should managers enforce minor policies?

A reader writes:

As a manager, I know how to handle big performance issues; people need to be warned, given time to improve, and then either shape up or ship out. I’m wondering, though, about less severe issues and how to properly handle them.

One of my biggest day-to-day headaches are the minor transgressions, those behaviors that technically violate policy or slightly inconvenience employees, but are far from a fireable offense. For example, our company doesn’t allow sneakers as part of the dress code. We have an employee who walks to work, so he wears sneakers to come in and keeps a pair of appropriate shoes at his desk. This would be fine, but he often forgets to change and will spend the majority of the day violating the dress code. Generally he forgets because he jumps right in and focuses on something more important: his job! I don’t feel like I can sit this guy down and tell him that he’s violated our shoe policy and he’ll need to remember to change or he’ll be fired. That just seems silly.

Another example is an employee who doesn’t check our message board and won’t set up email reminders. She doesn’t want the email clutter, but also doesn’t want to take the time out of her schedule to check in for important messages every now and then. So if we need something like a health insurance form filled out, I need to hunt her down to get it completed. Obviously this example DOES affect my job, but am I to threaten the job of one of our top performers over it?

These ARE policies and requirements we’ve set though, and I don’t want to give the impression that our policies (small or large) can be violated without consequence. There are many examples of minor transgressions at the office. Each one adds up to drain more of my time/energy, and I do see signs of other employees following suit. Without consequences, there is no motivation to change.

First, find out why someone isn’t following a policy. There might be a reason that you don’t know about, and that might change your stance.

Second, ask yourself why the policy is important. If the answer is “it’s just our rule,” then it’s probably the policy needs to change, not the employees. And it really is crucial to ensure that you don’t have unnecessarily rigid policies – because you want a culture that stresses results over bureaucracy, and if you don’t provide that type of culture, high-performing employees will eventually leave.

But if there’s a good reason for the policy, then you need to explain that reason to the repeat-violator. If it’s truly a legitimate reason, a great employee is going to understand that.

It’s very rare to find stellar employees who absolutely refuse to follow sensible policies when the reasons for those policies are explained to them. If you do encounter an employee like that, I’d say to take a closer look at them. That kind of behavior usually signals arrogance and entitlement that poses problems in more substantive areas too – and that would be your real problem, much more than someone wearing tennis shoes.

{ 66 comments… read them below }

  1. Harry*

    Minor violations, do a quicky email to remind them. If they continue, make the reminder a bit more stern indicating when the last time you reminded him and that hope this is the last time you have to remind them. It may seem minor but if another employee has another violation, they will point out about Mr. Sneakers then you will be in a bind.

  2. Anon*

    Wait a minute, there’s a huge middle ground between not pointing something out and threatening their job. Not everything needs to be explicitly backed up with the nuclear option, or even with an explicit consequence at all. If you haven’t addressed this before, just say “Hey, Dave, you need to switch into your tennis shoes; it’s in the dress code.” Or make the consequences something natural and reasonable like: “Jane, if you miss one more of these deadlines I’m signing you up for the e-mail alerts against your will.”

    If these employees are really that competent, they’ll get on board. (And really, who doesn’t have at least one blind spot they need their manager to point out?) If they’re not, then you can start escalating things slowly. But none of this needs to start out by sitting them down and saying “If you don’t remember to change into appropriate shoes, we need to start reevaluating your future at this company.”

    1. KellyK*

      Really good points. A simple, low-key reminder should be good for most of this stuff, particularly the first time.

    2. Anon*

      Oh, and also, whatever you do, do not make the first reminder a big formal meeting with a whole speech about how unacceptable it is and formal, laid out consequences. All that will do is demonstrate your incapable of distinguishing between a minor issue and a major one, or else that you’re incapable of treating your employees like reasonable adults. (If they demonstrate they’re not capable of acting on casual corrections and acting like reasonable adults, that’s a different issue.)

      1. Victoria*

        … and don’t be all stressed out and apologetic about the first reminder – it will make it seem like a much bigger deal than it is.

