how strictly should managers enforce company policies?

by Ask a Manager on September 7, 2010

A reader writes:

I recently started managing a department of approximately 15-20 people. I have found that there are a lot of rules and procedures in place but most are not being enforced. Obviously I’ve started to have all of these rules enforced or adjusted so what we are telling people to do matches what our written policies state.

The problem comes up regarding rules that are “company” rules but almost all departments don’t follow them. (The rules not being enforced by other departments are things such as start times, breaks, accurate time sheets. You know, stuff that there is no reason not to enforce.)

My opinion is that I can only be responsible for the departments I’m in charge of and I need to enforce the rules as written. Part of me, however, asks why is it fair to enforce rules on my department that are obviously not being enforced by other departments. When employees point the blatant inequality in enforcing these rules, what is a good response other than the one I’ve been using: “I have no control over the management of the other departments, all I can do is fairly enforce the rules as written for the people in my department.”

I don’t know enough about your business to state this definitively, but it’s quite possible that you’d be a more effective manager if you were flexible on things like start times and breaks. (Not time sheets though; those need to be accurate.)  For instance, if you have an employee who routinely works late and interrupts her weekend to handle work-related demands, do you really want to give her a hard time about being 15 minutes late? Answer: No, you probably don’t, or you’ll end up with employees who either (a) won’t give you a minute more than they’re scheduled for or (b) will leave and go somewhere that treats them like adults.

(There are some exceptions to this. There are some jobs where it’s truly crucial that people show up precisely on time. If that’s the case, you need to talk to your employees about why that is, so they understand why you’re going to be a stickler on that.)

So there are two questions here: First, the question of what policies would be most effective, and second, the question of what to do if that’s in conflict with what your company ostensibly requires. 

If you decide that the jobs you’re supervising lend themselves to focusing on what results people are getting, and being more flexible on start times or break lengths, then you have to decide whether you want to (a) simply handle things the way you prefer, despite what the policy says, which is what other department managers seem to be doing, or (b) advocate with your own management for a more formal change to those policies.

I’m a big fan of bringing stuff like this to the surface and talking explicitly about where policies seem to be out of alignment with goals or practices, so I’d go with option B, personally. In this case, you’d say to your boss, “Hey, I’ve noticed that these policies on time of arrival and breaks are pretty loosely enforced, and that’s my inclination as well, since I want to hold my people accountable for results, not whether they walked in the door a few minutes late. But since the policies are there in writing, I wanted to talk with you about how much flexibility I have in this area.”

On the other hand, if you determine that the policies are good ones and they’re policies you’d implement for your staff even if they weren’t company-wide rules, then you explain your reasons for that to your staff. But ideally you don’t want to fall back on “these are the rules and that’s the way it is.” (And if you can’t come up with compelling reasons beyond “these are the rules,” that’s a sign to go back to revisiting the value of the policies themselves.)

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{ 46 comments }

KellyK September 7, 2010 at 5:01 pm

I really like your take on this. I'd much rather see a useless or counterproductive rule go away than just be ignored. If other managers aren't enforcing these rules, it's a good indication that they need to be reconsidered.

Henning Makholm September 7, 2010 at 5:20 pm

I may be reading this wrongly, but when the OP writes: "My opinion is that I can only be responsible for the departments I'm in charge of and I need to enforce the rules as written", it seems to indicate a fundamental misunderstanding of her role as a manager.

A manager's job is not to be an enforcer-of-rules but to be a maker-of-decisions. She will (or should) be measured not on compliance with rules, but on how well her decisions help the organization succeed. As the OP describes her company culture, the decisions the company entrusts her to make obviously include the degree to which the rules are enforced. If she decides to enforce them more rather than less, that needs to be a decision that is justified in terms of contributing to the organization's success. It cannot just be a default choice.

Joey September 7, 2010 at 5:57 pm

Alison didn't touch on this but I think the responsible thing to do is enforce the rules as you understand them until you have approval to do otherwise. Poor managers ignore rules they don't like or agree with. And usually, but not always, there is a good business reason for the policy. You just may not know what that good reason is until you start asking questions.

Anonymous September 7, 2010 at 9:09 pm

"When employees point the blatant inequality in enforcing these rules, what is a good response other than the one I've been using"

I would suggest that if your employees have enough free time to pay attention to what other departments are doing, their workload needs to be adjusted. Why do they have enough free time to fret about what may be incorrect perceptions?

I've had this happen in the reverse. Why do I get this or that? The complainers never see me working through weekends or working remotely at night.

