When was the last time you reviewed workplace policies and procedures? Even in the best of times, policies and similar documentation are often written off as a “one and done” event. Policies are drafted, approved, published…and oftentimes, forgotten. Substantial changes can happen very rapidly, which can render your current documentation outdated at best, obsolete at worst. Without a consistent review schedule, company paper can grow stale fast. Draft and review effective workplace policies and procedures for your organization with the following information.
The purpose of workplace policies
Policies may not be the most exciting reading material, but they play a critical part of an organization’s operations. A policy establishes a written record of rules, standard operating procedures and other documentation that define expectations throughout your workforce. When crafted correctly, they can be a powerful tool for setting standards and ensuring compliance. Some policies may be required by law; others develop organically as need arises. Regardless, an effective policy will:
- Clearly state expectations and objectives
- Head off common problems before they begin
- Ensure workforce compliance and accountability
- Educate new staff members
- Document organizational practices, beliefs and objectives
- Provide guidance for a variety of situations
However, policies may not always be tailored to the organization, may be outdated or inconsistently followed and applied. Policies are frequently plagued by the following problems:
- Overly long and filled with tiresome, boilerplate language
- Vague, technical, unclear or unengaging (code for “boring”)
- Contain contradictions, double-standards or mixed messages
- Rely on “one size fits all” language that does not meet the needs or reflect the values of the organization
- Withhold information crucial for employee buy-in (the rationales behind the policies existence: the “who, what, when, where, why”)
- Updated infrequently and contain inaccuracies or are obsolete
- Not consistently followed or applied as intended
Drafting and reviewing workplace policies and procedures
If your organization uses only required policies for compliance, it might be time to consider drafting some specific to your organization. Determine where original policies may help establish clarity and consistency to serve the unique needs of your organization. Drafting and reviewing effective workplace policies and procedures starts with identifying:
- Common workflows and any frequently experienced problems
- Operating channels: the chain of command, organizational structure and so on
- Organizational culture: core tenets and values, mission statements, etc.
- Any information that may be especially helpful to newcomers
Having too many policies can be just as problematic as having too few. Too many can result in administrative headaches and unnecessarily restrict the autonomy of effective employees. Too few can leave employees feeling adrift, without an adequate guidance to inform everyday behaviors and workflows consistent with the organization’s culture.
When examining your list, determine how broadly each policy effects the overall organization. It may be better to omit policies that address situations best handled on a case-by-case basis, whereas common expectations, workflows or troubleshooting are solid choices that may merit a policy.
Draft…and revise, revise, revise
Any easy way to avoid some of the common policy pitfalls stated previously is to stick to the “ABCs”: Accuracy, Brevity, Clarity. If a policy doesn’t fit one or more of those criteria satisfactorily, it probably needs additional revision. Other things to watch out for when writing effective workplace policies and procedures include:
- Say more with less. Aim for low word count.
- Be clear. Use language that is easy to comprehend.
- Be consistent. Policies should not contradict one another.
- Set the tone. Casual or formal language can affect “readability.”
- Practice what you preach. Policies should not misrepresent your organization by professing something in theory that is not practiced.
- Explain why, if necessary. Additional details or explanation can increase buy-in and compliance.
If policies are already in place but it’s been over a year since they were reviewed, now may be a good time to revisit them. Consider asking the newest team member to conduct a review as well; they may be able to point out deficiencies that may not be as obvious to veteran teammates with more organizational background. A basic checklist for policy review should include the following questions:
- Does the policy:
- Say what it needs to say?
- Convey information clearly and concisely?
- Accurately represent our organization and its expectations?
- What information is lacking that might be helpful to the reader?
- What questions are readers likely to have? Have those questions been answered?
It’s also a good idea to have your policies periodically reviewed by a professional – your general legal counsel, a professional risk manager or employment practices expert can all provide excellent insight and guidance.
Remember: Use or lose
It’s said that the pen is mightier than the sword. Policies can become double-edged when they are disregarded, followed inconsistently or applied unfairly. Such policies are an open door to an employment lawsuit. Merely having the paper is not enough; there must also be equitable follow-through.
This article was originally published on the Arrowhead Tribal blog. It is used with permission and has been modified and updated to better fit the needs of our Preferred members.