Addition by Subtraction (Add Profit by Subtracting Policies)

Another post on attendance...or more accurately, "Bizarre Late-to-Work Excuses Are More Common Than You Think"

Ugh. Can we just stop with attendance policies? Is this grade school? Do I get a nifty paper certificate if I never miss a day or I'm never late? yay. mom will be so proud.

Some Policies Are Just Stupid

Sorry, it's this kind of thing that chaps my ass. Most of the policies companies have send the message that you don't trust your employees. I'm not talking about process guides (those are PROCESS GUIDES, not policies) that help people understand how to submit receipts or their payroll information...I'm talking about policies that tell people HOW to behave. Policies by their nature are typically restrictive, telling people what they CAN'T do. things like Dress Codes, Attendance Policies, Vacation Policies, Weapons Policies. Those are all a waste of time and a lazy tool for ineffective managers who don't know how to set expectations and provide feedback. Let me explain why you don't need those specific ones:

1. Dress codes are generally sexist (80% of them are geared towards women's attire) AND Do you really need to tell people what it means to "dress appropriately"? If you do, hire better. If it is minor and perhaps subjective, does it have a performance impact on them doing their jobs well or safely, that is the concern, talk about performance and safety. And blaming women for being a distraction to male coworkers is sexist. Stop it and hire men who don't think women are objects to stare at.

2. Attendance Policies are a tool for grade schools, not the workplace. If you are tired of feeling like a parent at work, stop treating your employees like children. Set expectations to get the work done. There is virtually zero jobs I can think of where presence = performance. Even if you are a window model, mere presence does not equal performance (you need to positively reflect the brand to customers entering a location - yes, presence to meet that standard may be required but so does posture, attire, etc. presence alone is not equal to performance.) Requiring someone to provide an "acceptable" reason for either is disempowering at the least and a obvious power play at worst. I knew people who got perfect attendance awards in grade school...and they were not the best students.

3. Vacation policies limit an employee's ability balance work requirements and other parts of their life. You don't need it. Go back to #2. If I am not getting the job done, THAT is the concern, not where I was yesterday or last week or whether I am taking the next week off. Get the job done - that should be your stand on vacation.

4. Weapons policies are redundant. If you fear is someone will bring a weapon into work and intentionally cause someone harm...I'm pretty sure there is a law against that. Do you really think someone who is unhinged enough to commit assault with a deadly weapon is going to stop at the front door and say "oh wait, we have a policy against this." And if someone is legally authorized to carry a concealed weapon, you'll never know it. If someone does openly handle a firearm in the workplace, that is a conversation about potential menacing or brandishing (also illegal) or at the very least unsafe and not appropriate for the workplace. Get that? A CONVERSATION.

Some policies are necessary, The rest hurt your organization

It's not just these policies but pretty much all of them that can hurt companies. Attorneys will tell you there are certain policies you want written down because they state your compliance with lawful workplace practices, and they are right. You need things like OSHA (if they apply) polices, anti-harassment/bullying policies, at-will employment policies, and perhaps employment classification (exempt v non-exempt.) But adding MORE policies than that often does you more harm than good, both from a cultural standpoint as well as a legal defensibility standpoint.

The logic around the law goes something like this. (caveat, I am not an attorney but I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night, consult an attorney.)  Is it reasonable that someone has read and been explained all of the 50 some odd pages of policies that an employer uses as terms of employment, and no, signing a page at the end of your handbook doesn't really mean that someone has read and understands all of the policies. A written policy is not an excuse for managers to not have difficult conversations. For those policies to truly (and legally) be enforceable the conversation must be had and understanding agreed. If you can't remember all the policies in your handbook, your employee can't either, that is where the defensibility of MORE policies breaks down. That is just the legal side.

A policy is essentially an expectation of conduct, a way you expect them to behave. The more policies you have, the more control you are imposing on your employee to NOT be authentic and show up as they are. Autonomy, or the desire to have a certain amount of control over our own actions, is a common motivator for all. We all want a certain level of autonomy, to feel like we are in control of how we go about our work, our lives, and to have choice about those things. When you create policies, you are chiseling away at people's autonomy. So at the very least, you are decreasing people's motivation. At worst, you are decreasing overall trust in the organization which has some very negative repercussions.

Trust is a Balancing Act

Trust is a spectrum that operates in balance. Think of it like a balance beam, if you extend one side of a the beam, you have to extend the other in order to keep it in balance. From this perspective, the more trust you give, the more you receive. The opposite is also true. If you trim away at the trust you give, people will trust you less. You only have control of one side of the beam. You cannot give very little trust to people by controlling their daily conduct to the nth degree and expect a great deal of trust back. Maybe you are thinking, "so what, I don't need my employees to trust me. I just need them to get their work done." But there is a financial effect of low trust (or a highly controlling environment.) 

The opposite of trust is suspicion, and at suspicion's core is fear. Fear is a really powerful motivator, perhaps the ultimate motivator. It is hell bent on self preservation. When we are stressed, the body releases cortisol which slows our metabolism, causes us to take available resources and store them for use (fat) later. It wires the brain to have a very narrow focus and minimizes brain effort that might distract from self-preservation.

"What does this have to do with trust?" you may ask. If I don't trust you and, moreover, I am fearful for my own security or well-being, my focus is on me, protecting myself and taking available resources (pens, staplers, binder clips, reams of paper, I knew someone who stole a chair from work for goodness sake) and storing them for my own use later. People who may not be overt also steal in other ways that are harder to see (longer breaks, dodging accountability, placing blame, insipid gossip which fuels the fear cycle, etc.) Not one of these activities is focused on helping your company, your clients, or your results. People stay silent, keep a low profile, and don't do anything to draw attention to themselves which means they don't go above and beyond. When people fear the lawnmower, no one wants to be the tallest blade of grass.

Start Over

If your company has been in operation for a while (5+ years) take a hard look at your handbook or policy manual. What doesn't need to be there? Take process guides (receipt submission, travel booking) and put them somewhere else - that is a job aid that helps people reduce effort. Policies are about limiting behavior, not facilitating it. If you realize you have a handbook that is more than ten pages (and the first 3 aren't about the companies history and values) start over. Find the minimum legal policies you need to have as an employer and then stop. If there are regulating agencies that apply to your business (OSHA, MSHA, Hazardous Material Handling), put their supplied policies in a different well-marked binder where they are most relevant.

Talk to your people and explain the needs and status of the business. When people feel trusted, they feel safer. When people have more information, they are less likely to make up stories to protect themselves. Let them make some decisions. People don't intentionally make bad decisions. If someone makes a mistake, they were likely either missing information or simply didn't know the consequences of their action. Instead of building a more robust handbook, build more robust relationships. When was the last time you screwed over your friend? (if it was recently and often...well, maybe you should not manage a business/team...or I'd bet you won't be for very long.) People generally desire collaboration and community. They desire autonomy. The more policies you create, the less autonomy people feel and the less likely they are to focus on the needs of the community. Less is more when it comes to policy. So...

If you want to add profit to the bottom line, subtract the amount of policies you underline. 

Dave NeedhamComment