Anonymous April 30, 2013 at 10:48 pm

Wow….a clear sign of a bad manager is one who boasts about working around the clock to his/her reports. Bottom line: is the behavior of your reports producing desired results and creating a motivating culture…..of course there is always an exception to the rules…

Kat September 7, 2010 at 10:06 pm

There’s rules, like “no surfing porn at work” then there’s rules like 15 min coffee breaks. Flexibility in the workplace and not feeling like you’re micromanaged is what makes a great working enviroment. A smart manager would focus on changing the things that aren’t working, and not making a big deal about so called rules that matter less.

Anna Smith September 7, 2010 at 11:17 pm

I love you suggested to talk things over with a senior manager. I once had an issue with a 'job description vs. real world' scenario and getting my boss' perspective on things was a huge help!

Rob September 7, 2010 at 11:56 pm

I'm the one who posed this question so I'd like to clarify a few things. I like to think I'm actually a very flexible manager and I totally agree that I don't want to hold people to the "minute" or chain them to their desk. I completely agree with the idea that results are more important than enforcing rules just for the sake of "the rule".

One difference between my department and other departments is that the department I now manage is 24/7/365 running 3 shifts. All of the other departments are "business hours only" (8AM-430PM). Those departments can be more flexible because someone coming in 20 minutes later doesn't impact someone that is waiting for them to relieve them from their shift. The biggest issue is the fact that the employees who have been "following the rules" all along have routinely been paying the price for those that are not. In addition staffing levels are critical with what we do because we handle life safety signals and are mandated by UL to maintain specific staffing levels.

The main problem is that "basic" rules such as proper tracking of time sheets has not taken place. Employees were given "8 hours" regardless of exactly what time they started and what time they stopped. This is where I said employees who have been following the rules have "paid the price" (literally). I'm actually trying to make everything on the up and up again and make sure that no one is getting screwed out of what they should be earning. Of course the biggest complainers now are the ones who took advantage of the previous managers lazy ways which includes relatives of the previous manager. These employees are the ones pointing out that other departments aren't "held to the same standards". As I said I've tried to adjust rules that are outdated or could be adjusted to be more employee friendly, but others I'm not able to.

I could go on and on but hopefully this helps clarify my issues. I'm keeping the company name secret because you can see dis-functional is a nice way to describe it.

Ask a Manager September 8, 2010 at 1:07 am

Thanks for weighing back in with more details! What you described makes sense. In that case, I think you simply need to explain it that way to your staff — that your department has different staffing needs than many others because ___, and the impact of people not being vigilant about time of arrival is ___, and therefore you're going to enforce those rules.

fposte September 8, 2010 at 1:32 am

The additional information helps, but I'm also a little puzzled now–it seems that you had an answer all along to why there's an inequality between the department approaches. It sounds like you may have lacked confidence in that quite reasonable explanation and instead hung it on the book.

Is it that you didn't feel you could talk about human needs without blaming the people who ask? Because I think in general people warm more to reasons involving people than about print, and that you're not blaming and you'd get slightly less moaning if you said "In a department that works on shifts, one shift's coming in late means another shift's having to cover for them. That's not fair."

True slackers will still continue to moan, of course, and you can feel free to encourage them to transfer to a division that allows them more flexibility if that's a priority for them.

Richard September 8, 2010 at 1:53 am

Well that certainly clears a few things up.

Having worked as an employee at both shift work and standard hour jobs, maybe I can offer some insight in both areas.

When it comes to single shift jobs, the flexibility of hours usually boils down to the nature of the job, the culture of the company, and the decisions of management. In these cases, I would personally say that an objective-based work ethic with flexible hours (assuming that an employee doesn't have to be present for meetings etc.) is far more beneficial than tracking employees clock in/out times for a number of reasons:

- You'd be surprised how little someone can do when they're behind a desk. Anyone can sit behind a desk whilst doing very little work, especially with the wonders of the internet available to them. I realise that as a manager, it it your responsibility to make sure that work is getting done, however it's better not to encourage 'clock watching' in your employees, otherwise you're going to be spending an awful lot of time tracking and chasing people when you could be doing other, far less stressful tasks.
- If an employee feels like they're trusted to complete their work, they're more likely to put in a little extra effort that can make a big difference. In my case, I often put in extra (unpaid, as I was salaried) hours during the week, simply because I'd reached the end of my day, my output was flowing smoothly and I was on a roll; I wanted to make as much progress as I could whilst I was in 'the zone'. If I had managers on my back for coming in at 10 in the morning instead of the usual 9, I would be far less likely to put in this extra effort, whether I was 'in the zone', or not.
- People have different sleep patterns, and routes to work: I personally hate getting up at 7:30, then battling through traffic whilst tired and cranky, then spending the first hour or so dosing up on coffee and waking up. On the other hand, by getting up at 8:30, I feel more rested, less stressed, can avoid the traffic, get in for 10, and get on with my work. Other employees are early birds, and would much rather get in for 6am and leave three hours earlier. As long as both employees are doing the work and are present for all appropriate meetings, why not allow them to hold a work schedule that works best for them?
- In regards to breaks; set break times just means that an employee may feel compelled to break their workflow when they're not comfortable. Allow your employees to take breaks when they feel like they need one, and allow them to do so. Keep your employees based on whether they're completing their tasks, rather than if they're taking a few extra breaks; sometimes employees need a break from the screen, with a mug of coffee to ponder their task, or to discuss it with their peers. Many times I've left the office and had an epiphany whilst sitting on the sofas in the coffee area holding a mug of coffee.