    3. KayDay*

      Yep, that’s what I was thinking. Firing someone who forgets to change into their dress code appropriate shoes (assuming no safety issue) would be really extreme, but there is no harm very casually reminding the guy, “hey, Bob, it looks like you forgot to change your shoes!” while in general commending him on his hard work. You might have to remind him a couple of times, but he’ll probably be a little embarrassed and start remembering soon enough.

      1. Jamie*

        I agree. If it happens enough just looking at his feet will prompt him and you wouldn’t have to say anything.

        I do firmly believe with those who said policy needs to make sense – I prefer limit policy to the deal-breakers and “best practices” for more minor stuff.

        As far as the OP – imo I get why the shoe thing seems inconsequential, because it is (unless there is a reason it matters at your work) but the other thing would actually really annoy me.

        If you don’t want to use common tools to track your schedule, fine. Keep your information on post-its, stone tablets, or write dates on your band-aids for all I care – but your handcrafted method had better work.

        Because I know Outlook works. I know the company calendar works for tracking meetings. If you want to go off the tried and true be my guest, but the second it causes inconvenience to other people just trying to do their jobs it shouldn’t be optional anymore.

        1. Bridgette*

          I totally get where you are coming from with the calendar thing. My department used to use a web-based calendar for keeping track of departmental dates (like big meetings, people out on sick or vacation), despite having Outlook. When our new boss arrived, he said we’re doing away with the web calendar and using Outlook only – because it makes sense to use one tool. One of our admin assistants threw a fit because she was in charge of the web calendar and she’s really territorial. The rest of us transitioned nicely to the Outlook calendar but she continues to use the web calendar. No one ever checks it and she complains about it, or she puts important things on there and we miss it. Mgmt hasn’t done anything because they don’t like confrontation. Because she’s territorial. Sigh.

    4. OP*

      Oh goodness, no. I certainly wouldn’t start out with that kind of discussion, and especially not in public! I don’t think I could go that far with just the dress code either. I think for that issue, Alison’s point about employees understanding the policies really hit the nail on the head. While we communicated intent (a professional look for the office), a lot of employees didn’t feel like that needed to apply to their jobs when there weren’t any outside people in the office. We’ve since moved to a more laid-back policy on days when only employees are in, with a more professional look when visitors come by. This is working much better, since everyone can understand that need.

      I really like your idea for the e-mail alerts. I would probably also add in “unless you have a better idea for resolving this issue that we can implement.” Then there will be input from the employee, but I’ll have given fair warning for setting up the alert and not have to chase people down quite as often.

    5. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Whoa, Anon, what are you responding to that said people should be fired for little stuff like this? I don’t think anyone is arguing that.

      1. Anon*

        I was responding to these sentences:

        “Obviously this example DOES affect my job, but am I to threaten the job of one of our top performers over it?”

        “I don’t feel like I can sit this guy down and tell him that he’s violated our shoe policy and he’ll need to remember to change or he’ll be fired.”

        I know the OP wasn’t suggesting that she’d literally fire someone without a warning, but I read that to mean she was drawing (consciously or unconsciously) a dichotomy in her head that said either she left it unaddressed or she addressed it in a “this is a job-threatening problem” way.

        Of course, it’s true that any time your employer corrects you on something, it has the weight of the fact that they could fire you behind it, so the framing is technically correct, but not helpful, I don’t think.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Oh, I see. I think that was actually her point — that she didn’t think that was a reasonable response and was wondering what other options she had.

  3. Jesse*

    These are perfect issues to bring up at performance reviews. Every semester my work evaluate employees at week 10. An issue like shoes might be mentioned in passing in weeks 1-9, but at week 10 its “We’ve talked about wearing tennis shoes instead of dress shoes, and I notice that you forget to change them when you get the work. Because this is an issue I addressed with previously, I had to give you a three out of five. I’m sure that on your next evaluation this issue will be taken care of and that you’ll get a 5 in this area.”

    For our high performance employees it is taken care of the next week. I try to informally follow-up, and will say “I see that you’ve been conscious about wearing dress shoes. I really appreciate the effort you’re making.”

