The Five Most Idiotic HR Policies Ever

Liz Ryan

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Ask a company recruiter the state of the job market, and she'll tell you that certain, key jobs are always hard to fill. A great marketing chief, a terrific CTO or other pivotal ‘value creator’ is not born every minute. So which companies end up with the talent? The ones that treat people like adults, rather than like irresponsible children. The ones that assume that people are doing what they're hired to do, without being watched like hawks. The companies that will always get the talent, when competition is stiff, are the ones who don't allow in idiotic HR practices like the five prize turkeys listed here.

Here's our roundup of all-time most offensive HR policies. If these sound familiar, you might want to think about whether your talents would be more highly valued elsewhere!


You know these systems, especially if you've ever worked in the technology industry: they're the ones that force managers to rank their employees in “best to worst" order, to literally rank Susie ahead of Jim and behind Jane in an annual listing. These policies are appalling. Apart from the built-in hypocrisy that has the company telling everyone all year long, “We're a team! We're a team!" and then literally pitting each one against the other once a year, there's a horrifying philosophy associated with a Forced Ranking system: the belief that people can be reduced to one, lowest common denominator (called “worth" or “usefulness" or “indispensability" or something else, although never defined)and listed in rank order on that basis. What a vile presumption.

If we're not being viewed by our employers as the complex, creative, insightful beings we believe ourselves (on our good days, anyway) to be, then it's time for us to find new employers. Forced Ranking systems don't work, they're insulting, and the companies that employ them don't deserve us.


As a corporate HR person for over 20 years, there were policies that I hated to enforce, and others that I fought to overturn. Without question, the most absurd benefits-related policy was the one that said to expectant moms, “If you tell us that you're coming back to work after your maternity leave, your health premiums will be paid for. But if you say that you're not coming back to work, you'll have to pay your own premiums. " D-oh! What would you expect a mom (especially a first-time mom) to say? She'll say she's coming back to work, ninety-nine percent of the time. After all, no one can say for sure that she's NOT intending to return to work.

Why enforce a policy that encourages people to be less than truthful? Pay the blinking premiums, ask the employee what her plans are, listen to what she tells you, and proceed accordingly. If you're going to have to replace her, you don't want to have to wait until the day she's due back from maternity leave to learn that - surprise! - she's decided to stay home with the baby. You can't blame a person for waiting until the last minute to make such a decision, when hundreds to thousands of dollars are at stake.


Smart companies hire smart people, and they use Comp Time policies to give these folks some time off when they earn it. Comp time is just a way of saying that when you've worked a lot of hours (and you're also a salaried employee, who can't be paid a dime for that overtime) you should be able to take some time off here and there. Comp time allows people to go see the doctor, go Christmas shopping, or otherwise take care of the business of living without using vacation, sick or personal time. If your company doesn't hesitate to let people work on weekends and at night, but won't hear of a Comp Time policy to even things out, then I've got a couple of websites (Monster, HotJobs and CareerBuilder, to name a few) you've got to see.


Of course, there's no such thing as a Talent Reduction Policy. I made that up. But there are plenty of companies who put ridiculous and draconian restrictions on internal transfers and promotions, to the point that frustrated (but talented) people simply leave the company rather than waiting around for the job they want and are qualified for. If your company requires your manager to sign off on your request for an internal transfer (and you've put in your dues: say, one year in the job already), then they're asking for a Brain Drain and they deserve one. You don't have to get your manager's signature to apply for a job across the street, now do you?


Travel is a huge expense for most companies - sometimes it's second only to payroll when those expense line items are rolled up. But, still. How cheap does a company have to be to take back the Frequent Flyer miles that employees earned with their own dang butts in those uncomfortable airline seats? And how about policies that say that you can take a client to dinner and spend $50, but only spend $15 if you eat by yourself? Yes, it's important to be cost-conscious when writing a travel policy. But a policy that requires you to get from Pittsburgh to Chicago on a non-direct flight is valuing its cash above your time, your mental energy, and your health. That's simply wrong.

HR policies say a lot about what kind of company you're working for. Considering a job offer? Ask for (and actually read) the company's Employee Handbook, and you'll learn a ton. Run - don't walk - away from companies that undervalue their employees every day with bad HR practices. You won't regret it.

Liz Ryan is a former Fortune 500 HR executive, a workplace expert and the CEO and founder of WorldWIT, the online network for professional women. Liz speaks and writes about the workplace, HR, and work-life issues. When she's not working, Liz sings opera and hangs out with her five small kids. She lives in Boulder, Colorado.


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