Policies and procedure in the workplace: The ultimate guide
Policies and procedures are an important part of organisational life, giving "official" instructions and guidelines on how things are done, providing clarity on dealing with issues and establishing the expected behaviours and standards of employees. No one can pretend that an organisation’s policies and procedures are going to be the most exciting read, but they can prove to be very useful reference material in providing clarity for managers and employees, helping standardise approaches and minimising risk.
In this post, we're going to do a deep dive into the world of policies and procedures, looking at what they are, why they are important and how to manage them. We’re not expecting you to love policies and procedures, but we hope by the end of the article you'll view them a little more positively!
What are policies and procedures?
Policies and procedures are sets of principles and rules that provide structure and standardisation to processes carried out across an organisation. They can range from documents which outline overarching company principles through to detailed instructions on how to carry out specific processes, as well as associated guidelines for employees.
Generally, a policy will outline principles to follow, while procedures are more detailed and spell out the steps necessary to complete a task or undertake a set of actions. Usually, a procedure is likely to change more often than an underlying policy.
Although policies and procedures are distinct, a policy document can contain procedural information and vice versa. Sometimes, the line between what is a policy and what is a procedure can be fuzzy; there can also be forms, guidelines, checklists and even user guides that fall under the “procedural” umbrella.
Why policies and procedures are important?
We need policies and procedures in the workplace for multiple reasons. Let’s explore some of the key ones.
Helping employees complete tasks and get things done
In any given working day, employees complete multiple tasks, some relating to their role and others to more general processes. Additionally, employees may have to make several decisions during the working week. Policies and procedures provide essential baseline information for employees to get things done and make accompanying decisions.
Most organisations seek to standardise processes across different divisions, regions and locations in order to drive efficiency, support customer experience, raise standards and provide consistency and simplicity across complex structures and diverse workforces. Having well-defined policies and procedures underpins this standardisation.
Supporting professional conduct
Policies and procedures define expected levels of professional conduct and behaviour, covering multiple aspects of organisational life including treatment of colleagues, interaction with customers, risk management and more. Having these policies and procedures is important for the smooth day-to-day running of any business.
Supporting compliance and certification
There are a range of different policies and procedures that must be followed for regulatory, legal and compliance reasons. Businesses need to enforce these policies, and may also need to show external regulators and other bodies they are doing everything they can to make sure they are followed. The way policies and procedures are managed and disseminated is a major component of this. Similarly, organisations may have to adhere to standards such as ISO 27001 and demonstrate policies are being followed to the relevant certification body.
It’s not just legal and regulatory compliance that is important - having the right policies and procedures helps minimise risks across other areas, such as:
- Health and safety: ensuring the wellbeing of employees and third parties, especially in areas such as construction, engineering, manufacturing and mining
- Brand reputation: helping to preserve business image by supporting good customer service, preventing legal action, ensuring there aren’t data breaches and more
- Supporting employees: ensuring employees follow the correct procedures to limit their personal risk and liability
- And many more!
Helping new starters
It can be an overwhelming and even confusing time when a person starts at a new company, with a lot to do and learn. Having clear policies and procedures helps new starters complete onboarding processes and settle in more quickly; in turn, a positive onboarding experience also reduces employee turnover.
Organisations are in a constant state of flux, and managing change across the workforce can be hard. Having clear policies and procedures helps manage change and outline new ways of working, both large and small.
Support values and wellbeing
Values and employee wellbeing are increasingly being recognised as important components of employee experience. Ensuring policies and procedures align with company values and provide safeguards for wellbeing can make a tangible difference.
Supporting an employee value proposition
The employee value proposition (EVP) of a company spells out some of its key HR policies and procedures, such as opportunities for career progression, learning and training, flexible working, maternity and paternity leave, pay and benefits and so on. The EVP of an organisation is central to attracting and retaining talent.
Common policies and procedures that every workplace needs
What are some of the common policies and procedures found in the typical workplace? Here are some of the most widespread, and most important.
Policies and procedures will present clear expectations about employees’ workplace conduct. This can cover everything from interacting with employees and customers to lifestyle choices outside work, such as use of alcohol and drugs. As part of this, there will also be established processes around misconduct and what happens if it arises, including disciplinary procedures.
Some businesses have more specific conduct guidelines to cover aspects of professional life, depending on the industry sector. Accountants, lawyers, financial services and the gaming industry, for example, all have regulatory and professional considerations that will impact individual conduct and other organisational procedures.
Some regulated industries also have very specific additional processes they need to carry out relating to regulatory compliance. For example, financial services have a range of policies around advertising, marketing and selling that must be adhered to. Other regulated industries with strict regulatory procedures include pharmaceuticals, healthcare, energy, gaming and professional services.
HR and employment policies
There are a range of other common HR and employment policies such as those regarding maternity and paternity leave, sick pay, absence, career advancement, secondments, performance management and more. These HR policies are often an important reference point for employees during their time at a company, as well as when they are considering whether to join in the first place. As already stated, HR policies are a key part of any employment value proposition (EVP).
Travel and expenses
Most companies will have a travel and expenses policy relating to booking travel and claiming back expenses. This might stipulate the kind of travel that can be booked, how to do it and the approval process required from a manager.
Ordering equipment and other transactions
Organisations will also have policies and procedures relating to other everyday transactions that might involve approval workflow, such as ordering office equipment.
Use of technology and social media
How employees use technology and social media involves a degree of trust. Most organisations have a set of policies and procedures covering acceptable usage of technology and digital channels, both internally and externally.
Health and safety
One of the most important areas of policy and procedure is ensuring the right health and safety measures are in place. In some industries such as mining, engineering, healthcare, construction and energy, these are heavily promoted, and are key priorities at an organisational, team and individual level.