    1. Emily*

      I love everything about this. It’s not a surprise at the eval, but it’s tied to consequences at the eval, and the employee gets immediate positive feedback for correction. It’s so important for managers to be clear when they give corrections that they’re addressing behavior/performance issues in order to help the employee be more successful in the role, rather than the employee being left feeling they can’t do anything right and their boss is looking with a fine tooth comb to catch all their mistakes. Noticing and remarking on a visible effort to improve, even after only a short time, can reassure the employee that you want them to succeed and are watching for their successes as well as their errors.

  4. Joey*

    I think it’s important to point out that even if you think a rule or policy is pointless and needs to be changed that’s not a license to overlook it. The proper thing to do is to enforce it until you know you have the authority to do otherwise.

  5. KellyK*

    I agree 100% with the idea that if you can’t explain why it’s necessary, it’s a policy that needs to change. (It may not be within your power to change it, though.)

    For the shoes, I don’t see a reason to do anything more than remind him to change his shoes when you see him in sneakers. You know he has appropriate shoes and he forgets because he jumps right into work, so pointing it out and asking him to change as soon as possible should do the trick. Being reminded a couple times might also help him remember to change first thing.

    For the email reminders, I would address the issues that it’s causing. Tell her that when something has to be completed by a deadline, like the health insurance form, it’s her job to find out about it via either the message board or email reminders and to get it done on time, and that you having to track her down and remind her is not acceptable. From your point of view, it doesn’t matter whether she checks the board, uses the reminders, does both, or writes stuff on her hand, as long as you get what you need when you need it.

    If she’s having problems with the specifics of getting that info, then you can recommend solutions. For example, if email clutter is a problem, she might be able to use folders or filters to better organize her email. But I’d really only get into solutions if she asks for help with it.

  6. Natalie*

    If you really think someone is just forgetting something, a low-key reminder when you notice it should suffice – “hey, Joe, you forgot to change your shoes.”

    For behavior that is affecting your job, I would focus on the problematic results of the behavior unless the employee asks you for suggestions. An example – when I started my first professional job, one of my managers used to repeatedly suggest that I needed a notebook, eventually making a huge deal of it in my first performance review. At no point did she explain *why* she thought I needed the notebook – was I missing deadlines? Did she expect me to write down every phone call? Did she want to check up on my to-do lists? I still have no idea.

  7. EngineerGirl*

    You do have performance issues. Each incident by itself is nothing, but there is a PATTERN of non-compliance. That is your conversation with them. Certainly it is worth while to give a comment the first few times, but after a pattern is established there needs to be another conversation. It is about things the employee can do to come into complicance. You need to find out why the employee is not complying (and you’ve done some of that). Then you need to come up with a plan for compliance that the employee has agreed to.

    1. EngineerGirl*

      BTW, the solution for Mr. Sneakers is obvious. Have him keep is work shoes in a zip-loc (or other bag) on his chair. He won’t be able to sit down without picking up the work shoes. That should be a sufficient reminder to change the shoes.

      1. jmkenrick*

        I have to say, I don’t think I would respond well to my boss telling me to zip-loc my dress shoes on my chair. At least, not until *after* she had reminded me a few times to remember the dress code, which it sounds like the OP hasn’t done yet.

        1. Emily*

          Yes, this seems a little too much like a punishment you’d give to a child, and is a little too public. I would be embarrassed to explain to a colleague who asked that I was told I have to keep my shoes on my chair so that I remember to change into them right away. I think disciplinary actions should be kept private.

          That said, you could have a conversation with the sneakers guy where you work together to suggest ways that might help him remember. Suggesting that he leave his shoes on his chair is a helpful tip if it’s not mandatory, and allows him to tell other folks who ask that he thought it was a good idea. Or maybe he’d rather stick a Post-It to the side of his monitor or set an alarm on his computer calendar to go off at 8:55am each morning reminding him to change his shoes. The main point is for the employee to be involved and taking an active role in improving his performance, not have some of his autonomy taken away as chastisement.

          1. EngineerGirl*

            I never implied that it wasn’t.
            “Then you need to come up with a plan for compliance that the employee has agreed to”

            This implies that the employee has participated in the solution. But he needs to do something, because what he is doing now isn’t working. And it appears that the boss already has talked to him about it, because he infers that he’s had discussions with him.


