Every institution needs rules. But companies don’t need to be shortsighted and lazy in their efforts to maintain and ordered, functioning workplace.
Most of us can understand the temptation to draft up binders and binders of guidelines and regulations. Travis Bradberry, author of the bestselling book Emotional Intelligence and president of TalentSmart, explains that as his own company has grown, so has the challenge to maintain standards. Workers some times cross the line, and the managers are tempted to respond with a new rule that restricts everyone.
But that, according to Bradberry, is where most companies blow it. In nearly every instance, upon closer inspection, TalentSmart realized that establishing a new regulation would be an indirect and demoralizing way to address the problem. Most of the time, such issues can and need to be tackled one-on-one by the individual employee’s manager.
When companies create ridiculous and demoralizing rules to stamp out the counterproductive behavior of a few individuals, it’s really a management problem, not a workforce issue. It doesn’t make sense to alienate an entire workforce just because managers aren’t targeting individual performance. In fact, that tactic makes a bad situation that much worse.
Here are 8 of the worst rules that companies create when they fall into this trap.
1. Curtailing Internet Use
Obviously there are some sites nobody should be browsing at work, and we’re not talking about Facebook here. Yet once management has blocked pornography and the other obvious stuff, there’s a very tricky – indeed arbitrary – process of determining where to draw the line. And many businesses put up those barriers in the wrong places.
Workers should be allowed to kill time online during breaks. When companies restrict people’s Internet activity, it does more than just erode the morale of people who can’t check Facebook; it also impacts people’s ability to do their best work when they’re back to their tasks. Many companies restrict Internet activity so severely that workers find it hard to do online research. The most obvious example? Looking through the Facebook profile of a candidate you just interviewed.
2. Ridiculous Limits on Attendance, Leave, and Time Off
Workers earn a salary for the work they do, not the specific hours spent with their butts at the desk. When you penalize salaried employees for arriving five minutes late even though they tend to stay late and put in time on the weekend, you send the message that policies are more important than performance. It also sends a strong message of distrust, and no one should ever be put on salary that isn’t trusted anyway.
Furthermore, when managers are unnecessarily strict in requiring documentation for bereavement and medical leave, it can make employees (who deserve better) feel bitter. After all, if you’ve employed a team that will fake a death just to skip a day’s work, what does that say about your company?
3. Hard-line E-mail Policies
This is a newer one that’s already tumbling into the realm of the absurd. Some workplaces have become so restrictive with e-mail use that employees have to pick a subject from a list of pre-approved topics before the e-mail management system will even allow them to send a note.
Once again, it comes down to trust. If you can’t trust folks to use e-mail properly, why did you hire them in the first place? In an attempt to rein in the bad apples, you spread misery to everyone else every time they send an e-mail. And guess what? The abusers are the ones who will look for some way to subvert the system you put in place.
4. Limiting Bathroom Breaks
If you’re going to restrict workers’ trips to the bathroom, you might as well just announce that you wish they were a bunch of robots. Limiting such basic personal freedoms by tallying up people’s trips to the bathroom will lead to those same people tallying up their days at the company (and days until quitting). The day a worker has to show a doctor’s note explaining that they need extra bathroom privileges is the day they need to look for another job.
5. Confiscating Employees’ Frequent-flyer Miles
If there’s just one thing that a road-weary traveling employee can earn, it’s their frequent flier miles. When companies prohibit employees from keeping miles for personal use, it sends a message of extreme greed that triggers resentment with every flight. Work travel is a major sacrifice of time, energy, and sanity. Taking employees’ miles sends the message that you don’t value the sacrifice they’re making, and that you’ll guard every last dollar at their expense.
6. Pathetic Attempts at Political Correctness
Establishing and maintaining high standards for how people treat each other is vitally important in a world so full of discrimination, intolerance and hate. But we all need to recognize where to draw the line. Going on a witch-hunt because someone says “Bless you” when a co-worker sneezes (real example) breeds a culture of paranoia and stifled self-expression, without actually improving the way people treat each other.
7. Banning Mobile Phones
If the boss bans mobile phones in the office, no one will waste time texting and talking to family and friends, right? Yeah, right. Companies need to do the hard work of hiring people who are trustworthy and who don’t take advantage of things. They also need to train managers to effectively handle employees who underperform or violate expectations (such as spending too much time on their phones). This is also a difficult task, but it’s necessary and worth it. The simply, knee-jerk alternative (banning phones) demoralizes good employees who may need to check their phones from time to time due to pressing family or health issues or as an appropriate break from work.
8. Stifling Self-Expression (Personal Items and Dress Code)
A lot of companies regulate what people can have at their desks. A centerfold from Maxim? Sure, we all know that’s a problem. But employers are even dictating how many photographs people can display, whether or not they can have a water bottle at their work station, and how many items they’re allowed to place on their desks. Once again, it’s the old “If only I could hire robots I could eliminate this problem” approach.
The same goes for dress and personal presentation. There may be a reason for such restrictions at private high schools, but they’re just not necessary at work. If you hire professionals, they’ll dress professionally. When an individual crosses the line, their manager needs to have the skill to address the issue directly. Otherwise, you’re making everyone wish they worked somewhere else because management is too inept to handle touchy subjects effectively.
Bringing It All Together
If companies can rethink their policies and remove or alter those that are unnecessary or demoralizing, we’ll all have a more enjoyable and productive time at work.