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Could these counterintuitive policies work for your company?


We talk about alternative work arrangements and generally progressive workplace policies, but usually nothing too unorthodox: flexible scheduling, telecommuting, broad benefit plans, and so on. Over the last few years, though, companies have become much more creative in their efforts to make and keep employees happy. It’s old news that Google’s offices feature games, free food and massages in a casual and comfortable atmosphere. Many others have followed suit.

Online MBA recently presented a list of “20 Counterintuitive Company Policies That Actually Work,” some of which might seem surprising at first, but which an increasing number of companies have found successful. The list includes:

  1. No vacation policy
  2. Telecommuting
  3. Open-source collaboration
  4. Planning as you go
  5. Paid community service
  6. Giving decision-making authority to everyone
  7. Working spouse bonuses
  8. Paying new employees to quit
  9. Horizontal hierarchy
  10. Zero emails
  11. No layoffs
  12. Benefits for part-timers
  13. Saying no to customer requests
  14. Sabbatical leave
  15. Newborns in the office
  16. Closed on Sunday
  17. Unlimited sick days
  18. Half-day Fridays
  19. Maternity buddies
  20. Unlimited full post-secondary tuition reimbursement

Some might not seem so extraordinary, like half-day Fridays, closing on Sundays and maternity buddies, but who is paying employees to quit? (Besides the federal government.) But take a closer look and it doesn’t seem so crazy. Zappo’s, a large US-based online shoe and clothing retailer, offers new employees $2,000 to leave:

…it’s a great way to test commitment and find employees that are willing to stick around and do a great job. They do have new employees take them up on this offer, with 10 percent of new call centre employees taking the money and running, but it all works out for the best. Zappos is happy to spend this money to weed out employees with a bad fit sooner rather than later.

What about spreading decision-making authority high and low? According to Online MBA:

Most companies do not put a lot of faith in new hires and rank-and-file employees, but some management experts believe this is a mistake…. companies would do well to adopt a policy that everyone, right down to the lowly shipping clerk, should be given some measure of decision-making authority. As long as you’re hiring the right people, chances are that they’ll step up to the challenge and make smart, informed decisions that benefit from their unique, on-the-ground expertise.

Okay, those policies make sense in a weird kind of way, but zero emails? Come on! Well:

A tech company with a zero email policy certainly sounds strange. But Atos has done just that, banning employees from sending emails. Although it doesn’t seem to make sense, when you look at the numbers, we can see where they’re coming from. CEO Thierry Breton points out that although employees typically receive 200 messages each day, only 10 percent of them are actually useful. They’re working to cut out internal emails in a matter of 18 months, instead asking employees to use instant messaging and other methods of communication.

Hmm. Actually, that makes sense too. Why don’t more companies use instant messaging rather than email? What about unlimited sick days? Surely employees will simply abuse such a policy.

Like unlimited vacation days, unlimited sick days just sounds like an opportunity for exploiting company time. But this is a policy that makes a lot of sense for overall productivity. When you think about it, it is a little silly to tell an employee that they only have a certain amount of days in which they can be sick, as if that is something that’s within their control. Once those days are up, most will come in to work sick rather than taking an unpaid day, spreading germs and misery around the workplace, and putting other employees at risk for picking up a productivity-busting bug, too. Companies with an unlimited sick days policy enjoy the potential for a healthier, more productive workplace.

I know I’ve gone to work sick when I shouldn’t have because of worry that my employer won’t approve if I take a sick day. I’ve probably caught a couple of colds from others who have done it too.

I’d like to know if you think these policies are actually unorthodox at all. Have any of these practices come up at your workplace? What do you think is the most unorthodox employment policy in your handbook?

Adam Gorley
First Reference Human Resources and Compliance Editor

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Adam Gorley

Adam Gorley is a copywriter, editor and researcher at First Reference. He contributes regularly to First Reference Talks, Inside Internal Controls and other First Reference publications. He writes about general HR issues, accessibility, privacy, technology in the workplace, accommodation, violence and harassment, internal controls and more. Read more
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