    I feel like this is a challenge for a lot of young/inexperienced managers. If it’s not a big deal, don’t treat it like one. A quick, “Hey, I wanted to make sure we’re on the same page about the dress code/starting time/headphones policy. Wearing sneakers/arriving at 9/wearing headphones isn’t OK and I need it to change. Thanks!” And leave it at that. If the behavior doesn’t change, a quick reminder, “Dude, shoes! Time! Headphones!” should work and if it doesn’t, then you have a problem, but not before.

    With something like the email, act like you’re working with her to find a solution that works for everyone. “Hey, is there a way we can streamline this? Because it’s obviously not working for you or for me.” And look at revisiting the way things get done, because obviously it ISN’T working.

    Just don’t handle it like my old boss, who would come up to me and say, “Did I tell you about Dave’s problem with attendance and the dress code?” When I would say, “No. Is this something I need to work on,” she’d say, “Oh, no, you’re fine. But I want to make sure I”ve told everyone so it doesn’t become an issue.”

  9. Anonymous*

    In my opinion, the two examples the OP provided are comparing apples to oranges. Sneaker guy is really minor, but it almost sounds like the No Email Clutter lady is more of a work issue.

    For the Sneaker guy, he’s probably just more comfortable in sneakers. I, as a woman, hate dress up shoes, and if I could wear sneakers to work everyday I would. There are shoes that look like shoes but are really sneakers. Maybe you could suggest those to him? How dress up does he have to be? If he has feet problems, maybe you can make a compromise with him so he’s comfortable and your policy stays in effect.

    For No Email Clutter lady, I think this is someone you need to stress a little more too because one of those important messages might be more vital than just a form she needs to send back to HR. I’m not exactly sure what to do though however.

    But I do agree – find out why these policies are being ignored.

    1. OP*

      Yes, they are very different. I was trying to give examples that ran the full range from really minor (shoes) to “more annoying but still not worth firing over” offenses.

      The “sneaker ban” was part of a goal to present a more professional look. On days when we’re only look at each other, it was hard for some people to see the worth of it, so we’ve since allowed sneakers, provided no one outside of our staff is visiting. I’d love to allow sneakers all the time, because I agree that they’re more comfortable and some can look downright snazzy. Unfortunately, some of our employees don’t have a well-developed sense of judgement on these things and show up look like it’s gym time. I don’t have any desire to become the referee for shoes on a case-by-case basis, thus the blanket ban. This new policy seems to be working out so far, though, because everyone can see the value in looking good for visitors.

  10. Ms Enthusiasm*

    Some other things to think about…

    How long before sneaker guy starts thinking that if he can get away with wearing his sneakers all day then what else will he be able to get away with? It sounds like this guy is really just forgetting but there are others out there that will test you with the small things and then move on to bigger transgressions. Following policy must be consistent across the board. I really like that instead of being firm on the policy that you changed the policy to make it better, though.

    And, if some employees see some of their peers getting away with not following policy it can hurt morale. I’ve seen it before, even with dress code issues. Again, follow policies consistently – even if you think they are only minor.

    1. former call center worker*

      Agree! As dumb as dress codes seem, there are always those one who need to toe the line. While jeans seem perfectly acceptable to wear to work with a blouse or a polo or what have you, there is always going to be that one person with the low low jeans and their boxers showing, thong out, ripped so the butt cheeks and thighs are showing. Now that the butt is out, how long til sexual harassment ie staring/leering is a problem? Now you can revert back to business casual and blanket ban jeans or you can list every single form of jeans that is unacceptable. There’s always someone to ruin it.
      Sneakers guy is getting away with it.. why not flip flop girl and now no shoe lady touching her feet then touching the food.

  11. Steve M*

    I’m apparently in the minority here, but I think even “minor” policies should be enforced with escalating levels of consequence that can lead to termination. Might be a few more steps on the escalation level then a major infraction, but they should lead the same place eventually. Certainly your first conversation doesn’t have to be “put on your dress shoes or be fired”, but the 4th or 5th conversation on the same topic should be getting to serious consequence. Either the there’s a good reason for the policy and it should be enforced as such, or the policy should be changed/removed.

