Rules might seem onerous to some, but they do serve a valuable purpose

In a business environment where almost every college graduate wants to work for a company with a carefree, Google-like culture that seemingly favors fun and innovation over rules and structure, it might be tempting to toss out the employee handbook.

Company policies, however, can protect companies and their employees.

They also contribute to a company’s reputation for strength and stability.

First line of defense

A company’s policies provide employees a literal handbook to success.

They can include general do’s and don’ts or more specific safety procedures, communication guidelines or dress codes.

By establishing a code of conduct, a company helps mitigate the risks posed by employees who, if left unchecked, might make foolhardy decisions.

Policies are hardly a surefire guarantee that things won’t go wrong, but they serve as a first line of defense if things do.

Policies can help an employer defend against claims of unfair termination, accusations of regulatory noncompliance and frivolous lawsuits or liability claims.

When implemented and enforced effectively, corporate policies help demonstrate that a company is operating ethically and proactively for the benefit and safety of its employees, its shareholders and the public.

A shared safety net

For employees, company policies provide a blueprint that outlines the boundaries of acceptable behavior.

By clearly defining expectations for employee conduct, policies can offer the fallback an employee might need if a customer, counterparty or co-worker pressures them to push the envelope.

Few would argue with someone who says, “I wish I could do that for you, but if I go against the company’s policy, I could lose my job.”

Consumers benefit from a company’s policies as well. Policies demonstrate that a company is following a self-imposed code of ethics.

When publicly posted, consumers can raise a red flag if an employee is operating out of bounds.

Retail return policies, often posted in stores or on register receipts, are a familiar example.

Customers can feel assured that store employees will honor their company’s return policy if the stated conditions are met.

Getting it right

Companies publish policies regulating everything from the use of corporate property (i.e., cellphones, company vehicles or laptops) to performance expectations, so policies must be communicated clearly to emphasize their significance and ensure their understanding.

A well-written policy should:
■  Establish the objective of the policy.
■  Explain why the policy is necessary.
■  Identify to whom the policy applies.
■  Outline acceptable and unacceptable behavior under the policy.
■  Warn of the consequences if an employee fails to comply with the policy.

Of course, it is important that policies are applied fairly across all levels of the organization.

If policies are applied inconsistently, there is a greater chance that an employee dismissed for breaching a policy could successfully claim he or she was unfairly terminated.

At times, company policies can seem arbitrary, and maybe even a bit excessive, but successful companies and their employees thrive with structure.

Well-defined policies provide that structure.

By the way, even Google has a lengthy, albeit very cool, code of conduct that starts with, “Don’t Be Evil.” ●