Do you try hard to play by the rules at work no matter what others do? Or, have you taken your behavioral cues from those above and around you and been punished as a result? It’s frustrating to work in an environment where a small group of individuals, often in management, seem to get away with violating company policies with impunity or make big mistakes while regular employees are reprimanded or fired for the same or even more minor infringements. Let’s explore your options for addressing such inconsistences in workplace behavior.
Do the Rules Apply to Everyone?
Aside from the regulations that come from at-will employment policies, informal ways of working is truly where the rubber meets the road. It’s important to understand who has the power, who is in the inner circle, and how the group works in the system. Challenging the group that has carte blanche is not the answer to managing the informal politics; it’s observing what the boundaries are and how they navigate these perimeters. Knowing this can save you from making errors either verbally or in writing (email).
Create a Win-Win
Determine what you really hope to achieve by challenging the status quo. For example, some people want everyone to follow the rules to the letter, while others simply want to have more autonomy themselves. One example - let’s say your manager is leaving the office for hours at a time to run personal errands. Unless your boss is a bully, have a conversation about how his/her work schedule is affecting your ability to do your job, and then propose ways to address this issue. Strategy is the key here not negative self-defeating thoughts about why this is unfair. Similar to understanding the privileged players and what they are allowed to do, find out how you can leverage a win be it your boss or other chosen few.
Talk to HR
If Human Resources has the ability to enforce rules at every level of your organization and they are unaware of the violations taking place, it doesn’t hurt to speak to them. Enlist the help of a trusted coworker to show that your complaints aren’t idle. Express the situation in terms of performance, compliance, and even misconduct (if applicable) to get their attention. Explain how the behavior of the individuals is directly impacting your work environment. You need to demonstrate that it is in the company’s best interest to enforce its own rules for all employees if you hope to get a response.
Protect Yourself from Retaliation
Remember that HR cannot take action without evidence. That means you need to figure out how to avoid backlash. If possible, document your boss’s most egregious rules violations over a period of several weeks (or months) to establish a pattern. That way, HR can more easily address an individual or individuals that are creating issues. That said, of course, it’s important to mention that sometimes HR is in the inner circle creating the issues by either looking the other way or justifying the actions, or simply afraid to confront the problem. If this is the case for you, you will have to rethink your strategy and perhaps seek guidance outside the company.
Consider Reaching Up
If ignoring policies is not a pervasive cultural problem within your company, you might have a shot at finding someone at the executive level who can help reign in unruly colleagues. This is a final move to take if your boss won’t listen to reason and HR is unable or unwilling to help. Reaching out to upper management across departmental lines is risky if loyalty is valued above honesty. However, finding the right ally in the upper ranks might also position you for a lateral move so you no longer have to report to someone who has no respect for the rules. This approach involves far more risk and assumes that you are so passionate and committed to addressing the issues you will put your job on the line. This course of action has to be thought through very carefully.