Restrictive Work Policies: Gaining Employee Buy-In

Topic(s): evidence based management, job attitudes, strategic HR
Publication: Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes (2013)
Article: Response to restrictive policies: Reconciling system justification and psychological reactance
Authors: Laurin, K., Kay, A. C., Proudfoot, D., & Fitzsimons, G. J.
Reviewed by: Rachel Williamson

In this day and age, many managers are finding themselves in the tough position of enforcing restrictive work policies on their employees. For example, a company may no longer allow vacation days to be taken during a busy week or on specific days of the week. This can be a tough position. Getting employee buy-in on restrictive work policies can prove quite challenging. Yet, the manager has to enforce what is best for the company, while at the same time keeping the employees content with their job. So, when enforcing a restrictive policy is necessary, how can managers simultaneously keep their employees happy?

This article looks at four studies that examined enforcing restrictive work policies in different scenarios, and how they helped or hurt employees’ adoption of the policies. Ultimately, these studies suggest that employees can be more hostile to policies, when the policy is presented as restrictive. However, when employees learn of a similarly restrictive policy, but aren’t given any indication that the policy is restrictive, they will not respond as negatively.

For organizations, this means, when enforcing a restrictive work policy, careful phrasing and presentation is important. If the policy is introduced without indications that it is restrictive, many employees will justify the organization’s need for the policy.

The authors of this article did not specifically argue organizations should always use this tactic to enforce restrictive policies on their employees more easily. However, it a good tool, allowing management to do what is best for the organization, without triggering negative feelings in those affected. Of course, this tactic should be orchestrated in the background and not openly discussed. It is important to note too, that even if this tactic is employed, employees may still arrive at their own conclusions that a policy is restrictive. Rather than this being the go-to tactic for restrictive work policies, it may be a better fit for organizations having a difficult time with employee buy-in. If organizations are able to sell restrictive work policies to employees without identifying that the policy is restrictive, the employees may subconsciously justify the policy, allowing the organization to have an easier time putting the policy into action.