If you're planning on doing this, make sure you have a method of progress tracking, like weekly meetings and such, since there will always be some employees who abuse the freedom given to them, and will end up being dead weight in your department.

Richard September 8, 2010 at 1:56 am

Whoops, broke the character limit, bear with me!:

On the other hand, when it comes to shift based work, where the inability of one employee to manage their time well directly affects the other employees in the department, I would say that tracking employee clock in/out times is important; to not encourage good time keeping lowers the morale of your good employees, and just bolsters the habits of those who see no problem with getting into work 15 minutes late and taking regular smoke and coffee breaks. You need to be fairly strict in these cases, but always be clear. You need a set system for handling these people, for two reasons;

1. Having a set method for handling problem employees means that they can recognise when they are being punished, and other employees can see that you are handling the problem.
2. For legal reasons, as a dismissed employee that has been through the set process cannot claim to have been unfairly dismissed for personal/ethnic/whatever reasons, as all employees are treated the same way.

I would perhaps suggest the following process:

1. If an employee isn't coming in on time, first of all, log every time it happens; if an employee comes back late rand claims that they were dismissed unfairly, having documentation at hand will only help you. You can either note this down manually (not ideal), or get records from other areas of the company, such as their login times on their computers or phones.
2. Once you feel you have enough of a pattern building up, take them aside and make them aware that you have noticed this, and that they need to make more effort to be in on time; and that when they don't come in on time, either it means that another employee feels the need to cover for them, or that the other guys on their shift are short-staffed, and that you need to make sure that the needs of the team as a whole are met. Give them a month to improve their timekeeping.
3. If they don't improve (and seriously, who can't make sure that they leave for work 20 minutes earlier inside a month?), I'm sure that your company has a disciplinary system in place, and you need to start taking advantage of that, and not keeping hold employees who continue to abuse the system.

Once you have a plan on how to treat problem employees, it may be worth passing it through HR in order to ensure that it is seen as fair, enforceable, and will cause no legal issues further down the line. Basically, you need to make sure that your company is aware of how you're planning to treat your employees, and that they support you in your actions. It would be fairly embarrassing to sack an employee and have them come back further down the line, only to find that the company is unwilling to support you and your management methods.

I'm hoping that people have some opinions regarding these ideas! I'm no manager, but it would interest me to know what managers think about my comments.

Ask a Manager September 8, 2010 at 2:11 am

Richard, I was surprised at the end to read that you're not a manager, because you certainly sound like you've had experience managing.

I think you are absolutely right in what you wrote. The only thing I'd differ on, and it's minor, is that I'd probably be more aggressive/move more quickly in dealing with problems when/if they arise — would address it after it had happened more than once, and probably wouldn't give them an entire month to pull it together after being warned. But that's just me; I tend to want to see immediate evidence of improvement after a warning. Because I am a hard-ass.

Rob September 8, 2010 at 2:59 am

fposte, after reading my post I understand why you would think I "had an answer all along". Let me clarify that the other departments do allow for more flexibility but some of the managers in those departments do not enforce rules any better than my department's previous manager. People are constantly not getting projects done, customer calls are not returned, etc. and really there are no ramifications. This lead to my original question (which I sort of lost track of in my update) about why should I expect the people in my department to live up to a certain standard when there is no ramification for other employees in other departments to live up to their expectations.

I know the perfect answer is all the other managers would be great managers and do as we'd expect but the reality is even if you do everything you can to be fair to the employees and fair to the company there are always going to be people who are "gaming the system". This is often most obvious to other employees long before it is obvious to a manager who is too distracted, not very good at managing, or plain lazy.

How do you respond to employees who raise a valid point about inequity between departments for no reason other than the other department's management chooses to either ignore, or is too lazy, to address the same issues that I would bring to my employee's attention.

Does this inequity also open myself or the company up for a disgruntled employee claiming that they were unfairly addressed for something that others are clearly getting away with?

Ask a Manager September 8, 2010 at 3:04 am

I think the answer here is that you need to figure out what policies and practices are best for your department and why, and then lay out those expectations and reasons for your employees. Let them know that you understand it hasn't always been done this way, and that expectations may be different elsewhere in the company, but this is how it will be done in your department.

