Business Practices | | Published August 06, 2012

Are Strict Rules Stifling Your Team Members?

Rules! Ugh, there are so many of them. Most of us have had that job where the manager or supervisor just seemed to make them up as they went along. The ones that made up arbitrary restrictions whether it was about dress codes or when you were allowed to do this or that and nothing seemed to have any rhyme or reason to it.

But to them it was absolutely essential that you wore your collar a certain way, or filed your paperwork in a particular order, or put the cover page on the TPS report. To do otherwise would upset the natural rhythm of the office or workplace, at least in their opinion.

The question becomes, then, are the rules set in place at your workplace stifling team members? Maybe to management those rules represent order in the workplace; to a frustrated employee it’s a dark cloud that hangs over the front door of the company. What to do?

Loose Rules are Still Rules

 Obviously no company has zero rules to follow. Even the most fun company in the world doesn’t let their employees get away with absolutely everything. You can be as “open” as you want, but you’re probably not going to, say, let everyone come to work buck naked.

So rules are there for a reason. Following that statement, they must be there for a reason – and not just because you want them there. Are the guidelines you have set for your employees fair and intelligent? Would you be happy with them if you worked under them?

Consider a company like Zappos. They are widely known as having some of the best customer service in the world. People sometimes think it’s because of their “no questions asked” return and replacement policies or their fun work environment. But both of these things come from having a liberal interpretation of what “rules” are.

Like Google, employees are encouraged to be creative in their daily decisions. When a problem arises Zappos wants them to feel free to do what they can to make the customer happy. If that means twisting what rules they have around, so be it – better to have repeat business than a CSR who followed a script and upset a customer!


 It’s tough to know which rules your team members have issues with until you hear it from them. But it’s not often that an employee willingly tells a higher-up what’s going wrong, “open door policy” or not. There may be an occasional squeaky wheel but for the most part they would rather complain to each other at lunch or happy hour.

So you must create a safe environment for them to say what’s on their mind without repercussion. Even if you straight up tell them they can say whatever you won’t get the full truth. There will always be a degree of hesitation.

One idea is to make the discussion anonymous. Let employees submit rules they find obnoxious and ways to fix them in a box in a discrete location. After a period of time, collect all the pieces of paper so you can discuss the ideas.

Not everything submitted is going to be a great idea – who knows, someone may even suggest coming to work naked! But amongst the ideas should be a few solid topics to cover which could improve the nature of your office and customer service. Be open to suggestions and open the door to a more pleasant and valued work space.