In The Workplace

Our HR manager is a lawyer. The trouble with him is he’s using a lot of legal gobbledygook in defending the rationale behind our company policy. When people ask about the difficulties of a certain policy, he would often cite management prerogative to shut people out of the discussion. I thought that HR people should be diplomatic in dealing with the workers. Is there a better way?  – White Lady.

Citing legal grounds is a powerful argument, but only if common-sense solutions have been exhausted. In other words, you can only cite management prerogative when a dispute has reached the courts, but not when you’re trying to defend certain policies in the eyes of the workers.

People complain because of unreasonable company rules which are usually rooted in the command-and-control style of management, if not outright ignorance. Take this one current example raised by someone who is working from home. He was told of a new management directive that all workers similarly situated must ensure their respective computer cameras are on during office hours while working from home.

Is this a legitimate policy? Yes, but it’s not necessarily a smart and sensible move. In the first place, what’s the reason for such a policy? The person who raised the problem was told it’s a legal prerogative of the company, but was not told of the rationale behind it.

Therefore, we can only hazard a guess.

Maybe management wants to ensure that all workers remain productive. But aren’t there other options to ensure that we achieve productivity? For instance, why don’t they agree on a specific goal, the resources to be used, and reasonable timelines on a daily basis, without management haveing to do close supervision?

Management can also ask the workers to report their progress every four hours. But that’s too much. Eight hours is more reasonable for me.

The concerned worker doesn’t know th underlying reasons and he might be afraid to challenge that policy for fear of reprisal. He’s blindly following orders from a micromanager. And that’s the root of the problem.

Management prerogative is not absolute. It has limitations under the law, by an employment contract, industry standards or a Collective Bargaining Agreement as long as the policies are fair. Therefore, management prerogative should only be cited as a last resort whenever employees make unreasonable and repetitive inquiries.

And we’re not even sure if such a policy of having a computer camera open during office hours by people working from home is in violation of the Data Privacy Act. So, if we’re not sure, why create another problem?

American self-improvement expert Dale Carnegie (1888-1955) advised us: “The only way to influence people is to talk in terms of what the other person wants.” Do all employees want to increase their productivity? Surely, they would want that. There are only very few people who are lazy at work. For instance, if both the workers and their management agree that higher productivity is the way forward, then they must explore all possible means to make it happen. Under the principle of co-ownership, it’s better to ask the employees how they would solve a management concern, in this case increasing labor productivity.

Would that include turning on a camera while one is working? I doubt it. Most people hate micromanagement. They want flexibility and freedom to do their job without working in a fishbowl.

Carnegie said: “I have stopped talking about what I want. I am now trying to see the other person’s viewpoint. And these things have literally revolutionized my life. I am a totally different man, a happier man, a richer man, richer in friendships and happiness — the only things that matter much after all.”

Management should stop talking about prerogative. It’s a lazy excuse. As I said earlier, it should be the last resort. After all, there are many options available for creating situations where everyone’s voice is heard, processed, and analyzed. There’s no need for management to be pressured into accepting ideas it doesn’t want. If an idea is not feasible, then the best way is to explain it to the workers.

The real question is this: Is your manager willing to make their camera operational during office hours so they can be seen by the workers as well? I’m sure your HR manager and other department managers will also dislike the idea if the CEO asks them to comply with that policy. If not, then that’s clearly an unfair situation.

Sure, toxic managers would tell their employees: “Come up to my level before challenging my policy.” If it has come to that level of discussion, then that manager will not last. Therefore, elevating the discussion between labor and management to a higher level is always desirable.

That’s what we should always aim for. If management is successful, it will be viewed as full of energy and willing to discuss anything with the workers. Otherwise, if it cannot explain itself, then it doesn’t know what needs to be done to create a vibrant workplace.

Management can be in control but not to the point of making their workers work like zombies. In an ideal world, management must allow workers a bit of freedom and flexibility, which they can reciprocate by doing an excellent job. Clearly, trust begets trust.


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