    Selectively not enforcing policies leads to the appearance of favoritism. Some employees will follow all policies because they’re ‘in the book’ even if they disagree with them, and to see other employees ignoring said policies with no apparent repercussions can lead to resentment. Or they’ll think “If Joe can ignore policy A, then I’ll ignore policy B”, and get upset if you think A is minor and ignorable while B is major and not ignorable.

    1. Charles*

      Count me as part of your minority here Steve M. I agree that allowing some policies to slide for some employees can have an impact that the OP might not yet see.

      While everyone else seems to think that sneakers are no big deal; it is a big deal when some see that employee “getting away” with wearing them, even if it is for part of the day.

      And, OP, isn’t this “sneaker” employee an adult? He really shouldn’t have to be reminded to follow the rules. You obviously know him better than I do; but, personally, I do not buy the excuse – he forgets because he “jumps right into work.” I’m sure that there are other things that he doesn’t forget; it just sounds like an excuse to me.

      1. OP*

        Yes, I am in this camp as well. That was my biggest motivation to writing in and seeking the best options for resolving these kinds of issues.

        As a general rule, I don’t like to accuse employees of lying. But I will admit that I’ve questioned the extreme forgetfulness in my head a few times! I like to believe that we are all adults and should be treated as such, but the fact is that some adults really do behave like children sometimes. My goal is to address it without being inappropriately condescending or behaving like a child myself!

        You’re also exactly right about other employees. I don’t address anything in public, so they don’t know what’s going on unless they ask, whether for the sneakers or for other obvious “policy violations”. If they don’t ask though, they start assuming. That is where it becomes a headache. Back to the sneakers example (why is it always that one??): I sprained my ankle at one point and did need to wear sneakers for a short while. The day after, an employee showed up in sneakers, assuming I had secretly abolished the policy.

        Luckily, I think tweaking the policy has helped the dress code situation a lot. On the other hand, I’m hoping that it’s not expected that policies are going to be changed when someone doesn’t like them. I think the dress code changes (to allow more casual dress when there are no office visitors) make sense, but this was a low importance policy and it won’t always be possible to make adjustments.

      2. Anonymous*

        In the winter, I sometimes only notice I’m still wearing my boots when I get up to go to the printer, so I totally buy someone not remembering to change their shoes in the warmer weather.

    2. Kimberlee*

      I agree. My example is a little different, but when I worked in fast food I had this same problem. The new owners were explicit in their desire that uniform shirts be tucked in. One of our best cooks, Catalina, who had been with our store and others in the area some 10 years, just refused to do it. I don’t like tucking in my shirt either. But as a supervisor, it was on me to ensure that the dress code set by the owners was being followed. It really did take the threat that I would actually tell our managers to fire her over this for her to change her ways. I advocated for a policy change at the corporate level, but was unsuccessful.

      The way I explained it to her, and to our manager, was that if Catalina was willing to lose her job over not tucking in her shirt, that was her call. She was told the policy and if she refused to follow it, we could replace her. That’s all there is to it sometimes.

      Give warnings, but those warnings don’t mean anything if there’s no teeth (and in my current job, I have to deal with this same problem… some employees have been told quite literally that they’re not going to get fired for not turning in expense substantiations on time, and guess what? They never turn them in on time).

      1. Anonymous*

        I have a second job in food service and I’m probably like Catalina. The managers like me because I’m a reliable adult and I work hard, whereas most of the other employees are teenagers who play Angry Birds during downtime, call out ‘sick’ with hangovers, and other typical things you would expect from young people with little to no expenses working in minimum wage jobs. Unfortunately, I am not so good at remembering all the nitpicks of the dress code because it’s so much more rigid than I’m used to at my office job, where your overall appearance (clean, put together, professional) matters more than adhering to specific rules (tucking in your shirt, long-sleeve undershirts may only be worn from Nov 1 to March 1 regardless of the temperature outside). My managers have developed a habit of just reminding me as I’m clocking in of the things I’m likely to have forgotten. I don’t mind because the reminder helps and I know that these are the rules of my job even if they seem stupid to me. They don’t mind because the 5 seconds it takes to issue the reminder is worth it for the quality of work I perform.

