Retaining top talent is a constant challenge for employers, especially when staff turnover can cost a company upwards of £30K per employee. While some departures are unavoidable, others can be attributed to overzealous management and authoritarian policies can sometimes be the reason why valued staff feel it’s fit to hand in their notice.
What are these rules that drive away great employees though? And are companies justified for trying to enforce them?
Why enforce policy?
Creating an attractive culture is key to finding the right balance between happiness and productivity; a vital equilibrium for ensuring that your brightest stars stay away from jobsites and InMail propositions. Though most managers will try and build a healthy team spirit, some can occasionally (and often inadvertently) introduce a somewhat autocratic regime where company policies start to inhibit rather than encourage.
Of course, most rules are enforced with the noblest of intentions and while nobody likes to feel restricted, rules pertaining to attendance, safety or just use of time are all integral to keeping the cogs turning in the office machine. Most of your workforce will understand this and respond positively, however some rules can begin to quell employee satisfaction and this is where problems arise. After all, staff don’t leave companies, they leave managers (and by extension, their policies!)
Inflexible absence policies
Unfortunately, life has a tendency to just get in the way and illness, bereavement or a misguided bottle of prosecco can all act as occasional barriers to our office desks. While you may be quick to remark the pitfalls of a staff shortage, inflexible expectations of attendance can deter employees who are otherwise intolerant to the unyielding 9 to 5.
From the loss of pay to potential loss of job, the disciplinary actions that you take towards absenteeism can define a company culture and impact the relationship that staff have with their superiors.
Why do companies have strict absence rules?
Financial and operational pressures play a huge role in the restrictive policies that a business chooses to implement. Loss of productivity, efficiency and the time of others can create a ‘fear’ that relaxed staff will come at great cost to the company. Absence can really hurt the day to day running of an organisation and this might be more true for some areas of work more than others. The Healthcare and Education industries will particularly struggle to compensate for a staff shortage, perhaps having to further increase spend on recruiting temporary personnel.
As shown by the following Statista graph though, absence at work is on the decline and between 2003 and 2013, the number of days lost each year (by sickness at least) has dropped by nearly two.
Despite this, absenteeism costs the UK economy around £17 billion a year, and in 2014, more than 130 million workdays were lost through ‘sickness absence.’ Furthermore, the average cost of absence per employee comes to £609 (as revealed by a CIPD report), perhaps justifying the hard stance often taken towards staff no-shows.
This financial drain can understandably lead to trust issues, where employers begin to insist on doctor’s notes, timesheets and a substantial notice for any planned time off. Of course, it’s this lack of trust that drives employees away. The best managers are able to demonstrate understanding and empathy, appreciating that office and home don’t always coexist happily. Restricting your staff too much will unfavourably shift the pendulum of the work-life balance, however it’s still important to be clear of your expectations.
What causes absenteeism?
Although you will expect a certain number of absences a year, habitual non-attendance needs to be addressed and discouraged. Some reasons are completely justified and distinguishing between a genuine cause and mere fabrication is important in tackling the problem.
True reasons for absent staff can range from the trivially unfortunate to the causes worthy of intervention. Being aware of the most common reasons for absence can allow you to assess each case and act accordingly.
- Illness is the most common cause of workplace sickness absence and this tends to peak around February when cold season is in full effect.
- Stress accounts for more than 11.3 million lost working days each year. Likewise, more than 500K people believe they are suffering from work-related stress.
- Bullying in the workplace is a growing problem and a UNISON study showed that 6 out of 10 public sector employees have experienced and/or witnessed bullying at work. Even more of a concern, is that 75% of this is thought to come from managers.
- Mental health is responsible for nearly 50% of long term absences. This includes depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder, with the two former often compounded by the previously mentioned stress or bullying.
- Bad weather can cause treacherous travel conditions and it may make sense for staff to stay at home. This is more of a problem around winter, meaning that a summer absence for this reason may be cause for suspicion.
- Travel delays result in 70% of staff lateness. Lateness as a whole costs the economy more than £9 billion each year.
Why do staff dislike attendance policies
Staff are largely understanding about absence rules, however it’s often the hoops that they have to jump through that lead to dissatisfaction. These are adults you’ve hired and while they may be contractually obliged to follow certain procedures, you have to demonstrate trust and flexibility.
Doctors notes or fit to work notes have the opposite effect to building trust and can lower company morale. Demanding proof of ailments implies there is a lack of trustworthiness and this is something that your workforce will immediately sense. Additionally, if you believe that staff could be prone to lying about an illness, just for a few days off, there are much larger problems within your business that need to be addressed.
Overzealous dress codes
An industry will largely dictate a company’s dress code, but there are instances where policies can be overzealous. What is and isn’t acceptable is completely at the whim of an employer, and depending on the culture you’re trying to maintain, can range from the suited and booted to student casual.
