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Be Better Seal

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by Liz Ryan

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I understand that some of us work for big, stodgy corporations, but seriously — how can HR leaders look in the mirror and feel good about themselves when they enforce despicable policies every day at work? Some HR policies that are still in force in companies around the world should have disappeared into oblivion decades ago.

We can’t say, “We need these policies to maintain a well-ordered workforce” anymore, not with a straight face. It’s 2016. We hire adults — and competent and professional adults at that. If you don’t trust the people who work for your company, what does that say about you?

I hear from HR executives about their companies’ stubbornness in the face of change. They write to say, “I’ve campaigned to get rid of our ancient, crusty policies but my executives don’t care what I say.” That is a powerful message from Mother Nature. She is telling you that you are wasting your time and your precious mojo trying to drag people kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

When you take a paycheck, your brand is on the line. Your integrity and your humanity are at stake. That was the first big “Aha!” that hit me in the solar plexus when I took my first HR job over 30 years ago. It hit me that the way the company treats its employees is a statement not only about the company, but also about me.

I pushed hard to get rid of goofy policies and to support our team on other employee issues. Pushing hard was one of the biggest parts of my job for years. If you are an HR person, pushing for the right answer is a big part of your job, too. If you’re not doing that part of the job because you’re afraid to, then you are the telling yourself and the rest of us, “I’m not really qualified for this job. I do the easy parts and I don’t do the hard parts of the role.”

Here are 10 policies that an HR leader should be embarrassed to keep on the books. There are still four months left in 2016 — plenty of time to get rid of these turkeys!

1. The policy that requires employees to bring in a doctor’s note when they are sick. Who goes to the doctor for a bad cold or the flu? I called the doctor’s office when my kid had the flu. The nurse heard me list my kid’s symptoms and she said, “Keep him at home!” She wouldn’t make an appointment for him, and I don’t blame her. It’s stupid to go sit in a doctor’s office when you should be at home sleeping and drinking fluids.

2. The policy that requires an employee to bring in a funeral notice in order to get paid for bereavement leave when someone in the employee’s family dies. This is the lowest of the low. If you don’t trust your employees, why did you hire them?

3. The policy that prohibits managers from giving references for their former employees. If you don’t trust your managers to give references responsibly and professionally, why do you let them lead teams of employees and interact with customers and vendors?

4. The policy that requires job-seekers to give up their salary history details. This practice will be illegal in Massachusetts when a newly-signed law takes effect, and should be illegal everywhere.

5. The policy that subjects grown-up adults to Progressive Discipline and Performance Improvement Plans instead of sitting down with them and asking, “What isn’t working, from your perspective? What do we need to talk about and clear up, that we haven’t talked about enough yet?”

6. The policy that steals frequent flyer airline miles from the person whose actual tush was in that airline seat. People who travel for business don’t get paid for the hours they donate, when they could be at home and doing whatever they want to do. At least give them the frequent flyer miles they earned! Any company who needs to pinch pennies by stealing their employees’ airline miles has a leadership problem that stealing airline miles from employees will not solve!

7. The policy that employees who want to transfer to a different department have to get their current manager’s approval first. This is brainless on the face of it, because you don’t have to get your manager’s approval to go and work for a different company. Requiring employees to get their manager’s approval for an internal transfer is a great way to drive talent out the door.

8. The policy that prohibits employees from talking about their salaries with other employees. Whenever I see a company with this policy in place I ask them, “What are you afraid of?” Your employees are adults. Let them talk about whatever they like. That’s how you build trust.

9. The policy that lets salaried employees work until 10 p.m. or midnight without so much as a comment but dings them when they walk into work 10 minutes late in the morning.

10. Any policy that ranks or stacks employees one against the other, like Forced Ranking programs or performance review systems that allocate only a few spots for Top Performers, a few more spots for Above Average performers, and so on. While you’re reforming your out-of-date performance review system, why not ditch performance reviews altogether the way progressive companies are doing right and left!

It’s a new day. Employers that value talent and show it have no problem recruiting great people and hanging onto them.

If your company still has any of these Neanderthal policies in place, print out this story and leave a few copies of it in every conference room to spark discussion. Your co-workers will be glad you did!

If you are an HR leader, a more thoughtful approach is required. Stop and think about your strategic plan for 2017. Is any part of your HR strategy for the new year concerned with recruiting, retention and generally upgrading the culture in your workplace? I certainly hope so! Getting rid of these outdated and cruel policies is a great start in the right direction. You can begin right now!

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