Five Outdated Ideas Holding Back Businesses
People who run companies like to think of themselves as agile, using the latest trends. But in reality, they’re more likely to be sticks in the mud, clinging to old ideas that don’t work anymore.
Companies that can adapt to employees' needs are the ones that grow and stay profitable. But many times, companies look at short-sighted, cost-cutting measures, rather than take steps to help their employees.
Here are a few outdated ideas that need to go the way of the fax machine.
“Don’t take any sick time.”
I once worked at a place that wrote up a woman for calling out to bring her sick child to a hospital. The child ended up needing surgery. After two days, she was told she had to come in for her shift, or be fired.
Micromanaging anyone’s time is annoying, but not allowing any sick time makes everyone worse off. Forcing workers to come in sick spreads diseases: “Flu rates would fall 5 percent if paid sick leave were universal,” according to the New York Times. That kind of drop in illness could save lives: last year, 80,000 people died from influenza.
Giving workers a handful of sick days each year does cost money, but people aren’t productive when they’re sick. And giving people a little sick time allows parents to stay in the workforce, rather than get fired for a child’s illness and become impoverished.
“We don’t allow flex time.”
In some fields, like law enforcement, cooking, or bedside nursing, you can’t really offer flex time.
But for many others, like office jobs where you spend all your time at a computer, flex time, or working from home, can help employees. Flex time allows employees to reduce commute times and have a little more control over their work.
They can also help businesses by reducing turnover.
“Raise? We don’t offer raises here.”
Years ago, I requested a raise and was turned down. The reason? “We don’t give raises here.” That turned out to be true: they did not raise anyone’s pay based on merit, as a company policy.
My well-written letter for a raise was used as evidence that I was ungrateful. I recently ran into a manager who had participated in the decision to turn down my request. She smiled and said, “I still can’t believe you asked for money like that. I hope you learned something about your career, and about respect.”
I did. I learned to work somewhere else, where the pay (and respect for employees) is much better.
“Software problems? Deal with it.”
One of the most frustrating parts of healthcare is dealing with electronic medical record (EMR) software.
I was recently locked out from doing tasks because 1) I had to log something into a spreadsheet, and only one employee can use it at a time; 2) I had to get an access code before I could access a new patient’s file; and 3) I tried to enter information and an error came up and erased my work. (I’ve reported the error about a dozen times, and was told to “work around it.”)
I work in consulting, and I can only imagine how hard it is for people racing around doing critical tasks to be slowed down by these systems. Research has shown that bad software has been linked to physician stress.
Yes, it’s expensive to design functional software, and sometimes systems go down. But it’s also expensive to employ people who are blocked from doing work by their computers, and people who are burned out by time-consuming, repetitive data entry.
“Read this condescending memo.”
Memos were once keyed out on typewriters and spread throughout the office. Now, a memo can zip around instantly through email.
I think of a memo as a short note advising people to change their behavior, or notify them about some change. They often begin with “Effective immediately, …”
Over time, they can amount to incremental policy changes, and make it harder for new employees to learn the culture.
It can also be hard for employees to adjust to all these changes. I once worked for a boss who would print out a new policy change every day, and tape it to my desk. I came back from a vacation and realized someone made a binder full of them. How is anyone supposed to keep up with all that?
Most of the changes are pointless, anyway. Remember the “Did you get the memo?” scene from Office Space?
If you’re changing policy every day, there’s more going on than a little note can solve. Think about how it feels to constantly get your job duties shifted around.
Save the changes for a meeting where people can ask questions or offer feedback — or, better yet, evaluate if you really need to tweak things so frequently.