Thursday, March 28, 2019

Codifying Our Fear with Company Policies

Until the 1870’s, no drugs were considered illegal. Then legislation was drafted to outlaw smoking opium. Other forms of opium and intake methods were okay; just smoking was banned. Why? Because Chinese immigrants predominantly populated opium dens where this occurred. The first anti-cocaine laws affected mostly black men in the South in the 1900’s—and Coca-Cola (tm). The first anti-marijuana laws in the 1910’s and 1920’s were to curb usage among Mexican immigrants. In the late 1980’s, crack cocaine possession was given harsher sentences than powder cocaine because it was cheaper and predominant in the poorer neighborhoods. The effect of these laws? Incarceration of these targeted populations and reducing their ability to be engaged in US society because now they have a record and less ability to get out of a poverty hole.

It makes sense to have anti-drug policies in our workplaces: workplace safety, respectful workplace relationships, improved performance and reduced risk of customer service faux pas. But what if we banned caffeine? Would we ban all forms of caffeine? Or just the super-charged forms of it in the energy drinks or wake-up shots like 5-Hr Energy (tm) shots, which are consumed mostly by 18-34 year olds and growing among the next generation? If the Millenials drive us crazy for some reason, would we resort to a prohibition like this to hinder their desire to be in our workplace? If the Boomers drive us crazy, would we prohibit coffee-brewing devices?

How about dress codes? What is the legitimate need for them? What do we prohibit so we can keep “them” out unless they look more like “us”?

There’s also a growing debate about the use of personal devices in the workplace, now that most people have one that’s at least 4G cellular network connected, if not internet connected. Personal usage is up and the debate is whether this is affecting productivity. Since we’re now tethered to our workplace digitally, there’s more of a tendency to be ‘on call’ 24/7. If we have policies to limit personal usage—and we audit and enforce them—because we’re fearful everyone is not focused on work during their work hours, perhaps we should have policies (as some companies are starting to do, mostly in Europe) to limit work outside of work hours. I’ve been known to send emails in the wee hours of the morning, fully expecting that I would not get a response until 8 am or 9 am; I don’t expect others to be responding as soon as the message comes through. I tend not to DM, text at night so that smartphones are not beeping, buzzing, dinging, jingling while the other person is sleeping. If I was to set this as a policy, am I prohibiting people from working in their most productive times ala Daniel Pink’s When? And would I be setting this policy because I didn’t like the demographic that tends to work better at night?

There are ‘break time’ rules that hinder religious practices, and hurt ‘those people’ on medications because of chronic conditions...or smokers...or? We need to be careful about what policies we want, why and which current employees and employment candidates will be positively or adversely affected.

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