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20 Counter-Intuitive Company Policies That Actually Work

Sharing sensitive information, offering unlimited vacation, and staying closed on the busiest day of the week might sound like a recipe for disaster, but for a few companies, they’re some of the best ideas they’ve ever had. Although counter-intuitive policies certainly look crazy at first glance, with an understanding of their reasoning and how they really work, we discover that can be incredibly useful for those who have implemented them. Read on and find out how mind-boggling company policies are making a difference and leading some companies to incredible success.
  1. No vacation policy.

    One might think that allowing employees to take off as much time as they’d like would only encourage them to slack off 90% of the time, but the fact is that in most cases, it actually increases productivity. A policy that allows employees to relax as much as they want, provided they get their work done, ensures that they do just that: get their work done. Also, as Hubspot founder Dharmesh Shah points out, it means that employees don’t scramble to use their vacation days at certain points of the year, hoarding days and creating a spike of vacations that can leave the office short-staffed.
  2. Telecommuting.

    Like unlimited vacation policies, a policy that allows for regular telecommuting often ensures increased productivity. Allowing employees to work at home brings to mind visions of workers doing laundry and lazing about in their PJs, but in reality, companies often benefit greatly from telecommuting arrangements. A survey from CompTIA indicates that organizations with telecommuting employees enjoy better productivity, lower operational costs, and can even find and retain talented workers at a higher rate.
  3. Open source collaboration.

    For many companies, it does not make any sense to release proprietary, confidential information. But going “open source” turned out to be just the thing for mining company GoldCorp when it was struggling to make sense of a mining site in Ontario. The corporation published the company’s proprietary geological data, and invited the world to join in prospecting, offering a $575,000 prize for those who could help find gold. This call to prospectors was received, and led to the mass collaboration discovery of 8 million ounces of gold, a find worth more than $3 billion. GoldCorp learned that closed system policies shouldn’t always stay that way.
  4. Planning as you go.

    So much work is often focused on planning ahead, but Tripp Babbitt of Quality Digest argues that this effort might be better spent on understanding demands as they develop. Although there is something to be said for working proactively rather than reactively, Babbitt points out that many plans are full of assumptions that may or may not be correct, leading to disaster.
  5. Paid community service:.

    Why oh why would you pay your employees to go do free work for someone else? Because community service done by your employees is a very good thing. It helps employees build character, learn new skills, make new connections, and develop further appreciation for what they do. This is also a great opportunity to develop bragging points for the company, pointing out an active commitment to supporting your community.
  6. Giving decision-making authority to everyone.

    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. They believe that 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.
  7. Working spouse bonuses.

    It’s not hard to figure out why most companies would prefer for their employees to have a stay-at-home spouse: fewer absences, outside commitments, and surprise sick days. But some companies actually have a policy of rewarding employees with a bonus if their spouse has a job that provides insurance. Most companies have adopted a policy to require that any employee whose spouse can take employer-sponsored health insurance must do so, but others go the extra mile, awarding those same couples with a bonus check for the savings. This typically makes financial sense, as coverage of a spouse is likely to cost several thousands of dollars a year.
  8. Paying new employees to quit.

    Offering new employees $2,000 to walk right out the door sounds like insanity. But at Zappos, 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% of new call center 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.
  9. Horizontal hierarchy.

    Managers, middle-managers, and executive managers are a staple of corporate life, but some companies are doing away with them, adopting a policy of horizontal hierarchy instead. Although some might think this leads to anarchy in the workplace, companies like W.L. Gore & Associates enjoy an incredibly effective corporate culture. Everyone is considered an associate, and natural leaders emerge based on the respect of their peers.
  10. Zero emails.

    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% of them are actually useful. They’re working to cut out internal emails in a matter of 18 months, instead asking employees to use IM and other methods of communication.
  11. No layoffs.

    We’ve seen plenty of mass layoffs in the past five years, but while some are shedding employees by the thousands, others are committed to never letting go of anyone, ever. The Lincoln Electric Company has had a no-layoff policy for more than 60 years, adhering to the words of an early manager, James F. Lincoln: “Managers are responsible for efficiency. Efficiency depends on human co-operation. Co-operation demands that fear of losing income be eliminated. This can only be done by guaranteed continuous employment.” As a result, the company has found that employees with this type of job security are willing to work harder, trust management, show flexibility, and delve into innovation. Lincoln Electric has done so well that they’ve been able to reward their employees not only with stable employment, but also with generous bonus checks each year for the past 75 years.
  12. Benefits for part-timers.

