Rethink Your Work Rules

The purpose of The Traps and Gaps Article Series is to help you turn off your auto-pilot, slow down, and think about some of the most important aspects of your business. Whether you are starting a new business or revamping an existing one, one of the easiest traps to fall into is trying to do something new but keeping the same old work rules.  Work rules in this article means everything from normal work expectations to formalized benefits. Examples of some work rules are: no pets at work, Casual Fridays, 8 a.m. work day start, open office space, weekly staff meetings, annual performance reviews, sick days, and vacation days. These are all very ordinary work rules. They may be the norm but are they the best work rules for your business?

You may be recycling the same work rules for some good reasons. First, using work rules that people are already used to is safe.  If nobody expects to be able to bring a pet to work, they won't even ask and you can avoid the awkward discussion about the cat box and hairballs. Using the familiar is easy.  Using the familiar is convenient and fast. And let’s not forget that changing work rules can be messy.  Very messy. People get touchy about things like where they park, what time they come to work, and what they are supposed to wear. Can’t this bullet be dodged?

What work rules will help our company do what we are doing only better, higher, faster?

Using familiar work rules may be safe, fast, and easy but they also may not be the work rules that supercharge your business.  Rethink your work rules by asking the important question: what work rules will help our company? Whether it makes your company more competitive because you are open longer hours for clients or helps improve employee retention, the goal is to have work rules that unleash the potential in your employees, create the best experience for your clients, and support the highest performance of your business.

Here is a case example to get you started. It is a messy issue but it will show you a thought process for rethinking your work rules.


You have a team that loves pets and bringing pets to work is going to help them stay at the office later, be happier, stay with your company longer, and be more productive. Should you change the policy and allow pets in the office?

Decision Process

Allowing pets in the office is a complicated issue. Break the issue into smaller pieces and think about work rules in terms of their effect on three different areas: people outside your business, people inside your business, and individuals. 

People Outside Your Business (Customers, Vendors, Agency Reps, and Lawyers)

How will having pets in the office affect our clients or associates? If people we meet with like pets and we don't foresee allergy or health and safety issues, then will it help our business image to be pet-friendly? If there is a law about pets in public spaces, you need to consider this in order to protect your business from legal risk.

People Inside Your Business (All Employees)

Does having pets harm anyone? If someone is allergic to dogs, or doesn't like dogs, that is a consideration. Would having pets improve the overall function of the team? Pets are shown to be great at stress reduction and maybe this is just what your office needs.


Very rarely the needs of one person may be a good reason to change your work rules. Perhaps you have a person who is incredibly central to the team and they really need his or her pet at work. Everybody else may not want a pet at work but can they live with it? Implementing work rules for an individual case is not the strongest driver for work rules but think about this: sometimes accommodating the minority on a need, whether it is gender neutral bathrooms or pets, reveals something about the wider company values of diversity, empathy, and inclusion.

Only you know how the "pets in the office" case would be decided in your work setting but if you are considering new rules, an excellent strategy is a trial. I appreciated finding this real-life story about a company who was dog-friendly but wanted to give equal time to cats. They tried "Feline Friday" which may have been fine for the people but wasn't at all popular with the two cats! Nonetheless, they experimented and that is an excellent strategy for work-rule revision.

You may be surprised at the positive impact that work rules changes can have on your bottom line. Just like changing the color or location of a website call-to-action button, something that isn't very expensive or difficult can pay off big-time. You may already have some ideas about work rule changes but if you need help, take some of your key people out to a favorite watering hole and ask for some ideas. Questions like "What policies drive you nuts?" or "What would your ideal work environment look like?" might work.  At the very least you will have an interesting conversation and your employees will see that you are open to change. You probably won’t end up with Feline Fridays but you just may discover new thinking that leads to better-fitting work rules, happier people, and a stronger business.

Click here to read about what happens when cats come to the office.

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