General Training

Employees Who Witness Rule Breaking More Likely to Leave

Rules can be frustrating, especially when they’re perceived as creating barriers to getting work done or hindering workplace effectiveness. Most, however, would agree that we need rules in our everyday lives to maintain a certain level of order and civility.


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In the workplace, rules are in place for a variety of reasons. Some are to ensure efficiency by ensuring adherence to certain processes; some are in place to ensure the best-possible experience for customers; and others are compliance-based and implemented to avoid various forms of liability that can result from failure to adhere to certain standards, whether for safety, legal, or other compliance-related reasons.

The Impact of Rules on Turnover

Recent research suggests there may be an additional and very important reason to maintain compliance with workplace rules—one that probably isn’t obvious at first: turnover.

A Gartner survey found that over the last 2 years, almost 30% of employees witnessed at least one act of misconduct at work. That, in itself, may seem like a startling statistic.

But consider this additional finding: Of those who had experienced such a situation, 59% indicated that they were actively seeking new job opportunities. This compares with 29% of those who had not witnessed such violations. In short, the survey of 5,000 employees at all levels found that workers are twice as likely to quit their jobs after observing compliance violations.

Don’t Let the Best of the Best Get Away

If one steps back and thinks carefully about the implications of this turnover, the types of employees who are leaving because of what they may perceive as a culture of rule violations are precisely the ones an organization most wants to keep: conscientious employees who value and adhere to rules.

In other words, by failing to enforce rules, companies may be at risk of having the “bad apples” in the organization cause the departure of those who appreciate the rules the most. Over time, it’s clear how this could damage a company’s culture, reputation, and brand.

Not All Rules Are Created Equal

There are certainly examples of companies that have arbitrary or unnecessary rules. In such cases, rather than tolerating the disregard for these rules—which can easily spread to a general disregard for all rules and policies—employers should regularly reevaluate company policies and update them to eliminate any that are superfluous or no longer necessary or appropriate.

While it may seem like employees generally dislike rules, the Gartner data suggest that many employees do care about the rules, a lot. Unfortunately, they’re also the ones who are most likely to leave when they feel rules aren’t being followed or enforced.