Workplace policies – why are they important?


Workplace policies – why are they important?

‘Why do we need a bullying policy? We all get on like a house on fire’ is something I’ve heard numerous times over the years from business owners, whenever the word policies is mentioned.

There are three good reasons why your business should have a suite of workplace policies:

1. They set the standard of behaviour and performance expected of employees and provide clear parameters around what is and isn’t acceptable in your workplace.

2. They reduce the risk of problems in the workplace. Employees know what is expected of them and feel confident about what they can expect from you if a problem arises. Studies have shown that employees who work for businesses that are fair and ethical work harder and are more productive.

3. They allow you, as the employer to respond consistently and with confidence to a workplace problem or complaint if it arises.

So, what are the kinds of things that you should address in your workplace policies? As a starting point all businesses should have policies governing acceptable workplace behaviour, addressing sexual harassment, bullying and discrimination. This should be accompanied by a clear procedure for dealing with grievances.

Other essentials include an Occupational Health and Safety policy, Privacy/Confidentiality policy, Performance management policy and a Computer Use/IT/Social Media policy.

Some of the other areas you may wish to consider are:

· Flexible workplace practices

· Recruitment and selection

· Fraud

· Conflict of interest

· Procurement

· Whistle-blowers Policy

· Employee wellbeing

· Diversity

· Domestic violence and Occupational Violence

Once created, policies should not just sit on the shelf gathering dust. Many organisations are caught out with ineffective or outdated policies because after implementing them they give them little thought until they are faced with a crisis – a complaint of sexual harassment, an investigation of a workplace fraud – and find them lacking.

Here are some guiding principles for developing and maintaining effective workplace policies:

1. Clarity is king

Make sure that the policy aims and definitions are clear and sufficiently comprehensive. Providing examples to flesh out definitions helps understanding. For example, a definition of bullying might include types of behaviour such as physical aggression, intimidation or verbal abuse. It also needs to be clear who the policies apply to, for example do you want to include just employees, or volunteers and contractors too? Grievance procedures should follow a step by step process that is easy to understand and it should be clear who is responsible for the process.

2. Communicate your policies effectively

Induction is the prime time for introducing employees to policies. There are many ways to do this including online workshops, training, one on one discussions or case studies. Existing employees should have regular opportunities to refresh their knowledge of policies. Think about some ways you can make your policies relevant and real for example using posters or regular discussions in Tool box meetings or weekly meetings.

3. Review your policies regularly

Policies can quickly become ineffective or out of date as your business evolves or legislation changes. Set a plan in place for regular review of policies – aim for once a year but also after an incident such as a formal complaint or investigation. Make sure it is clear who is responsible for reviewing and drafting amendments and that task doesn’t fall through the gaps if the person takes leave or resigns. Communicate any changes to employees.

4. Your policies should reflect your business

Your policies should reflect the values and expectations of your business. Implementing generic rules and compliance requirements can be confusing and frustrating to employees if your workplace culture says something different.

Workplace policies provide a solid framework of understanding for you and your employees to work together. HR Central can provide advice on developing a suite of policies that best suits your needs. Give us a call.

Sarah Tidey

Sarah Tidey is a former lawyer who specialises in HR and workplace dispute resolution.

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