OK, confess. Have you ever used your computer at work to send personal e-mail? Sure, you have. Does your company have a policy against it? Probably.
So, did you fire yourself? No need to answer that one.
The fact is that all companies have policies that occasionally can be ignored because there's little chance of getting in trouble for violating them. Then there are those policies that we would expect to be punished for violating, such as taking your company's computer home for personal use and not returning it.
Are employees responsible for adhering to all policies, whether those policies are enforced or not? Certainly. But from a practical standpoint, punishing everyone for every infraction would be unworkable.
There needs to be a strong message from top management, however, that some policies are vital to the success of the organization. The policies supermarkets have against changing the sell-by dates on meat and seafood products are among those policies.
After "Dateline NBC" aired its May 21 undercover investigation exposing that employees at seven large supermarket chains were redating meats and seafood to extend their shelf life, most of the companies were quick to point out that they had policies against such practices.
That wasn't news to the supermarket employees. But those employees must have figured out that it was OK to do it, because the odds of getting in trouble were slim. Now it turns out that supermarkets have "Dateline" to thank for the fact that suddenly thousands of employees around the country realize that this policy is one that cannot be violated with impunity.
Maybe now's a good time to examine how your company goes about getting the message out that some rules are more important -- that in fact, they are a cornerstone of your company's existence.
It was interesting to observe how different supermarkets reacted to the "Dateline" expose.
Some, like Winn-Dixie Stores, Jacksonville, Fla., which was the original focus of the show, took a stringent approach. All 120,000 employees were asked to sign the company's policy, which makes it clear that violators could be subject to termination.
But the effects of that action could soon wear off.
Some chains involved acknowledged that they needed to improve their communication with employees.
"[Our policy against redating] is just as important as any law," said Richard De Santa, vice president, corporate affairs, A&P, Montvale, N.J. "We may need to do a better job of communicating that to the organization."
Meanwhile, Food Lion, Salisbury, N.C., which was not included in the "Dateline" investigation but was involved in another TV expose a decade ago, told SN that it wasn't too concerned about the recent program because its employees receive ongoing education, including periodic refresher courses, about how to handle fresh food products.
Employees need to be immersed in an environment in which adhering to the organization's core policies is unavoidable. It is through constant communication and ongoing education that employees will get the message about what your company believes is important, and therefore which policies are not to be violated.