Why do employees avoid reading policies?28 April 2018
To read or not to read, that is the question.
So, what is the answer?
Well, it often depends on who you ask. For the policymakers and leaders of an organisation, the answer is an emphatic ’read’. But, on asking an employee whether they have read the company policies, the answer is more likely to be ‘no’.
Research indicates that the demographics of a workforce will determine whether employees read company policies. In a workforce survey, employee communications specialist Guidespark found that 43 percent of millennials (people born between 1980 and 2000) had not read their employer’s policies while 30 percent of those born before 1980 were similarly unenlightened.
Why is there such a discrepancy?
Organisations rely on their policies to establish consistency of service, standards of working, expectations around behaviour and to safeguard the company, its employees and customers.
It is, therefore, no wonder that policymakers and leaders expect or even demand their employees read the policies.
So, why do so many employees avoid reading policies?
There is a variety of explanations for this, but the top 10 reasons are:
The length and breadth of the documents
The sheer size of the policy document can be overwhelming, and people will avoid reading it until they ‘have time’ – which, of course, they never do.
How people read, store and retain information— their cognitive processes — mean that having to read a lengthy, complex policy document means they are likely to have a reduced ability to recall the full information in the future.
Policies are written to promote good working practices and to prevent reputational damage from malpractice. The problem with this ‘preventative purpose’ lies in timing. Most employees refer to policies as a reaction to an event or when they want to challenge a situation.
Never underestimate the importance of personality in the workplace. According to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), there are 16 personality types. Within the matrix of personalities, there are some people who thrive on order, structure and clear guidelines. These people are likely to be diligent in reading company policies. The reverse of this is also true.
As mentioned earlier, policies can be lengthy, which can make them appear inaccessible to the majority of employees. They can also suffer from being out of date, having poor indexation and excessive use of technical language. As policies are usually referred to when someone has a specific question in mind, the thought of wading through 30 pages to find the answer to a question means that most people do not bother.
If employees are not inducted in their first week and introduced to the policies, then the growing commitments of their day-to-day work will mean they do not get time to read them.
Most people will assume that their managers will tell them what they need to know. Employees may also assume that the content will not vary wildly from a previous employer. For example, once you know your health and safety responsibilities you will always know your responsibilities.
Digital screen fatigue
For some companies the documents are only available electronically. Some people find it difficult to read and retain large quantities of information that are presented on a screen.
Perceptions of irrelevance
Most employees do not see the intrinsic benefit of reading policies. People are focused on their day-to-day duties as outlined by their manager. Taking time to read documents that are perceived as irrelevant to their role is not a priority.
Work place norms
If employees see that their colleagues have not read the policies and there have been no adverse consequences, the implicit message is that reading policies is not an organisational priority.
Organisations rely on their policies to ensure consistent and safe working practices, but leaders and managers can face a demographically diverse workforce that brings its own challenges. In addition to demographics, there are differences in personality, individual perceptions and cognitive ability that can prevent people from reading policies.
Company policies ’Puzzle the brain and doth confound the senses.’[i]
What can employers do about it?
Here are some tips on how to ensure your employees are aware of, and knowledgeable about, the policies that affect them:
- Make policies more succinct and interesting to read.
- Make sure the most important policies are delivered face to face as part of a structured induction.
- Write policies in such a way that the employee can see the relevance of them.
- Present policies in a different format, such as fact sheets or with search functions (assuming they are digital) or with FAQs.
- Consider the medium for delivery, for example a daily desktop message, a video or animated infographic.
- Write policies that are to the point and in plain language.
[i] W. Shakespeare, 1599