Whatever you do, don’t do ‘Dos and Don’ts’

Do's and Don'ts

Do read this (unless you Don’t think it’s safe to)

Those of you who are avid readers of this blog (thanks both) will know that I have blogged before about rules for staff.

The reason this subject keeps coming up is that I am constantly seeing employers issuing large quantities of rules for staff to follow – sometimes between 15 and 30 lines long.

Normally, the same managers are obsessed with getting a physical ‘sign-off’ from their employee that they have ‘read and understood and agree to follow’ all the rules.

There seems to be the impression amongst employers and their managers that this is a good way of divesting their responsibility – by putting the onus on staff to follow endless rules.

What’s the Problem?

Firstly, human beings don’t work that way, they’re thinking of computers.

The sheer cognitive overload required by their staff to follow a myriad of different rules would tax most minds, and as a result the employees just sign because they want to get on with the job – and from then on, there is no connection between the rules and the way that the work is actually done.

Often the rules seemed to be aimed at idiots, for example ‘Don’t touch hot parts of machinery’ or ‘Use common sense’ ‘Follow safe Manual Handling’ etc.

Frequently the rules contain lots of double negatives, for example ‘Don’t forget to always turn the machine off’ ‘Always remember to avoid switching the ‘Kill Operator’ mode on’ (OK, only joking on that one).

I think that most people would be horrified if they discovered on boarding a plane that the pilot was following a badly written hotchpotch of preflight rules containing sometimes contradictory information. But we’re willing to do the same thing for our employees at work.

Secondly, the issuing of rules in this way gives false comfort to the managers involved.

What is often not appreciated is that for each rule a manager devises, a corresponding ‘invisible rule’ is being created for themselves to follow.

This comes under the general duty of managers to adequately supervise the work of their employees, and not to connive with employees in allowing work to proceed in an unsafe manner.

So, in effect when the manager creates an important rule for the employee to follow, they are also creating an obligation on themselves to check that they are carrying out the work in accordance with that rule.

The crazier the rules that are created, the greater the burden for both the employee and the manager.

The answer, always, involves some effort (sorry)

The answer to this sad state of affairs, is for managers to hold genuine consultation with staff about what elements of the job are potentially dangerous and where setting a rule would be helpful.

In addition, ‘Competent Employees’ can be said to possess a combination of factors (I remember it as ‘STAKE-holders’) Skill, Training, Attitudes, Knowledge and Experience’.

….nothing in there about carrying around a box of written Rules.

So, fair enough for a manager to train staff up using an ‘aide-memoire’ to carry out the work in the safest way, but don’t let’s pretend that each time a new piece of work comes up you can ensure safety by retrieving the set of rules ‘punch-card’ and programming the employees with it.

Managers who devise only the necessary rules for their staff are also making their own lives easier by having fewer things to check.

In addition, it should help employer–employee relations for the employee to feel that they are valued as a member of the team. The manager should be able to trust them to carry out work in line with their training, in combination with observing only the most important safety rules.

Needless to say, it is far better to focus on a succinct list of active ‘Doing’ words, than a mixed list of Dos and Don’ts.

By the way, if you Don’t agree with my punctuation in relation to ‘Dos and Don’ts’, then Do contact me.