Workplace rules can be important.
That is, as long as they don’t overreach, and are necessary and helpful. The problem is, rules can often have the opposite effect and create an unwelcoming environment of distrust, unhappiness, and inefficiency.
Creating a healthy work environment that keeps staff motivated and happy should be one of the priorities of every entrepreneur. It helps build a positive image of the company, makes workers more loyal, and often encourages them to do their best work.
It can also noticeably increase the productivity of the team. When employees are given freedom and flexibility in their work environment, they tend to maintain better focus. That means fulfilling their duties more precisely and in a shorter time, which increases profitability.
Don’t believe it?
According to Marketwatch, and based on over 100 million data points, U.S workers were actually 47% more productive in March and April of 2020 – when Covid-19 drove workers out of their offices – than they were in 2019.
In other words, as important as workplace rules may feel, workers tend to do pretty darn well when left to their own devices (and distractions, even).
It’s a pretty compelling argument against using strict rules to achieve desired work habits and behaviors. Especially when inspiration, entrepreneurial flexibility, and positive reinforcement tend to be far better motivators.
Generally, happiness comes from within. With work making up such a significant part of our lives, the atmosphere there can affect our mood, and thereby our success, to a large extent.
So today, we’ll look at common workplace rules that go too far.
Despite seeming reasonable on the surface, by too strictly limiting personal freedoms, they can create unnecessary stress and do more harm than good.
We compiled a list of common mistakes companies make with respect to workplace rules and created an infographic. A deeper discussion about overreaching rules follows below.
Punctuality matters. Especially in certain circumstances. Workers should be expected to show up to meetings on time, respond to customers and co-workers in a timely fashion, meet deadlines, and be there to start a shift on time, without fail. Sure, mistakes happen. But timeliness is a reasonable rule under these and other circumstances.
But when does it go too far? Does an employee need to be in the office every day at exactly 9am? Leave every day 5pm? Does every break or lunch need to be scheduled and exactly the same? If someone is late due to a traffic jam or a public transport failure, should they be punished? Generally, take into account that office work is not like a factory job, and workplace time does not always correlate to productivity. People work in different ways, and at different paces. Overly strict time-keeping often serves to just raise stress, and increase the probability someone will make a mistake or submit sub-optimal work.
Unless the office is associated with top-secret issues, you should double-think any phone bans or restrictions you impose. Treating your employees like schoolchildren can be offensive – especially when its unwarranted.
Remember that your employees’ personal lives don’t end when they enter the workplace. They have families and plans, and potentially emergencies they need to be informed about. Some people use social media to make professional connections and to read industry-relevant content.
Sure, if a worker is constantly using their phone and it’s getting in the way of productivity, address it. But given how much communication, including work communication, is done on phones these days blanket rules are likely to be more restrictive than helpful.
Internet Use Restrictions
Similarly to phones, employees should be given the benefit of the doubt with respect to internet use. It’s better to be responsive to actual offenses, then generally restrictive. Again, take into account that social media and news sites can be used not only for private purposes but also for business ones. Understand that taking breaks, on occasion, is necessary for productivity. Restrictions give the message that you don’t trust your workers. Often they’ll circumvent the rules out of resentment. On the other hand, when you give your team freedom as long as their work gets done, they’ll rarely abuse the perk.
Excessive Control (My Way or the Highway)
Being a control freak is never a good thing. That’s certainly true in the workplace. Stifling creativity and controlling how and when everything gets done is oppressive to workers. It shows a lack of trust, and creates a you vs. them dynamic.
Letting your staff be creative and entrepreneurial leads to innovation. The believe that great ideas can come from anywhere in an organization inspires everyone, at every level, to achieve.
Frameworks, processes, and systems are all okay. They’re beneficial even. But restricting the ability to deviate, express alternate viewpoints, or try new things is a dangerous path that leads many employees to the exit.
Dress Code and Self Expression
Dress code is understandable only when an employee has direct contact with clients. And even then, only if industry norms still require certain attire. Otherwise, it’s better not to deprive your team of their self-expression. As long as they look professional and represent your company well, they should have some freedom to wear something they feel comfortable in. Employees should also feel welcome to bring in non-distracting personal items to adorn their desk and workspace. Allowing people to personalize their space, and create an environment that relaxes and inspires them is great for morale and productivity.
Just Too Many Rules
Even when the rules themselves don’t go overboard, sometimes there are just too many of them. Some companies are convinced they need to regulate and have a policy for absolutely everything, when in fact, this creates the wrong kind of atmosphere to work and thrive in. People will waste their time self-editing and making sure they aren’t breaking the rules, instead of working freely and efficiently. It gets even worse if there are severe penalties for disobedience – your workers will be constantly afraid of the consequences and feel under pressure at the office.
Summing Up Bad Workplace Rules
Overall, keep in mind that even though companies always have some basic rules, you want to avoid being too strict with your employees.
Over-regulation creates an environment of distrust and stifled creativity.
By regulating and controlling everything, you won’t actually boost productivity – actually, it works the other way round. If people are upset and stressed out with their job, their quality of work deteriorates. They leave for greener pastures. Especially when they have no history of breaking the rules or overstepping bounds in the first place.
So strive for an environment that promotes flexibility and creativity. By keeping employees happy and relaxed, you’ll have a staff that fulfills their duties more effectively and more efficiently. You can address the ones who don’t when the need arises.