude of the place I was going camping and the UHF frequency channel my radio would be tuned to.

– Flight_19_Navigator

10. Trivial pursuits.

Not sure if this applies, but I worked at a restaurant that started doing Thursday Night Trivia in hopes of more traffic.

The prize for the winner was their ticket would get comped.

One guy asked to have everyone(in the restaurant)’s food put on his ticket… And then won.

They stopped doing trivia night.

– HowDoIGetToFacebook

11. The trouser troubles.

In chemistry class we had plastic bottles of distilled water which could be squeezed to produce a small jet of water.

We used to spray one another’s crotches to make it look like you’d peed yourself. To counter this, our teacher introduced a punishment to anyone caught spraying OR HAVING BEEN SPRAYED. Hence, if you could spray someone and get away with it- they would have wet trousers AND have to write excerpts from a Martin Luther king speech.

Needless to say the punishment for being sprayed was quickly abolished.

– MRobbebayor

12. No shorts.

Late 80’s high school- rule was no shorts. Classmate came for an exam with basketball shorts on that were below her knees.

Teacher made her go home to change.

She came back in a micro mini skirt and wrote her exam.

– Spellflinger2019

13. Thank you?

People who were caught wandering the halls or skipping classes were sent straight home.

– CraftBattleAxe

14. Just fix it.

Worked in a gym. The Smyth machine (huge squat rack type thing) wasn’t bolted to the floor and rocked back and forth. I come on shift, see the problem, mark it out of order and call the company in to fix it. Leave a note for the boss who takes the out of order sign off it.

This cycle repeats abs every tine I come on shift it’s back in play. We get sued by a member who hurts his back on it. Solicitor comes in. I point him to where we leave notes for management about maintenance .

They settle with member. Idiotic

– whatever_the_f*ck_

15. Double bagging.

The grocery store I work at is now required to charge 5 cents for plastic bags. Because of this we have a lot of customers requesting paper bags. Since our paper bags suck *ss we typically double bag so they don’t rip. Well one day the store manager sees a cashier doubling paper bags and yells at them because paper bags are more expensive and we can’t afford to double bag them, so now we have a new rule you can’t double paper bags unless they’re really heavy.

Fast forward a couple weeks, and my bagger is using single paper bags. Right as the store manager walks by the bagger picks up one of the bags that wasn’t even that heavy and it rips right open, right in front of the manager.

We’re allowed to double bag them now

– FarmerExternal

Don’t breed cobras, kids.

Do you have another example of this sort of thing?

Give it to us in the comments.