Stupid rules are kind of a hot-topic at the moment in the HR world. Why is it that so many managers think these rules are a good idea? The fact is, many of these “stupid rules” are put in place by poorly informed management, who are attempting to solve a problem regarding one badly behaving employee, by instituting policy that effects everyone. Instead of creating and attempting to implement these rules, which simply frustrate and potentially disengage employees, deal with individual problems as they come, in a professional and legal manner. Regular feedback, both positive, and critical, is the best way to avoid these kinds of drab rules. If you praise employees for what they do well, while telling them how to improve, they’re more likely to listen. Also, a little trust goes a long way. I’ve attempted to name the most common stupid rules I could think of. If your company has any of these rules in place, maybe it’s time to rethink them.
1. No lunch break.
With the economy and job-market still on the mend, many offices have instituted a no lunch, or greatly reduced lunch break, policy. Hourly employees are entitled to food breaks, but unfortunately, salaried employees aren’t given the same rights. As a result many employees are forced to work while they eat, or worse, not eat at all. Studies show increased productivity levels after a good lunch break, so even if it’s unwritten, this rule is a very stupid one. Let them eat lunch!
2. Only X bathroom breaks a day.
Okay. It’s true. There are some advantageous jerks out there who may use “going to the bathroom” as an excuse to go text their buddy about golfing later. These special types of people however, are luckily few and far between. Punishing the rest of your staff isn’t the answer. There are so many health issues that require frequent bathroom trips, limiting the number, or requiring verification of a sometimes embarrassing issue, is just cruel. Deal with offenders directly and litigiously, or better yet, don’t hire people who aren’t trustworthy!
3. No music.
So Chad in accounting just downloaded the new Nickelback album on Itunes, and he has been playing it all week on repeat, very loud. As an HR pro and policy maker do you A) Send out a mass email informing all employees they are no longer allowed to listen to music at work. B) Talk to Chad privately about turning his music down, or off possibly. C) Send out a mass email reminding everyone to “keep their music at a respectful level” and to “make sure it contains only work-appropriate content.” The answer is C, or sometimes B. Singling him out could potentially raise legal issues if others with more unanimous music taste listen at the same volume, but could be done appropriately in the right circumstances. Prohibiting music at work altogether is just dumb. Some people work better with music. Period.
4. The customer is always right.
Cutsomers aren’t always right. In fact, sometimes customers abuse staff, lie to get what they want, make huge messes, and even steal. Of course the tolerance for rude and unethical customers varies greatly from industry to industry, but what’s important is to always give your employee some wiggle room with a customer. If employees can’t handle a customer, don’t make it the policy to reward complaining indiscriminately. Give your employees some power over customers, they’ll appreciate it and use it wisely. The success of your company likely means more to them than it does your customer.
5. No personal conversations during work hours.
Cathy is a talker. She always has been when approached, but lately she’s been lingering at people’s desks and engaging them in long personal conversations when they should both be working. Instead of making a ridiculous, sterile “no personal conversations” rule, have a really nice “chat” with Cathy, reminding her to keep her to try to keep the personal conversations to a minimum. As long as you stay friendly and vague, and she really is talking more than anyone else, and distracting other employees, there shouldn’t be a legal issue.
6. No cell phones at work.
Obviously nobody wants to see their employees texting away at their desk when they’re getting paid to work. That said, sometimes you employ people who have pressing family or health issues that require them to check their cell-phone periodically. If you catch someone texting a friend during work hours red-handed, deal with it. Otherwise, trust that employees are going to be decent enough not to waste everyone’s time texting when they should be working.
7. No personal internet use.
The term “rules are meant to be broken” really applies here. Aside from a massive firewall (and even then there’s smart phones) there’s really no way this is going to happen. Yes, chatting on Facebook all day, is unproductive and unprofessional. This doesn’t mean someone shouldn’t be able to check their personal email or social media accounts on a break. Limit it? Yes. Track it? By all means, yes. Outright ban on it? No, you’re just asking for dissent and dissatisfaction.
Bottom line: Trust your employees, and deal with problems directly.