Employee Contract: Motivate Staff to Create a Kinder, Gentler, More Prosperous, Workplace

Consider the things your employees do that you wish they wouldn’t. Allison, for instance, chews gum—loudly—when she’s on the phone with customers. Calvin consistently forgets to turn off his cell phone at critical times. (Last week it burst into a rousing chorus of It’s a Small World during an important meeting with potential investors from China.) And Joshua’s tendency to aggressively share his religious and political views creates a palpable tension in the office, particularly during election season. None of them are bad employees, but they do have bad habits that irritate customers and coworkers alike.

If you assume there’s nothing you can do about such all-too-human flaws and foibles, think again. You can legislate good behavior—and what’s more, the vast majority of employees will be glad you did.

Don’t assume people will feel that you’re infringing on their rights when you create a set of behavioral rules. Most of them are as irritated by the offenders as you and your customers are. Besides, most people appreciate having “official guidelines”—it eliminates their own confusion as well as that of their coworkers.

You might assume that, say, knocking before entering someone’s office is a “common sense” behavior. But it’s not always. For people who grew up in a family with lots of siblings, few bathrooms, and even fewer boundaries, knocking on doors might feel like a needless formality. In other words, common sense is a subjective concept, depending in part on an individual’s background. Still, it’s very important that every employee display behavior that’s consistent with company standards and aligned with desired outcomes.

Obviously, you want employees to leave a positive impression on customers. And it’s also important for morale to have everyone behaving in appropriate ways. Employees who frequently behave in ways that their coworkers deem inappropriate are certainly not contributing to a happy, unified, productive team. And here’s the real bottom line: If you don’t spell out which behaviors are acceptable and which are not, you can’t hold people accountable for them.

My solution is simple and amazingly effective. I recommend that organizations develop a “Standards of Behavior” contract and have everyone, from CEO to receptionist, sign it. This document can address any and all aspects of behavior at work: from interaction with clients to phone etiquette to “good manners” (knocking on doors) to “positive attitude” markers (smiling or saying thank you).

Interested in creating a Standards of Behavior contract for your company? Here are a few tips to help you get started:

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