Lame Rules That Make Good Employees Want To Quit

If you’re a small business owner, you know how hard it is to attract—and retain—good employees. Unfortunately, it’s even harder to hold on to your best employees. It’s not uncommon for good employees to occasionally leave because an amazing opportunity comes along. More often than not, however, their departure is the result of something within your company.

“Too many workplaces create rule-driven cultures that may keep management feeling like things are under control, but they squelch creativity and reinforce the ordinary.”

~ Medium

Rule-driven work cultures do not inspire the best employees to stick around. In fact, the most talented and hard-working ones are typically the first to go. No surprise there, since the best employees are in high demand and have more opportunities available to them. The problem is, when the good people go, what’s left behind is a pool of mediocre people who are mostly hanging around for the paycheck.

And guess what happens when you have a group of mediocre people doing mediocre work? It makes for a mediocre company. Medium suggests a simple principle for keeping the best people: “Stop creating dumb rules!”

If you’re rules are mostly directed at people you wish you hadn’t hired, then they’re probably dumb and unnecessary. Read on for some common workplace rules that may be driving away the best people:

Unnecessary Performance Reviews & Unfair Rankings

Talented people don’t deserve to be judged on the basis of some ten-point scale once a year. As Medium points out, “It doesn’t provide valuable feedback—it’s just a ritual that’s dreaded by everyone involved.” And ranking your people—best to worst in comparison to other employees—is even worse.

People don’t want to stay at companies that treat employees this way. “Talented people should be supported in their strength and uniqueness,” says Medium, “not compared with others or measured against arbitrary standards.”

Do away with annual reviews and rankings. Instead, give people room to shine by encouraging them to set goals and maintain high standards, and make sure you support their efforts. Trust them to be motivated and industrious, and if they don’t produce, let them go.

Mandatory On-site attendance

For many positions, intelligent people don’t require stringent policies that force them into showing up at the office. They already know the work they need to do that day and where best to get it done.

Sometimes they’ll recognize the value of learning and contributing in a group setting at the office, while at other times, they may realize that their time will be better spent working from home with availability by messaging or phone.

The people who regularly no-show and fail to contribute value will most likely be the same ones that aren’t meeting other company standards either. Take action accordingly.

Required Approval

How productive do you think you’d be in your personal life if someone else had to approve all your purchases and decisions? Now think about your best workers—do you really want them to waste their time chasing people down to get a stamp of approval?

Approvals may be appropriate for big projects or new procedures, but to require them on everything is absurd. Not only does it slow down work, but it also wastes money, and conveys to people that you don’t trust their judgment.

Have candid conversations with your people about how approvals are helping or hindering their work, and then cut back on the procedures that don’t really require your consent. Empower your people with the ability to make decisions that will increase efficiency and confidence.

Extreme Time off Limitations

When your best employees don’t feel good enough to come to work, don’t make them drag themselves out of bed to get a doctor’s slip. Tell your people that when they’re sick, you expect them to stay home and rest until they’re well enough to come back to work. For more serious illnesses, you could negotiate a transition time for the employee to work half days when appropriate.

Also, don’t make your people lie about wanting to take a personal day. Treat great employees with respect, trusting that they’ll honor their time and work hard delivering on their promises. Encourage them to take a down day when they need it—for whatever reason—no questions asked!

“Requiring documentation is another case of sending a message that you don’t trust the people you’ve hired,” says Medium.

Ineffective & Impersonal Employee Feedback Practices

Some organizations place complete faith in employee engagement surveys. But how effective are they, really? According to Medium, quick online surveys will give you shallow responses at best.

Want to know how things really are? Then walk around and ask your people face-to-face. Engage your people in honest conversations about what is working and what is not.

Don’t make your people speak through impersonal surveys. You’ll get to the heart of the matter a lot quicker if you go straight to the source and give them an opportunity to truly voice their opinions, concerns and ideas in a more humanized manner.

Prohibitive Cell Phone Use

If you’re making people check their phones at the door in an effort to prohibit the use of confidential documents or information conveys a lack of trust in your employees. Let your best people be responsible for making smart choices with their mobile devices.

It’s one thing to ask employees to be courteous about their cell phone use in the workplace. But not allowing them to take personal calls is ridiculous. After all, one of the main reasons we have cell phones is so people can contact us.

For those few employees who are constantly on their phones, you’re definitely within your rights to regulate use or discipline as needed.

Restrictive Internet Use

Don’t kid yourself, here. Even if your office has a restrictive internet policy, people are going to use it anyway, including the person who created the lame rule in the first place.

It’s understandable to regulate the type of sites employees visit, but forbidding access to information is just ridiculous. We work in a digital age, after all, and most people need to use the internet to do their jobs.

Trust the professionals you hired to do their jobs. If there are any policy infractions, you can handle them straight away on a one-on-one basis.

Throwback Probation Policies

Even today, many companies still require employees to be in a position for six months before they’re considered “official” enough to transfer or be promoted.

“It is very hard to transform your culture and your workforce to be a relevant company in the digital world if all of your processes are stuck in the traditional world.” ~ Julie Sweet

While this policy may have worked in the past but the work force is different now. Good employees that want to get around the six-month rule will simply defy it or quit. And rest assured they have plenty of other options.


According to Inc., the more rules you have, the less passion your employees will have, which means less motivation. The more rules, the less excitement, which diminishes performance. And the more rules you have, the less enthusiasm there is in the workplace, which results in lower profits.

Instead of blaming your turnover problems on the employee or external forces, try reevaluting your company’s rules to see if they’re responsible for the loss of your best people, then make the necessary changes to build a happy workplace, as well as a workforce that’s excited about sticking with you.

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Sherene Funk is the author of the contemporary romance Autumn in Your Arms and two small business e-books. She is a voracious reader who owns more books than she can ever read in this lifetime. A graduate of Brigham Young University, she worked in advertising for many years before moving to her current writing position at Rain Retail Software. She researches non-stop to see what successful retailers do and loves to share what she learns with small business owners.