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Every company has certain rules employees are supposed to live by when they’re at work. Some companies have a preponderance of policies that fill dozens upon dozens of pages in the Official Employee Manual. Have you ever stopped to consider whether all your company’s policies are really necessary? Or even make sense? Rules that are overly limiting can push your best employees right out the door.

We live in an ever-more-informal society. You work hard to hire the best and brightest people. But they can’t be at their best or shine their creative light on achieving your company’s goals if they feel they must be more concerned with toeing the line. People want to be treated as individuals, but all too often company rules treat them like cattle.

It’s time to haul out that handbook and give it another read, through your employees’ eyes. If your policies are like any of the common examples below, they are probably pushing people away:

Attendance.

Running a stopwatch on salaried employees can backfire. If Suzy’s manager is watching the front door to be sure she arrives exactly on time every morning and never exceeds her allotted lunch period, you can bet Suzy will watch the clock just as diligently to make sure she never works past quitting time. Shouldn’t work be the focus?

Dress codes.

Tell people you expect them to dress for your particular business environment, using one simple rule: if they have even the slightest doubt about wearing a particular item or outfit to work, then don’t.

Bereavement.

Does your company allow time off only if an immediate family member has died, or only for one day? Have a heart. How productive do you think someone will be having to work the day after they bury their grandmother? Or their best friend? Or the dog that’s been by their side for 12 years? What if they can’t get to the funeral and back in the one day you’ve allotted for their grieving?

Rigid pay scales.

If people have no hope of getting more than the written-in-stone COLA raise, no matter how great an asset they are for your company, why should they bother? Conversely, why should someone get a raise just they’ve been on the payroll long enough to “advance” to the next level on the pay scale?

Permission to seek promotion.

Many companies – especially larger, more bureaucratic ones — require supervisors to give written permission before any of “their” people can apply for a position elsewhere within the company. What if their supervisor doesn’t want them to leave their department? Managers should never have the right to sabotage someone’s potential for advancement.

How did we get here?

Company rules have traditionally been designed to control the lowest common denominator among employees – those you suspect will try to take advantage of you. Yet today’s successful corporate cultures are based on trust. If you don’t trust someone to make simple decisions and keep your company’s best interests in mind, why did you hire them? Why are they still there?

Too many rules create an atmosphere that feels congealed instead of congenial. That’s not the kind of environment that ignites performance, nor is it the type of workplace top-notch employees are looking for these days. They can do better elsewhere. Wouldn’t you rather fewer rules and more happy, motivated, loyal employees?

If you find, upon further review, that your company rulebook is too fat, slim it down. Eliminate silly, excessive policies that waste time and energy, and give people latitude to use their adult brain. When people know you expect and trust them to do the right thing, they will.

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