Your People Are Our Business

Thirsty Thursdays: People vs. Policy

Thirsty Thursdays: People vs. Policies

Rules, laws, regulations, statutes...everywhere you look they exert influence on our lives.  We can all agree that many are needed.  Laws help define what are acceptable acts and behaviors and create normalcy.  They help us all reach a standard of existence that allow us to evaluate and judge something as unacceptable and apply an appropriate response be it waging war, arresting offenders, sharing our experience with others.  And in our work lives we have a myriad of policies and procedures in Employee Manuals.  Unfortunately many companies apply a hard standard of enforcement for those policies when only a very few that are underpinned by law require such narrow interpretations.  Let's look at some examples of the old adage, "just because you can doesn't mean you should."

Referee - alone.jpg


Sometimes HR gets a bad rap.  Then again, sometimes HR earns it's reputation. 

HR of yesteryear was the policy enforcer, full of positional power, a force to be reckoned with.  I never knew why.  How can a portion of the business that doesn't generate income wield so much power?  It was fear.  "just because you can scare people into compliance doesn't mean you should" ...or that it's the best way to achieve buy-in.  I still see this type of HR in too many places today. 

The HR function is often the most unique department in most organizations due to the level of access and trust, but especially due to their often opposing roles to enable the business and be the employee confidante. 

Sometimes it's easier to take power even when it's not the most effective method.

Warning Bad Idea Ahead.jpg


I worked at a company that was fond of taking a hard stance.  When it came to enforcement of leave law, it made everyone walk the line.  And if they got out of line they then walked the plank.  

Whenever anyone failed to return from a medical leave they made him/her pay for the part of the medical premiums the company picked up during leave.  By law, that's legal and it might be OK in some situations, but this one time it blew up in their face. 

Without any dialogue they sent out harsh letters demanding payment, threatening collections, etc.  One time they learned after the fact that this otherwise very good employee didn't come back because her baby was very premature, faced a long road to normal health and she decided to become a stay-at-home mom while the husband picked up a second job.  "just because you can doesn't mean you should"

the power of "may" or "might"

Heart in Head.jpg

"Other duties as assigned" is often a line on job descriptions that is joked about.  It's the catch all that tells the reader that not every duty can be captured on a single document and if you could, work changes so quickly that a job description is out of date almost as soon as you hit the save button.

Policies should be written similarly using "may" or "might" as escape clauses.  More and more companies are pushing for more stringent, clear language.  What they don't realize is that works against them and their ability to have flexibility to handle each situation independently.  Administering the policies with consistency is important but no two situations are exactly alike and the ability to use your head and your heart is important.  Do you think in the above medical leave example the company would have received any complaints if they chose not to pursue that new mother for the insurance premiums?  In fact they got more negative reactions from employees once it became known and how they regretted their hard stance.  And if they were challenged for "favoritism" imagine how that argument would sound.

Whether you are in HR, Management or Executive Leadership always keep in mind that it's the people who matter.  How you treat others, especially in situations when they need some special consideration, is how others will judge and evaluate you.  And it influences whether people want to work for you and your organization.  I've never heard anyone's legacy be how awesome they were at enforcing policies.  But those who are remembered throughout the halls of their organizations are those who cared for others, had genuine compassion when others were facing challenges in life and went against the words on a page and did what was right for the person at the time given the circumstances.

Thirsty Thursdays are about our collective thirst for learning and knowledge.  It’s not about Beer:30 [although HR4ALL is all for that, too!]  We hope this weekly nugget of knowledge opens your mind and gives you a reason to pause and think differently.    Have a great weekend everyone! 

Please follow HR4ALL on LinkedIN and Twitter .  And you can sign up for our monthly newsletter at