How many times have you heard “it’s company policy” in your career? How many times have you used it yourself?
Ninety percent of irate customers can be defused by invoking company policy. It’s the cloak of invincibility that few will try to pierce.
But if you ask “why,” you may discover that there is no good reason behind company policy – or if there is, its origin is lost in the mists of time.
The company policy directed at one bad apple
That’s bad enough. Even worse are the workplace policies that were created to deal with a single individual.
You’ve seen it happen. You may be a victim of it. You may have even done it yourself.
Can’t take or make any personal phone calls on company time? No doubt it’s because one employee spend hours chatting up his girlfriend.
Internet access restricted? It’s probably because one person spends more time making a killing on eBay than doing his own work.
Casual wear prohibited? It’s highly likely that one of the women always shows up at work wearing cut-offs and a midriff top.
As a manager or supervisor, it so much easier to cast a wide net of workplace prohibitions than it is to deal with the employee who is creating the problem.
Not all company policies are bad, obviously. You want create policies regarding sick and vacation time, absenteeism, harassment and theft, to name a few. Every employee needs to know the basic, on-the-job boundaries. Boundaries should not be broken.
It’s when broad rules are created to deal with a few problem employees that resentment sets in.
Everyone loses in these situations: The boss loses the respect of his employees and the employees resent the co-worker who created the stink.
Left unaddressed, these losses mushroom into lost productivity, a hostile working environment and increased turnover. Sure, some “bad apples” can be caught by using background check services, but many of the issues that companies face, such as the ones above, can’t be identified using background or criminal checks.
If you’re a boss, look at the company policies and procedures (aka employee handbook) you now have on the books. And while you’re at it, look at you job descriptions, too. Together, these documents are the foundation of your business and its relationship with employees. And they will help keep your company — and your employees — working happily at peak efficiency.
- Do you have company policies written down, or are they all in your head, subject to change depending on the circumstances? How about job descriptions?
- Do you have a job description for every category of employee in your operation? While policy manuals are typically broad, job descriptions can get down into the weeds with expected behavior.
- Do these policies make sense today? They may have been meaningful when first instituted, but could be sadly out of date. Policies and procedures should be reviewed at a minimum of once very three years, an annually is best. We live in a fast-changing world — the 2020 pandemic is all the example we need to prove that — and and we need to keep up.
- Do your policies outline what is prohibited or what is allowed – or a combination of the two? Often it’s quicker to define what you don’t want, and easier to put that in writing. Keep in mind that if your policies do not specifically prohibit an activity or behavior, most people will assume that it is allowed. So be intentional with your language, and make sure it reflects your company’s mission, vision, values and goals.
- Be honest – are your policies designed specifically to change the behavior of one employee? If so, put on your big girl panties and deal with it. Don’t make everyone else suffer. Because ultimately the company will suffer when your best people leave.
If there is an employee productivity issue, then those individuals need to handled according to human resources procedures already in place.
That generally means:
- Doing an employee evaluation
- Creating a performance plan for that employee, listing what specific goals need to be attained within a specific time frame and with the consequences clearly stated
- Follow-up at the end of the time specified to determine progress and then
- Follow-through with the consequences if those goals are not met
It takes more time than throwing out a blanket “one size fits all” edict, but it has the following advantages:
- Employees know what’s expected of them – no mind-reading is required.
- The bad apples get a chance to shape up before they are shipped out.
- The “good employees” are not made to suffer for the actions of a few.
- The boss ends up with more respect, because guess what? Employees know who the problem workers are, and will applaud the boss’ efforts to weed out the bad ones.
Hiding behind “company policy” isn’t the answer to dealing with workplace slackers or the few who take advantage. Being an active manager, and handling employee issues when they are molehills instead of mountains, is the only way to go.
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