How to Boost Performance at Work: Assume the Positive, Eliminate the Negative

These 33 policies assume the worst about employees; ditch them, and treat employees like adults instead.

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For decades, traditional management practices have infected leaders. As a result, executives continue to endorse Neanderthal workplace policies and freedom-crushing micromanagement. Employees? They’re left craving empowerment, wishing they could buck the status quo and put energy toward achievement and growth.

The only antidote to a command-and-control style of workplace hierarchy is to toss out what no longer works and envision an environment built around people being inherently valued. In such an atmosphere, all workers are seen not as dispensable or stupid, but as irreplaceable team members who deserve to be treated as respected peers.

How can leaders create the liberating workplace employees crave? Identify and eliminate anything that minimizes an employee’s feeling of value to the organization.

Timberland, the company behind a leather boot that’s a cultural phenomenon, is somewhat of a “cultural” icon for other reasons. It has combined its deep commitment to community service with policies that value employees by offering up to 40 hours of paid time off to volunteer.

According to Jim Pisani, Timberland’s global president, people come first: “When certain corporate policies are necessary, we aim to trust and empower our employees and have them come to the office every day knowing they can work for a company that gives them that flexibility to live their values,” he told us. “We’re not only representing who we are as a brand through service, but the employees also have the freedom to serve in ways that are meaningful to them.”

During my years working with brands like Timberland that want to proactively invest toward a self-managed model, I’ve witnessed plenty of small and large ways companies send devaluing messages to their employees. In particular, 33 rise to the top as the biggest demotivators in action today:

1. Forcing workers to punch time clocks

2. Having segregated eating areas determined by job title

3. Expecting some employees to wait for benefits eligibility, but giving benefits immediately to others

4. Having a different schedule of benefits based on the job title

5. Setting up a different pay system for hourly versus salary workers

6. Restricting access to a building or area based on job title

7. Having separate doors to enter the facility based on job title

8. Reserving parking for only executives or C-suite individuals

19. Requiring a doctor’s excuse for a casual medical absence

10. Requiring a funeral notice to obtain bereavement leave

11. Having “Thou Shalt Not” work rules posted around the office

12. Implementing rules that prevent certain employees from taking a vacation the day before or after a holiday

13. Having crowded work conditions

14. Ignoring employee input

15. Locking the storage rooms and cupboards where supplies are kept

16. Providing information on a need-to-know basis

17. Requiring employees to sign documents as proof of receipt

18. Limiting funeral and bereavement leaves

19. Providing inadequate break areas

20. Implementing disciplinary suspensions

21. Implementing an immediate discharge of any employee with a three-day unreported absence

22. Setting up an attendance “point system” for plant workers

23. Having a probationary period for some jobs

24. Expecting employees to wear color-coded hats or shirts to distinguish their ranks

25. Spending money on equipment maintenance rather than employee welfare or comfort

26. Setting up different vacation schedules based on job title

27. Providing inadequate restrooms

28. Providing dirty eating areas

29. Giving employees little or no personal interaction or feedback

30. Having an environment where it’s acceptable for leaders to interrupt employee discussions to answer their phones

31. Conducting performance and salary reviews long after they are scheduled to happen

32. Paying no attention to the 5 percent of workplace behavior that’s unacceptable

33. Restricting the use of personal cell phones

Each of these policies, actions, activities, or cultural “norms” places employees in positions of minimized subordinates, which isn’t conducive to them feeling like adults. Of course, workers have to do their part in helping bring about the end to heavy-handed, one-size-fits-all management by not abusing the system. Yet it’s a very small percentage of people who don’t appreciate being treated as equals. All leaders should remember this and look at their organizations with fresh eyes that no longer accept the need for the negative dynamics that worked in the past.

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