Just Say No to Policy Dependence

“Do we have a policy on…?”
“Can you pull a job description for…?”
“I have a bunch of employees who….”

These are comments I hear from managers on a daily if not weekly basis. And in my years in HR when I’ve heard them I’ve learned to ask questions to get to the root of the issue. It is usually never a policy violation but a problem employee. Or at least a manager/employee relations problem.

You see, when a manager asks for a policy or for a job description, what they’re really saying is:
“Can you give me documentation/permission to prove that I’m right and the employee is wrong?”
Also, it’s easier to confront an employee if I can blame “big bad HR” or “corporate policy” than to sincerely sit knee-to-knee with my employee and say “Hey, can we talk about this?”

Regardless I always find that managers tend to want to have policies or update policies on things that are “small issues” and not on objective, increased data. If one employee hangs up personal pictures, the statement to me becomes “We have a bunch of employee’s hanging up personal pictures.” Reality is, policies exist for structure, usually involving legal or monetary matters, but they should be built to enhance or maintain the company culture. Not to penalize or take the place of coaching.

I have to ask myself that in environments of highly engaged employees is there a trend of managers pulling out policies and showing their employees the infractions? I don’t think so. At least I hope not. But I can’t even count the number of unengaged employees (and managers) who run to the policy and follow it to the letter, like some Corporate Paul Revere. These are usually the same people who don’t work a minute more than they have to (or they over work and complain that no one works as hard as them.)

Perhaps I’m a unique HR manager in that policy to me is always subjective. There’s “what we do” and there’s “what the policy says.” (And then there’s what we do but don’t tell anybody that we do it that way.) The managers who I find are annoyed with my type of HR are the one who have less-engaged, old-school, “do as I say” type of management style.

Instead of running to HR to discover what policy can be waved in an employee’s face, how about talking with the employee about it and then coming to a consensus. Then again, if all my managers did that I would be out of a job.

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