Don’t Let Caution and Fear Stifle the Good Employees

employee hiding emotions behind a face mask

There is a natural inclination for business owners and those in charge of setting work policies to err on the side of caution. After all, in any company, there are always a few employees who take advantage of any leniency and push the boundaries.

Such employees can be damaging to an office’s culture and ultimately its bottom line. So it’s natural for employers to want to institute policies that deter these employees from misuse and causing harm.

The problem  – Good employees get caught up in the mix.

Check out a couple of replies to this question on Quora: What are some ridiculous company policies that you’ve faced?

Example of a work policy the created caution and fear to stifle the good employees
Image 1: Example of bad policy making

Given below is another example of bad policy making.

Absurd work policy
Image 2: Ridiculous work policy

Both replies highlight the adverse effects of knee jerk reactions from the management. The reply from Glenn (Image 2) is an apt example of policies made without proper analysis and understanding of the context as well as the impact.

Such absurd work policies breed and let caution and fear stifle the good employees.

Employers don’t want to stifle innovation and productivity of their good workers, but they also don’t want the bad apples to ruin things for everyone.

What’s the best way to approach this delicate balance?

1.Promote a Culture of Trust

The key to creating an environment where good employees can thrive is to foster a culture of trust. Employees should feel comfortable speaking up when they see something that isn’t right, and they should trust that their employers will take appropriate action.

Employers can help cultivate this atmosphere of trust by being transparent with their employees. They should communicate their expectations and policies openly, and they should be willing to listen to feedback and make changes when necessary.

Enforcing strict policies without first establishing a culture of trust can backfire, as employees may feel like they are being micromanaged or that their employer doesn’t trust them. This can lead to decreased morale and even higher turnover rates.

2. Create Clear Policies

While it’s important to promote a culture of trust, it’s also important to have clear policies in place. These policies should be specific, measurable, and achievable. They should also be communicated clearly to employees, so everyone is on the same page.

Be transparent with the why, what and how for each policy.

  • Why is there a need for this policy?
  • What is the scope of the policy?
  • How to implement and how does it impact people, processes and outcomes?

3. Be Flexible

While it’s important to have policies in place, it’s also necessary to be flexible. Policies should be adapted to the individual workplace, and employees should be able to ask for exceptions when necessary.

4. Encourage Open Communication

Encouraging open communication is another way to establish trust in the workplace. Employees should feel comfortable discussing their concerns and ideas with their managers. This type of communication can help identify issues before they become a problem.

5. Create a Safe Environment

A safe environment is another key component of a healthy workplace. Employees should feel comfortable coming forward with their concerns without fear of retaliation. Managers should also be sure to create an environment where employees feel comfortable challenging the status quo and offering new ideas.

What are some common work policies and rules that stifle employee happiness and engagement?

1) Having a strict attendance policy

This can make it difficult for employees to take care of personal matters or attend to illnesses. Employees are entitled to leaves and should not be made to justify their absence from work. You don’t need to be sick to want a day off from work.

2) Requiring employees to be available after office hours to answer calls or emails

This can lead to employees feeling overworked and stressed out. On the contrary, good managers ensure employees get time off from work and maintain a healthy work life balance. Here is a link to one of our earlier posts – How often should you unplug from work?

3) Having a strict dress code

This can make employees feel uncomfortable and restrict their freedom of expression. Companies hire adults. Adults can be trusted to dress as per the work setting. Yes, there can be one-off incidents where someone may need a polite and quiet counselling for his or her understanding of appropriate office-wear. Do just that.

Strict dress code at work is another example of policies that breed and let caution and fear stifle the good employees

4) Restricting breaks to pre-defined hours

This can lead to employees feeling exhausted and overworked. Don’t pre-schedule coffee and lunch breaks for your employees. Let them eat when they want to.

5) Not allowing employees to work from home

This can make employees feel isolated and disconnected from the company. All recent studies and surveys highlight that employees want the flexibility to work from anywhere. A study by Owl Labs reports that “74% of workers say that having a remote work opportunity would make them less likely to leave a company”.

How can caution and fear stifle good employees?

Fear is a natural reaction to danger, and it can be a powerful motivator. When used in healthy doses, fear can help people stay safe and make good decisions. However, fear can also have negative consequences when it is used excessively or inappropriately.

Fear can have a crippling effect on an individual, but it can also hurt a company when it’s used as a management tool. When individuals are constantly living in fear of making mistakes, they become paralyzed and are unable to take risks or innovate. The same is true for companies. When employees are afraid to make decisions or share new ideas, the company will stagnate.

Caution and fear stifle employee happiness and satisfaction at work
Don’t let caution and fear stifle the good employees

When people are afraid, they often become more conservative and risk-averse. They are less likely to take chances or speak up with new ideas.

How can employers avoid this pitfall?

How can employers stop creating fear-based policies? While it is important for employers to be aware of potential risks, it is also important to create policies that will be effective and help to foster a productive work environment.

When creating policies, employers should consider the following:

  • Do you really need this policy? Check data, talk to employees and experts to be sure.
  • What are the goals of the policy?
  • What are the risks associated with the policy?
  • How will the policy be enforced?
  • What are the potential consequences of violating the policy?
  • Who will be responsible for administering the policy?
  • Are there any exceptions to the policy? Define the scope of the policy.


Random and one-off bad events should not be the sole drivers behind policy making at work. This can hurt good employees and create a toxic work environment.

When bad things happen, it’s natural to want to do something to make sure they don’t happen again. But remember that not every bad thing is a sign of an underlying problem that needs to be fixed with a new policy.

Most of the time, one-off bad events are just that: one-off occurrences that don’t have anything to do with the way your company works or the people who work there.

There’s a danger in assuming that every bad thing is a sign of a problem that needs to be fixed. When you do that, you can end up wasting time and energy on things that don’t matter, and you can miss out on the real problems that need to be addressed.

Do not fix what’s not broken.

By Nitesh Verma

Founder - Business Management Blog. I am an independent business strategy consultant, helping companies take data driven business decisions. My mission is to find and implement simple solutions for complex business problems.

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