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HR policies act as the foundation for a well-functioning organization and a communication channel from the leadership to the rest of the company. Policies, directly and indirectly, knit together aspects core to your company culture, values, and beliefs.
If companies are just groups of people working toward a common goal, thoughtfully-designed policies guide them in the right direction.
How to Write Effective Company Policies
1. Identify the need.
Before getting started, ask yourself a simple but fundamental question: “What problem are we solving with this policy?”
For example, consider your time-off policy. What are you trying to fix? Are your employees feeling burned out? Are their expectations around vacation time unclear? While this sounds elementary, identifying these problems upfront gives you a roadmap for what your new policy needs to accomplish. Throughout the drafting process, refer back to this list to ensure you’re checking all those boxes.
2. Engage stakeholders.
The best employee policies are people-centric. That means employees need to play a role in providing feedback and designing the policy. After all, they're the ones directly impacted by the policy.
While designing policies, it’s important to have representation from all possible channels. That means involving multiple departments and a diverse sampling of employees. As soon as you’ve identified the stakeholders, it’s imperative to get them on board as partners in creating something of value. Going a step further, you may want to create a semi-permanent team that could act as a council or committee for future policies.
Having stakeholders involved right from the beginning helps strengthen the involvement and sense of ownership. In the end, don’t forget to celebrate their contributions.
3. Consider applicability and content.
Next, it’s important to clearly detail who the policy applies to. Applicability of a policy could be limited to attributes like region, city, country, or departments within the organization. At times, it’s helpful to describe who a certain policy will not apply to.
The main body of the policy document could include all the detailed guidelines, information, and process related to the policy. Guidelines should provide do’s and don’ts under the policy. Being specific can help. For example, if you’re writing a travel policy, provide clear examples of what expenses are reimbursable and which ones aren’t. Make use bullet points, tables, and other easily readable formats for conveying information.
Also seek to describe the process from the employee's perspective first. Then try to include details for other uncommon users. While doing this, consider using flowcharts or system-screenshots wherever possible. Remember that designing employee-centric processes can lead to a better employee experience overall.
Lastly, keep compliance in mind. Make sure your policy complies with local, state, and national employment laws. It’s helpful to have your policies vetted by a compliance expert or attorney. Compliance may sound like a buzzkill for non-HR stakeholders, but it’s our responsibility to ensure policies are in step with the law.
4. Collect feedback and adjust.
Every employee policy should undergo a review cycle. The frequency for reviewing the policy can be set by HR in consultation with stakeholders or based on legal compliance or employee feedback changes. Similarly, organizational changes — like an acquisition or expanding into a new market — might also trigger policy revisions.
The Benefits of Well-Written Company Policies
1. They make your company more adaptable.
A recent study by Gartner found that “change management” ranked as one of the top five challenges for HR leaders in 2020. Employee policies can support change management by serving as “anchors” that help you ride out the waves.
For example, consider a policy that clearly outlines who needs to approve major company changes in advance. The approval policy might stipulate that any change impacting global employees has to be approved by the CEO. Similarly, a change impacting a particular office or division could need approval from the lower-level leader or department head. Setting up this approval matrix acts as an insurance policy against disruptive change.
2. They improve the employee experience.
Lastly, policies can help drive a positive employee experience. In a recent report, “employee experience” was identified as one of HR teams' top priorities this year.
Company policies also help cultivate a habit of delivering the best employee experience possible. For example, an employee onboarding policy that clearly outlines the roles, responsibilities, and timelines for all stakeholders, including the new hire, could go a long way in shaping their experience and outlook on the company.
Writing company policies is about more than compliance checkboxes. When approached thoughtfully, and with buy-in from employees at large, company policies can help shape your culture and the trajectory of the business.