HR Policies: Why Bother?

March 14, 2012

HR Polices:  Why Bother? 

Guaranteed to summon images of productivity stagnation is the request  "What's our policy on .....".  Have we even thought about that? The prospect of sitting around a table for a couple of hours debating various "what ifs" and hypothetical situations does nothing to engage a highly productive work team. 

So, why bother to write policies? Why not continue to deal with issues as they arise based on their merits?  Continue to make decisions based upon prior precedents; the "Common Law" of the company?

Problem is that this will only work to a point, as your organization gets larger it becomes harder to ensure fairness and consistency amongst all employees.. Times change as do attitudes and circumstances and it won't always be clear to employees why a decision favored a particular direction. People like clarity, they feel most comfortable with a framework of governing rules that are understood. We work better with consistency and transparency. Policies form the rules within the boundaries of your company but can also do so much more.

Clearly written policies that stem from your organization's mission and values serve several purposes:

  • A foundation for achieving your business goals;
  • Ensure employees and management comply with minimum legislative requirements;
  • Enable consistent treatment of employees; and
  • Reinforce your employee value proposition.

Compliance

Labor legislation is far from simplistic, there may be different Federal and Provincial labor laws and the one(s) that apply to your organization may depend on the nature of your business and the number of jurisdictions that you operate in.

You will want to have employee practices tailored to your business and commercial activity; You may wish to differentiate from your competition. Whatever practices you determine are appropriate you will want to make sure are synchronized with prevailing legislation. Keeping policies updated will signal your employees that you are both respectful of and responsive to changing legislation.

Consistency

Consistency coupled with fairness are values that should be evident in every workplace to promote employee engagement and retention. Corrective Action, Vacation, Hours of Work, Attendance and Internal Job Posting policies should reflect these principles. 

Policies don't need to be completely prescriptive - they can be directional but should be written in a manner that clearly communicates the standard to be followed. Inconsistent decisions create unintended consequences and are to be avoided. 

For example without a policy on "absence from the workplace" signals employees that there are no expectations and correspondingly no consequences for being away. There may be reference to attendance in employment offers but no available further details puts the organization at risk of employees taking ‘turns’ being sick and absence becoming an entitlement.  Think about the costs associated with this unintended consequence.

Do your Managers and employees have a reference document that sets out the requirement to be at work on a regular basis and what corrective steps apply in cases where away time is excessive? Fairness plays its part by making the distinction clear between culpable and inculpable absenteeism. 

Clearly formulated policies that promote consistency of treatment and fairness will save hours of management time and reduce the incidence of legal challenge.

Employment Brand And What You Stand For

Policies are a means of communicating with your employees. New employees review them in an effort to get to know the environment, process and benefits of working for you.  Existing employees will look for guidance when they face a change in their personal life or when looking for direction on a workplace situation.

Are your policies written in a tone and style to assist both of these audiences? If they frequently contain warnings about failure to follow policy leading to termination of employment they are probably not reinforcing your brand or helping build the culture that you want to promote. The way you treat employees can be as important as how you pay them and can help improve engagement and productivity and reduce turnover.

Take the opportunity to use your policies to communicate the value proposition of being an employee in your organization.  You probably have all kinds of workplace perks that are undervalued because they are buried in uninspiring policies. Striking the right balance between communicating acceptable workplace conduct and engaging your employees in understanding why this is a great place to work will help your organization achieve its mission.

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