If other depts don't have the same business needs as you, their practices are irrelevant anyway. And if an employee gives you a hard time about that, they are welcome to leave.

On the question of whether differing treatment has legal ramifications, it doesn't sound like it's even relevant here because your dept has different needs. But regardless, "disparate treatment" lawsuits arise from employees in similar classes being treated differently because of their race, gender, religion, etc. But you're allowed to treat different classes of employees differently (different department, different level of seniority, different type of job, different manager, etc.). (Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer.)

Kelly September 8, 2010 at 4:12 am

All businesses have policies and rules for a reason – to ensure that their employees are as productive as possible. Most businesses try to keep the rulebook up to date as much as possible to keep the good policies, add new ones, and get rid of the ones that are no longer needed. Perhaps the OP's workplace hasn't updated their employee guide recently and some of the policies that are still in the book no longer make sense for some of their peers. So as a result, they ignore these rules.

I've worked in retail workplaces. In one, the handbook was adhered to the letter. It was updated every year and everyone got a new copy that they had read and sign. The other workplace had a handbook, but there was a informal set of verbal guidelines that were more adhered to than the handbook. It wasn't a pleasant workplace because you never knew what guide to follow – the written handbook or the informal verbal guidelines, which at times directly contradicted the handbook.

Edwin Kiama September 8, 2010 at 9:33 am

A department head should be a leader. It should be their duty to evaluate the rules in place and either adjust tasks to staff to fit within the rules, or adjust the rules flexibility so long as the tasks are being accomplished. Consulting the policy makers and advicing them on what rule adjustments need to be made and how effective/ineffective the existing rules are should be part of ones JD. If management doesn't appreciate advice then either go with the flow to keep your job and continue being misserable or quit and look for a more condusive working environment.

Karen F. September 8, 2010 at 2:44 pm

Great post, Alison!

It does drive me crazy when I hear about policies not being enforced or only enforced to a handful of employees while the rest skirt away without consequence. Before they are even implemented office policies should be tested across many different scenarios…I know we can't possibly identify all the exceptions at one sitting, but it helps to know that they were developed with not just a sense of purpose but to unify and motivate the entire team…and not just benefit or inconvenience the few.

Karen, The Resume Chick (on Google or Twitter for questions, comments or violent reactions)

Susan September 8, 2010 at 3:33 pm

I think some of what it comes down to is motivation–how does a leader motivate her staff, and how does a person find motivation to do a job? I just finished reading Daniel Pink's book, "Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us." He writes about how people need three things: autonomy, mastery, and a sense of purpose. And he includes lots of case studies and examples from the business world–it's a fun read, and I recommend it.

Anonymous September 8, 2010 at 3:36 pm

Hey Rob-
keep up the good fight. I am responsible for a 24/7/365 group in a much larger 9-5 organization. Our group provides a critical function, and drifting in 15 minutes later does affect everybody else on shift, and external customers, and possibly the whole geographic region. I am having the same battles you are re punctuality. I have made many suggestions to upper management on how to fix this, but it isn't being addressed yet. I think they have a plan, but are waiting until the next contract negotiations to implement it.

One thing I did is to make it clear that if a person is more than 15 minutes late, they have to cover it with vac or sick leave. This didn't require negotiations, because it wasn't a change in policy.

And, it should go without saying, that you are either always on time or use vac/sick leave to cover.

Jamie September 8, 2010 at 4:56 pm

I think it's great that you're looking at the policies and how they affect your staff. Too many people either follow blindly or ignore because everyone else does.

I am in favor of advocating for policy change when needed rather than disregarding. I'm somewhat of a stickler for the rules and it's a slippery slope when you choose what you will and won't enforce.

I write IT policy for my company and if I put something in place that people take issue with I am always willing to discuss that, and I've made changes in the past based on others bringing up valid points I didn't see initially. What drives me crazy is when someone has a valid point and could have gotten the policy changed, but doesn't bother. Just decided to follow the rules which make sense.

That's the slippery slope that makes managers want to go all draconian.

Jamie September 8, 2010 at 5:08 pm

I was thinking about the points being made about tracking time for non-shift, salaried employees.

I firmly believe in an ideal world we should all be treated as grown-ups and not have our time micromanaged. But unlike shift work where there is a direct cause/effect (my husband is a police officer and if the person relieving him is 15 minutes late they need to pay my husband the comp time because he's on the clock until relieved) but there is a subtle danger to being too lax with salaried employees as well.

If you have a lenient policy about start/end times you will often have a couple of people abusing this. 15 minutes late a couple of days per week, leaving early other days…some offices have people who rarely work a full forty.

I personally think if you consistently work less than 40 hours your co-workers are picking up your slack (which breeds resentment whether or not they complain officially).

