Workplace policies exist for a reason. People need rules and guidelines, otherwise, anarchy would ensue and no work would ever get done. However, the way you do or do not enforce policies can have a major impact on productivity and employee satisfaction.  Nobody wants to work for a company with no rules, but nobody wants to work for a company that is so strict, people feel like they need to ask permission to wipe their nose, either. If your organization errs on the side of strict enforcement, you could be destroying employee morale and pushing great people away.

Some Policies Require Strict Enforcement

Some workplace rules are essential and do require strict enforcement. If a rule speaks to employee safety, if it ensures legal compliance or if it involves keeping employee and customer data secure, for example, zero-tolerance policies are understandable and acceptable. However, arbitrary policies can handcuff your people and actually limits their ability to achieve results.

Strict Policy Enforcement Leads To Poor Engagement

Employees feel engaged and connected to their work when they feel free to express their opinions and ideas. Policies that make employees feel stifled will derail their engagement. They may feel micromanaged and they may believe leaders don’t trust them to do their jobs well, which leads to feelings of frustration and resentment. As time passes, they will feel less motivated to do their job well.

Remember, good employees ask questions and speak up when they see a potential problem on the horizon. Stifling their desire to ask questions, challenge the status quo and get others thinking will impede the organization’s ability to compete.

Strict Policies Can Stifle Success

Yves Morieux of the Boston Consulting Group’s Institute for Organization recently gave a TED Talk on the impact of too many rules on a workforce. In that talk, he noted, “If you think about it, we pay more attention to knowing who to blame in case we fail, than to creating the conditions to succeed.” A culture of strict policy enforcement, especially when there is an overabundance of those policies, breeds this type of “CYA” thinking.  He also noted that too much paperwork and too many meetings about procedures, processes, and rules prevent important and innovative work from getting done.

Strict Policies Will Be Broken

Children who grow up in strict households often become rebellious teenagers. If you run a workplace where people feel stifled by rules that they don’t understand, or that keep them from being productive or doing their jobs efficiently, you can be certain people are breaking those rules right now. Spending time demanding enforcement or punishing those who break the rules is an exercise in futility because as along as employees believe a rule is keeping them from doing their job properly or well, they will continue to work around it.

Freedom to make decisions about one’s own job is critical, but freedom does need to be earned. When employees demonstrate they can be trusted to use good judgment, step back and let them do it. “Do it because I said so,” can ensure initial compliance, but as time goes on, it will hurt you rather than help you.

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