15 Stupid Workplace Rules Employers Should Eliminate

Jennifer Aniston in 'Office Space' gets an earful about the rules from management

Jennifer Aniston in Office Space gets an earful about the workplace rules. | Getty Images

What’s an easy way for management to kill productivity and office morale? Have a bunch of draconian, useless rules dictating how employees look, act, and feel every second they’re at work. If you’ve had an awful boss, then you’ve probably spent time living under a tyrannical regime with similar characteristics. Some employers simply want to run a tight ship (or make everyone miserable), so they use stacks of useless rules to keep everyone in line.

Of course, if you’ve worked under one of these people, you know the rules often don’t help productivity or professionalism. They only foment resentment toward management.

Stupid rules, management, and productivity

There is a need for some law and order around the office. Every workplace — be it an office, a restaurant, or even a remote gig — will have rules dictating what type of behavior is acceptable and what isn’t. If you’re an adult who’s spent any amount of time in the labor force, you know most of the rules are universal and are completely reasonable.

Wear your uniform, if need be. Show up on time. Don’t take vacations without telling anyone. These are all examples of perfectly reasonable rules workers can live with. But rules that dictate your behavior away from work or what you can or cannot look like? Those can be a bit over the line.

Here are 15 stupid workplace rules employers should explore banishing.

1. Drug testing

Obviously, drug testing is a necessary evil at some jobs. But if you’re a desk jockey or have another job where you’re not endangering other people, why should anyone care whether you use marijuana (or anything else) off the clock? In states where marijuana is legal, this is an issue that is starting to bubble up. Will anything change? We’ll have to wait and see.

 2. No telecommuting

man typing on laptop

A man works on his laptop. | iStock.com

A lot of jobs require you to be on site when there’s really no reason for it. So why don’t more employers allow their employees to telecommute? Most fear a loss in productivity, though some companies are starting to embrace it. If you could work from home even a couple of days per week, you could save a lot of time and money in commuting costs and have more time to get chores or errands done.

 3. Inflexible scheduling

Freeway Traffic

Working a 9-to-5 job means sitting in lots of traffic. | Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

Piggybacking off of the no-telecommuting policy that some companies stick to, inflexible scheduling is another. If you, like millions of others, are expected to be at your desk at 8 or 9 a.m. and stay there until 5 or 6 p.m., you know the commute can be absolute hell. How about allowing for staggered scheduling in order to alleviate some of that stress and save time? Many employers are still too glued to the traditional 9-to-5 to consider switching it up.

4. No food or drinks

A man scarfs food at his desk

A man scarfs food at his desk. | iStock.com

This isn’t all that common, but there are jobs that don’t allow you to have any food or drink in or around your work space. In some cases, it’s understandable — if you’re in a customer-service position, for example. Some employers don’t want crumbs in their keyboards, or coffee spilled on their hard drives. That’s understandable, as well. But not allowing someone to have a drink or granola bar within arm’s reach makes the work day a lot harder.

5. ‘Get a doctor’s note’

A man sick at work

A man stays home sick from work. | iStock.com

Sick policies are evolving, but the idea that you still need to bring in a doctor’s note to be excused is crazy, especially if your employer doesn’t offer health insurance. For many workers, missing work means a smaller paycheck, and a visit to the doctor can often cost several days worth of wages. Attitudes toward this are changing, but in many workplaces a doctor’s note is still required to excuse an absence.

6. Draconian grooming standards

A beard: proven productivity hack

Do beards increase productivity? | BeardBrand/Pistol PR

Nothing helps a man think, be productive, and get through the workday like stroking a beard, right? But some employers like to levy rather strict rules regarding grooming. Of course, they want you to bathe and not be a distraction, but making sure everyone is clean shaven or maintains very specific measurements with facial hair? That seems rather overbearing.

7. No hats

Carmelo Anthony wearing a dopey hat

Carmelo Anthony wears a dopey hat. | Jason Merritt/Getty Images

Your boss wants a professional workplace, and in many cases, a rule of no hats or head wear is reasonable. But other times, it’s not. If you’ve worked in an office that doesn’t see visitors (or anybody, really, in your cubicle), then what’s the harm in letting someone wear a baseball cap or beanie in the office? Evidently some employers take head wear quite seriously.

8. Annual performance reviews

candidate in a job interview

Two men sit in a review. | iStock.com

Annual performance reviews are rife with problems. But many, if not most, employers use them to evaluate workers for raises and promotions. There are reasons employers stick to these types of reviews, but there are issues associated with them. The time has come to do away with them, and some companies are instituting new ways to measure their workers’ success.

9. Dress codes

Man getting fitted for a suit

A man gets fitted for a suit. | Thinkstock

This is another rule that depends entirely upon where you work. But if you’re out of sight, why should you be expected to wear a collared shirt, or even a tie, every day? Some employers like the look and idea that it keeps everyone in a more professional mindset. But for a lot of people, it means spending a lot of money on an expensive wardrobe, often for no tangible benefit.

10. Scheduled breaks

A woman takes a smoke break

A woman takes a smoke break. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

If you’ve had a job where you go on break at X time, then you know how much of a godsend the ability to go out for a walk, a smoke, or to the bathroom whenever you damn well please can be. Basically, workdays don’t need to be quite so rigid (though again, there are exceptions). Workers will be more productive if they can take a break as needed, not when management dictates.

11. Rules concerning office furniture

chair in empty office

Often you’re not allowed to personalize your work space. | iStock.com/gabyjalbert

Some offices and workplaces have strict rules concerning their furniture. If you’re assigned an office or cubicle, you’re probably going to want to make it yours to a degree to make yourself comfortable. Some employers really don’t like this and have rules against moving anything — be it a chair, the positioning of a desk, etc. But there might be sound reasoning for it in some cases, in order to avoid injury or liability lawsuits.

12. Rules about personal effects

wallet full of cards

You might be told where to keep your personal items. | iStock.com

If you’re in a public-facing role, your boss or company might have rules against having personal effects on your person or nearby. That might mean you’re not allowed to keep your wallet, phone, or keys in your pockets or at least within eye shot. This might not be a big deal (and understandable, in some cases), but it can make some people uncomfortable if you fear your stuff will be stolen. Again, in some cases, these rules are justified. In other cases, they can be nothing more than an HR power trip.

13. Email rules

An email interface

Employers might restrict your email. | iStock.com

Some companies have rules regarding email. Some countries, such as France, actually want employees to disconnect from their emails. These rules sometimes can be annoying and difficult to comply with, but they’re meant to keep productivity up and free up resources. What kind of rules are we talking about? No emails about certain subjects, for some workplaces, and in others, no emails after or before a certain time.

14. Approval processes

Dispute between young boss and young employee

A boss and an employee run into a problem. | iStock.com/KatarzynaBialasiewicz

As a functioning adult, you probably expect and appreciate a certain level of autonomy in your professional life. But when you need approval and permission for every single thing you do that can be frustrating — sometimes enough to pack it up and find a new place to work. Obviously, approval processes exist for a reason and help to facilitate things. But they can and do go overboard.

15. Feedback methods

Two women engaged in a discussion

Two women offer feedback. | iStock.com

Have something to say? Need to complain about needless office rules or tattle on a co-worker who won’t stop harassing you or a colleague? Your company probably has a mechanism for that, and it’s probably through an antiquated and slow HR feedback tool. Giving your employer feedback is helpful for both parties, but making it difficult isn’t good for anyone.

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