Enforcing Company Policies
QUESTION: As a manager, I know how to handle big performance issues; people need to be warned, given time to improve, and then either shape up or ship out. I’m wondering, though, about less severe issues and how to properly handle them.
One of my biggest day-to-day headaches are the minor transgressions, those behaviors that technically violate policy or slightly inconvenience employees, but are far from a fireable offense. For example, our company doesn’t allow sneakers as part of the dress code. We have an employee who walks to work, so he wears sneakers to come in and keeps a pair of appropriate shoes at his desk. This would be fine, but he often forgets to change and will spend the majority of the day violating the dress code. Generally he forgets because he jumps right in and focuses on something more important: his job! I don’t feel like I can sit this guy down and tell him that he’s violated our shoe policy and he’ll need to remember to change or he’ll be fired. That just seems silly.
Another example is an employee who doesn’t check our message board and won’t set up email reminders. She doesn’t want the email clutter, but also doesn’t want to take the time out of her schedule to check in for important messages every now and then. So if we need something like a health insurance form filled out, I need to hunt her down to get it completed. Obviously this example DOES affect my job, but am I to threaten the job of one of our top performers over it?
These ARE policies and requirements we’ve set though, and I don’t want to give the impression that our policies (small or large) can be violated without consequence. There are many examples of minor transgressions at the office. Each one adds up to drain more of my time/energy, and I do see signs of other employees following suit. Without consequences, there is no motivation to change.
ANSWER: To have a policy that is not enforced (or enforced based on what might appear to others as favoritism) is definitely asking for trouble. But to stringently enforce a rulebook without consideration to the circumstances isn’t fair either. It could be said that the purpose of a company policy is to create an environment that allows for collaboration and enables high performance in your workplace. Do your policies do that? If there is any hesitation there, it might be a good time to revisit the requirements you have set.
Another consideration is that some policies are and should be no-tolerance (sexual harassment, stealing, etc.) and merit setting an example. Others, however, may warrant more leniency. To your dress code example; does the choice of shoes inhibit the employee from performing his job well or safely? I’ve seen moderate enforcement work very well in several companies; a dress code is specified, but it is understood by all employees that if there is no client interaction that requires a specific presence, they will not be sent home to change so long as they exercise good judgment.
This was my answer to the July reader question on the Intuit QuickBase Blog. To see three other expert perspectives on the topic, please view the original post at 360 Answers: Should Managers Ignore Minor Offenses?