HR policies and procedures

By Kat Boogaard
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Documenting a company’s policies and procedures may not be a thrill for you (or maybe it is?), but you know how important it is for ensuring your office is a positive and safe place to work for everyone. Plus, having resources that your employees can refer to can offload quite a bit of work from your own plate. 

Yet, far too many organizations push this task to the back burner. A 2015 survey from Business Process Trends showed that only 4% of companies claim that they always document their processes. 

We get it. Whether you’re starting totally from scratch or with a manual that hasn’t seen any updates since 1996, putting how you do it into an organized and readable document sounds like a chore. 

That’s where this guide comes in. We’ve broken down everything you need to know about documenting your organization’s policies and procedures below.

Policies vs. procedures: what’s the difference?

You’ll often hear “policies and procedures” lumped together in a single phrase, and that leads many people to believe that they’re one in the same.

However, there is an important distinction between these two terms. Here’s how we like to think about it:

Policy

A policy is a broad statement about your company’s stance on a certain issue.

Procedure

A procedure is the step-by-step process for how you reinforce that belief.

Let’s look at an example for some clarity using an issue that many organizations need to formally address: sexual harassment.

Clipboard list

Sex harassment

In this case, the company’s policy would be something like, “We do not tolerate sexual harassment of any kind in the workplace.”

The procedure would then dig into how the company makes the policy happen, including how employees file complaints and with whom, how the company will respond, and what disciplinary measures are on the table. 

Often, both the policy and procedure end up being recorded in the same document. But, it’s still important to clarify the distinction between the two to avoid any future confusion.

Meeples creating content

Absolutely document these policies and procedures

Why go through the hassle of documenting all of these policies and procedures? These formalized records ensure that: 

  • Everyone has a shared understanding of your company’s rules and values
  • Employees know what’s expected of them in the workplace
  • Managers know the best course of action to take in a variety of circumstances
  • You’re abiding by any local, state, or federal regulations that apply to your organization

When complex issues come up (whether it's termination of an employee, an interpersonal conflict, or any other sensitive situation), these resources remove a lot of the guesswork involved in resolving those problems.

But that begs the question: What policies and procedures do you need to be documenting? It seems like that’s a never-ending list. How you approach this can vary greatly depending on things like the size of your organization, your industry, and what existing resources you have. But for simplicity, start by thinking about your policies and procedures within the following five buckets.

Bucket 1

Salary & Wages

Document all policies and procedures that relate to employee pay. This would include your guidelines for:

  • Payment schedule
  • Payment methods
  • Promotions
  • Raises
  • Bonuses
  • Performance reviews
Bucket 2

Personal Conduct

This category captures a variety of behaviors and interpersonal conflicts that could arise in the workplace, including:

  • Discrimination
  • Sexual harassment
  • Nepotism
  • Conflicts of interest
  • Confidentiality
  • Dress code
  • Break time
  • Social media, Internet, and phone usage

 

Bucket 3

Benefits

Your company’s benefit offerings might be confusing for some, so document it all in this bucket:

  • Health insurance
  • Dental insurance
  • Vision insurance
  • Disability insurance
  • Retirement investments
  • Employee assistance program
  • Flexible spending account or health savings account
  • Stock options
  • Life insurance
  • Professional development
  • Perks and extras
  • Paid leave (including vacation time, sick time, jury leave, funeral, maternity, and more)
Bucket 4

Recruitment & Retention

It’s valuable to document procedures for hiring and terminating of employees to help your company navigate what can be sensitive issues. Include things like:

  • Hiring process
  • Performance improvement process
  • Termination process
  • Recruiting guidelines
  • Equal opportunity employment rules
  • Interview expenses
  • Relocation expenses
  • Pre-employment tests
  • Instructions for internal applicants
Bucket 5

Health & Safety

Ensure that every employee feels happy, safe, and supported in your work environment. That’s where this category comes into play. It encompasses items like:

  • Weapons
  • Emergency response
  • Drug testing
  • Inclimate weather response

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it should help to get your wheels turning about what issues need to be addressed within your policies and procedures. 

It can also be helpful to reflect on past personnel scenarios or think about potential issues that could crop up within your office. If you don’t already have a procedure that could apply to those circumstances, it’s worth getting one documented.

There’s a lot here, but rest assured that not all of these will be lengthy and complex. And, in most cases, the majority of these policies and procedures will be pulled together into a single employee handbook that your staff can reference when they need it.

Meeples writing document

Standardizing your procedures

As you can see, your policies and procedures will encompass a huge array of scenarios. That makes it challenging to develop a basic template you can use moving forward.

But there’s no need to reinvent the wheel each time. While you’ll need to incorporate different steps and details, there are a few elements that will remain consistent between all of your policies and procedures.

When sketching out a basic template, make sure to include the following:

Basic template with purpose, key players, definitions, procedure, and corrective action

While these are the foundation of your document, you have plenty of freedom and flexibility to tailor it to suit your company. At the very least, it’s helpful to create a basic template document that will have the rough skeleton of your procedure already set so you can focus on filling in the specifics.

Create your policy and procedure templates with Confluence

Create your policy and procedure templates with Confluence

4 tips for documenting clear policies and procedures

Starting with a template is helpful, but there are a few other tips you can use to create policies and procedures that your team actually understands (you know, so they’re more likely to follow them).

Tip 1

Use clear language

It’s hard enough to get your employees to refer to your policies and procedures, but it’s even tougher if they need to wade through all sorts of complex language, jargon, and acronyms. So, make the information as straightforward as possible and leave less room for interpretation.

Tip 2

Ensure adequate document control

Your policies and procedures aren’t a “set it and forget it” type of thing. They’ll need constant refreshing and updating.

Keep everyone assured that they’re reading the latest by noting:

Informal check-ins

When that document was originally created

Exclamation point

When it was last updated

Exclamation point

When it was last distributed

That allows everybody to have a solid grasp on how relevant that information is and if they should be looking out for new steps or details.

Tip 3

Make it easy to use

We’ve all seen it happen: employees are given a huge binder on their first day of work and it’s immediately relegated to their bottom desk drawer to spend a lifetime collecting dust and stray paperclips. 

Those days are (or should be) long gone. Instead, set up your policies and procedures in an easy-to-reference and searchable way. Digitize them so that they’re accessible and simple to navigate (and don’t require endless sheets of paper!).

Book

Use Confluence to create policies and procedures that are easy to reference – and collaborate on!

Tip 4

Confirm receipt

Your policies and procedures don’t do any good if no one reads them. They also don’t offer much legal protection if you don’t have proof that your employees actually received them.

Have employees sign and date a document that indicates that they received, reviewed, and understand the information. Does that guarantee they’ll actually read the documents? Not necessarily, but at least you’ll eliminate the inevitable, “I never knew that!” excuse that often crops up regarding policies.

Eliminate future headaches

While documenting these guidelines might never be a task that sends you into cartwheels, it’s necessary for fostering a safe, supportive, and structured work environment where everybody can thrive. If you ask us, that makes it well worth the time and effort.


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