The argument I've heard is it's what is done and not the hours that matter…but my opinion is if a job can be consistantly completed in less than 40 hours per week it's not a full time job. It should be restructured so either it's a part time slot with a requisite cut in pay/benefits or tasks added so there is a full week worth of work to do.

I know it's not a popular opinion, but a lot of companies are running lean now – and there is resentment when some can complete their tasks in 35 hours and some of us are never done despite 50-55 hour weeks – but everyone gets full time pay.

Richard September 8, 2010 at 7:06 pm

Alison:
I shall take that as a compliment, as the only experience I've had in management is with group project work in university, although I do seem to have a flair for getting previously failing groups working, and I've even had to deal with the event and drama of one of my group getting pregnant by another group member! It's been challenging, but I've thoroughly enjoyed it, and I'm definitely interested in management in the future!

My advice stemmed from my background; I'm only 24, and have been studying for the past few years. Previously I've worked shift-based work before as a technical support operative in two different companies, who differed greatly in the way that they organised their employee tasks and how they treated and respected their employees. More recently I completed a 14 month internship in industry at a larger company with flexible hours and far more freedom given to me as to how to do my job, and did very well.

In a year, I'll be an IT graduate, and I do hope to climb the ladder once I'm out; you may find me emailing in my own questions on how to best advance some time around then!

KellyK September 8, 2010 at 8:15 pm

@Jamie, you have a good point, though I don't think work can only be measured in hours.

If someone is working 35 hours a week while their coworkers are putting in 50-55, that's probably a problem. It might be that the person working 35 hours slacking, but it might also be that overworked coworkers are prioritizing badly, working inefficiently, or not asking for help when they need it. It could also be that a manager who doesn't have a realistic idea of how long tasks take is giving some people too much work and others not enough.

In some situations, it definitely makes sense to rebalance tasks to even things out and assign more work to people who are getting done early, but in others it might not. If someone were getting done in 35 hours what it takes most people 45 to do, giving them more would just punish them for being efficient.

Different job roles come into play too. It may not be fair that I'm not especially busy at the moment while my programmer coworkers are working frantically to complete a prototype, but it's not as though I can jump in and help with their tasks.

I suppose that was a really long comment to say that I agree that if someone is taking it easy while their coworkers are scrambling, they should pitch in if they're qualified to do so. But it's not always that clear-cut.

Ask a Manager September 8, 2010 at 8:26 pm

I think that's right. Also, some people are just way faster than average. I've seen some people who are able to do a full-time job in 30-35 hours a week because they are super fast — and/or eat lunch at their desk, don't shift their focus away from work at all, etc. Some people are just really, really fast, and I don't like the thought of penalizing them by increasing their workload.

Jamie September 8, 2010 at 8:39 pm

I totally agree, Kelly, that competence shouldn't be punished – if there's 40 hours worth of work by standard measure and someone can do it in 35 – great…that means they are capable and smart enough to be moving up.

I wasn't specific in making my point – I was referring to people to truly have responsibilities that most could accomplish with part time hours.

When this happens because tasks get eliminated from their positions due to lack of competency and other people are officially picking up the slack the position has been effectively restructured – but without any change in pay or status.

So, when others have to stay to get everything done including what used to be someone else's responsibility – it grates.

I've just seen this more than once where 99% deserve and work beautifully with somewhat flexible hours…and the few that abuse it create problems in the work place which makes me long for solid start/end times.

Kimberlee Stiens September 8, 2010 at 8:47 pm

I have to say I disagree with AAM's answer.

I work as a supervisor at a fast food place, and we have major compliance problems. I mean, MAJOR. And its because the store has been run for years in such a way that it didn't matter; employees faked following the rules when we were getting audited and ignored them all the other times.

But we've failed two audits in a row now, and the next one we fail will involve the entire store being fired. To me, that's a big deal. But its apparently not to our other supervisors and general manager, because they run the store in the same way its always been run.

Passing an audit isn't hard if you're following all the rules all the time. And the rules at my workplace (and I suspect yours) are NOT hard to follow, they just seem hard because nobody has ever been expected to do it! I mean, is it that hard to come back from a break on time? Is it that hard to show up for work on time? No, but people are pissed off because, as OP said, they've had lazy managers in the past.

I think that if there is a policy in writing, it needs to be followed, to the letter, all the time. Otherwise, what's the point? I agree with AAM that if a policy is not working, it should be changed, but having different sets of rules based on who happens to be supervising at the time creates a hostile atmosphere; employees don't know what to do, and may find themselves in a situation where they get yelled at for following a rule by one supervisor when another one will yell at them for not following it.

