Your Terrible Rules are Killing Morale: How to Fix Your Antiquated Policies

Business.com / Strategy / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

How do you get rid of the stupid rules and replace them with reasonable ones that your employees understand, value and follow?

Virtually everyone who has worked for more than one company in their career has a story about a workplace where the rules they had to follow were so draconian and limiting that they were unable to do their job.

Many extremely talented employees have left organizations because they were hired to be heroes, and then the organization stopped them in their tracks.

So how do you get rid of the stupid rules, and instead replace them with reasonable rules that your employees understand, value, and follow?

Related Article: Why Company Culture Matters More to Employee Than Pay

Stupid Rule: Do Not Discuss the Company on Social Media in Any Capacity

First of all, employees need to vent somewhere. We get it, you don't want your company smeared on social media, but unless your employee is venting about information that is privileged and enforceable in court (unlikely) you're not going to be able to do much about it.

To fix it, you need to understand why employees vent. In general, people post angry rants when they've lost their temper and have no other outlet. If you want the rant off Facebook? Be a boss that your employees come to. This means:

  • Hear them, and validate what they say. If they're furious at a customer, for example, let them get out their anger and express sympathy with what they went through. Thank them for taking a verbal lashing at a customer's hands. If there's a management issue to address (and there may be!) let them cool down first, and then say "I was thinking over what you told me about your interaction. Do you have a minute to sit down so we problem solve how that might be handled differently next time?"
  • When they're right – and, let's face it, our employees are right more often than traditional company structures like to admit – tell them so. If there are real obstacles in the way of change, address them.

Stupid Rule: Not Trusting Your Employees

There are so many variations on this in corporate culture that we don't even know where to begin. From rules prohibiting people from having cell phones at their desks to dress codes that mandate the number of pockets a pair of pants can have to requiring bereaved employees to provide proof of death for a family member before they can be paid leave. How many rules at your company are based on CYA policies where one person screwed the company over, so now everyone has to pay?

To fix this, you need to hire and keep awesome people, and then you need to trust them to be awesome. When they screw up, because everyone does, managers need to be able to address the problem directly. That's what managers are for, handling the squishy human issues that no one likes talking about, but someone needs to discuss.

If your team can't handle being trusted, you've hired the wrong team. If your managers can't address that a particular outfit is not appropriate for a work environment, then they have no business being managers.

Related Article: Smiles Are Free: How a Positive Business Culture Inspires Employees

Stupid Rule: Ridiculous Performance Feedback and Employee Engagement Surveys

We get it. Investors and boards like to see quantified feedback where they can see that 94 percent of employees rate themselves as highly satisfied with their jobs. Measuring metrics gives organizations a sense of control, a feeling that they can move the needle and have done their job.

But what actually changes companies is hiring people who are willing to learn and change as they go.

As a manager for a large customer-service based organization, I ran a weekly team meeting. In my first few months in the position, I knew I was struggling to keep the meeting on track. One of my team members provided anonymous feedback that they felt the meeting wasn't useful, and was very specific in what wasn't working for them. It gave me the kick I needed to reorganize the meeting and move forward.

But how much sooner would I have changed the meeting up if I'd asked my team for honest feedback about how the meeting was going?

When you view your company's policies and rules, ask yourself: why does this rule exist? What's the rationale behind it? Is that clear to my employees?

One great test for rules is to phrase them not as "don't" but as "do." So instead of a laundry list of words that can't be said and clothes that can't be worn, the standard is simple. "We are a team of professional business people in a business environment. The expectation for all team members is that they will operate in a professional, respectful way that fosters diverse communication internally and externally."

When you encourage all team members to judge themselves by this standard, you may be surprised at how high job satisfaction climbs.

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