Man consists of two parts, his mind and his body, only the body has more fun. -- Woody Allen
Policies are necessary for many reasons, especially in the HR area where lawsuits are running rampant. However, you can -- and most firms do -- have too many policies.
A policy is defined as "a definite course of action adopted for expediency." A classic example is the organization that adopts an attendance policy because its workers keeping showing up late. The policy establishes a set of consequences for those workers who do not clock in by 8 a.m.
This may be a reasonable policy if a business is having this problem, but sometimes businesses go overboard writing policies for everything. Here is a sampling of some of the craziest policies I have seen over the years:
1. If you do not show up for work, you are considered late.
2. In the event of fire, every employee must leave the building.
3. This policy takes precedence over all other policies.
Clearly, these are ridiculous, but for me, the biggest problem with policies is having too many.
There are several reasons:
Firstly, policies have a way of stifling original thinking. Employees often tell me they feel they have
no voice in their organization because there are rules or policies for everything. Bottom line is that rules eliminate the ability of your staff to be creative and novel in their problem solving.
A second problem with having too many policies is that they are not -- or cannot be -- enforced at all times. Having policies that are not enforced is worse than having no policy at all. It is very confusing to workers since they do not know which policies are critical and which are not.
For example, sometimes different departments tolerate different behaviors. In one area, it is okay to be late to work, but in another area, late employees are written up. These situations drive your staff crazy. They cannot understand why behavior that is acceptable in one department is not acceptable in all. It seems so arbitrary.
Yet another problem with rules is that they are off-putting for younger workers. In 2015, as we try to manage a younger workforce, we must recognize how differently they view rules than the older generations.
Baby Boomers need rules and polices, but Millennials prefer to break the rules rather than follow them. It is their nature to want to achieve the desired outcome without abiding by ridiculous rules. They want to get the job done without worrying about policies. The more rules you have with them, the greater the probability they will leave your organization or just tune out.
This is not to say a firm does not need policies. Rather, I am simply saying that a firm should have as few as possible. You have to give your workers the freedom to get the job done with as few limitations as possible. Otherwise, you may just find your great workers leaving you in favor of employment with your non-policy-laden competitors.
Jerry Osteryoung, Jim Moran Professor of Entrepreneurship (emeritus) and Professor of Finance (emeritus) at Florida State University, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.