10 ways to develop HR policies and procedures

Clarity and communication are keys to successful implementation and maintenance of company policies

10 ways to develop HR policies and procedures

Almost one-half of human resource professionals believe that a positive culture with few or no toxic behaviours is a top issue impacting employee experience. And nearly two-thirds say HR is responsible for the employee experience in their organizations, according to a poll of 273 HR professionals by the HR Research Institute.

An organization’s policies and procedures are the foundation of its culture and a key element of its HR department, so starting them off on the right foot will have lasting effects.

With this in mind, here are 10 ways that HR professionals can successfully develop, implement, and maintain their organization’s policies and procedures.

Read more: Providing information on company policies

1. Define clear roles and responsibilities when initiating, writing, communicating, and owning HR policies

Responsibility for important documents such as HR policies shouldn’t rest with just one person. Use a cross-functional team of people who each have defined roles in the process to foster shared ownership and accountability. Divide responsibility for tasks such as setting policy goals and formulating an action plan, writing the actual policy, communicating, final approval, and implementation.

2. Use simple and clear language

The purpose of policies is to codify a company’s values, what it expects from employees, and what employees can expect in various circumstances. Policies should clearly convey these things to both employees and management.

Policy titles should be clear and descriptive so they can be easily referenced. The body of the policy should be easy to understand with no jargon — dividing it into numbered or labelled sections makes it easy for reference. Make sure the language and terminology are consistent, fit with the organization and clarify the policy’s goal.

Incorporating policies into the employment contract ensures that they have force, says an HR consultant.

3. Ensure that policies and procedures reflect the company’s image

Policies are formal statements of rules that staff must follow and procedures should describe how to carry them out, so it’s important to set out both the legal requirements and cultural priorities of the organization when developing them. Policies that are consistent with the company’s image and values will encourage employees to boost the brand to clients and customers.

Read more: Conflicting policy messages and interests​

4. Clearly outline the policies

There are fundamental areas where companies need to have policies to comply with laws and regulations — harassment, health and safety, work hours, and overtime, for example — so identify the necessary ones first and ensure policies comply with applicable laws. Use a step-by-step sequence within the policy that identifies areas of concern.

Policies should include precise statements on their purpose, how they are to be carried out, who is responsible for them, and consequences and disciplinary actions for not following them, so employees are aware of expectations and the company is on solid legal ground.

5. Proofread policies and gather feedback before finalizing documents

Review the documents for errors or omissions, clarity, references, and examples. Include the date the policy is finalized and the dates of any revisions. Have the policy reviewed by another team member to provide a fresh set of eyes. Get feedback from someone with experience and expertise in the area to which the policy applies who could identify any gaps or areas of improvement.

6. Review the policies with key stakeholders and legal counsel

Consult managers and other stakeholders who will be charged with enforcing the policies and employees who will be required to adhere to them, on the viability, clarity, and practicality of the policies. Obtain final approval or recommendations from senior management — or whoever has been given that authority, such as an HR manager — and legal advice from counsel before disseminating the policies to staff.

Involving the right stakeholders will help avoid surprises, enhance the likelihood of compliance, and ensure that the policy reflects the organization’s needs.

Read more: Employees can’t choose which policies to follow

7. Communicate policies to all employees

HR policies apply to the entire organization, so all employees need to know that they exist and the expectations that accompany them. This will increase compliance and eliminate the excuse that “I didn’t know.” Communicate the reason for implementing the policies, make sure all employees have an opportunity to review them, and keep channels open for questions.

Ensure that employees receive or have access to copies. It’s common for companies to include policies in an employee handbook so they’re all in one place and employees know where to find them. When employees are disciplined or dismissed for violating workplace policies, a failure of the employer to communicate the policies can be a mitigating factor if the employee pursues legal action, so ensuring employees are informed can reduce liability.

8. Have employees sign an acknowledgement receipt

When informing employees of policies and procedures, get them to sign an acknowledgement that they have read and understand them — this can be done with a paper form or an electronic acknowledgment. When new employees are hired, reading and acknowledging the policies should be a condition of employment. This puts the company in a better position should an employee breach a policy and face discipline.

Companies should make sure their policies truly reflect their purpose and are understood by employees and management, says one employment lawyer.

9. Keep policies flexible

Policies inevitably need to evolve and adapt over time. Legal compliance and the workforce experience change, and policies need to change with them. Building in flexibility will help when the time comes to perform a compliance audit or change a policy to better reflect organizational needs. The easier it is to edit and amend a policy, the more likely it will be kept up-to-date.

The language of the policies themselves should also be flexible. Avoid phrasing that uses absolutes — such as “only” or “will” — in favour of words such as “generally” or “may” so that they can be applied on a case-by-case basis.

10. Conduct policy reviews at regular intervals

Regular reviews, at least annually, are necessary to maintain the currency and enforceability of policies and demonstrates to employees that it is committed to a structured and efficient business. It’s important to keep in mind that policies related to legal compliance often have legislated requirements for how often they have to be reviewed.

Compliance audits can help identify outdated policies or areas of legal concern. Make sure to record the dates of reviews and amendments.

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