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Regulatory Compliance in the Workplace

Updated on September 6, 2012

Regulatory compliance in the workplace is the objective that all personnel conform to standard rules and regulations for governance, performance, human resource management, and safety. Rules are needed and good for the purposes they serve. But sometimes rules and compliance issues can be burdensome.

I once worked in a dangerous environment. For that reason the work required rules for the protection of the life and property of all. The only problem with my work was that there were simply too many rules—unnecessary rules—that impeded the work and ignored all common sense. That time helped me to see not only the importance rules play but also to understand why the spirit of the rule matters more.

Rules can grow like weeds and this is what happened at my workplace. The corporate manual that was given to employees on Day One was (no kidding) 4½ inches thick and weighed over two pounds. Longtime workers told me that it used to be a fraction of its size. It was ambiguous and believed to be written with the help of lawyers. We understood it to exist this way, obviously, as a means of lending the organization favorable outcome in the event of litigation.

The Big Book of Binding Corporate Rules

The first problem with a book of ever-increasing rules is the sheer impossibility of keeping up with them. To broadly understand rules as being in place to provide structure, procedure, and safety, besides anything more, is fine. But to think that adherents will always recall the jot and tittle of each statute is naïve. A management that finds it easy to weed out others for non-compliance only sets itself up. It is often just a matter of time before its own hypocrisy is discovered: An official makes a gaffe or acts impulsively and gets him- or herself exposed. It’s just not possible.

Regulatory compliance or jumping through hoops?
Regulatory compliance or jumping through hoops? | Source

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Abuse of Authority in the Workplace

What follows is that a crafty management will find it easy to relax or bend rules based on their own whims, a dangerous thing. Some regulatory rules must exist to maintain functionality, order, safety, and the like. Nevertheless, there is no problem or contradiction with explaining rules in terms of priority and when they are and are not effective. A rule can be served (and should be) as long as compliance serves the situation. When that is no longer possible, it should be set aside for what is more reasonable. This doesn’t discount or discard the rule. Instead, it is merely the rule being taken as far as it can possibly be relied on.

But to relax and bend rules for self-serving reasons is a different thing. Rules most often affect everyone, including the leadership that controls them. The terminology even—to relax, to bend—suggests this. When this is the temptation the reasonable manager (or exposed one) has only two choices: Redefine the rule (as just explained) or “get by” it (by relaxing or bending it) so that it no longer impinges on one's actions. Leadership does the latter often to create advantages for themselves. I observed it on my job: What was once a high sin for which many had been relieved of service for long periods of time was, in the end, relaxed (ahem) because the company was not getting business done like the competition creating dissatisfied customers, some who were ending their service. So the Mighty Dollar trumps integrity (and common sense) again.

How this becomes more dangerous is that leadership may freely use the rule, or its new version of it, for its own malicious intent against employees. Stop and think: If the rule does not exist with clear moral authority for everyone and is pliable only in the hands of some and not others, then that organization is already on the road to any possible form of abuse of authority. The opposite is also true. Leadership may use the rule to promote those it likes or that serve its purposes.

What is happening in an organization experiencing these tensions is the breakdown of interpersonal relations that surely undermine the health and effectiveness of the organization itself. There exists here no cohesion, no high morale, for the rule sticks in the breast of every constituent like a knife. Regulatory compliance in the workplace must exist with balance, common sense, and high moral regard.


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