Workplaces have to make rules—that’s a given. But is it necessary that they be shortsighted and lazy attempts at creating order?
Many of us can understand the temptation. As any company grows, so does our difficulty maintaining standards. There are numerous instances where people cross a line, and managers are tempted to implement a new rule that then applies to everyone.
But that’s where most companies go wrong.
If we look closer, in nearly every instance we realize that creating a new rule is simply a lazy – and even worse, a morale-killing – response the problem. Most of the time, problems can and should be handled one-on-one by the employee’s supervisor.
When the whole institution implements ridiculous and patronizing rules to stop the behavior of a few outliers at the company, it’s a management problem. There’s no good reason to alienate the entire workforce simply because you can’t be bothered – or don’t know how – to manage individual performance. It only makes a bad situation worse.
Here are some of the worst rules workplaces create when they find themselves in this scenario.
- Bell curves and forced performance rankings.Some personal talents fall into a natural bell-shaped curve, but job performance doesn’t. When managers force employees to squeeze into a pre-determined ranking system, they do three things: 1) inaccurately evaluate people’s performance, 2) cause everyone feel like a statistic, and 3) generate insecurity and dissatisfaction as employees fear losing their jobs due to the forced system. This is just another example of a lazy policy that side-steps the necessary work of assessing each individual based on his or her particular merits.
- Ridiculous requirements for attendance, leave, and time off.People are salaried for the work they do, not the specific hours they sit at their desks. When you penalize salaried employees for arriving five minutes late even though they habitually stay late and work over weekends, you give a signal that policies are more valuable than performance. Such practices sow distrust, and a manager should never put someone on salary they don’t trust in the first place.
When companies are overly strict in requiring documentation for bereavement or medical issues, it creates resentment among employees who deserve better. After all, if you hired someone who would fake a death to miss a day’s work, what does that say about your company?
- Restricting internet use.There are certain sites that no one should be visiting at work – and we’re not talking about Facebook here. But once you block obviously obvious stuff like pornography, it’s massively difficult – and inherently arbitrary – to decide where to draw the line. Most companies put those boundaries in the wrong place. People should be allowed to kill time on the Internet during breaks – the same way they’re allowed to eat food or smoke or walk around. When companies unnecessarily restrict Internet activity, it goes beyond demoralizing those that can’t check Facebook; it restricts ability to do our jobs. Some companies restrict Internet browsing so heavily that it becomes hard to do online research. The most obvious example? Checking the Facebook profile of someone you just interviewed.
- Banning mobile phones.If a company bans mobile phones in the office, no one will waste time texting, right? Yeah, right. Organizations need to do the difficult work of hiring staff who are trustworthy and won’t take advantage of reasonable policies. They also need totrain managers to deal effectively with those who underperform and/or deviate from expectations (like spending all day on their phones). This is hard work indeed, but worth it. The simple, knee-jerk alternative (banning phones) demoralizes good employees who want to check their phones periodically due to pressing family or health issues or as an appropriate break from work.
- Draconian e-mail policies.This is a more recent practice that’s already heading down a slippery slope. Some workplaces are so restrictive with e-mail use that workers have to select from a list of pre-approved topics before the e-mail software will allow them to send a message. Once again, it’s all about trust. If a manager can’t trust people to use e-mail properly, why did they hire them in the first place? In trying to rein in the bad guys, the management makes everyone miserableevery time they send an e-mail. And guess what? The original offenders are the ones who will find ways to get around any system you put in place.
- Claiming employees’ frequent-flyer miles.If there’s one thing that travel-weary employees earn, it’s their frequent flier miles. When businesses don’t let their staff keep miles for personal use, it’s a greedy move that stokes resentment with every flight. Work travel is a significant sacrifice of time, energy, and sanity. Taking employees’ miles sends the message that you don’t appreciate their sacrifice and all the inconvenience they put up with on the company’s behalf.
- Limiting self-expression (personal items and dress code).A lot of companies regulate what workers can have at their desks. A Playboy calendar? Sure, that’s a problem. But employers go way beyond this, legislating how many photos people can display, whether they can use a mug or water bottle, and how many personal items can be displayed on their desks. Once again, it’s the old “If I could just hire robots I wouldn’t have this problem” approach.
The same principle applies to dress codes. Hire professionals and they’ll dress professionally. When someone steps over 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.