Tribune's Rules: A Quirky Rush to Good Judgment

By Frank Ahrens
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 17, 2008

Media giant Tribune Co., which last month passed from public to private, employee ownership under the direction of real estate mogul Sam Zell, gave its nearly 20,000 employees a handbook yesterday outlining appropriate workplace policies and behavior and the new company's values.

The handbook is a mix of corporate earnestness, surprising folksiness and common-sense rules, free of the antiseptic training-module language that has become a part of corporate human resources culture. In an e-mail accompanying the handbook, the feisty Zell told his employees that he had heard from many of them that what they wanted most was to eliminate red tape and speed up decision-making.

As such, the handbook is a "reminder not to take ourselves too seriously and to have fun," Zell wrote. He wanted the handbook to "reflect our new culture, one that is more direct than its predecessor."

The guide was largely authored by Tribune's new head of broadcasting, Randy Michaels, a veteran Clear Channel executive. Also contributing to the handbook was Howard Weinstein, Tribune's labor counsel. Tribune spokesman Gary Weitman said he did not know if rank-and-file employees contributed anything other than suggestions.

Some highlights of the company rules in the new Tribune employee handbook:

"Rule #1: Use your best judgment.

"Rule #2: See Rule 1.

"That's it. That is the one hard and fast rule. Unless a serious mistake was made when you were hired, you have pretty good judgment."

From Tribune Company Core Values section:

"4. COMPETE. Play to win. Market shares add to 100%. We can't grow our share of revenue or audience unless someone else's goes down.

"5. PLAY FAIR. But remember that there is nothing unfair about taking advantage of a competitor's weakness. It's not unfair to scoop a competitor on a big story or closet them on a key account. Not playing to win is unfair to your teammates and to all of the company's stakeholders."

From the Employee Manual section:

"2.5. Discrimination based on gender, age, race, religion, national origin, marital status, sexual orientation, disability, or any other characteristic not related to performance, ability or attitude, protected by federal or state law, or not protected (such as inability to tell a joke, the occasional poor wardrobe choice or bad hair day), is strictly prohibited."

"4.1. Working at Tribune means accepting a creative, quirky, intelligent, odd, humorous, diverse, opinionated and sometimes annoying atmosphere.

"4.2. Working at Tribune means accepting that sometimes you might hear a word that you, personally, might not use. You might experience an attitude that you don't share. You might hear a joke that you might not consider funny. That is because a loose, fun, nonlinear atmosphere is important to the creative process.

"4.3. This should be understood, should not be a surprise and is not considered harassment."

"4.5. Making the building too hot, banging on trash can lids or loud bagpipe music are annoyances you can complain about, but this policy is about harassment on the basis of protected characteristics. It's really bad judgment to intimidate, persistently annoy, inappropriately touch, treat people differently because of their protected characteristics, or otherwise make members of our team uncomfortable, no matter how you do it."

"5.1. Under Rule #1, you may want to think twice before you enter into an intimate relationship with a co-worker. When you start, it might seem like a good idea. It's when you stop, or the wrong people find out (and they will) that you could discover that perhaps it wasn't."

"7.1. If you use or abuse alcohol or drugs and fail to perform the duties required by your job acceptably, you are likely to be terminated. See Rule 1. Coming to work drunk is bad judgment."

"18.1.1. Under normal circumstances, Tribune will not snoop in your e-mail or track your internet usage.

"18.1.2. Remember that cyber-slacking is not good judgment."

"18.2.2. It is expected that you will not share anything of a proprietary nature with anyone outside the company."

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