What Would You Do? Workplace Policies
Over the past week a well known Ottawa company has been embroiled in controversy with some employees. The battle has made it to the local headlines and has caused debate around water coolers across the city. The issue is over tattoos and whether or not employees must keep them hidden from public view. The employees argue that it’s unfair to ask them to wear long-sleeved shirts during the hot summer weather. The company argues that their workplace policy clearly states that tattoos must be covered at all times and the employees agreed to do so when they were hired.
It’s easy to argue both sides. In fact, when I ask entrepreneurs what they think, I hear support for both the company and the workers. Many business owners are at a loss as to how they would respond if faced with a similar issue. The conversation usually turns to workplace policies and how they should be implemented within a company’s culture.
Do you have an employee manual? Does it clearly detail all workplace policies? I’m continually amazed at how many companies do not have anything written down in this area.
All our employees understand what’s expected of them. Do they? What happens when someone does something that runs contrary to how you feel your employees should conduct themselves? What if their appearance and actions don’t line up with the values your company adheres to?
If it’s not written down, it’s not real.
It’s simply not enough to assume that all of your employees understand the expectations of your business. You need to write them down. Include your workplace policies in the employee handbook that every worker is given (you do give your employees a manual, right?)
Written Policies Are Not Enough
However, it’s not enough to write down all of your company’s workplace policies. As the owner, it’s your responsibility to make sure that every employee understands and agrees to the policies you’ve established. Here are a few suggestions to help with that process:
1. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate.
You don’t want your workplace policies debated in the local media. No one wins when that happens. Instead, make sure that you are constantly reminding your employees of the values that drive your company. Demonstrate how your workplace policies are in place to support the values. Invite your employees – especially your long-standing, proven employees – to provide input into the policies on a regular basis. You’ll be amazed at the insight many of your best employees will provide. Who knows? They might even cause you to change your mind on some of the policies you’ve implemented.
2. Introduce Workplace Policies into the hiring process.
Many owners will quickly explain certain policies, such as dress code, while interviewing someone. But that’s usually as far as it goes. Of course, most people being interviewed happily nod in agreement at the suggestion that they should “dress professionally” even if no one really knows what that means. It would be far more effective to print out the workplace policies and invite the candidate to read them in the interview. Ask them to explain to you how they interpret some of the policies. “We expect our employees to dress professionally. What do you think it means to dress professionally?“
3. Keep Workplace Policies “top of mind” during staff meetings.
Don’t do it in a negative way. In other words, don’t wait until someone is breaking the rules before mentioning a policy. Instead, include policies as part of the conversation within meetings. “Alright folks, with Summer upon us, many of you are riding your bicycles to work. We love seeing you support the environment while exercising. We also love the new aromas thanks to the extra sweating! Just a reminder that there’s a closet where you can keep a fresh dress shirt so that you can look wonderful during the workday.”
4. Include Workplace Policies in the employee’s annual review.
When you, or the supervisor, sits down with each employee to review their performance, invite them to look over the workplace policies. Ask for their input (see “communicate, communicate, communicate”). At the end of the discussion, require each employee to sign an agreement that they will support the company’s values and adhere to the policies. It’s easy to forget what was written in the employee handbook if the only time an employee sees it is when they are hired.
Following these suggestions wont guarantee that you’ll never have disagreements over workplace policies. But it will minimize them. In the end, you and your employee may choose to disagree on a certain policy. And, as the owner, you have the right to invite them to find employment elsewhere. But, taking the time to make sure that the policies your company has line up with your values, and are communicated clearly with your employees will certainly lessen the potential for battles.