People will try to get away with pretty much anything, and will be reistant to change that allows them to get away with less. When our policies changed when we had new owners, I was literally threatening to fire people for not tucking in their shirts. I don't care about tucking in shirts, but the owners made policies about appearance that are very clear and, yes, I believe part of management's job is to enforce those policies, not make up new ones based on inconvenience. But because it hadn't really been expected before, my employees were just pitching fits about it, and to this day, even though I've issued write-ups, there are still people who show up with their shirts untucked. I say stick to your guns, and tell people that unless they have a compelling reason explained ahead of time, they need to show up for work on time, take the prescribed breaks, and if they don't like it they can find a more "flexible" job.

Kimberlee Stiens September 8, 2010 at 8:53 pm

I wrote a much longer comment that my browser decided to destroy, so we'll cut it short:

I disagree with AAM and those who say its not a manager's job to enforce policy.

1. The rules are there for a reason, and need to be followed. If there is a compelling reason they shouldn't be followed, it should be brought up to those who are in charge of creating the rule.

2. Employees do not like following policies that they haven't been forced to follow in the past. That doesn't mean those policies are bad policies or need to be changed. It means that you need to step up and tell them that showing up for work and coming back from breaks on time is NOT hard, its expected from pretty much every other job in the world, and they need to suck it up or leave. Simple.

And I would consider talking to the managers of the other departments. From personal experience I know how it is almost impossible to properly enforce policies when other managers don't. But ultimately, that comes down to THEM not doing their jobs. Your employees are right, its not fair that other shifts get to show up late and go for long breaks or whatever. Everyone should have the same expectations, and those need to be exactly what is stated in the policies.

Kimberlee Stiens September 8, 2010 at 9:08 pm

It posted both comments. My bad. :(

Richard September 8, 2010 at 9:35 pm

One thing you said in your post struck me, Kimberlee:

"I agree with AAM that if a policy is not working, it should be changed, but having different sets of rules based on who happens to be supervising at the time creates a hostile atmosphere; employees don't know what to do, and may find themselves in a situation where they get yelled at for following a rule by one supervisor when another one will yell at them for not following it."

If this is occurring, it's a major failure on the part of management. Policy, by definition, should be the official line or rule of the establishment: The rules that everyone has to follow, and that everyone in management should be enforcing.

Changing policy doesn't mean that one person starts enforcing new rules they've come up with; they're possibly quite sensible, good ideas, that could lead to improved service for your customers, appeal to the head office, and (I would hope) improve the environment for the team, but changes like this can't just be implemented without consulting with other members of management and have everyone agree to enforce them, otherwise you end up with everyone singing from different song sheets, employees becoming confused as to which rules are the ones that they are actually required to follow, and eventually you'll get into a situation where employees will figure out which managers/supervisors are a soft touch, and which they need to behave around.

If your supervisor/management colleagues aren't willing to enforce the new policy after agreeing on it, I'm afraid that your problem doesn't lie with your employees. If your employees honestly are the cause of all your audit woes, why did you hire them? And most importantly, why are you keeping them around if they're about to cause other people to lose their jobs?

Kimberlee Stiens September 8, 2010 at 9:43 pm

Sorry, I didn't mean to imply that employees are causing the problems. I mean, they're definitely causing some of them, but you're right, the root cause is management. Employees refuse to follow certain policies because the 5 other supervisors don't require them to, the manager doesn't care, and then I become the bad guy for being draconian, and I still can't get enforcement because the enforcement mechanisms I have at my disposal aren't nearly enough to counteract six other managers who don't seem to care that the exact (and I mean EXACT) rules I'm trying to enforce are the things we failed our last audits for.

I don't necessarily blame the employees, because if you worked 10 years under a certain set of rules and then someone tried to enforce another set of rules (which these employees all know about, we have extensive training) all of a sudden, you'd be loathe to follow them. But on the other hand, I should NOT have to tell the same person three times per shift to tuck in their shirt. There are very simple things that I've told one person to do at least five times over the course of several shifts, and they STILL refuse to do it right. And there's nothing else to do, since my manager tells me to "pick my battles" despite the fact that their job is on the line too, and its THEIR job to enforce the policies of the owners. Ugh.

Richard September 8, 2010 at 10:09 pm

If you can't convince other managers to meet the basic requirements to pass an audit, then I hope you're looking for another similar level job (I notice that you're a graduate in a poor economy, I look forward to joining you in a year!), because it doesn't sound hopeful!

That said, let's explore some options.

You could try talking to your employees and explain to them the consequences of them not following the rules. If the threat of them ALL losing their jobs to an audit can't make them pull their socks up, I'm not sure what will. I would do this after speaking to your manager and getting their approval first though; it's one thing to take initiative, but doing it without the support of the person above you. It would be best coming from them in this meeting, in fact, seeing as they're meant to be the person running the place.

