Mojo-Crushing HR Policies

I read an article via social media early in the year about mojo-crushing HR policies to abolish in 2016. You know the type – old-school, industrial-era rules that seem to have no relevance in today's workplace. I chucked as I read many of them, not because the polices were ridiculous, but because of bizarre behavior I've witnessed – in some cases the types of behavior that leads to these policies being implemented in the first place.

Proof of death policy – requiring employees to bring funeral notices to justify bereavement leave. Horrifying and repressive? Yes, but it brought to mind the employee who requested bereavement leave three times in 18 months for his grandmother's death. That's grandmother, singular. Apparently the same dear granny died three times.

Manager approval for internal transfers – hanging on to an employee just because you can. This brought back memories of a standoff between two department directors. The losing director told me he thought the employee was making a mistake – it wasn't a good career move. Is that why you won’t release him, Bob? The gaining department, after showing some restraint, almost called off the deal and the company came close to losing a great employee. They both kept coming to my office to argue their case to me rather than each other. This wasn't my fight and I wasn't about to get in the middle of it. This is a topic we wrote about in The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook.

Of course some of these policies have legitimate reasons for existing in certain circumstances and industries – for example time tracking policies. In many professional services firms and industries, such as government contracting, time is tracked to gather critical metrics including client billing information, and not to monitor employee's comings and goings. Even in these circumstances, I've seen managers attempt to use this information in a punitive fashion.

My favorite is fussy dress-code policies – the ones that spell out in excruciating detail what can and can't be worn to work. We've got an example of how to deal with inappropriate dress in The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook without implementing a lengthy policy. You'll have to wait for our next book for more on that subject. I'll just share a quote from a colleague for now -- "You can't call yourself an HR Professional until you've told someone they have to wear underwear to work."

There are some valuable lessons here:

· No matter how absurd behavior might be, you can’t fix it with a policy (or legislate it at the government level). Bizarre and disruptive behavior will continue and problems will arise. Don’t let one bad apple spoil the whole tree or orchard!

· It’s how you handle the behavior and respond to workplace problems that matters. Acknowledge that the behavior is creating problems and explain to the employee(s) involved why it’s a problem and how it’s affecting others. Let the employee know that his or her behavior (or dress) has to change. If several individuals are involved, facilitate a discussion and help them hone their conflict management skills.

Policies are often the response to the external environment, such as laws and regulations, and sometimes these requirements can be onerous. Consider the company with a generous, unlimited PTO policy that does not track time off. Its dilemma – complying with a local government law requiring accrual tracking procedures for all time off. Mo-jo crushing indeed!
Policies should provide guidance on how to run an organization and manage issues – including people issues. They should be the cornerstone of treating people fairly, respectfully and professionally. Balance the need to be compliant, when necessary, with establishing a positive culture for employees. Don’t ignore judgment and the particulars of each situation when making individual decisions.

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