  12. fposte*

    I like this question, because a lot of managing stuff is that area of things that you’d rather people didn’t do but they’re probably always going to do. That’s where I like the Carolyn Hax question of “What would you do if you knew this was never going to change?” And honestly, in these examples, that sounds like you’d do what you’re doing–reminding Sneaker guy when you see him and working around your top producer’s email resistance because it’s more beneficial to your company than taking a stand on these issues. Some management is change; some management is mowing the lawn knowing it’s just going to grow again. If the problem grows or signifies something more destructive underneath, then you deal with it more weightily. I honestly wouldn’t worry too much about a perceived lack of consequences in this kind of situation, because it’s not the fear of punishment that’s making most people comply with guidelines (especially on something like filling out their insurance forms).

    It might help to reclassify these from headaches that interfere with your job to being part of your job, and these actions not as transgressions but as the work equivalent of typos (yes, I am an editor). Correct the typo, maybe ask them to be more careful in the future or to suggest a way to avoid the problem, but overall figure that typos are part of the creative process, and that you’re there to catch them.

    1. OP*

      I have a much higher tolerance for sneakers than typos. I can see the value in sneakers!

      I do agree that it’s a part of my job to deal with this, although it’s still frustrating to spend time on discussion when there are plenty of other tasks to accomplish. I think the key for me is what some other people have said above. It’s more about how other employees see it. If you let one person ignore a policy (with out a legitimate reason), then another person will notice and follow. Eventually the policy is no longer in effect, except for a few sticklers, maybe. Our company isn’t one that puts policies into place without a reason. We’re not always perfect, and sometimes the policies do need to be tweaked, but abolishing them altogether is usually not the goal. So even the small issues need to be addressed somehow.

      I do think I need at least a small dose of what you’re saying though. There is a balance between being a champion of small policies and avoiding a breakdown of established guidelines.

    2. Jamie*

      The typo thing is a really healthy way to look at things like this.

      Keeping things in perspective must keep your stress levels in check – I wrote the word typo on a post it note where I can see it to see if I can make this work for me.

      If I can lower my stress levels I might just make it through the end of the day :).

        1. Jamie*

          My other stress relief wouldn’t work for you – goofy footwear :).

          I’m wearing a pair of Hello Kitty Vans at the moment which make me smile, and render me completely unprofessional from the ankle down.

          No wonder I would go easier on sneaker guy then the anti-outlook person!

          1. OP*

            Aw, no it wouldn’t :) I do get to keep my “desk gnome” around though. He always makes me smile!

  13. A Teacher*

    My dad burned his foot to the bone back in the 1970s. The subsequent scar tissue that formed causes discomfort when he wears most dress and even tennis shoes for more than 1-2 hours at a time. He does where dress boots, but under Americans with Disabilities Act, he is protected (we’ve checked multiple times) because he’s limited due to a medical condition. This guy may have a similar situation that he doesn’t advertise, I know my dad doesn’t share his condition with others so his supervisors would have no way of know unless they directly asked him.

    My mother has Sjogrens Syndrome (a cross of Lupus and RA)among other things and has not only standing limitations but also only wears certain shoes because of it. She hates the whole tennis shoe with dress pant thing but sometimes its the only thing she can stand on her feet. She’s also covered by ADA–along with a MD note–because of her medical conditions

    I guess what I’m saying is, clarify that its not just him forgetting and maybe has a medical reason that he hasn’t vocalized before doing anything else.

    1. fposte*

      The thing is, even in an ADA situation the employee doesn’t just get to assume that an accommodation is okay without checking with supervisors–the ADA doesn’t grant that right. It’s also inadvisable for supervisors to spontaneously bring up the issue of disability when the employee hasn’t mentioned it. In other words, sneaker-wearer has the responsibility for mentioning a medical reason for the breach, and disability isn’t a defense against discipline if he’s never mentioned the disability.

      1. OP*

        Good points to both. I probably wouldn’t feel comfortable asking about a medical condition outright. We have a very open culture though, and I’ve heard plenty about other issues that he’s had. I’m fairly confident that it isn’t a medical condition. We’ve also had other employees who did have problems (such as a sprained ankle) and were given reprieve. So we’ve certainly demonstrated flexibility in the past.

