To expand:

Imagine a situation in retail where a manager gives a worker the illusion of choice by asking the worker to do an action instead of giving an order.

A form of psychology is happening here. The manager is inspiring the employee to think/feel they have a choice, even if they consciously recognize they do not. This runs tandem to the extortion that is happening as well. The employee does have a choice, but that choice is between (a) be written up/fired, or (b) do the potentially unpleasant work.

What word/phrase encompasses both the psychology and extortion aspects?

  • Why do you consider an employee doing the manager's bidding to be extortion? Unless the manager is instructing the employee to do something outside their job description, this is a normal course of events, and the manager is just being courteous. E.g.: cafe manager to the (paid) cook: "Please bake a cake" vs "I order you to bake a cake". I don't see any extortion in this context. – Lawrence Jan 7 '18 at 8:03
  • Common courtesy? Good person management? – WS2 Jan 7 '18 at 8:37
  • Stop focusing on the story and focus on what the OP is trying to convey for goodness sake, I’d like to know what it is called too, – RLicens Jan 7 '18 at 10:29
  • The example doesn't begin to give enough information for a comment more useful than Lawrence or WS2's and the 'explanation' gets no further, for goodness sake. – Robbie Goodwin Jan 22 '18 at 2:22

If the task the employee is asked to perform on pain of firing is truly unreasonable (things like sexual favors or signing away essential legal rights), you could use the phrase (a) Hobson's choice. From Merriam Webster:

  1. : an apparently free choice when there is no real alternative
  2. : the necessity of accepting one of two or more equally objectionable alternatives

This expression has even been adopted into employment law for this type of situation; a typical description of the theory:

Under the Hobson's choice theory, an employee's voluntary quit will be considered a constructive discharge when an employer conditions an employee's continued employment on the employee's abandonment of his or her Section 7 rights and the employee quits rather than comply with the condition.

Scheid Electric, in Decisions and Orders of the National Labor Relations Board: V. 355. January 15, 2010 Through September 30, 2010

Of course, if the task in question is an ordinary part of the employee's expected duties, then it's going to be remember something like a contractual obligation or perhaps free enterprise, and phrasing it as a request rather than an order is probably just going to be considered good manners. (Phrasing an order as a request when talking to one's children, on the other hand, is called poor strategy.)


I believe the term you may be looking for is giving the employee their own head. But this is more used in a situation where you hand a level of authority to the employee (which they otherwise might not normally have) to make a decision about the best way to do something.

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