Does that sound harsh? The truth is that Neanderthal HR policies can turn even the best companies into environments where not even cavemen or cavewomen would feel comfortable working.

In my experience, about 95 percent of employees at all levels take their company’s best interests to heart and want to contribute to its success. Too often, however, companies try to protect themselves by writing HR policies focused on reining in the remaining 5 percent — those marginal employees whose goal is to do as little as possible while getting away with as much as possible.

Unfortunately, enforcing these policies equally for all, regardless of personal character or circumstance, negatively impacts the majority. When you treat the majority of responsible employees the same as those in the marginal group, you stand a good chance of losing not only good people, but also credibility as a leader and momentum toward creating a high-performance workplace.

I’d like to suggest some alternatives for treating employees fairly and contributing to your company’s sustainable growth in the process.

5 Easy Ways Out of the Dark Ages

Setting clear HR policies is important, but excessively outlining a simple policy can quickly render it inappropriate, communicating a layer of distrust between management and workers.

Such policies not only destroy trust, but they also sap morale, slow operations, and bulk up the organization — not to mention diminish the accountability of both the employer and employee. Here are five areas where HR departments can easily update policies to get with the times:

1. Trust employees to dress for success. Your dress code should live in the back of your handbook, yet it’s probably your most visible policy. To make sure it aligns with your core values of trust and respect for all (and to make room for a more fashion-forward Millennial workforce), don’t dictate what people can wear with long lists of dos and don’ts.

Policies like this convey the message that the company doesn’t trust the judgment of its team members. And negative assumptions like this create a troublesome parent-child dynamic between management and frontline employees.

Instead, ditch the novel and simply tell your employees you expect them to “dress appropriately” — as GM recently did. If team members fail to live up to that basic expectation, meet with them individually to coach them on what might better suit your company’s specific work setting.

2. Abandon sickening paid leave practices. Astoundingly, many companies still require a doctor’s note as proof of illness to receive paid leave. They’re not in kindergarten any longer, yet this policy projects an assumption that all of your employees are capable of lying like toddlers.

Trust your employees — open communication and good judgment will allow you to straddle the line between being heavy-handed and overly lenient so as not to invite the belief that it is valid and acceptable to take “X” amount of sick time off as part of a benefits package.

A better policy is to counsel sick team members about their circumstances, express concern for their needs, and determine how much time off they may need. Yes, leaders of high-performance workplaces expect all employees to come to work on time every day. Nonetheless, people do get sick, and they should be paid for “reasonable and necessary” absences due to illness.

3. Don’t dictate how your employees mourn. If requiring proof of sickness seems barbaric, you may be astonished to learn that many companies still require proof for bereavement leave. Beyond communicating distrust, this policy devalues employees when they’re at their most vulnerable.

First of all, how can you judge who your employees are permitted to mourn? The death of a dear friend may be harder than that of a grandparent. For instance, my husband once said he’d need two weeks to mourn the passing of his dog, but maybe only about 15 minutes and a strong cup of coffee if his mother-in-law died. His joke illustrates why we need to move past this Neanderthal policy. Each circumstance should be handled on a case-by-case basis, following a caring conversation between adults about the factors influencing the amount of time needed.

Follow the lead of one outstanding company I know of: One of its employees tragically suffered the loss of his mother the day after he started in his new role. The new hire was compassionately asked how much time he needed and was given eight days paid leave. It’s doubtful this person will ever leave a company that treated him with such respect.

4. Thou shalt not rewrite the Ten Commandments. Don’t fall into the trap of writing a collection of catchall rules that start with “Employees may not” and usually end with a host of offending statements that seem to assume your team members are childish or out of control.

Here are a few examples of policies that are meant to control the behavior of a minority of marginal employees but end up insulting the majority: their more responsible peers.

Employees may not:

· Possess dangerous weapons on the premises.

· Falsify records, reports, time cards, etc.

· Misappropriate property belonging to any co-worker.

· Fight, threaten, or intimidate customers or employees.

Knight Transportation demonstrated trust in its employees by distilling its lengthy employee handbook to fewer than 20 pages. High-performing workplaces set high expectations for employees, but they don’t need to be so prescriptive. Try something more open-ended and trusting, perhaps along the lines of “We expect each employee to exhibit character by acting in the best interests of fellow employees and contributing to the company’s success.”

5. Leave probation to the criminals. “Probation” is commonly thought of as the period of time that criminals or ex-convicts must serve following their sentencing or release from prison. What does a probationary period before an employee becomes a full-fledged member of the team — eligible for benefits, transfers, and promotions — say to the new hire you so diligently recruited and persuaded to work for you?

The idea that someone can be terminated more easily within 90 days is outdated. How many bad-apple employees can behave well enough for just 90 days? (Answer: Almost all of them.) And it’s not a “mutually beneficial” policy, as some claim. The employee doesn’t need time to decide whether it’s a good fit; that’s what the interview process is for.

Instead, focus on finding the best person to fill the role to begin with. Once both you and the candidate feel there’s a good match, enter into an employment agreement with positive assumptions of success communicated upfront.

Trade Negative Assumptions for Positive Beliefs

In essence, high performance is about doing the right thing in every situation with a goal of treating people fairly, not the same across the board.

If you can, hold forums where leaders meet and discuss judgment decisions among their peers. This leads to greater recognition that all people and circumstances are different, and that, in actuality, it’s unfair to treat all employees exactly the same.

The policy modifications discussed above have three things in common: Each one embraces positive assumptions about people, empowers leaders to use their best judgment to interpret situations on a case-by-case basis through open communication, and abandons the idea of being equal in favor of being fair.

Incorporate these same three concepts into all of your HR policies to move your company’s employee engagement out of the dark and into the light.