Top Secret Radiology: For Your Eyes Only

December 27, 2013

Morale is strongest when employees never need to consult a massive employee manual, and don’t fear what’s in it. Rather, they are told upfront what they need to know.

I had a work-related dream last night. This was off my beaten nocturnal path; I have previously blogged about my radiological not-quite dreams (plot-free mental images of imaginary studies), and when my sleeping mind wants to torment me a little more creatively it likes to place me back in one of my previous jobs. This instance, atypically, was about my current gig.

In it, I was discovering new policies and procedures in the company for which I work -more than two years into my tenure. Not new changes to the rules, but longstanding SOP which had predated my joining the team, some of which were directly relevant to my work. As I tried simultaneously to get an explanation as to why I was only now learning about this stuff and to convince the administrative folks that they should probably be communicating better with the other radiologists, I was alternately ignored and shushed, lest my carrying on alert others who were still in the dark.

Such dreams hit home most easily because they are not farfetched at all. You probably wouldn’t have to think very long or hard to come up with real life instances of similar circumstances - working someplace for months or years before encountering some (often inconvenient and/or unpleasant) detail that really, in all fairness, should have been spelled out at the get-go for all involved.

The questions then arise:

Was the rule really there all along? That is, was it mentioned during the hiring or orientation process and ignored or forgotten by the individual who’s just (re)discovering it? Was it covered in insufficient detail? Or is it a policy that’s being crafted on the fly (flimsily dressed up with lies about how “we’ve always done things this way”) as management realizes it hasn’t been sufficiently proactive?

Such moments of discovery can be pleasant, such as finding out when reviewing a year-end statement that one’s 401(k) contributions get partially matched by an employer. Usually, however, it’s the less cheerful news which comes as a surprise, and when that happens, even if the employer was only guilty of benign disorganization it’s not too hard to imagine him duplicitously inventing rules out of thin air to his advantage.

The legal system has certainly seen this side of things; there’s a reason most businesses now have some sort of employee manual or handbook. Some might have done this out of a legitimate desire to be up-front and straightforward with their staff, but it seems that more do it in an effort to diminish liability. Which is entirely reasonable; there are plenty of potential bad egg employees who, without a robust manual on file, might one day have an easy time litigiously darkening the business’s door.

Most folks I know don’t get warm and fuzzy feelings towards their workplaces based on the massiveness and verbosity of the manuals they get handed upon hire, or the frequency with which they are reminded that copies are available for perusal, download, and bookshelf-cramming. The perception is that these tomes are there to protect the business, not those working for it, and that an employer may still be as insincere and deceitful as he likes (or, via cluelessness and disorganization, equally as unpleasant) until forced otherwise by legal action.

Rather, trust and morale seem strongest when employees are never given need to consult the manual, and do not fear that some tidbit from its pages might one day arise to zing them. From Day One, they have experienced that they are systematically told what they need or wish to know, questions are taken seriously and answered honestly, and there are no lurking secrets or nasty “gotcha!” surprises from failing to look in the right nooks and crannies ahead of time.