Companies and people alike need to have rules – that’s a given – but do they have to be so short sighted and lazy attempts at creating order?

I understand the temptation. As my career has progressed and InAnyEvent London began to grow, I have faced many difficulties trying to stand out and differentiate myself as well as the business from the standard set of rules that govern the working world. Eventually I stopped to ask myself this – “Do I want my team to feel constrained in their surroundings the way I sometimes felt I was in past roles?”

There are many instances in life, especially at work where someone crosses a line, and we are tempted to respond with a new rule that applies to everyone – that’s where we fuck up.

As humans we are programmed to respond a certain way to certain problems, putting rules in place to make sure those problems do not arise again. However we rarely ask why the problem occurred in the first place. Is it even a problem? Or is it just an individual making a statement that our programme does not respond to?

Digging deeper, in every instance I can recall, the established new rule has been a passive and morale-killing way to address the problem; for some individuals it will also most likely spread beyond the workplace and affect their personal life.

Why do we never address the issue on a unique one-to-one basis between the employee and their line manager and then take it from there?

When companies create ridiculous and demoralising rules to halt the outlandish behaviour of a few individuals, it’s a management problem. There’s no sense in alienating your entire workforce because you don’t know how to manage performance. It makes a bad situation so much worse.

Personally I believe that no one team member can have outlandish behaviour, because ultimately, everything that makes them stand out, makes them fit right in. In fact, I believe it so much, that I have steadfastly made this the heart and soul of InAnyEvent London, enabling us to be what I like to call a “lifestyle employer”.

The secret to being a successful lifestyle employer is to focus on creating an environment, which induces feelings of a “workplace community”, this way our team members feel accepted and encouraged to be themselves.

We recognise that our team members should always be treated as equals no matter their experience or seniority. They’re a “business-of-one” who have first and foremost chosen us as their employer – the more we help them grow and become stronger, healthier, sustainable service providers, then the better they will serve themselves, our brand and of course, our clients.

Here are 9 of the worst rules companies create when they fall into this trap:

1. Restricting Internet Use

There are certain sites that no one should be visiting at work, and I’m not talking about Facebook. But once you block pornography and the other obvious stuff, it’s a difficult and arbitrary process deciding where to draw the line.

Most companies draw it in the wrong place.

People should be able to kill time on the Internet during breaks. When companies unnecessarily restrict people’s Internet activity, it does more than demoralise those that can’t check Facebook; it limits people’s ability to do their jobs. Many companies restrict Internet activity so heavily that it makes it difficult for people to do online research; the most obvious example? Checking the Facebook profile of someone you just interviewed.

2. Ridiculous Requirements For Attendance, Annual Leave, & Time Off

People are salaried for the work they do, not the specific hours they sit at their desks. When you ding salaried employees for showing up five minutes late even though they routinely stay late and put in time on the weekend, you send the message that policies take precedence over performance. It reeks of distrust, and you should never put someone on salary that you don’t trust.

When companies are unnecessarily strict in requiring documentation for bereavement and medical leave, it leaves a sour taste in the mouths of employees who deserve better. After all, if you have employees who will fake a death to miss a day’s work, what does that say about your company?

3. Draconian E-Mail Policies

This is a newer one that’s already moving down a slippery slope. Some companies are getting so restrictive with e-mail use that employees must select from a list of pre-approved topics before the e-mail software will allow them to send a message.

Again, it’s about trust. If you don’t trust your people to use e-mail properly, why did you hire them in the first place? In trying to rein in the bad guys, you make everyone miserable every time they send an email. And guess what? The bad guys are the ones who will find ways to get around any system you put in place.

4. Limiting Bathroom Breaks

If you’re going to limit people’s trips to the bathroom, you might as well come out and tell them that you wish they were a bunch of robots. When you limit basic personal freedoms by counting people’s trips to the bathroom, they start counting their days at the company. The day you have to bring in a doctor’s note to prove that you warrant additional trips to the bathroom is the day you need to find another job in my book.

5. Stealing Employees’ Frequent-Flyer Miles

If there’s one thing that road-weary traveling employees earn, it’s their frequent flyer miles. When employers don’t let people keep their miles for personal use, it’s a greedy move that fuels resentment with every flight. Work travel is a major sacrifice of time, energy, and sanity. Taking employees’ miles sends the message that you don’t appreciate their sacrifice and that you’ll hold on to every last penny at their expense.

6. Pathetic Attempts at Political Correctness

Maintaining high standards for how people treat each other is a wonderful thing as we live in a world that’s rife with animosity and discrimination. Still employers have to know where to draw the line. Going on a witch-hunt because someone says “Bless you” to another employee that sneezed (real example) creates an environment of paranoia and stifled self-expression, without improving how people treat each other.

7. Bell Curves & Forced Rankings of Performance

Some individual talents follow a natural bell-shaped curve, but job performance does not. When you force employees to fit into a pre-determined ranking system, you do three things:

  1. Incorrectly evaluate people’s performance
  2. Make everyone feel like a number
  3. Create insecurity and dissatisfaction when performing employees fear that they’ll be fired due to the forced system

This is yet another example of a lazy policy that avoids the hard and necessary work of evaluating each individual objectively, based on his or her merits, strengths and weaknesses.

8. Banning Mobile Phones

If I ban mobile phones in the office, no one will waste time texting and talking to family and friends, right? Yeah, right. Organisations need to do the difficult work of hiring people who are trustworthy and who won’t take advantage of things. They also need to train managers to deal effectively with employees who underperform and/or violate expectations (such as spending too much time on their phones). This is also hard work, but it’s worth it. The easy, knee-jerk alternative (banning phones) demoralises good employees who need to check their phones periodically due to pressing family or health issues or as an appropriate break from work.

9. Shutting Down Self-Expression

Many organisations control what people can have at their desks. A life-size poster of a shirtless hunk? I get it. But employers dictate how many photographs people can display, whether or not they can use a water bottle, and how many items they’re allowed to place on their desks. Once again, it’s the “If I could just hire robots I wouldn’t have this problem” approach.

The same goes for dress codes. They work well in schools, but they’re unnecessary at work. Hire professionals and they’ll dress professionally. When someone crosses the line, their manager needs to have the skill to address the issue directly. Otherwise, you’re making everyone wish they worked somewhere else because management is too inept to handle touchy subjects effectively.


To bring it all together, companies need to rethink their policies and remove or alter those that are unnecessary or demoralising, then we’ll all have a more enjoyable and productive time at work.

At the end of the day, no matter how stressful or uncertain running a business can be, it’s tweets like this one that make me get up every morning and do it all over again.

This is why humanising your brand is the greatest thing you can ever do for your team, your business and probably humanity to boot.