Workforce Management’s newsletter started an online debate this week on what to do when managers complained about smokers taking more or longer breaks to catch some puffs during every work day. They said other employees complained it was unfair. The hidden message, of course, let HR or someone in "upper management" give us a magic rule to beat these people with.
Hey, this is what leadership is about on a day-to-day basis. Every leadeship "problem" works the same way. I was disturbed that so many HR readers jumped in with various possible rules, perhaps the best of which was to have the smokers keep track of their time away from their jobs. At least that puts the problem on the perpetrators and also honors their honesty. Of course some would still abuse things and it only takes one bad example to put blame on all of them. At least it comes close to a coaching solution that gives responsibility to adult employees rather than trying to substitute childish rules.
The real key, of course is leadership by direct supervisors. There will always be issues to keep on top of with people whenever they work in groups. There is no magic formula for helping people problems work out logically other than the magic of one-on-one leadership.
My question to the discussion board, which no one took up, was – why go for rules when we have Best Buy’s example of a complete workplace with no time-keeping rules. They call it something like "Results-Only Work Hours" in which every employee determines what days and times they need to be at work… as long as they get results (usually set via objectives, for instance). This frees people to go to doctors, lawyers, even take days off when they need to. Naturally some will abuse it, but, guess what, someone will always abuse every rule as well, no matter how firmly it’s stated.
A great leader will use a coaching approach to ask an abuser (and just the one abuser, not the entire group)… what’s going on, what they really want, what needs to happen, etc. – the same five coaching quesitons leaders always apply. Out of that should come a commitment, personally made by the staff member, to try improvements until complaints stop. With a little coaching help, employees should be able to work this out to the satisfaction of their team mates. If they can’t, they need more coaching, but not to be treated like children with swipe-in time clocks, massive punishment or another couple of pages in the all-too-heavy employee handbook.