The 4 Dumbest Rules That Will Kill Your Company's Culture

Imagine what a great place the working world could be without these dumb, stupid rules.

It’s hard to imagine that the Olympics would have some dumb, stupid rules, but if this world-class organization can have some, it's not a stretch that companies have them, too.

U.S. gymnast Jordyn Wieber, the reigning world all-around gymnastics champion, cried when she failed to make it to the women’s all-around finals. I can’t say I blame her. Wieber didn’t qualify because of the two-per-country rule, which prior to 2004 was the three-per-country rule. The rule states that no more than two gymnasts from any country can qualify for the all-around finals, regardless of their score.

Some might argue that this rule is a good one, as it gives countries who might not have a chance to medal in the all-around an opportunity to do so. But it’s still a dumb, stupid rule, as we know there is a snowball’s chance in hell these countries will beat out those who are truly the best.

This dumb, stupid rule reminds me of some of the rules I see in corporate America. Let’s begin with the most famous stupid rule of all: the customer is always right. I learned about this rule early on in my career when I worked at the service desk at Marshalls. We’d have the regulars who would come in at the end of the season and return clothes that were obviously worn, and I do mean worn. We had to refund their money because the customer was always right. I recall a time when a customer tried to return some crazy item that we never sold in our store. You guessed it. The customer was right and we the customer service personnel had to find a place to store this large object.

I also recall many a time when customers were down right rude to store personnel. How this was right I will never know! There are indeed some times when the customer is not right. In fact, there are many.

How about the no cell phones at work rule? Companies say they are concerned that employees will take photos of confidential papers or product designs, so employees are required to check their phones prior to going to their work stations. That’s all fine and good until the nurses office at your child’s school tries to reach you and she can’t. How about eliminating this rule and instead hiring people who are trustworthy? Just a thought.

How about the rule that says you can’t use the Internet on company time? Do you know anyone who hasn’t broken this rule, including the person who came up with this rule? I can understand asking people to limit their time, but forbidding it is just plain stupid.

One of my favorite dumb stupid rules is the "six-month rule." You have to be in your job six months before you can transfer or promote to another position. This might have worked well in the seventies, when Baby Boomers were so happy to have a job that most just went along with the rules. Today’s workforce is different. Employee loyalty no longer exists. If an employee comes up against the six-month rule, they simply go around it. They do so by playing for another team. Maybe that’s something Jordyn Wieber might want to consider in 2016.

What's the dumbest company rule you've ever had to tolerate? Tell us about it in the comments below. 

Roberta Chinsky Matuson is the President of Human Resource Solutions ( and author of the forthcoming, The Magnetic Workplace (Nicholas Brealey, 2013) and the highly acclaimed book Suddenly in Charge: Managing Up, Managing Down, Succeeding All Around, a Washington Post Top-5 Leadership pick. Sign up to receive a complimentary subscription to Roberta's monthly newsletter, HR Matters.

[Image: Flickr user Peter_Brown]

Add New Comment


  • NakinaAce

    In the last company I owned we had a rule that everyone liked: There will be no such thing as a human resource department in this company. Every supervisor is responsible for his/her own employees and their relationship with the company. Every supervisor is also delegated all the authority they need to carry out their functions as supervisor.
    Martin Smith, Owner

  • Janet Diehl

    Not allowing check-out clerks to sit on a stool even when no customers are at the counter.  Static standing is not healthy for feet, blood flow, or nerves.

  • Mtdeveraux

    Regarding the no cell phone rule, you are dead wrong. It really has nothing to do with the school being able to get in touch of someone,,,,they can always call the office number. Also in a secure envirnonment, device controls come into play. And I would have to say it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to control that device. AND, it is really easy to say " just hire trustworthy people." You have obviously never owned or run a business and been screwed by " a trustworthy person."

  • artisan producer

    wow, all you fucking desk surfers have no clue what real work is. you don't actually produce anything. if your job can be done at a computer screen then you are worthless as a person and are nothing but a drain on society. if you arent working with your hands then you arent really workng. all of you desk jockeys only have a job because there is some one some where actualy producing something.

  • SlimPickens

    The only time I've ever heard a customer say "the customer is always right" is when that customer KNEW he/she was wrong! It's a fall-back defense when they don't have a leg to stand on. 

  • Roger Curling

    I dont like the rule of having to go to work. New rule made by me. Get paid dont go to work.

  • MiketheLibrarian

    The six month rule is one way to ensure that you don't get a well-performing, known quantity in jobs. At the place where I work, a job opened in another department that one of my newly-hired employees would have been perfect for. He was told that, due to this rule, he couldn't apply for it. He quit two weeks later because someplace else offered him that same job. He's still there, a year later. Us? We've had to hire for that position twice.

  • James Tobey

    I have to take exception with a couple of the items mentioned.
    If your employer doesn't want you to have your cell phone at work then suck it up. Be honest, you think you are so important that you have to be reachable 24/7. School nurses have been able to reach parents for years by calling them on their work number. If your boss won't let you take an emergency call then you have a more serious problem than not being able to carry your cell phone. This is a bigger issue with those in service industries. As a customer I don't want the person helping me to be taking personal calls.
    I'm writing this comment while at work so it's hypocritical of me to say the rule against internet usage is bad, but it is. There are a lot of issues with internet usage beyond just using up work time. Surfing the web, especially streaming video or music, uses up bandwidth and can slow down the legitimate traffic on your network. Using "free" applications on a work computer may open your employer up to liability. Most freeware is not licensed for commercial use, just private (at home) use. This used to be a huge deal with chat programs. Finally, ask yourself this: Would your parents have sat at their desks with an open newspaper in front of them all day? This is basically what you are doing when surfing the web on company time.

