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Respect others. While these two words certainly convey a nice sentiment and just as certainly won’t be construed as an employment contract, it’s hard to see how they supply meaningful direction to employees or managers. I include managers because while employers often see their manuals and policies as direction to the line-level people getting the work done, in practice the direction these documents provide their managers is often priceless.

Because so much of discrimination law is based on real and perceived slights and unfairness, an employer should always try to reinforce to management just how important fair and even-handed treatment is. In an employment environment such as Massachusetts, where the employer is strictly liable for the discriminatory acts of its managers and supervisors (yes, even if the employer had no knowledge of the offending conduct and took prompt, appropriate remedial action upon its discovery), the employer should always seek to invest more, rather than less time, effort, and energy in inculcating managers about appropriate behavior.

The directive “respect others” trivializes the good that properly conceived, well-written manuals and policies have on the culture of a workplace. Managers and employees look to these documents as guideposts for where the employer will allow them to tread. These documents also play a significant role in preventing the kind of behavior that every employer should abhor. Instead of replacing the manual and policies with “respect others,” why not make this the employer’s philosophy? Sure respecting others is key to gruntlitude (hey, you used "Hammurabiesque" and "advertent" in the same post), but let’s not lose sight of the larger picture--people, even managers, need guidance and examples. Employers should supply them.

Jay Shepherd

Marty's comment makes some excellent points, especially the part where "Respect others" should be the employer's credo. That's probably the single most important message throughout the entire blog. But that doesn't mean that it's unreasonable to expect your employees to understand what is meant by those two words. If your employees don't get that concept, they probably shouldn't be your employees. Having a workplace that follows this philosophy takes more, not less, time, energy, and effort than the alternative. That's the whole point. A two-word employee handbook is not for lazy managers; it's exactly the opposite.

Thanks for the great comment, and thanks for reading.

Best regards,


Alexander Kjerulf

Great, great post.

It reminded me of Nordstrom's personnel handbook which is one sheet of paper, that says

"Welcome to Nordstrom, here are the Nordstrom Rules:

Rule #1: In all situations, use your good judgment.

There will be no additional rules."

That's all you really need, isnt't it?

James Mason

Jay and others:

Y'know, there's an old saying. . .some gets it and some don't. One of the august writers (supra) clearly don't.

The writer says "employers should always try to reinforce to management how important fair and even-handed treatment is." No. Not at all. Not a bit of it. If "management" (whomever s/he is at the time) doesn't KNOW how important fair and/or even-handed treatment is (are), then you've hired the wrong management, and you need to cut them like a fourth-stringer during playoffs. The idea that you have some loose cannon of a manager running around who doesn't know in his/her "gut" how to be fair and even-handed makes me a little queasy, quite apart from that delicious, but quite unnecessary double-fried eggplant parmesan hoagie I had for lunch. . .that made me queasy from the get, but that's another story for another day, or at least for later.

But, to get back to the point at hand, I'm afraid that the writer is exactly the kind of person who most needs this blog. He writes "The directive 'respect others' trivializes the good that properly conceived, well-written manuals and policies have on the culture of a workplace. No. It doesn't. First of all, culture derives from the meaning that the members of an organisation ascribe to the various features OF the organisation. Things don't HAVE a meaning until organisational members make it so. A manual, memo, list, or token has only the meaning that the members "say" it has, regardless of its indexical meaning; the paradox, of course, is that the lexical meaning is always carried in the Members' heads; teasing it out is tricky at best; usually impossible, under the best circumstances.

Second, if these documents DID have a role in reducing, minimizing, or preventing the kind of problems that cause problems of the type that make poor L/E attorneys RICH L/E attorneys, I'd like the the writer to explain to me how there seems to be an inverse correlation between the amount of paper devoted to Policy and Procedure Manuals in Large Complex Organisations and the amount of litigation to which they seem to be exposed.

Even poor Nordstrom, which, admittedly, got its warm and fuzzy butt in a jam, has had comparatively less trouble, even adjusting for size, sales, employee count, and all them there other factors, than any other major retailer, particularly in comparison to, oh, say, well, something-something-mart, for example.

I think the point has been stated best, and most clearly above as well. . .if your employees, and, for Marty's sake, let's extend it to managers, since I guess it wasn't clear, although I can't imagine it, that Managers too are employees. . .. .

Let's do it this way. . .if anybody who works for the company, at all. . .anybody at ALL, doesn't understand the concept of "respect others" in every applicable way, shape, form, and substantive manner, then they shouldn't work for the company.

If it makes anybody feel better, I suppose one could put that policy UNDERNEATH the first policy, like this:





I'm sure someone will find fault with the language, but you get my point.

Jay's point, I think, and mine too, is that we spend too much time navel-gazing, and not enough time managing work. We don't even manage people. . .we've become managers of litigation-defense, and that sucks.

Warm Regards,


p.s. One of my favourite jokes involves the word disgruntled, a pig, and a certain surgical procedure. . .I think you can guess the punch line. . .but every time I think of this blog, it makes me laugh.

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