Why would you enforce ‘professional wear?’
Professional business attire is part and parcel of office life. It might not always be the most comfortable (or inspiring), but it implies professionalism and makes you seem like a real, grown-up company. This is of course great when interacting with clients or selling your services, but perhaps less so if you sit in a box all day and only converse with the outside world via digital means.
Similarly, an uncompromising stance can be just as impacted by safety as it is by semblance. Construction firms will unwaveringly insist on hard hats, rigger boots and high vis jackets, and be completely vindicated for doing so. Likewise, a kitchen setting may require hair to be tied back or jewellery to be removed. It’s not unreasonable, just common sense.
Why some staff are resistant to a dress code
The working environment should largely determine the attire, however it’s easy for an employer to enforce an overly strict dress code justified by nothing more than “because I say so.” Conformity for conformity’s sake, while easy to manage, can hurt morale and lead to a workforce devoid of spark. Nobody wants to feel like they work for an authoritarian regime and being forced to dress like their cubicle neighbour can create a team that lacks individuality; a trait not so good if you’re trying to minimise staff turnover.
However, it turns out that not all employees are averse to a defined dress code, rather just the inflexible enforcement of one. How we dress can impact how we act and wearing a tie can put us into ‘work mode.’ While more creative types may profess to being more productive in yellow Converse and a university hoody (please excuse any stereotypes), others will find that conventional business wear helps with concentration.
How to tackle the problem
Due to the hoodie marl t-shirt Zuckerberg generation, managers are increasingly questioning dress codes and trying to strike the right balance between corporate and relaxed. Being TOO professional can be restricting to creativity, while instilling a flip flop culture could potentially lessen productivity.
If professional business wear is appropriate, nae necessary, then being a little flexible with your expectations will see you met with some praise from staff. Although it’s important to take dress code guidance before forcing any actions, allowing certain liberties (jewellery, no limits of colours, etc) will allow for singularity without loss of authority.
Restrictive internet use
The internet has completely revolutionised the office and anyone who spends 8+ hours a day in front of a computer will appreciate how a wandering mind can impact the number of tabs open at any one time. Employers are also aware of this paradigm and this has lead to a surge in both the monitoring and blocking of staff online use.
Why are websites blocked?
In an attempt to counter both procrastination and puerility, firms will often put restrictive barriers on sites that an employee can visit. From social networks to you-know-what sites, staff can be stopped from visiting a whole range of URLs that might be seen as NSFW, or at least unproductive.
Perceptions about productivity are perhaps the main reason for blocking site access and it’s not difficult to see why. Numerous studies into employee internet use show that more than 90mins a day are wasted on social media, while a further hour is spent on general web surfing. In fact, it’s estimated that over £7,000 of an average UK salary is earned just doing one of these two activities.
Blocking websites can also be another result of trust issues as employers fear that staff may abuse the privilege of boundless web surfing. Monitoring online activity has become the norm within many companies and with just cause in some circumstances.
Is restricting employee internet access worthwhile?
While we’ll all agree that negating access to certain dark corners of the web is perfectly reasonable, some will argue that limiting personal online use can be inhibitive to work.
Some studies suggest that personal web surfing, in short doses anyway, can have a rejuvenating effect on employees. In fact, it’s often thought that enforcing a 90/20 rule is best for productivity (90 minutes of work should allow for a 20 minute break). Office based employees are on a hamsterwheel of work based litany and ‘mini-web breaks’ in the cycle can inject some much needed spark into activities. It’s also not unheard of for managers to block access to sites that are actually helpful to completing work duties, instead opting for blanket coverage of any site PG or above.
How to keep employees on side
As a manager, you are legally permitted to monitor your employees’ online activity. Unsurprisingly, this seemingly Big Brother approach raises some ethical questions and staff are understandably unhappy to find that they’re being ‘snooped’ on at work.
Openness is inevitably the best option and being clear from the outset about your expectations (and potential consequences) will give your staff no get out clause should they step out of line. If you still insist on monitoring their online activity, make this clear to employees and explain your reasons why. Likelihood is, they’ll agree with much of your reasoning, it’s the secretive spying that they’ll be opposed to.
Restrictive approval chains
Hiring a candidate implies a certain level of trust. It implies that you trust that person to do their job and you believe that they can add genuine value to your current cohort. What it shouldn’t mean, is that you feel your hire can be easily controlled and will be compliant to every initiative you try to introduce.
Complex approval chains are perhaps the greatest way to limit employee autonomy and insinuates a lack of belief in both your staff and the effectiveness of your recruitment process. While it’s fair to force an approval system for major decisions such as company spending, needing permission to replace an ID card or change a computer password is somewhat over the top.
