HR Management & Compliance, Talent

Danger Zone—Overly Rigid HR Policies

A business, like any organization, needs rules and policies to function properly, especially as it becomes larger and more sophisticated. These rules and policies form a kind of skeleton around which the rest of the business organism can operate. However, it’s dangerous to make HR policies too rigid, as this risks alienating and turning away top talent.

In an article for Harvard Business Review titled “The High Price of Overly Prescriptive HR Policies,” Sue Bingham writes that “Too many companies’ HR policies are overly restrictive. Such policies are often convoluted and overly paternal, and attempt to control the behavior of regular people through rules designed to rein in the ‘bad apples.’”
Bingham offers three key tips for preventing overly rigid HR policies.
Make Positive Assumptions About Employees
As alluded to above, many HR policies become overly rigid because HR professionals and organizations in general focus too much on the negative element within their workplace. A small number of employees abuse leniency or break rules, and in reaction, the organization imposes harsh restrictions on everyone. Instead, companies should treat employees as though they have confidence in their professionalism and judgment and deal with the negative situations as they arise.
Take a Commonsense Approach
“Strict policies are often excuses not to think,” writes Bingham. Instead of taking a “rules are rules” approach, treat employees like the adults they are, and address HR issues with a pragmatic, flexible approach.
Put Faith in Leaders (and Promote Good Leaders)
In many organizations, strict HR rules are the result of ineffective managers. For example, if a handful of employees frequently show up to work late, the employer imposes strict punishments for tardiness instead of placing the burden on individual managers to address issues within their own groups.
HR policies certainly serve a purpose, but they should be used as a framework within which to consider individual situations as opposed to an unyielding and formulaic approach to all employees in all situations.
Evaluating your existing policies can be a good place to start in ensuring that they’re appropriate and not overtly paternalistic.

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