Throw Out The Rulebook & Build Trust With Employees

Throw Out The Rulebook & Build Trust With Employees

Throw Out The Rulebook & Build Trust With Employees

As a business manager, you work hard to create a healthy work climate for all employees. Your mission statement helps both workers and clients understand who you are. Your HR department does a great job of explaining the regulations to new hires. Workers appear to be productive.

To you, company rules seem fair and balanced, but you don’t know if coworkers feel the same way. Occasionally you hear minor grumblings in the break room about your no-cell-phone policy or strict attendance guidelines.

So, how can you know if your company rules are too strict or too lax? Which rules are helpful and which ones demean employees?

To find out, take a look at the following rule categories.

Physical Safety Rules

Few workers dispute rules that apply to physical safety at work. When a rule asks employees to enter the building via a key card or follow a prescribed exit route during a fire alarm, most workers happily comply. After all, physical safety is in their best interests as well as those of the company.

Likewise, no one raises much fuss if they have to wear safety goggles in an industrial area or regularly wash hands in a health services facility.

The problem comes with how often workers have to comply with a given rule during the day, as well as how increasing work demands influence rule compliance.

A Case Study

To illustrate this problem, the Harvard Business Review posted an article about hand washing at healthcare facilities. Research showed that most workers didn’t comply with posted rules. Others complied early in a shift, only to drop off as the day progressed.

Researchers suggest that fatigue may not be to blame for less hand washing. Instead, increased work intensity is a big part of the problem. In other words, the busier the workload, the less likely workers would wash their hands regularly.

Meanwhile, healthcare workers who took effective breaks (in which they could fully relax and recharge) were better rule-keepers than those whose workloads increased or intensified during the day.

The takeaway? It’s harder to keep rules if you are too busy at work. People can self-regulate better when they take breaks.

Attendance Rules

It’s a given that any company wants punctual, reliable employees who show up for work each day. But if you push too hard and treat your employees like children, expect complaints and employee turnover.

Yes, an employer has every right to expect regular attendance and a full day of work. Still, if someone arrives late in every morning, but stays later, that employee may just have to get the kids to school before driving to the office. If the work gets done on time, maybe you don’t have to worry.

Generally, most workers police themselves pretty well. No manager should waste time or energy tracking hours for a salaried worker, for example.

Creative Attendance Strategies

Of course, if attendance is a problem, it never hurts to offer creative solutions.

For example, if a certain employee is more often late than not, ask him or her about ride-sharing with a punctual employee. Maybe perpetual latecomers should bring muffins or other treats to fellow team members after five days in a row of being late, particularly if employees miss important meetings or decisions.

Similarly, if a coworker has to leave for a few hours, trust them to make up the time later in the day. More often than not, if you establish your rules and let people self-regulate, you’ll see good results overall.

Advancement Rules

Today’s workforce needs to be nimble in order to be competitive. Employees want opportunities for advancement and promotion. But if you stifle talented workers for too long by following a rigid “six months before advancement” rule, you may just lose them to another company.

Of course, it’s appropriate to reward loyalty after people prove their worth, and most employees recognize the need to learn the ropes before they advance. But a persistent and capable employee may feel impatient with the restrictions and stagnate at a lower level when they might contribute even more at a higher level.

A Promotion Case Study

Let’s say two of your employees want to advance after working for the same amount of time. One employee came into the job with ample experience from a similar position elsewhere; the other employee changed careers to come and work at your company. Both employees show promise.

To help you decide fairly, make sure your rules are clear. Talk to supervisors about each employee. Invite anonymous input from a few coworkers if you need to. If you can, spend some time with the whole team and see how people interact.

The obvious choice is to promote the employee with ample prior experience—but if you take time to see how each person really does his or her job, you may find hidden skills that make the less-experienced worker perfect for advancement. If you have room for both to advance, great, but allow yourself enough time to observe each applicant from more than one angle.

Bottom line? If employees show promise early on, don’t be afraid to consider their skills even earlier than six months on the job (or earlier than your rules say you should).

Unenforceable, Unrealistic, or Antiquated Rules

Just about any business can fall into the trap of “but that’s how we’ve always done it.” Those who feel duty-bound to follow every arcane rule may get pushback from creative and capable employees who don’t understand why they have to follow seemingly irrelevant rules and guidelines.

Common Examples

Many rules that seemed good in the old days don’t work well now. For example, can you really enforce the no-cell-phone policy? Unless you’re a top-secret government agency, you don’t need to imagine employees snapping photos of secure data. That behavior may happen on television, but it’s less likely in real life.

What’s more, such rules place unnecessary restrictions on people who have to speak to their day care provider or call for a doctor’s appointment. Revise rules like this if you can’t eliminate them altogether.

A Dose of Reality

Savvy managers probably already know that no one has time to read the employee handbook anyway. Your policies and rules should be published, but if you keep churning out new rules without throwing out antiquated or unrealistic ones, you only add to the problem.

Remember: the more rules in your rule book, the less motivation you can expect from your employees. When employees lose motivation and passion for their work, they won’t perform well. And the company’s bottom line suffers as a result.

The ultimate takeaway: your employees will read and follow rules better if you cut the dross and really talk about the positive behaviors you value—and reward—the most.

Positive rules give your workforce the power to make the best changes at work. And, you’ll have fewer policing duties. As a rule, that’s the best reality any manager can have.

Ruth Christensen
[email protected]