        I also think that if he did want to hide such a condition, he might choose sneakers that might “sneak” by as nicer shoes. I’m not actually spending all my time staring at feet (thank goodness!), so the only reason I notice is due to the very casual style.

  14. A Teacher*

    I understand what you are saying ftposte…you’re right ADA doesn’t just grant that, but it does give an employee quite a bit of leeway (having worked with ADA compliance in my first career–before becoming a teacher) that is within reason. He may totally just be forgetful–or think it doesn’t really matter, I’ve worked with both of those types as well.

  15. Bob G*

    I think employee #1 needs to set an email reminder to change his shoes each morning…..

    1. BS*

      I think you meant employee #2 needs to set an email reminder so she can ask employee #1 to change his shoes each morning.

      1. EngineerGirl*

        No, Sneaker Guy needs to do it. He’s an adult. Just like I have a pop-up reminder to fill out my time sheets and activity reports. Because I absolutely will wander off without doing them without the reminder.

      2. Bob G*

        …and employee #2 can be persuaded to use email reminders with the promise of being able to wear sneakers to work…

  16. M-C*

    Where does this guy work? I really need to send him a resume right now. It’s a rare manager who knows what the real priorities are..

  17. V*

    Just curious OP (and sorry if it’s already been asked), what type of work is it that you do?

    I ask because I find it hard to believe that #2 is really a top performer when she can’t even stay updated on office communication. I suppose if you’re in sales or something like that, it would make sense. But in general, I’d think that being on top of the message board would be essential to BEING a top performer, no?

    1. OP*

      The business is a software company, but you’re spot on about sales. She’s a sales rep, so a lot of her day is focused on her contacts and followups. A lot of the conversation being missed is internal communications (HR forms, IT updates, general announcements) or informal conversation. While she does miss out on some of the back and forth, decisions are typically made during formal discussions, which are in person or via phone conference. So she IS able to perform very well in sales without the information, because it generally doesn’t involve prospects or clients.

      1. Anonymous*

        Sounds like you’re probably sending her a river of info that doesn’t impact her job and expecting her to catch the one or two gallons of info that are relevant to her.

        Have you considered changing the communication style? This seems like it would be inefficient for all employees, and extremely inefficient for non-tech employees. Mailing lists for specific subjects are wonderful. If you really need to use message boards (though it strikes me as an odd choice for a software company), it might help to subdivide them into relevant subject areas and make sure someone’s assigned to keep them clean.

        You might even try soliciting the high-performance saleswoman for ideas on how to improve things. She might at least be able to pinpoint exactly why the current communication methods don’t work well, even if she doesn’t have replacement ideas.

        1. OP*

          For the last paragraph, I have spoken with her and it really just comes down to not wanting to use the technology. I wasn’t able to get any better answer or anything constructive to work off of.

          The system itself only sends out information if it’s requested. Most of the info is company-wide, such as company meetings/events or important updates. It’s also not that frequent, only a few posts a week (we are small). More targeted info can be either “subscribed” to or even hidden completely. Mailing lists are actually where we came from and were a huge pain. Typically what would happen is an email would go out to a list, someone would respond using “reply to all”, and then this huge email string would begin with various other strings branching out. When the branching started, some people would be dropped from the replies. So everyone would end up inundated with emails, some irrelevant, and missing other parts. This puts it all into one neat post, with all relevant info beneath it, and if it’s for a specialized area then only the interested parties are subscribed.

  18. Bob G*

    Our high producing sales reps get a lot more leeway with minor things like you are mentioning when they are generating a large amount of work. I think this is normal even outside of sales, you are more likely to give a high performer more flexibility with start time, etc. then you are to someone that is already coming up short on expectations.

    In the past we’ve even gone as far as hiring an admin person for our sales reps because they were good at “sales” but horrible with paperwork and other parts. The admin person would be organized enough to make sure the sales people handled the things they tended to “overlook” while they were focused on bringing in new business and the other top priorities of their roles. It also freed up the sales manager to worry about managing their staff’s sales skills and not have to manage the day to day minor issues. This isn’t to say that the admin person had it easy, they often had to stay on these reps to get the info needed, but they understood that was why they were there.

