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The most ridiculous and strict workplace rules fall into four categories

That the office should be a place of professional behaviour goes without saying. But some bosses are still known to add strict workplace rules to the mix to make sure staff don't run amok.
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We need workplace rules. They ensure the smooth running of a business and protect both boss and employee when an altercation occurs. But piling one on top of the other – and perhaps extending into absurd territory – takes a toll on the happiness of staff.

There’s one striking example as to why. It’s a story penned in The Atlantic by Sarah Carr, the editor of the Teaching Project. Entitled “how strict is too strict?” it follows student Summer Duskin, who had just started at Carver Collegiate Academy.

“She struggled to keep track of all the rules,” Carr wrote. “There were rules governing how she talked. She had to say thank you constantly, including when she was given the ‘opportunity’ – as the school handbook put it – to answer questions in class.

“Duskin had to communicate using ‘scholar talk,’ which the school defined as complete, grammatical sentences with conventional vocabulary. When students lapsed, they were corrected by a teacher and asked to repeat the amended statement.”

Why is it an important example? As Duskin explained in Carr’s article: “It felt like I was in elementary school.” In this case, “it’s not personal, just business” won’t get you far. Staff are human and bound to take things to heart – they just won’t tell you about it. 

CV-Library research, however, concluded some bosses weren’t taking the consequences of workplace rules into account. It turns out 22.5 per cent of workers – some 1,000 took part in the study – feel they can’t be trusted as a result of overzealous policies.

It also seems to incite rebellion, with 57.2 per cent disobeying rules they deem silly. Arguably of more importance, however, was that the company managed to file the most ridiculous workplace rules cited by staff into four specific categories.

(1) Time is constantly ticking

If you’re two minutes late in one business you’ll have your pay docked by 15 minutes, and in another you aren’t allowed to travel further than 20 metres away from the building in case you’re back late,” the CV-Library explained of its findings. It even found that time frames had been placed on toilet breaks.

This echoes a Daily Mail article, which suggested Norwegian insurance company DNB had installed an alarm system in toilets that alerted managers if an employee spent too much time there. Staff were allowed eight minutes of toilet time per day before the siren went off.

(2) What to do when it comes to dress code

“Some respondents claimed they had to wear particular coloured clothes to match the business,” it said. “Women weren’t allowed to wear trousers, and one individual even said they were sent home for not dressing down.”

The latter sounds familiar, though its more a case of being sent home for not wearing heels. It spurred on a petition to ban employers from forcing women into heels. But the government stressed that current laws were already “adequate” enough when it came to gender-based discrimination.

(3) Don’t even think of saying it

Certain employees weren’t allowed to talk out loud when they weren’t in a dedicated staff room, almost like the silent section of a train. Others claimed what they said was being tailored – “they weren’t allowed to say hello to a customer, only ‘good morning’, or ‘good afternoon’,” CV-Library detailed.

Surely not? Actually, such workplace rules do exist. A slightly skewed version of the policy was detailed by The Telegraph detailed in 2014. French ecology minister Ségolène Royal made staff stand up when she arrived, and that people weren’t allowed to use the corridor that runs next to her office when she ate, as the noise was distracting.

(4) Drinks not permitted past this point

It sounds odd, but according to the company, staff flagged up policies which prevent them from drinking water or carry beverages up and down the stairs. Some claimed it was to prevent spillage across desks.

A previous search on Reddit around the “dumbest workplace rules” saw one employee explain: “My place of employment only lets staff drink water from small cups, and you must drink the whole cup immediately, then dispose it. You are not allowed to have water bottles on shift, no matter which part of the store you are working in.”

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About Author

Shané Schutte

Shané Schutte is a senior reporter at Real Business, with a particular specialism in employment and business law, human resources, information technology and sales/marketing.

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