Hybrid and remote work
The pandemic has dramatically increased remote working, and many companies are now figuring out their policies and procedures relating to hybrid work and how they can make these work in the future.
As already noted, employee onboarding is crucial and can impact employee turnover. Having the right onboarding policies and procedures in place makes a big difference.
Procurement and due diligence
Procuring new suppliers and providing the necessary checks is essential in establishing successful relationships with suppliers, providing value for money and protecting an organisation’s reputation. As a result, most companies have a range of procurement and due diligence policies and procedures in place.
Policies and procedures management best practices
How should you manage your policies and procedures? There are a range of best practices to follow that will help ensure employees can easily access the latest documents and information, safe in the knowledge that they are accurate and up to date.
Allow easy access for all
Policies and procedures are there to standardise processes and minimise risks, but they also help employees get things done in the best way possible, supporting productivity and underpinning a good employee experience. Ensuring your entire workforce can easily access the right policies and procedure at the point of need is key to them being followed; there should not be groups who do not have access, such as your frontline staff. A central policies and procedures library available through your intranet is a proven model that works.
Ensure a single source of truth
Have just one source of truth for your policies and procedures to avoid issues with multiple versions that cause confusion and result in employees performing the wrong actions. Having multiple versions also undermines employee trust in any central policies and procedures library.
Keep policies and procedures up to date
Policies and procedures must always be kept up to date so they are accurate. Even if changes are small, it’s always best to execute any updates as quickly as possible, minimising the risk of errors down the line.
Keep control over versions
Establishing robust version control over policies and procedures is essential to prevent multiple versions circulating. Having a clear convention for numbering different versions and using the right solution (such as a SharePoint library) will help.
Clear ownership and lifecycle management
Many of the above best practices are achieved by having clear, defined ownership of each policy or procedure, with named individuals responsible for executing the right lifecycle management processes around regular reviews, updating their policy and more.
Make policies and procedures findable
As well as making policies and procedures easy to access, employees also need to be able to find the right information or document when required. Ensuring policies and procedures are findable and discoverable is critical. There are various approaches which help with this, including:
- Creating a search specific to your policies and procedures library
- Using tagging to categorise different policies to make them browsable or filterable via search
- Creating views to filter policies by owner, function, type and topic
- Using personalisation to show relevant policies and procedures to individual users
- Including policies and procedures in a wider intranet, enterprise or Microsoft search
- Using the right titles to accurately indicate policies’ purpose and contents.
Driving personalisation and targeting to ensure variations
Some policies may not be relevant to different groups of employees based on their role, location, level of hierarchy and so on. For example, in large global companies, HR policies often vary from country to country. Leveraging personalisation and targeting to ensure users access the right policies based on their profile will drive relevance and make sure the right policies are followed.
Checking for employee attestation
There are some very important mandatory policies that you will want to ensure everyone reads; sometimes, you will need to demonstrate to external parties that this has been done. These external parties are likely to be regulators or certification bodies, but they can be customers too. Running an employee attestation process where you can track who has read which policy, who has confirmed they have done so or even who has agreed to adhere to what is the best way to achieve this.
Carry out auditing when you need to
Ensure you have some kind of auditing process around your policies and procedures that records who has made changes to policy documentation and when. This helps force policy and procedure owners to take their role seriously, and also demonstrates to regulators and certification bodies that you have a robust approach to policy management.
Making policies readable and digestible
Policies and procedures are there to be used and followed, not ignored. A 50-page document written in “legalese” is never going to be read by your employees, and while it may be important to have from a regulatory, legal, compliance or risk perspective, creating a shorter version that is readable, digestible and actionable is far more likely to result in policies actually being followed.
Allowing access at the point of need
Allowing access to policies and procedures at the right time, directly at the point of need, helps boost adherence. For example, if an employee is making a travel booking, arranging easy access to the travel policy if they need to review it can be useful, even if it is just a link on the requisite form. Similarly, making it simple for your new hires to access the policies and procedures they need to read and attest to during the onboarding process will drive efficiency.
Have an agreed naming convention
Have a standard naming convention in place for your policies and procedures to ensure employees can find the right document and avoid confusion.
How policy management software can help
Many of the best practices mentioned above are enabled by having the right policy management software. A dedicated solution such as Xoralia will ensure you have the best overall approach to policy management, supporting your users, policy owners and administrators. Let’s explore the main areas where policy management software can add value.
Managing policies and procedures involves a lot of simple, repeatable tasks that can be automated. Policy management software will automate many of these, dramatically reducing the administrative burden of policy owners and digital workplace teams and allowing them to focus on more meaningful and valuable work.
Provide easy access to policies and make them findable
Providing easy, centralised access to your policies for all your employees is at the heart of successful policy distribution. Policy management software will establish a central library, and provide search and browse tools to make them findable and discoverable.
Document versioning and control
Effective document versioning is essential to make sure employees only read the very latest versions of policies and procedures.
A good policy management solution supports policy owners and admins by helping them manage their policy through its lifecycle, from creation through to archiving. The solution should help them review the policy at regular intervals, add new versions, retire old ones and more.
Sometimes, policy management needs to be audited for compliance, regulatory or certification purposes. Policy management software should support this through providing audit trails, for example.
Tracking employee attestation
Employee attestation relating to reading and confirming mandatory policies and procedures is an onerous task. Policy management software should make this easy and effortless through automation – a relief for anyone who has managed this via email and spreadsheets in the past!
Policy management software allows you to carry out any reporting and measurement relating to policy management and distribution, including employee attestation.
Managing policies and procedures? Demo Xoralia today.
Managing policies and procedures is a critical activity that every organisation should commit to. Policy management software like Xoralia makes this much easier. Why not book a demo?