  • Wendy Barnes

    I thought I was going to read an insightful article that might have some really good ideas or suggestions in it. Instead, I read an article that reads as if written by a spoiled 16 year old who thinks it is okay if they are in the work building, on Facebook while texting with their significant other, as long as they are there. As if their mere presence is a major asset which requires no further action on their part. People have been notified about illnesses and deaths for years before cell phones existed. Sometimes we used to have to wait to talk someone if they weren't home the second that we called them. People get over yourselves! The world can go on without you for a while. And you are always replaceable at work.

  • guest

    I retired from a University office that actually required two time cards, one  standard punch card that requried a time clock and another one, an excel spread sheet. Now the management team in this office insisted on the time card since they did not agree with HR rules requiring the spread sheet or trust the employees to accurately record their hours, so every two weeks we would take an extra 20 minutes to create the spread sheet, which had to agree to the minute the punches on the time card, no exceptions to that little rule. Since there was no overtime allowed, the spread sheet had to be entered on the hour and lunch hours as well, this requirred us to stand in line at the time clock to inisure that you punched in on time, but wait, we had over 35 people, we could not all punch in at the same time, no problem,management spent over $700.00 to by another time clock. problem solved...The resentement created by this forced employees to stand at the time clock in the morning and at 4:55 in the afternoon to insure that we all left at 5PM.  Needless to say, nothing got done early or late in that offce.  My military experience led me to view this initially as a SNAFU, that quickly degenerated to a massive FUBAR..

  • Zen Galacticore

    If you think retail customer service is a trying job, try waiting tables sometime. Not only do you have to put up with rude customers who are "always right" (yeah, sure), you are at their mercy since they are the ones paying you.

  • Renorider

    The place I work for has several horrible policies, all based on some obscure "Industry Standard". Namely, everyone in an area gets paid the medium wage for their position: no one gets paid at the top of the scale, no one enters at the bottom. Kinda kills any incentive to do better. Second item: initiative and innovation is actively discouraged unless approved by management, who is always good enough to either take credit for the idea, or who pass it on to one of their favored few who develop the idea and take the credit. Third: employees are not allowed promotions that pay more than 3% more than their currect position. The Company would rather hire someone off the street than allow an employee a promotion or upgrade. And They wonder why morale is in the toilet and the turn-over rate is over 30% per year. Also note that this is a multi-billion dollar global corporation, not some start up.   

  • Gpbritus

    Flexible working hours are of course wonderful for employees, but I worked for an organization that got upset when a few people abused the system. Instead of management rebuking the offenders, they stopped the practice of flexible hours for everyone.  When managers don't manage they destroy at a stroke, years of good labor relations.

  • SpeedySam

    half hour lunch breaks are dumb.  I only take hour lunch breaks.  Im happy i don't have to bother with that rule anymore. 

  • Kenneth Anthony

    I once worked for a Texas company which adopted an acohol and drug policy which eemed to have been put together with some lack of understanding.
    Texas has a law forbidding anyone from abusing (sniffing) volatile inhalants sch as paint, gasoline, glue etc. to get high deliberately.  Okay, makes sense.  Texas also has a law that forbids sale of abusible volatile inhalants to minors under, as a recall, 18 years of age.

    Somebody in human relations put these two together and asked employees to agree to a company policy that (along with a number of reasonable conditions) they would not buy or possess volatile substances on or off the job.  The plain language of the policy would prohibit employees from buying or using such products as gasoline, paint, panel adhesive, etc. for their legitimate and intended uses, including occasional assigned tasks on the job.

    I refused to sign it, and told them how it was poorly worded.  The HR person did not seem to know what to do.  I neverheard back about it and continuedto work for the company for a number of years.

  • Julie Cochrane

    Re: No cell phones, give your child's school the phone number at your desk, check your voicemail frequently, and quit whining. The world will not end if you are not instantaneously reachable, 24/7. It is, however, reasonable to expect that such workplaces provide switchboard operator receptionists so you can forward your calls if you'll be in all-day meetings or whatnot so you can be interrupted for a true emergency.

    No internet on company time? It really depends on what you do for the company. You need your IT department to be able to get "out" to the world, but you may want those machines physically isolated from the rest of your network.

    Some companies deal with national security or with high level corporate confidential materials. At that level, "hire people you can trust" is not enough. You *also* hire people you can trust. And you require cellphones to be checked in at the desk. And you require badges. And you have a security department that regularly performs credit checks and such on your employees to make sure they're *still* people you can trust. And you don't let them talk with people in other groups about their projects. And you have software that enforces frequent password changes and password security.

    Whatever degree of that you need for whatever degree of security your data requires, from open source text editor add-ons all the way up to hardened software to control missiles in flight, that *shapes* your corporate culture.

    A high-security corporate culture isn't "dead." It's just different from a no security one.

  • Wendy Barnes

    I have a feeling this was more of hourly job than a professional one as you are relating.

  • Joe Herman

    I am currently in my first job with a large, multi-national corporation - prior to this, I had held positions with smaller, boutique consulting and software companies.  This is the first time in over 10 years that I don't have access to my corporate email and calendar on a mobile device in nearly 10 years.  For some reason, the company has a rather byzantine policy regarding the issuance of mobile devices to employees.  Bear in mind that I am responsible for a system that must be up 18 hours a day, and is used on two continents by numerous users.  What the company's policy has succeeded in doing is convincing me that neither the system I support (or me) are critically important to the organization, so if something happens outside of work hours, I'll address it when I get in to the office.

  • Wendy Barnes

    That's the way business was done for hundreds of years before cell phones and lap tops. Now you have to have a life which makes for a better employee.