    1. Shane*

      This is one of the reasons I hated working in sales. The Top Performers were able to shirk non-sales duties, ignore schedules, break policy, and bully other sales people (especially new hires who didn’t know any better) but it was all ignored because their performance numbers were really good. Problem is that their numbers were higher than others because those individuals who DID follow policy and respect co-workers had less opportunity.

      Treat your employees equally. You will demoralize or even lose good employees when you play favourites.

  19. Anonymous*

    Nothing more annoying than managers who come into the HR office wanting to fire someone because they are always breaking a policy and the manager has had enough, and then we pull the employee file and they have not once written the employee up for breaking the policy. Fortunately we do our best to not let that slide and force managers to issue warnings before they fire someone, because policy violators DO get unemployment if they have a record of breaking the policy without consequence….

    Just last week an employee who was late to work almost every single day for a year, called out an average of 3 days each pay period over the past year, and had 3 written warnings in her file, won an unemployment hearing. Why? Her defense was, “I know they threatened I would get fired in the warnings for breaking the attendance policy, but they never followed through with it in the past so I didn’t think I would lose my job over it this time.”


      1. Student*

        No, the company is broken. The judge was smart enough to see that they didn’t fire this employee over showing up to work late. They fired her over something else and used the pre-existing attendance issue as a way to get out of paying unemployment. If the company was going to fire her over coming in late, they would’ve done so ages ago. If something at the company has changed (new boss? new policy?) that really did prompt them to start enforcing the policy, then they needed to establish a new paperwork trail to go with the new circumstances. If they fired her over something else, that needed to be documented. Bad on the employee for always being late, but worse on the employer for not following processes sanely.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It’s possible, but I wouldn’t assume that. I constantly see managers warn employees over things but not fire them until it’s dragged on a ridiculous amount of time. Most people don’t like firing other people, and as a result they let things go on far longer than they should.

        2. Jamie*

          Yes – the company was wrong for not taking action sooner, but dealing with the problems of this employee should be punishment enough, imo. They shouldn’t have to pay unemployment.

          I think UI is an important safety net, but imo it should be for people who lose their job through no fault of their own…not people who can’t be bothered to show up. If the answer to “would you still be working there if you had followed the rules?” is yes, then you shouldn’t be dipping into UI.

  20. Kelly O*

    For Sneaker Guy, I tend to agree with a previous poster who basically said just say “Hey, Sneaker Guy, look down” or something equally innocuous. He’s probably not doing it on purpose. (And you’ll find that out if you have to keep saying “Hey, Sneaker Guy.”)

    For either one of these, may I just add please deal with them individually. Don’t call the whole department to the conference room to talk about the importance of everyone adhering to the dress code, or explaining the policy that everyone but Email Zero is following. Just deal with them.

    Trust me, having been on the receiving end recently of a conference room group “talking to” about “office drama” – it is absolutely humiliating, especially when you talk about things that are clearly being done by one or two, but you’re telling the whole company/department/everyone hourly that if it doesn’t stop you will have to “take action”. (The best part? The behavior is continuing, but no one is saying anything. But two of us have been “reminded” recently that we are all “being monitored” because we were seen talking after work in the parking lot – never mind the person didn’t hear our conversation, about our kids, and assumed we were gossiping about others.)

    So yeah, deal with the individuals in a direct way. This passive “threaten everyone” nonsense makes for a tense work environment.

  21. Liz in the City*

    I’d just like to suggest that Sneaker Guy may have a legitimate foot issue that means sneakers are the most comfortable for him. I had something similar last year–I could only wear sneakers because of these *lovely* doctor-prescribed inserts I had to wear–and I cringe at the thought that I would have had to approach my manager to explain. Still, if it would have been an issue at my company (it’s not–there’s barely a dress code), I would have said something so I would not have been “reprimanded” for not wearing shoes that were creating crippling pain.

    1. Laura L*

      I don’t think that’s the case.

      The OP says: “We have an employee who walks to work, so he wears sneakers to come in and keeps a pair of appropriate shoes at his desk.”

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