Policies, guidelines and processes generally are workplace rules, which are designed to create boundaries for employee behavior and work processes. Customs, on the other hand, are activities or practices that evolve over time. Depending on the company's size and organizational culture, its rules and customs may be less restrictive, while larger organizations might not encourage certain customs at all, such as employee parties or social outings.
Time and Attendance
In many organizations, employees' time records are strictly managed by workplace rules that require employee to use a time clock or another method for recording their time. Many production facilities use time clocks or automated employee check-in procedures, but professional services firms, such as law firms, also require that employees record their billable and non-billable hours. Timekeeping and attendance is particularly important for workplaces where many employees are nonexempt, meaning they aren't exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act on overtime pay and get paid only for the hours they are actually working, instead of salaried employees, who receive a fixed salary, regardless of how many hours they work.
Supervisor-employee relationships may be based on rules or customs. Many small businesses pride themselves on supporting a family-like work environment and, therefore, encourage casual relationships among all co-workers, regardless of their position or rank. On the other hand, large companies or businesses that operate in conservative fields, such as law firms and accountancy firms, might adhere to more formal relationships between supervisors and employees. For example, in a small business with a handful of employees, the supervisor might be friendly with employees, preferring them to call her "Mary." In a formal relationship between supervisors and employees, "Mary" may prefer that employees address her as "Ms. Doe."
Employer-sponsored social events might include family nights out at the baseball stadium or an annual holiday party. These aren't workplace rules, but they're events that usually are based on what is customary for the workplace and whether the company can afford to pick up the tab. That said, the company might impose what could be interpreted as workplace rules during these employer-sponsored events, such as limiting alcohol intake and no unethical or unsavory behavior, such as harassment.
Appearance and Dress Code
Workplace rules typically form guidelines on how employees should dress and what's acceptable or unacceptable attire. Whether it's formal business attire that many professional services firms prefer -- think law firms and consulting firms -- or an unstructured dress code that permits jeans and sweaters in place of dark navy suits, the dress code is likely based on company policies or workplace rules. On the other hand, an example of a custom related to dress codes is men wearing whimsical ties during the holiday season or even an executive chef who prefers to wear the traditional "toque blanche" that signifies a high-ranking kitchen position.
Ruth Mayhew has been writing since the mid-1980s, and she has been an HR subject matter expert since 1995. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry," and she has been cited in numerous publications, including journals and textbooks that focus on human resources management practices. She holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Ruth resides in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C.