Corporate Provocateur

The Employee's Bill of Rights


Actual employee rights in the U.S. are fairly limited. It’s legal to fire people (or decline to hire them in the first place) because they don’t belong to the boss’s favorite political party or because they prefer Liszt to Chopin or root for the Cubs. It’s legal to make hiring and termination decisions for random (nondiscriminatory) reasons.

Most employers wouldn’t make employment decisions on those flimsy bases, but a surprising number miss the mark in how they should treat employees in other ways. Hence our own Employee’s Bill of Rights. Consider it something of a pilot’s checklist for a healthy management culture, or the recipe for an entrepreneur who wants to ensure that outdated company policy thinking doesn’t hamstring his or her efforts to treat employees like valued collaborators.

We offer this list as a tool for organizations that want to do the right things but have policies and practices in place that subvert their efforts. They may have accumulated cumbersome and talent-repelling management policies slowly over time. They may have been tied up in red tape by a long-ago leader who missed the connection between empowered employees and business profitability. If your business isn’t quite up to snuff on one or several of these 10 items, feel free to pass along our list to whoever can put things “right.”

1. The Right to Be Hired Based on Qualifications
People who work for our company will get hired here because they have the background and soft skills for the job. We don’t hire people based on their family backgrounds, political affiliations, socioeconomic status, or other factors that have zip-all to do with the work on the desk.

2. The Right to Be Paid the Market Wage
We remunerate our employees based on what the talent marketplace pays people with similar backgrounds to do similar kinds of work. We don’t ask job candidates what they earned at their past jobs. We tell them what our salary range for each position is. We offer them what we believe is a fair wage for the position in question, whether it’s more or less money than they earned before.

3. The Right to Know What’s Expected
We tell our employees what we expect of them. We tell them at the outset what amazing performance on the job looks like, and we don’t move the goal posts during the game. We don’t keep people guessing with daily shifts in priorities. We tell them how they’re doing, any time they want to know.

4. The Right to Succeed Together
We don’t pit employees against one another. We believe that if employees compete with one another instead of our competitors, we lose and so do our customers. We don’t force-rank employees. We don’t force our managers to designate a small group of people winners and label a bunch of other people losers. If we don’t think any one of our employees is doing a great job, that person won’t work here long enough to get a performance review in the first place. We believe we all win when we pull for one another.

5. The Right to Have a Life
We value ideas and results, not face time. People who have succeeded at other companies by virtue of being glued to their office chairs around the clock probably won’t be successful here, because we care about results more than we care about seeing our employees’ mugs all day and night. We don’t work on weekends (unless the job is a weekend job) except in emergencies, and we don’t promote people to management jobs unless they feel the same way. We let people work at home sometimes if the job can get done that way.

6. The Right to Speak Up
We’d rather have our team members tell us when we screw up than watch a competitor eat our lunch. We want to know when we’ve blown it. If we disagree, we want to disagree openly, and we don’t fire people for speaking their minds respectfully. Our HR people are empowered to keep employee conversations confidential, except in cases of sexual harassment, employment discrimination, and illegal activities. We have an Ethics Hotline and other confidential channels for sounding the alarm when something is out of whack.

7. The Right to Be Treated With Respect
Even the most even-tempered people can get charged up when they feel strongly about an issue, and we promote healthy debate. We require respect among our employees and toward our customers and vendors, and vice versa. We don’t expect our employees to take abuse from our customers, or the other way around. Above all, we expect our managers to treat everyone as a valued fellow contributor. “Boss” to us means “mentor, coach, and team organizer,” not “tyrant” or “queen bee.”

8. The Right to Keep Learning
We don’t use an old-fashioned corporate ladder with defined career steps and timelines, because that sort of system won’t work in the complex and nonlinear work world we’re operating in now. We offer training opportunities to all our employees, not always in the classroom and not always by the book. We’ll never stand in the way of a team member’s professional growth if it doesn’t slow down our business. People who are good at spotting and exploiting creative learning opportunities are especially welcome.

9. The Right to Relevant Information
We give our employees the information and tools they need to do their jobs, from a piece of lab equipment to the straight dope on new sales territory assignments and upcoming product launches. We don’t believe information flows best when it goes exclusively through department managers to the people who can act on it. We want our employees to talk to one another and serve as mentors and boundary-spanners inside and outside our organization. Our success relies on it, actually.

10. The Right to Share Their Story
We have some proprietary information we need to keep away from our competitors and other inquiring minds. The rest of what our employees do on the job is theirs to talk about, blog about, or tweet about ’til they’re blue in the face (or fingers). We don’t prohibit our managers from giving job references. We’re horrified that any company would do that. We want our employees to be proud to say they worked for us, years after they leave us (maybe we can get them back one day). We encourage our employees to use LinkedIn (LNKD) and Facebook appropriately. We don’t try to silence our employees and former employees. We want them to spread the word about us, and we want to be worthy of their thumbs-up reviews.

Liz_ryan_2
Liz Ryan is an expert on the new-millennium workplace and a former Fortune 500 HR executive.

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