    Benefits are an expensive perk for companies to offer, with each employee representing thousands of dollars of investment in health care, retirement, and more. Most companies are loathe to spend these dollars on part-time employees that do not generate as much revenue for the organization as full-time employees do, but there are a handful that do, and it makes a lot of sense for them. Although there’s a higher trade-off, organizations like Starbucks, IKEA, and Target reap the benefits of attracting and retaining better-qualified, harder-working, and more committed part-time workers.
  13. Saying no to customer requests.

    The customer is always right. Right? Not necessarily. 37signals founders Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson say that adopting a policy of saying no to customer requests can actually be a smart business strategy. Instead, keeping things simple, manageable, and within a scope that satisfies most of your clients can work to your advantage. Going out of your way to satisfy the needs of a small population of clients will win their loyalty and appreciation, but at the same time, might lead to difficulty in your organization as you stretch to make it work.
  14. Sabbatical leave.

    For some employees, taking on a corporate job represents giving up on your dreams. Volunteering in your community, going on a tour of Europe, or just exploring happiness in your own life at home is difficult, if not impossible to do while you’re maintaining a 9-5 lifestyle. But at companies like Deloitte, you can have it both ways. This firm allows employees to enjoy sabbatical leave with three to six months of partially paid leave for volunteering or career enhancement opportunities. Missing an employee for that long certainly hurts, but when they return, Deloitte reaps the benefits of a refreshed, well-rounded, and inspired employee that is highly grateful for the opportunity.
  15. Newborns in the office.

    Babies and offices traditionally don’t mix, but at Schools Financial Credit Union, babies are welcomed at work. In 10 years, the credit union has had 80 different babies in the office, and vice president of marketing Nathan Schmidt says they’re not a distraction at all. In fact, allowing babies to come to work with their employee parents is a great strategy for avoiding the productivity slump that is typically experienced when workers stay home with a new baby and this policy is great for attracting highly qualified employees who are, or plan to become, parents.
  16. Closed on Sunday.

    Sundays are one of the biggest days in fast food and retail sales, but companies like Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby have maintained a Closed-on-Sunday policy for years. Closing on Sunday reflects the values of these companies as they allow employees to spend the day with their families and/or practice their faith, a move that Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy has called “one of the best business decisions he has ever made.” While traditional logic might say that they’re missing out on the opportunity for huge sales each week, Cathy knows better. His restaurants consistently generate more business per square foot in six days than other similar restaurants can produce in seven.
  17. Unlimited sick days.

    Like unlimited vacation days, unlimited sick days just sound 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.
  18. Half day Fridays.

    Every Friday at 1 p.m., Mattel closes down its offices and encourages employees to “find their inner child.” We think this policy is a smart one, for obvious reasons. Productivity typically takes a nosedive on Friday afternoons, and by giving employees this guaranteed afternoon off to enjoy themselves, we bet Mattel benefits from employees that work hard during the week to make sure it all gets taken care of one way or another.
  19. Maternity buddies.

    Many companies find that it’s difficult to transition new moms back to work, as they find it hard to leave their children at home or daycare, figure out how to pump breastmilk at work, and deal with new commitments that can be distracting to the workplace. That’s why accounting firm Plante & Moran encourages new moms to spend company time hanging out with other moms that work for the firm, a move that sounds like it wastes productive hours, but actually encourages moms to do a better job in the workplace. As these maternity buddies partner up, they learn how to make a successful transition back to work from someone who has been there and knows exactly what to do.
  20. Unlimited full college tuition reimbursement.

    Any employee who has gone back to school is certainly familiar with the HR hoops they have to jump through to get reimbursement for their educational expenses. Earning a certain grade, limiting benefits, and curriculum restrictions can make going back to school a frustrating process. But some companies have done away with several of these restrictions, adopting a policy of unlimited free learning for their employees. JM Smucker gives its employees 100% college tuition reimbursement with no ceiling, allowing them to explore and learn without fear, and bring their new knowledge and experience back to the workplace.
  This article was first posted in Online MBA.

This is an article contributed to Young Upstarts and published or republished here with permission. All rights of this work belong to the authors named in the article above.

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