Why would you have an approval chain
Having a company hierarchy whereby decision makers sit handsomely at the top is common. You purposely hire senior staff to make those important calls that allow the rest of your team to concentrate on their own jobs. While there may occasionally be some resentment towards this distribution of power, it’s typically accepted that senior personnel are paid to make those decisions and have the right experience / skills to do so.
So what’s the problem?
Just because someone is paid to make decisions, doesn’t mean that their so called ‘wisdom’ is always needed. You shouldn’t teach your granny how to suck eggs and you shouldn’t teach your staff that even the simplest of actions need permission. Some actions don’t need a higher calling but taking all power away from the heart of your company can have a big impact on morale.
Staff thinking that they have zero say in ANYTHING can potentially leave them feeling worthless and looking for an opportunity elsewhere that will allow them to influence their own career path. Yes, experienced decision makers are needed, but staff need to be trusted to manage themselves and requiring approvals for every little thing will minimise employee growth and maximise employee handholding.
A ban on mobile devices
Mobile phones (and tablets to a lesser extent) are now one of life’s permanent features and employers have been quick to clamp down on the potential impact they can have in the workplace.
In 2014, mobile devices finally achieved their goal of enslaving mankind by outnumbering the global population. With this in mind, it’s hardly surprising that employers are feeling the need to fight against the literal machine and discourage the use of personal tech in the office.
Risks of mobile
Mobile devices are always open to risk and many employers are unwilling to grant staff security devoid access to company data. Security is a major barrier to allowing mobile devices and a rise in the prevalence of cyber attacks has only further fueled this as a deterrent.
The UK is the second most targeted country for cyber attacks, and in 2014, more than one million threats were released daily. Increasingly, they are beginning to target mobile devices and this brings an added danger to the workplace. The simple portability of mobile is its biggest downfall in this respect and IT departments are pained to stop malicious software from contaminating the company’s network.
Additionally, giving free license to staff can quickly lead to an abuse of privilege. What can first seem like a productivity boosting concept, can swiftly lead to a procrastination pandemic. It would seem however, that this is more a of a perception than a truth and studies have suggested that mobile technology has a positive effect on staff productivity. There’s no smoke without fire though and it’s clear that mobile apps and personal devices can be a distraction to workers.
So how are organisations tackling mobile?
In an attempt to combat the threats of mobile, employers are often quick to introduce measures to ensure that negative effects are kept to a minimum.
As we can see from the Statista graph above, the majority of companies have clear policies set out for mobile computing, while implementing security procedures are also common. Although this study suggests that concerns surrounding mobile have decreased slightly over the last year, it’s clear that it is still an issue plaguing companies and taking necessary precautions are still high on the agenda.
Why are staff anti-mobile ban?
The issue of prohibiting mobile phones at work can be a controversial subject and enforcing an office wide ban on all devices can divide staff and management.
Having such a strict approach to mobile phones can lead to a school type environment, where untrusting teachers confiscate anything that beeps or risk the classroom descending into absolute anarchy. The thing is though, you’re not in charge of a group of unruly teenagers and are instead overseeing a team of people that YOU hired.
Mobile phones are no longer considered a luxury and are instead seen as an integral part of human function. Whether it’s the feeling of never being out of the loop or just the peace of mind that we can ALWAYS be contacted, losing instant access to the outside world can create a ‘locked-in’ environment that will be resented by workers.
Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)
In an attempt to appease conflicted staff, many companies have introduced a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy to the workplace. With businesses largely losing the daily battle against personal technology, BYOD allows employers to reap the benefits of staff gadgets.
With the expense and inconvenience of having to update ageing IT systems, it’s not surprising that company owners are beginning to encourage staff to use personal devices (more laptops, less Tamagotchi). Smartphones, tablets and laptops are all granted the latest technological updates, potentially improving productivity and operations. It can also result in cost savings as computer maintenance and hardware spend can be immediately struck from the spreadsheet. Employees will undoubtedly respond positively to this loosening of the reigns and are likely to be happier and more relaxed with using their own technology. A Fujitsu study suggested that 52% of companies that utilise a BYOD policy witnessed an increase in employee satisfaction, while productivity, creativity and mobility were also listed as visible advantages.
So what have we learned?
Although rules / policies are an important component of any successful business, implementing inflexible boundaries can leave staff with a yearning to ‘break free’. Empathy is the secret to being a good manager and having confidence in your recruitment process should allow you to place trust in the team you’ve assembled.
Great employees crave responsive management and so it’s important to make them feel as though their needs are being met. Competent staff that are given the freedom to do what they do best, without having to leap any hurdles, will reward you with the high level of performance and loyalty that any business owner dreams of.