It seems offices everywhere are loosening up. Ping pong tables, in-office cocktail hours and bring-your-dog-to-work days are on the rise as businesses try to attract and retain top talent.
But before you rush to rebuild the break room to add a free juice bar, stop. Uncommon workplace policies require as much careful consideration as any other office perk – and sometimes even more.
Employees may be looking for a job that fosters creativity but putting these workplace policies in place will not change your company culture if manager behaviors and disciplinary practices suggest otherwise.
Because you’re charting unusual territory, you may need to implement some new rules ahead of time to avoid HR disasters. These five pointers can help you with this process.
1. Consider potential issues
Everyone loves dogs, right? Everyone except Amanda, who’s allergic; or Ron, who was bitten as a child; or Louis, who cubes next to a puppy that’s not completely housebroken yet.
Before implementing any new workplace policy, it’s important to think through potential issues. In the case of the dogs in the office, do you know if any current employees are allergic? Have you talked with them to find out if it’s a reasonable accommodation for them to work from home on dog days? Or, are they so allergic that leftover dander will trigger a trip to the ER?
How will you handle dog fights? Will dogs be allowed in conference rooms and client meetings? Is there a place outside for doggie potty breaks? Will other pets be allowed, such as birds, ferrets, snakes and cats? Where do you draw the line?
If you’re renting office space, you probably need to ask the building owner whether they will allow dogs on the premises. You may also need to consult your insurance company to find out if your policy covers dog-related issues such as bites or building damage.
2. Weigh the business reasons
As with any new policy, you must consider the business reasons for implementing a change.
Will allowing pets at work boost employee morale? Will an onsite gym help your company compete for top talent? Will the benefits, such as lower turnover and potentially reduced healthcare costs, outweigh the extra expense and hassle of maintaining the space and equipment? How will you measure this? Are your competitors offering similar perks?
What are the noise and safety concerns that come with pets, ping-pong and foosball tables, basketball goals or climbing walls? How will you address these concerns before installation? How will you balance productivity and stress relief?
It may be necessary to add language to your employee handbook that outlines safe use of sports equipment and limits your company’s responsibility in the case of injury due to misuse.
3. Get management and employees on-board
Nothing kills a fun atmosphere faster than the eye roll of a senior executive. That’s why it’s important to get upper management buy-in before implementing any new perks.
Whether it’s bring-your-dog-to-work days or adding jeans to the list of acceptable work attire, managers and employees should generally agree on the new policies.
If one or two employees or managers have objections, consider them carefully. Are their concerns related to safety, comfort, productivity or cost? How serious are these objections, and can they be proactively addressed with rules and written policies?
You can nurture a culture of creativity and inclusivity by reminding managers to be open to employees who want to do things a different way. Help them understand that it’s okay if someone prefers to walk around the building while discussing a new process, or wants to add music to their presentation.
4. Provide options
It’s important to consider whether a new policy or activity will make some employees feel excluded.
If you’ve got a wide range of ages, physical abilities and income levels, you should think carefully about any group activities. For instance, a softball game may sound like fun to the sports-minded, while a trip to a local museum may be more appealing to other employees. Try to balance your choice of activities to fit as many ages and abilities as possible.
It’s important to make physical activities optional, and to limit activities that occur outside normal work hours. Your footloose 20-somethings may think an after-hours company activity sounds great. But think about employees who have other obligations or commitments. Those with children may be stressed by the extra expense of hiring a babysitter. You don’t want anyone to feel left out because they can’t participate, whatever the reason.
5. Set boundaries and keep listening
Before you launch any new activities or policies, such as a Friday in-office cocktail hour, it’s vital to set boundaries.
Will there be an exact start and stop time? Is it BYOB? Will you limit the number of drinks each person is allowed? What will you do if someone shouldn’t drive home? How will you include those who don’t drink?
Remember that alcohol lowers inhibitions, so be alert and put a stop to any behavior that could lead to sexual harassment, discriminatory remarks or even violence. You should also curtail anything that negatively impacts productivity or causes employee discord.
As you implement new and unusual policies, keep an open mind and open ears. Listen to employees who bring you concerns or ideas for adjusting the new activity. The best decision will always be the one that protects the interests of both your workforce and your business.
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