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A Guide to Understanding HR Policies and Procedures Manuals
Have you ever heard someone in your organization complain that a colleague was given preferential treatment? "Why did they get five days off when their Aunt passed away, and I only took two days off when my Aunt passed away? That's not fair!" As a manager, you have likely found yourself in uncomfortable situations where you don’t know how to proceed. For example, “Susie called me a _________ again. What should I do?” In times like these, you’ll be glad you have a well-crafted HR Policies and Procedures Manual on-hand.
We swear they’re not just dust collectors. Here are 8 reasons why HR policies and procedures manuals benefit managers and employees in all organizations:
- They alleviate uncertainty
- They set the foundation for consistent and equitable treatment of people in the workplace
- They provide clarity of purpose and direct action
- They help to mitigate risk when disputes arise between the employer and employee. In fact, courts often look to company policies when rendering decisions
- They establish expected conduct and behaviours in the workplace and consequences if conduct falls outside the established policy
- They save time and contribute to organizational efficiency and well-being because time isn’t wasted debating courses of action
- They streamline administrative duties by providing clear direction
Can I really use an HR policies and procedures manual, though?
In the first example provided regarding bereavement, an HR policies & procedures manual will provide an employee with an understanding of what to expect if a loved one passes away. Their manager can use the policy to guide their course of actions during this time as well. The policy sets out what can be expected, while the procedure sets the policy into action. The documentation, whether paper or electronic, notifies the supervisor that an employee has suffered bereavement, the team is notified that they will be short a member for a specified period of time, the payroll department is notified of how to handle any absence in terms of compensation and benefits. The absence is recorded and, perhaps, a note of condolence is sent.
An HR policy manual that includes a Code of Conduct, a Conflict Resolution Process, a Harassment Policy and Investigation Process and a Progressive Discipline Policy could all be referenced to direct action in the name calling scenario.
HR policy and procedures manual – the format and how to make them work for your organization
Policies and procedures manuals do not have to be complex legal documents, but they do need to work within legislative requirements. Policies should also reflect the general culture of the organization. Is the policy in sync with the culture of the organization? Is it written in a way that speaks to the employees? Is it a well-established, stable organization with little turnover, or, is it a smaller more dynamic company? How you answer these questions may influence how HR policy and procedures are written and acted on.
How do you know if your organization needs an HR Policies and Procedures Manual?
While the Internet is rife with examples of policy manuals, every organization is different and has unique needs. When considering whether a policy is required, it may help to answer the following questions.
- Is it a situation that seems to occur repeatedly and is causing some confusion in the workforce?
- Does it merit a written policy or just an executive communication clarifying a standard of practice? Remember, you don’t need a policy for every situation that arises.
- Is it a situation where all employees need to be treated in the same manner in order to establish equity and fairness in the workplace?
Referring back to the bereavement example, the policy should clearly state what conditions leave will be given and whether it will be paid or unpaid. If travel is involved, will bereavement leave be extended, and if so will additional time be paid or unpaid? Remember that ‘equity’ does not translate to ‘equal’. In the above example, perhaps the Aunt in question, in reality, acted as the employee's mother and, while always being mindful of confidentiality, the employee was given time to grieve the loss.
- Is it a situation where people are unsure how to act?
Dress Codes are an example of this. Is there a certain organizational image that needs to be portrayed or is it a relaxed and creative culture where a dress code would be counter to the culture of the organization.
- Are work standards and codes of conduct well established and clear?
Some examples of conduct policies include:
- Disciplinary Policies
- Policies regarding use of corporate resources, such as Internet and office equipment and supplies
- Expense policies
- Absence policies
- Code of Conduct Policies
- Is it a situation where the organization is bound to act in a certain way to abide by legislation (and mitigate risk), such as Human Rights Legislation, Employment Legislation, Privacy Legislation or Health & Safety Legislation?
For example, is there a well established and communicated policy regarding harassment in the workplace and the processes that will be set in action should a complaint arise? How is employee information protected? How is it stored? When will it be destroyed? Who has access to this information and on what basis?
Actually Using an HR Policies and Procedures Manual
Regardless of the policy, it’s imperative that policies are consistently applied and that they are understood by all employees. It is a good practice to have employee's sign-off that they have read and understood the policies and have had an opportunity to ask questions regarding the policies that affect their place of work.
HR Policies and procedures should not be relegated to collect dust on a shelf; they need to be easily accessible to all stakeholders. They also need to be updated with changing legislative requirements or organizational changes.
If carefully written, communicated and understood, and consistently applied, HR policies and procedures provide a valuable resource for the equitable and fair treatment of people in an efficiently run organization. By establishing a framework for conduct and removing uncertainty, an HR policy and procedures manual can free people to concentrate on the business or service that they are hired to do. And, if disagreements or disputes arise they are excellent resources to clarify expectations and courses of conduct.
Marjorie Keay, CPHR has been working as an HR professional for many years and brings a breadth of experience to her clients. She specializes in working with small to mid-sized businesses to ensure best HR management practices are in place to facilitate corporate growth and success. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.