10 Steps For Determining Flexible Versus Non-Negotiable Workplace Policies

Working hours, time off, dress codes, standards of conduct—there are lots of policies businesses must outline for their employees, but whether or not they have hard and fast rules or a more relaxed approach can vary from business to business. And with so much variation, following the “usual” approach doesn’t necessarily apply.

To best help you in deciding what works well for your company, we’ve asked 10 experts from Forbes Human Resources Council to share the steps they take when choosing between flexible and non-negotiable policies.

Forbes Human Resources Council experts share how to best choose between flexible and non-negotiable workplace policies.

Photos courtesy of the individual members.

1. Consider Mission-Critical Processes

Policies should be non-negotiable if they affect mission-critical processes or the quality or timely delivery of products or services to customers. If nonstandard schedules, time off or other benefits cause a poor customer experience due to lack of responsiveness or oversight, it will impact the brand and bottom line. Employers must properly communicate how and why policies are non-negotiable. – Genine Wilson, Kelly Services

2. Factor In Employee Roles

Unlimited paid time off (PTO) works great for some kinds of jobs and workers. A recruiting leader can take unlimited time off as long as she meets performance goals and has someone cover for her when she’s out. A call center worker or support engineer? Not so much. Flexibility works well in jobs that can be done off-hours or from home, but not for roles where unplanned absence hurts customers. – Mikaela Kiner, Reverb

3. Evolve Your Policies As The Business Evolves

Remain flexible in reviewing policies for effectiveness in their current state to prevent outdated and stale policies. Be open to changing a non-negotiable policy to a flexible one and vice versa. Employment policies should evolve as business needs and employee bases change. What may have worked at one time may no longer be beneficial or the right approach. – Lindsay Patten, Reliant Funding

4. Consider What Will Make Employees Stay Long Term

Some employers may feel that they will have more control over employees if they implement overly strict policies. Instead, this often leads to disengagement and high turnover. Rather than creating rules for the few who may break them, employers should create policies for the majority who will follow them, allowing for greater flexibility. If any issues occur, they can be addressed on an individual basis. – John Feldmann, Insperity

5. Understand Modern Expectations

People want and demand flexibility in their jobs. In response, organizations need to consider implementing programs like unlimited vacation time and virtual working environments to cater to modern expectations. When you empower a person, they are more likely to feel they can be the best version of themselves at and away from work. In return, they tend to provide excellent job performance. – Lisa Sterling, Ceridian

6. Develop An ‘Equitable, Not Equal’ Mentality

When deciding how to apply our policies, we subscribe to an equitable, not equal, philosophy which affords us the opportunity to do what is in each individual employee’s best interests, aligned with the best interests of the organization as a whole. Non-negotiable policies apply to those situations where there are legal or regulatory ramifications that must be taken into consideration. – Sherrie Suski, Tricon American Homes

7. Understand What Stage The Business Is In

First, meet with top management to fully understand the operational requirements and business objectives. Until HR fully understands the company’s competition and which business cycle is at work (i.e., starting, growing, maturing or declining), HR cannot give a workable strategic policy. Most policies can work when the due diligence is done, to communicate openly and transparently with staff. – Patricia Sharkey, Sharkey HR Advisors

8. Determine What The Desired Outcome Is

One criterion I use when deciding whether a policy should be non-negotiable or flexible is to focus on the desired outcome for which the policy was created. The purpose of any policy is to communicate expectations about boundaries, guidelines, best practices or acceptable behavior while at work. Some, like harassment, must be non-negotiable, while others, like casual dress codes, can be flexible. – Dr. Timothy J. Giardino, Cantata Health & Meta Healthcare IT Solutions

9. Decide If There Is A Business Need

If there is not a business need for a hard and fast rule, then don’t make one. Organizations hire adults, so they need to start treating their employees like adults. You don’t need the policy to fire someone. If you have employees who are clearly taking advantage of anything or who exemplify behaviors counter to your cultural values, then they may not be the right for the organization—simple as that. – Lotus Buckner, NCH

10. Trust, But Stay Compliant

There’s a huge trust factor when it comes to flexible work policies. One thing I’d consider is the strength of the managers. Do they consistently reinforce “doing the right thing” or “using your common sense?” Or are they unaware, not enforcing rules or simply not monitoring what’s happening? Even a flexible policy has to be handled consistently to stay in compliance with employment laws. – Michele Markey, SkillPath

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