The Top 5 Workplace Rules That Will Drive You Nuts

by Tiffany Bloodworth Rivers on July 12, 2016

Attracting and retaining the industry’s top talent is a constant challenge, particularly since the loss of an employee equates to 30-50% of their annual salary. While some workforce turnover is unavoidable, others can be attributed to downtrodden workplace culture and harsh or punitive office policies, which leave employees feeling stifled and mistrusted.

Of course, straight forward and logical employee rules should be communicated and become integral to keeping a business working like a well-oiled machine. Unfortunately, some managers, often unwittingly, create arbitrary regimes, in which organizational policies hinder employee growth and innovation, rather than encourage it. Remember, each employee was hired for their individual talents and knowledge; they expect a certain level of respect and trust that they can (and will) live up to your expectations. Instead, work to develop an attractive culture that delivers balance and guidance and you will be rewarded with a more engaged workforce that is productive and eager to help the business reach its intended goals.

So, what are some of the “rules” which drive great employees away? And are companies justified for enforcing them in the first place?

Intrusive Bathroom Rules

A Norwegian insurance company, DNB, was highly scrutinized recently for installing alarm systems on their toilets that alerted management if employees were spending “too much time” in the restroom. Each employee is limited to only 8 minutes per day. Once the individual exceeds the allotted time, managers are alerted by way of flashing lights. not very subtle or dignified.

According to Norway’s chief workplace ombudsman, Bjorn Erik Thon, “These are extreme cases of workplace monitoring, but they are real. We receive many complaints about monitoring in the workplace, which is becoming a growing problem as it is so often being used for something other than what it was originally intended for.” This is a clear violation of basic human rights, sending the message to your employees that they’re expected to work like robots and are not viewed as human beings. The day you start requiring a physician’s note for additional trips to the restroom is the day your employees begin seeking out new job opportunities.

Restricting Internet & Email Usage Top_Workplace_Rules_Drive_You_Nuts_Image.jpg

In an effort to improve productivity, many enterprises are now putting restrictive barriers on sites that employees can visit and the amount of personal email usage they will allow. URLs that could be viewed as unproductive or unsuitable for the workplace are blocked, leaving staff unable to surf the web for personal reasons or even to perform research for their own job.

A survey conducted by Harris HRS for CareerBuilder reveals that the perceptions regarding the relationship between productivity and Internet usage aren’t entirely off. Employees admitted that 39% of wasted workplace time is spent surfing the Web, with at least an hour a day spent on personal email, texts, and personal calls.

While we can all agree that workplace rules restricting Internet usage, particularly to inappropriate sites, is reasonable, many will argue a little personal online use can actually improve productivity. In fact, studies have revealed that allowing for frequent mini-breaks actually rejuvenates the mind, allowing for increased productivity. Again, balance is key. If you are worried about your employees spending too much time on personal web surfing, the 90/20 rule is a great rule of thumb. For every 90 minutes of work, allow for a 20 minute personal break. You’ll prove to your workforce you trust them to put out quality work in a timely manner; the results will speak for themselves.

Dictatorial Attendance Policies

Most organizations have no problem asking their salaried employees to work overtime, while docking their pay or writing them up for being a few minutes late or taking a personal day. This sends a clear message to the workforce, and it is not a positive message. What this tells your workers is that policies take precedence over everything else, and that you do not trust them to successfully balance both work and their personal lives. If you have a policy of requiring a doctor’s note, or you do not trust employees to act as a professional, it might be time to reevaluate the members of your workforce and address the underlying issues.

Banning Personal Expression

Your profession should largely dictate workplace attire. However, many organizations enforce an overly zealous dress code, with no Top_Workplace_Rules_That_Will_Drive_You_Nuts.jpg clear reason besides “because we say so.” Regardless of what industry your business serves, we agree that employees should come to work looking professional and clean. But where do we draw the line? Do your call center employees really need to come to work in a suit and tie when they will never see the outside of their cubicle during working hours? Part of building a positive workplace culture is allowing employees to express who they are as individuals; an impossible accomplishment if they are ruled by a stringent dress code.

The same could be said for desk personalization. Now, if Janie on Floor 7 wants to display her life-size poster of David Bowie, I can understand where that might be an issue. But some enterprises are now limiting the number of photos they can display, what they drink out of, and how many items are allowed on each desk. The average American spends 47 hours at their desk every week. That’s more waking hours than we spend at home with our families. Trust your workforce to make professional decisions regarding how they decorate their desk and allow them to bring a little bit of themselves into their workspace. It’ll make a world of difference.

Strict No Work-From-Home Policy

In 2013, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer ended their work from home policy, stating “workers are more collaborative and innovative when they’re together.” In August of 2015, only 9% of working Londoners were allowed to work from home during the Tube walkouts, costing businesses more than 1.5 million working hours. More than 3/4 of those affected could have completed their work from home, rather than wasting precious hours of productivity trying to get themselves to work.

We are fortunate in that technology now affords us the flexibility to communicate with colleagues regardless of where we are or what time of day it is. Why are more companies not taking advantage of this? 79% of the U.S. workforce has expressed the desire to work from home at least a portion of their workweek. In fact, 1 in 2 managers feel a flexible work schedule not only attracts top talent, it reduces churn rates, as well. Again, it all comes back to building a workplace culture based on trust and flexibility; two critical components in building a successful business.

No matter where we work, there will always be policies in place to ensure employees understand what is expected of them as a professional. Strict rules with inflexible boundaries, however, foster a workplace culture based on distrust and rigidity, encouraging employees to branch out and look for their next big move. Instead of developing a system of rules that frustrate those you employ, trust in your management team and the recruitment process. And even look to the employees themselves to help create policy. This helps foster increased buy-in for your organization and gives some measure of choice or decision making to your employees. And remember; if you have the right team behind you, they won’t need a written set of rules to know how to be great employees.


Tiffany Bloodworth Rivers

Tiffany covers leadership and marketing topics and enjoys learning about how technology shapes our industry. Before iOFFICE, she worked in local news but don't hold that against her.

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