“[Cough, cough] I can’t come in today, I am very sick,” she said.

I told her no problem; see you when you feel better. However, when she came in the next day, I pulled her aside to talk. Drop the cough, and the sick voice —  if you need to be out just let me know, we can always work it out.

That was the end of the fake calls and everybody lived happily ever after. This employee was not an early riser but I would always leave her at the office when I departed. She normally worked to 8 pm every night.

I thought of that call this week when one of my colleagues told me of a manager  who was upset because his employee called in sick and HR demanded a doctor’s note or the employee would be docked for the day. So, the employee is sick, but, the only way they can REALLY be considered sick is to go to the doctor?

Meanwhile, this employee and his team normally work 10 hour days. Over the past month perhaps, this employee has given more gratis hours than those eight paid hours of sick time.

Policies of the past

Folks, we can’t run our organizations with policies of the past. I see progress when companies move to the PTO (paid time off) model for the type incident above. For the uninitiated, Paid Time Off combines vacation, sick time and personal time into a single bank of days for employees to use to take paid time off from work. It creates a pool of days that an employee may use at his or her discretion.

When an employee needs to take time off from work, the PTO policy enables a certain amount of the time off to be paid time off — not like the incident above where the employee could possibly lose a day’s pay if they don’t have a doctor’s note.

With PTO, employees who may have lied or made up stories about how they were using their time in the past have the right to take PTO at their discretion to support work-life balance and flexibility, or, even to be sick.

One thing I’ve learned working here in the Middle East is that Saudi Arabia HR is based on policy and procedures. In other words, we always default to “what does the policy say?” If that is what it says, that is what we do.

Times are a changing

However, one of the things I’m noticing among my colleagues here in the Middle East is that their practice of HR is gradually moving, however slowly, towards a more progressive interpretation of policy. Since privately owned firms are competing with multi-nationals, this is hastening the transformation. The large number of expats that populate these firms are quietly demanding a more progressive form of HR more to what they were used to from their prior firms, or from when they served in the armed services.

Organizations today are being gradually pulled towards a review of a host of policies on their books, and then getting them to reposition them. This “Progressive HR” policy allows us to nurture talent and creates an organizational incubator.

We must remember that with our employees, it is a two-way street. We can’t always have it our way. The days of us dictating and having all the power on our side is over.

Who really drives Progressive HR?

This is all determined by the mindset at the top. I once worked for a CEO, who, as soon as she came onboard, wanted everyone to volunteer for something (although politics were out of the equation). So just like that, each employee had three (3) days to give back to a cause.

Some employees jumped at this wholeheartedly, while others did not have a clue. But even that was no problem. We did some research and found that there were organizations that had catalogued this information and had a database full of volunteer opportunities. Our group activities were team building at its finest.

In order for these type of things to happen, it comes back to companies that have the most progressive leaders. Those leaders who understand the value of taking care of the employees are the leaders that will, everything else being equal, build a better business model.

Those who want to know what their employees need and want are the leaders that are going to be successful. They will be able to rally the workers who will carry out your strategy that in the end will make you and your organization that much more successful.

Progressive HR as part of your engagement model

These progressive policies go a long way toward building an engaged workforce. They make employees feel that their organization cares about them. They get a sense that this is really great organization to work for.

I am always heartened when I hear excited employees eagerly talk about a perk at their company. Yes Mr. or Ms. Leader, everything counts.

Great leaders realize that in the end, whoever ever has the best talent WINS. That comes back to being an employer of choice. That branding comes from being known as the place that takes care of its own. The other side of that is that the employee will, in turn, take care of the company.

We all know that not everyone can have the same policies as Google, Facebook or Netflix, but there are ways that we can all step it up. When we see something that just does not add up, speak up and begin the process of rejuvenating the horrid HR manual and bring your policy up to date with the new age of workers.

If you want to really find out what is now working, all you have to do is ask.

Remember, you can’t manage a workforce the way it was managed by your parents’ generation. But then again, you may think you can. If that is the case, you’ll just live with the results