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Why are policies and procedures important in the workplace?

Why are policies and procedures important in the workplace?

 

The answer to the question ‘why are policies and procedures important in the workplace?’ is that policies and procedures are a vital part of how an organisation functions.  Having effective policies and procedures in place provides consistency, fairness, improves the employee and customer experience, and reduces the risk of legal action against the organisation.  Such documentation needs to be sustained through the behaviours of leaders ‘walking the talk’.   When used correctly, policies can have a long-lasting impact and even support – and drive – organisational culture.

Despite the importance of such documentation, many organisations do not have formal policies and procedures in place, or the documentation is in place, but it does not reflect how things are done in practice. This blog will explain what policies and procedures are, how they can be written, and will explain in more detail why policies and procedures are important in the workplace.

 

What are policies and procedures?

 

Policies go by many different names, such as standard operating procedures (SOPs), or job aids.  Whatever form they might take, policies set out the how’s, when’s, where’s, who’s, what’s and why’s of the organisation.  They can cover the process on how to complete a certain task (such as how to claim expenses) or communicate a broader or more strategic scope such as outlining the organisation’s view on a certain subject, and explaining what employees need to do to act in the way that is required by the organisation, such as anti-discrimination or anti-corruption policies.

 

Policies and procedures can be local to a business unit or apply to regional or global teams. Either way, the document will inform the reader who it applies to, and this audience will be expected to follow the policy at all times.

 

What do policies and procedures look like?

 

Policies and procedures can be written as downloadable or printable documents, or can simply be accessed online, as part of an organisation’s intranet content.  Policies and procedures will follow a consistent format and, although they will look different depending on the organisation, they will commonly have a structure similar to the following:

 

  1. Policy title and numbering sequence.
  2. Department responsible for the policy or the job title of the author who updates it.
  3. A date when the policy was last updated and published, as well as a date indicating the next scheduled review of the same policy.
  1. Details of who the policy applies to (such as individual job titles, departments, business units, or operational regions).
  2. The purpose (a short summary of the policy’s aim).
  3. The policy content.  A step-by-step run through of what the policy is concerning, and detailed instructions of what needs to be followed.
  4. Links relevant to the policy, such as related policies or other resources needed.
  5. Who to contact in case of questions about the policy.
  6. Signatures or approvals from senior leaders who are authorised to sign off policies.

 

 

Why policies and procedures are important in the workplace

 

Policies and procedures have many different benefits to offer leaders, employees, the organisation, and other stakeholders.  Here are some of the reasons why policies and procedures are so important in the workplace:

 

1. They provide guidance to employees

 

If written effectively, policies can demystify the employees’ role.  Employees can refer to policies to provide instruction, training, and guidance.  This is especially important for onboarding periods, as new joiners can refer to policy documents as they learn about the organisation.  This can be a flexible way of learning that frees up manager time, providing they remain available to the employee in case of questions and concerns. In order for policies and procedures to provide the clarity referred to above, it is important that the documentation accurately reflects what the organisation expects from employees and how it will respond in the relevant circumstances. Plotkin & Chandler have expertise in drafting the full range of HR documentation, which is tailored to the needs of our clients. Such documentation can typically be provided as a fixed fee or undertaken as part of one of our HR support packages.

 2. They improve decision-making and empowerment  

 

Employees who are trained on organisational policies and procedures can refer to them when they are unsure what to do.  This might save time in asking other people for help or using the dreaded phrase, “Let me get my manager”. Over time employees will become more confident and empowered in what they can do, which can improve customer experience and employee engagement.

 3. They provide consistency

 

Policies and procedures ensure that everyone works in the same way.  This has several benefits.  Firstly, it reduces errors, and can increase quality of work.  Secondly, it reduces confusion or ambiguity, a source of great irritation for customers and employees alike.  Consistency can also result in cost savings through economies of scale, and the establishment of longer-term behaviours that might even form part of a company’s culture.

 

4. They help reduce bias 

 

Policies and procedures do not just impact tasks, they influence behaviour as well.  Policies can often focus on diversity, equality, and fair treatment, but even if they do not, they can impact these areas. By encouraging conformity, policies reinforce the need to treat people fairly. Having a procedure in place increases the likelihood that the process is objective   rather than subjective assumptions that can be influenced by unconscious bias, favouritism, or nepotism.

 

It is common for line managers to feel unsure what to do in certain circumstances. Perhaps it is a particularly sensitive issue such as an employee lodging a grievance in which discrimination is alleged, or maybe the matter relates to sickness absence and the line manager is unsure about what next steps should be. In both cases policies should help to ensure that the process is fair, but sometimes a greater amount of assistance is needed. Plotkin & Chandler provides HR consultancy meaning that we undertake tasks on behalf of clients, and we offer HR training on a range of topics including how to effectively follow procedures such as those relating to performance management, managing sickness absence or handling disciplinary investigations.

5.  They support staff in acting safely and correctly 

 

Some employees might not always appreciate that policies are in place for their benefit, but they are.  Some policies are established to set out guidelines that direct safe ways of working and in some cases, these can be a matter of life and death.

 

Other policies do not relate to safety but exist to keep things on the right track.  Employees who follow policies will be less likely to be involved in performance or conduct-related errors because they will make less mistakes and act in a fairer way.  Many policies will outline to employees the consequences if standards are not followed.

 

6. They reduce legal risk 

 

If an employee brings a claim at the Employment Tribunal, having robust policies and procedures in place, and following them correctly, is one way for the organisation to show that it acted reasonably.

 

7. They increase transparency for clients 

 

So far, we have spoken a great deal about how policies can benefit the organisation and its people, but they can also help clients and customers too.  Some policies can be published publicly, enabling clients to understand what the organisation can and cannot do for them, as well as giving them an idea of what to expect.

 

A good example of this is a menu in a fast-food chain.  This is a type of policy, as it sets out for customers what they will get, calorie information, and what the product might look like.  Displaying calorie information demonstrates a commitment to the health of customers and enables them to make informed choices, as well as establishing a consistent customer expectation and experience across all restaurants.  Another example of the value of policies is when a potential client may choose to only be involved with an organisation after viewing the policies relating to equality etc.

 

8. They set expectations 

 

For employees, policies set expectations as well. Creating policies in line with organisational values and culture is a great way to show the employee what it’s like to work there, essentially explaining to them, “this is how we do business”. Employees reading up on policies (either before they start or during their probation period) can get an idea of what it’s like to work there and make a decision on how well they might fit in and adapt to the organisation’s way of working.

 

Plotkin & Chandler works exclusively in the areas of HR and employment law. To discuss your needs, and find out the ways in which we can help, call us on 020 3923 8616 or email us at info@plotkinandchandler.com

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