>Do you have a policy for that?

>The World Cup is round the corner. From 11 June – 11 July, the world will literally be focused on one thing and one thing only. The football. Even I, who has zero interest in the sport, will be following it. And why not! Your country’s reputation is on the world stage and it makes life incredibly interesting. Your workforce will be bantering the entire period, more so than normal. National flags will be flying high. Energy levels will be amazingly high and moods will be swinging all over the show. There will be as much frustration as there will excitement.

And here’s what worries me. HR will announce – we have a policy for situations like this. I hate policies. I hate them with all my heart. They are a disease brought about by a litigious culture to cover your back. If something isn’t going right, a policy will be there to say – I Told You So. How truly uninspiring. Policies serve to only stifle and restrict the workforce. And here’s the nub of it all. We need policies like we need to be told the consequences of killing another human being.
The CIPD today have released this article thinking they’re helping the workforce: http://www.cipd.co.uk/subjects/hrpract/absence/_world_cup_absence_management. It doesn’t help at all. If anything it makes staff reticent to bother with following the World Cup at work at all. I’m not advocating staff should only be allowed to watch their matches of choice, but don’t throw down policies to take away any thought of doing it. Let me unpick some of their suggestions. ‘Swap shift’ – nonsense because most shift workers do those hours because it suits them and their lifestyle. If I work from 6-11 it’s because I have other commitments which suit that arrangement. ‘Unpaid leave’ – really? You want your staff to not turn up for work, and dock their pay because you’re not willing to accommodate them within the workplace? ‘Games and alcohol’ – Oh Lord. If staff haven’t realised they shouldn’t be doing these in excess then you’ve clearly got other issues you need to deal with. ‘Flexible hours’ – start work at 6am so you can watch your 1 1/2 hour match and leave at your normal time of 6pm. And still be productive while you’re at it. The only decent suggestion they have is ‘special screenings’. This makes far too much sense and I love they add this disclosure piece: “however, it should be remembered that not everyone will be interested in watching the football so people should not be made to feel excluded if they don’t want to get involved”.
It’s my one bugbear about HR. At a recent workshop by the Training Journal, one of the speakers – Jack Wills (Chair of the British Institute for Learning and Development), explained how when he has bought companies, one of the first departments he gets rid of is the HR department. Controversial? Yes. But it makes sense. If line managers were doing their job right, HR wouldn’t need to exist. It’s a thought I’ve often had about HR privately (although, obviously, publicly now).
It’s not that I don’t believe HR provide value. It does. But only because line managers have so much to do, that doing people things right is often a nice to have rather than a must do. My issue is typically when something doesn’t go right, HR will default and say “we have a policy for that”. That’s not good enough. HR needs a slap across the face and a firm kicking.
My take on what should happen is to defer to people’s best judgement. Have a framework which makes sense for the business. Promote it. Help people understand it. Encourage and incentivise to make it happen. Give the pull factor. People should never need to be pushed. Provide clear and unmistakable guidance about when things are expected to happen. Have review periods and agree timelines. That’s all basic stuff which needs to happen.
If people don’t adhere to the framework then there’s a simple recompense. Discipline them. Allow people to make sensible, grown up decisions. If they fall foul of failing to meet a deadline, be it on their head with no doubt about the consequence of this.
To keep overheads in check, I do think you need to have an L&D function of sorts, recruitment, compensation and benefits and a legal department. But you don’t need someone saying – due to adverse weather here’s our company policy. Due to global recession, here’s our policy. Due to not completing your timesheet, here’s our policy. Due to being absent from work without permission, here’s our policy. Due to not answering your email on time, here’s our policy. Managers should have the training to help them understand how to deal with each and every one of those situations.
Ultimately HR are an information provider. This is how you complete an appraisal form. This is how you report sickness and absence. This is when you are eligible for further benefits. This is what you need to do to work here. This is how you report on your workforce. This is the number of staff we have in the building today.
But those damned policies are the bane of my life. We’re in an age now where the workforce is more savvy about working life. Policies help to give people an understanding of expectations from the business. But that’s where they should stay. The workforce is intelligent enough – and has information feely available enough – to make a sensible decision. If they choose to go against the norm or transgress the rules, there’s penalties to pay (no pun intended). You cannot empower a workforce by restricting them to act according to rules and processes and policies.
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Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

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