That said, one thing that might be worth trying is to express your concerns to your district manager; explain that you recognise the areas in which the store scored low on in the previous audit, and that you're trying to enforce policy to improve things, but you're having trouble gaining support from your fellow team supervisors and managers to do so. It's possible that they'll totally ignore you, because you've skipped rank over your manager, and gone straight to them, but if they plan on having a clearout on the staff anyway, I can't see there being much risk in taking this approach aside from the risk of disappointment.

Ask a Manager September 8, 2010 at 10:40 pm

Kimberlee, I think your managers are the problem here. They've put you in an impossible position by expecting you to manage people without having the authority to impose consequences. Management without authority is pretty meaningless — you've got to be able to impose consequences. So your managers are kind of screwing you over here.

I agree with Richard that your last-ditch attempt might be to go over their heads …. although I've got to think that the regional manager must know about your store having repeatedly failed these audits, and the fact that they're not being more hands-on says to me that the problems probably come from the top.

Kimberlee Stiens September 8, 2010 at 11:17 pm

Wow, thanks for the advice! I feel bad about having hijacked this question a little, but I guess I'll take it where I can get it!

I think the first step is to have a serious talk with my manager. I don't hold much hope, though, because I did that with my last manager and while she completely agreed at the time (and let me spend my own time to create a huge new compliance initiative), when the time came to actually enforce things she came up with the "pick your battles" line. But this new manager is much better than the old. If she still won't change how things are happening, you guys are right… I'll go to the district manager. She might not like it, but as you said, the options are thin.

Richard September 9, 2010 at 12:06 am

She tasked you to create a huge new compliance initiative? I think that you got played there, especially with the 'pick your battles' line. If a manager thinks that a member of lower management is getting what they may consider ideas that are 'above their post', especially with the level of cynicism often given to graduates who are fresh out of the educational system, there are several options available to them:
- If this person is not making a particularly good point, then it needs to be explained to them as to why it's not viable.
- If they do have an excellent point, it's something that needs to be brought up in whatever meetings management have to discuss site policies.
- If, as a manager, you're a total wimp, an ass, or resistant to new ideas, and someone who would rather waste everybody's time instead of addressing the point, you get the employee to perform some kind of task that makes them THINK that their point got across. It could be a draft of a new policy, document, marketing strategy, or whatever. It's primary purpose, however, is to keep that employee occupied, boost their ego a bit and keep them happy for a while, and of course to stop them from bothering you for a few shifts. If they bring whatever document before you, however, you tell them that you will look over it when you have the time, let it sit on your desk for a few days, then have it quietly disappear.

Feel free to call me cynical, but I've seen bad managers do this before to good people, in two different lines of work, and it's a real shame. The job of a manager is to manage your team, not to keep them occupied with fluff.

Good luck with your new manager/DM, anyway!

Kimberlee Stiens September 9, 2010 at 12:17 am

To clarify: She didn't task me with creating the new initiative. I WANTED to, and it was my idea, because I wanted the stuff to get enforced. I talked with her about it beforehand because I didn't want to go through the work of creating the initiative if she was going to continue to do nothing. I explained that there were two ways we could go: Continue to do things the way we are now, the way that is threatening our jobs and causing us to lose audits. Or we can start enforcing everything, and I mean everything, and create a culture of compliance where we could be sure we wouldn't fail a random inspection because we would be in compliance at all times. She completely agreed at the time, and told me to go ahead. THEN, after it was created, she started talking about picking battles. Ugh!

Rob September 9, 2010 at 4:44 am

First I want to thank everyone for all the comments my original question has generated. I've read through them all a few times and have heard many great thoughts that will definitely help me.

I'd like to address a few of the things I've read.

Kimberlee it sounds like we have many of the same problems. I absolutely feel that some of the rules I'm trying to enforce are not HARD rules as you said, the issue is they simply have not been enforced for so long that people don't understand "what the big deal is". Unfortunately for them I have reviewed them and feel there is a legitimate reason why they must be enforced. I also agree with what you said about feeling that my position is to enforce rules that sometimes I don't fully agree with or that I don't find to be of major concern but they are of major concern to the owners of my company. Dress code is one of those items that I don't feel is extremely critical as long as people are dressed in a "decent/ professional" manner but you'd be amazed at what some people consider "appropriate". Again not a "hard" rule but people will push these just to test you to see if you will address it and I feel like I have to because in our ownership's opinion this is an important issue.

In regards to your comment about talking to the other managers I've been down that road and most will agree with me regarding various rules that are not being enforced and the reasons why we all need to be consistent. What I have found is after our talk I'll notice more enforcement of these rules in their departments but within a short time they have let it slip again and we are back to where we are. Unfortunately our owners are not very "forceful" and they will agree with me that the rules are not being enforced consistently by other managers but they will not "lay down the law" to these other managers.

