Three Office Rules That Need To Die

Three Office Rules That Need To Die

Most offices have rules. Some are reasonable while others are just plain stupid and have the potential to make a workplace unpleasant for employees. We take a look at some office rules that need to die in a fire.

Rules on a chalkboard image from Shutterstock

There are instances where Australian companies have enforced strange office rules. A Melbourne construction firm banned workers from bringing in canned tuna because of the odour. Mining conglomerate BHP Billiton made headlines a few years back for its draconian office rules such as no soup allowed in cubicles and stipulating that flowers can only be kept on the desk for a short period of time.

While these rules seem trivial and bizarre, it’s the ones that seem to have been normalised that we should look at more closely. Dr Travis Bradberry has a background in clinical psychology and is a writer on the subject of emotional intelligence. In an article in the Huffington Post, he outlined some “idiotic” office rules that drive everybody mental. He said that some organisations, in an effort to maintain order, put in place policies that usually kill employee morale.

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

Having worked in offices most of my life, some of the rules he listed struck a chord with me. These were ones I’ve seen in former workplaces that made me want to stay in bed in the mornings:

Restricting internet usage

It’s fine to block potentially harmful websites but companies have a tendency to become overzealous with restricting how employees can use the internet at work. It’s not uncommon for social media to be banned in some offices, mainly for productivity reasons, but Bradberry scoffs at this idea:

“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.”

Strict attendance and leave policies

If you’ve had an anal manager who has made a fuss about you being five minutes late to work even though you regularly stay back at the office, you’ll know how frustrating that can be. Then there are companies that demand employees to submit medical certificates to justify sick days. While organisations are within their right to enforce strict attendance and leave policies, it shows that they have little trust in their workers.

Shutting down self-expression (personal items and dress code)

I remember one of my ex-employers pulling me aside one day to tell me that the way I dressed for work was too casual and asked that I get some professional attire. Dressed in jeans, a World of Warcraft t-shirt and Dr. Martens boots, I remember feeling embarrassed and indignant.

I thought about how illogical it was that I should be required to change the way I dressed given I don’t leave the office most days and if I ever had to meet with clients, I had a stash of business dresses I kept at work to change into. It was also at this company that I was told I had too many personal items on my desk (mainly geeky collectibles). I ended up becoming extremely unhappy in that job and left.

In Dr Bradberry’s opinion, it’s silly for organisations to dictate what employees can keep at their desks so long as those items don’t adversely impact the work environment (obviously, no nude calendars). As for dress codes in the office:

“They work well in private high schools, but they’re unnecessary at work.”

Bottom line is companies that put in place stringent work rules need to step back and think about whether or not they are necessary, how they will affect worker morale and whether they will make really make the office more productive.

Does your workplace have some stupid rules that need to be killed off? Let us know in the comments.


  • I am old enough to remember dress codes in one organisation I worked for where all women had to wear skirts or dresses, and no facial hair for men. I had to shave my beard for a 4 week consulting job there. I wasn’t happy and I wouldn’t do it again.

  • i can understand the social media blackouts, especially seeing people have it on their phones anyway.
    but why should the company be paying me to check my twitface accounts?

    • but why should the company be paying me to check my twitface accounts?

      Employee output is not linear. You are not generating the same value for a company every minute of the day. Sometimes you are nailing it, other times you need to recharge. A sensible personal use policy allows employees to recharge without destroying morale or having to go underground.

    • It’s somewhat illogical to expect that any employee will sit on social media all day whilst not meeting their work standards and this to continue on unnoticed. As it is mentioned a number of times here; the trust between an employer and their employees has an massive impact on morale.

      In any job an employee has tasks to complete or results to achieve, set out by their employer, and if an employee decides to spend their time on social media instead of completing their job then ultimately they will find themselves managed out. Even on the other hand if any employee can continually get away with achieving no tasks during their work hours due to social media then the management of that employee would need addressing.

      A little bit of mutual trust between employer and employee goes a long way in establishing ties and keeping a productive workforce.

    • Theres a common rule with workers that you shouldnt expect them to work more than around 70% of the day.

      Idea is basically that much more than that and they burn out, so you end up churning through staff at a ridiculous rate, and ultimately lose efficiency.

      So letting them relax mentally can be a good thing for the business. In this day and age, that means Facebook.

  • Canned fish of ANY kind should ALWAYS be banned in offices under pain of a broken nose.
    I like to dress reasonably formally for work, I think that’s a a good idea generally, it looks smart.
    Sick notes, being mad about lateness, restricted internet- all that is just madness.

  • The boss banned any and all energy drinks in our office.

    I’m not even kidding. Thought they would have helped with productivity….

    • Here’s where you have fun defining what an energy drink is: Is that coffee? What about if the liquid is in another bottle?… What if if’s a clear energy drink in a water bottle?

      It’s these grey areas that work to prove the nonsense.

  • I don’t know. I think you need some way to socially construct a work environment. You react to cues about how to behave relative to an environment and self regulate who you are in a given habitus (hope i’m using that right). You can probably pare down workplace restrictions if you have strong work related messages (on performance, accountability) and structure through other channels. I’m not sure it’s a one psychology fits all. Some people are driven and professional and don’t need to be reminded that they’re occupying a professional environment, (humble opinion)

  • Couldn’t agree more. The current company I am at, enforces all three of those mentioned policies, and I’ve never worked in an environment with lower worker satisfaction. Office morale is the lowest I have ever seen.

  • I moved from our head office to a local office in Aus a few years back, and since moving here, yes, the most hateful policies are in effect, as I’m now in a ‘Sales’ office, where customers might drop by at any point. Yeah – one, last Christmas, and he was wearing shorts and sandals. Our head office is quite happy with flexitime, but certainly that’s not the case down here in Aus. Drives my satisfaction levels through the floor.

    • I remember a meeting where someone made a smartarse comment that 40% of leave is taken on Mondays and Fridays.

      The senior exec running the meeting couldnt put 1 and 1 together, and started planning on an inquisition to figure out why.

  • Punctuality matters for shift workers where a specific role is shared between many people. One person’s “I was only 5 minutes late” is another’s “I didn’t get to leave on time”. This can easily descend into petty tit-for-tat and that becomes an inconvenience when others’ schedules or essential events are affected.

    Of course, once in a while traffic really will be terrible or some other unforeseeable will cause someone to be late. And that’s fine. But my beef is with the people who are habitually late despite knowing full well when their designated start time is.

    I’m sufficiently old-fashioned and grumpy to see punctuality as a surrogate for work ethic. And my experience bears out that the regularly late are also the least productive.

  • So let me get this straight… Having a professional appearance, being on time and providing evidence that you were sick is unreasonable?

    This must have been authored by a millennial..

  • Dressed in jeans, a World of Warcraft t-shirt and Dr. Martens boots, I remember feeling embarrassed and indignant.

    Well, yeah… that seems to be pushing it a bit too far. Having ‘proper’ clothes in the office suggest that you knew this but just couldn’t be arsed to dress more appropriately. If I were your boss I’d be questioning your work attitude as well.

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