I just read a post from compensation consultant Chuck Csizmar touching on the problem of bureaucracy within organizations. In it, Csizmar recounts a scenario that all of us have at some point experienced in our lives: While at the post office/DMV/store/work etc., we find ourselves in need of guidance on how to generate a solution to a novel problem. As opposed to sharing anything useful, however, the representative we seek assistance from instead parrots a vaguely applicable policy out of a handbook. As consumers/customers in these situations, the non-advice is both frustrating and simultaneously damaging to .1. This is a good post. Check it out at the Compensation Cafe here.our faith in the ability of the institution in question to meet our needs. 1

With that said, reading Csizmar’s post this morning made me think of the tightrope many of us in HR walk where it concerns communicating potentially sensitive information to employees. Often tasked with policy compliance, one of our most important jobs as HR Managers is to protect our companies from legal liability. Beyond that, we’re also tasked with managing employee relations and keeping the peace. Consequently, there can sometimes be a real incentive to communicate as little information as possible to inquiring employees beyond the exact policy in a handbook. After all, even if only 3% of employees are likely to exploit deviation from specific policy, that 3% can often create interpersonal and/or legal problems of a far greater proportion.

Ergo, everyone is managed to the standard of the small percentage of the workforce that need to be bound by regimented policy. Instead of treating the 97% of an employee population like the adults they are, in the pursuit of mitigating potential legal liability and interpersonal conflict those people are instead treated like children.

Case in point: Very early in my career, while interning at a company I encountered a situation where for months a contractor did outstanding work for the organization. The contractor hadn’t had any behavioral issues throughout their assignment, and had performed at a very high level. As such, the company extended a full-time job offer.

During the pre-employment process, however, a full-time employee accused the contractor of a fairly serious offense. On this basis, the offer was rescinded.

…Setting aside the fact that an investigation wasn’t done to confirm the validity of the claim (no one wanted to create a scandal internally by asking questions), management also made the decision to not communicate anything to the contractor as it concerned why the offer was withdrawn. Instead, the contractor’s assignment was unceremoniously ended: When the contractor called the site asking what had happened, they were simply told that staffing needs had changed.

Regardless of how I would have handled the situation, I understood why it was addressed the way it was: It was a contractor with less than 6 months on-site, and conducting an investigation could have created a mini-scandal. It was a raw deal for the contractor, but those were the breaks.

…Or maybe the contractor deserved better?

As always, please share your thoughts in the comments section below.