In regards to Kelly's comments our company does have an employee manual that everyone is provided when they start working but this manual has not been updated since I started at the company 13 years ago! This is why the written policy and the true policy are often two different things. I have started to address this in my department by updating our department policy and procedures book while trying to not blatantly contradict the company employee manual which is a difficult task sometimes. I've also been pushing our owners to invest some time in updating the employee manual but so far it hasn't gotten much further than "yeah we should do that".

I'd also like to say that sometimes I feel like I'm coming across as a draconian manager with all this talk about "enforcing rules" but Karen F made the perfect comment. I feel like I'm trying to be fair to all and a lot of the rules as they stand now were blatantly favoring a select few at the detriment of others who I believe silently followed the rules to the best of their ability but quietly were upset by the favoritism.

Thanks again for all the insight everyone has offered.

KellyK September 9, 2010 at 1:04 pm

Jamie, thanks for clarifying! If someone's tasks are being reduced because they do them badly, they should definitely either get different tasks that they can do, go to part-time status, or maybe even be replaced with someone who can do all the tasks of the original job well.

Anonymous September 9, 2010 at 6:23 pm

We're wasting all this space to debate the intricacies of an $11 Burger King management position???

Kimberlee Stiens September 10, 2010 at 4:17 am

"We're wasting all this space to debate the intricacies of an $11 Burger King management position???"

First, this is the Internet. Its not like space is limited.

Second, you think just because people make lower wages they don't deserve to be in a good job with competant managers? If anything, the terrible wages and INCREDIBLY stressful work environment warrant an INCREASED attention to the quality of management.

And I don't even make $11 an hour. I make a paltry $9.40, in a management position. But I do appreciate your looking down on me and my compatriots. Life must be wonderful from your salaried throne where people deserve to be treated well.

Ask a Manager September 10, 2010 at 4:19 am

"If anything, the terrible wages and INCREDIBLY stressful work environment warrant an INCREASED attention to the quality of management."

Right on.

It's work. There are people there doing jobs. They have managers. (Managers who in this case are not doing their jobs.) It's exactly what we're here to talk about.

Anonymous September 10, 2010 at 3:00 pm

Wow – I'm in a salaried, career-level position and I'd MUCH rather have Kimberlee as a manager than the Anonymous poster a few entries up.

I'll take someone who considers it important to do a good job regardless of how glamorous or high-paying the position is any day over someone who judges others based on how much they make an hour…

Jamie September 10, 2010 at 3:04 pm

AAM I am glad you responded the way you did to the above comment, I completely agree.

Regardless of the salary or industry management problems are pretty universal – as this blog shows on a daily basis.

Kimberlee – I think the fact that you're seeking out management advice to protect the lower skilled workers in your employ is really honorable, and clearly shows an ambition to be a great manager that will serve you well wherever your career path takes you.

I work with people who make ridiculous amounts of money who don't have half the drive to improve their jobs or advocate for the people who report to them – I wish we had more people like you here.

Kimberlee Stiens September 10, 2010 at 4:48 pm

Awww… Thanks guys! And let me tell you, if more of the people I worked with read this blog, I'd be in SUCH a better workplace. Thanks to you, AAM!

Richard September 10, 2010 at 9:58 pm

Agreeing with the other posts; if I work with somebody with half you drive when I graduate, I'll consider myself lucky :)

Matt J January 1, 2011 at 10:03 am

A little late to the party, I only saw this on the year end review, but I have to say I fully understand Kimberlee’s situation. My wife was a manager at a quick service restaurant (this was not a fast food restaurant, there is a difference) for over a year. She followed the rules and expected her workers to do the same. Other managers did not. It created a lot of stress for her. She finally took a non management position at a different restaurant in the chain to get away from that place. A month and a half later HQ did the yearly review and told the owner/operator that if it was them they would fire the whole of the management staff because they did not enforce the rules.

As to the rule about tucking in shirts. I would be a real pain to the employees. First time, warning. Second time, sent home for the day. Third time, fired. (Actually had a position with a company that was very hard nosed about clothing, if you showed up in a non company shirt, you could buy a new shirt or go home because we had employees that though wearing beer shirts or sexually suggestive shirts represented our company well) But it sounds like Kimberlee’s bosses did not give her authority to fire or really even discipline. So employees would not listen because there was no consequence for not listening. As for the threat about corporate cleaning house, your workers do not care because with the turnover in most fast food restaurants they are gambling they will not be there by the time that the next audit comes. You cannot change those employees without having authority to bring consequences.

Kimberlee, my suggestion is to start job searching. See if you can find a restaurant that you like, sit in the lobby and watch to see how it operates and talk to the manager or the owner/ operator about a position.

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