Tips for Creating Effective Policies and Procedures
How do you know when you need to have a policy for a certain area of your business?
A written policy helps your organization run more smoothly and efficiently. A basic way to look at a policy is that it is a written record of a workplace rule.
Therefore, it is time to develop a policy when:
- a. Legislation expressly requires an organization such as yours to have a certain policy in place.
- b. Legislation does not expressly require your organization have the policy, but the regulations and steps are tightly defined. In this case, a written company policy will help to ensure that your organization is in full compliance.
- c. Inconsistencies exist in how managers make decisions and/or how employees behave. Those inconsistencies are having a negative impact on the work environment, or on how your business is carried out.
- d. Confusion exists in certain areas of your business as to how things are done.
Developing a new policy is not something that should be done impulsively. For example, consider carefully if you are creating a policy simply to deal with a one-time situation with a few individuals who may be causing problems.
Remember that a written policy creates a rule or standard to be followed consistently. As such, it can reduce management’s flexibility to treat each situation as unique. Policies that are not necessary, or that are not well written, can actually cause harm to your organization. Plus, they can be difficult to change once they have been put into place, and become part of your company culture.
Therefore, at their best and most effective, policies are designed for the many, not the few. In other words, aim to develop policies that benefit your entire organization.
Before you develop any policy, it is important to research the topic to ensure there is a real need for the policy. Make sure you are clear on the of the policy’s objective.
Is the proposal simply a knee-jerk reaction to a problem that will likely not re-occur? Is it best for the issue to be handled on a case-by-case basis if it does re-occur? Or is the policy something that needs to be in place in order for your business to run more efficiently, or for your business to meet a new local, state, or federal regulation?
Here are some questions to consider if you are unsure about the need for a new or existing policy:
- 1. What will this policy accomplish? What will be the outcomes?
- 2. How will this policy support our company mission and our desired company culture?
- 3. How will this policy be monitored? How will it be enforced?
- 4. How will this policy affect a manager’s ability to perform regular duties, including hiring, firing, performance reviews, and promotions?
- 5. Will this policy have an impact on our ability to attract quality candidates?
- 6. In what way has our company handled this issue in the past?
- 7. Does the size of our company (specifically the number of our employees) justify having this policy?
- 8. How much time and effort will it take to keep this policy up to date?
- 9. Would this policy have an impact on any of our funding?
Now that you have learned about what to include – and not to include – in your manual, let’s look at some secrets to drafting those important policies and procedures for your organization.
First, we will consider policies. An effective policy should include the following 10 sections:
The purpose explains the goal of the policy. For example, a health and safety policy has the goal of ensuring a healthy and safe workplace for all workers, and complying with all relevant health and safety regulations.
Here is an example of a purpose statement for an attendance policy:
The purpose of this policy is to set forth XYZ Company’s statement of policy and procedures for handling employee absences and instances of tardiness. The objective of this policy is to promote the efficient operation of the company.
The scope of the policy reveals to whom the policy pertains. Depending on the size of your company, some policies may be relevant to only certain departments. A specific policy may apply to all staff members, or differentiate based on location, department, or employee position.
The scope should explain if the policy applies to volunteers, contract workers and/or consultants doing work for the company. Make sure your scope section identifies anyone who is exempt from the policy.
Here is an example of a scope statement.
This policy applies to each employee at XYZ Company.
The statement is the standard or rule the policy needs to communicate.
Here is an example:
XYZ employees are expected to report to work as scheduled, on time, and ready to start work. Employees should remain at work for their entire work schedule. Since late arrivals, early departures, or other absences from scheduled hours are disruptive, they are to be avoided.
4. Procedures and Responsibilities
This section clearly describes how the policy is implemented at your company. Include any action steps, and who will perform those steps, in this section.
If there are multiple steps to the procedure, put them in chronological order for ease of use. Some sections may need to include lists of individual tasks, as well as departmental tasks.
This section also states the responsibilities of the board, management, and/or staff in regards to maintaining, monitoring, and implementing the policy. Avoid including information that is likely to change frequently. Instead of using an individual’s name, for instance, use the position title.
Any consequences for not complying with the policy should be fully described here.
Here are two examples:
Any employee who fails to report to work for a period of three days or more without notice to a supervisor will terminate the employment relationship.
Failure to comply with this attendance policy could result in the termination of your employment.
Are there any terms in the policy that need defining or clarifying? If so, you will place those statements in this section. These definitions are particularly important if your policy is designed to follow legal requirements for the workplace.
Here are two examples:
“Absence” is defined as the failure of an employee to report for work when he or she is scheduled to work.
“Tardy” is defined in this policy as an unscheduled late arrival or unscheduled early departure of more than six minutes.
In this section, you can give names and contact information for the supervisor or manager the employee can approach if they have questions on the policy.
Here is an example:
Questions, comments, and suggestions regarding this policy may be directed to XYZ Policy Coordinator, HR Department, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reference any other policies, documents, or legislation that support the interpretation of this policy. For example, if it is a health and safety policy, you could reference the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OSHA), employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthful workplace.
If it is a non-discriminatory policy, you could reference the Americans With Disabilities Act.
The Americans With Disabilities Act prohibits any discrimination against anyone with disabilities in employment, public accommodation, transportation, governmental activities, and communications.
8. Effective Date
In this section, state the date this policy went into effect, as well as the date of any revisions.
Interested in learning more? Why not take an online class in How to Write Effective Policies and Procedures?
Here is an example:
XYZ Company’s attendance policy went into effect on Jan.1, 1989. It was revised on Jan. 1, 1999, and again on Jan. 1, 2010.
9. Review Date
Here you can indicate the date that the policy will be reviewed.
This attendance policy will be reviewed at the annual meeting of XYZ Company’s board of directors on Oct. 15, 2016.
Here you indicate who approved the policy, and the date of their last approval.
Here is an example:
The XYZ Company board of directors approved this attendance policy at its annual meeting on Oct. 12, 2015.
Organization of your policies and procedures
The organization of your policies and procedures in the manual is probably the most important key to them being read. Let’s face it — most of your employees will not be excited to read long lists of job duties.
Additionally, once you have developed your manual, you will not want to re-read all the information in order to do updates and revisions in just a few areas.
Your manual’s usefulness then will be determined largely by the organizational pattern you use. Here is a guide to organizing your manual.
As we mentioned in a previous section, the Foreword is an introduction to your policies and procedures manual, as a whole, by presenting a concise summary of the organization’s history, operating objectives, and overall management philosophy. The Foreword sets the tone for the importance of the manual.
The Table of Contents
Next up is the Table of Contents. This important section is the place employers and employees alike can find the areas of the manual that most pertain to them and their specific needs.
The table of contents should group the policies and procedures with major headings and page numbers.
When you organize your manual by departments, or by functional areas of your organization, it enables workers to look up information quickly and easily. In addition, the sections allow you to revisit and revise policies and procedures as needed.
Depending on your company and the work that you do, you may want to include additional sections that relate specifically to your company. These may include:
- organizational charts
- job descriptions
- company forms
- annual reports.
When you include these documents in the manual, you offer one cohesive, informative source of information to your employees for all aspects of the company.
If you have a lengthy manual, it is a good idea to have both a table of contents and an index. When you have a large number of policies, an index allows the reader to search quickly for just that particular policy, without having to search through an entire section.
An index, which is arranged alphabetically, is also helpful for an employee to cross-reference different topics of interests.
Creating an index need not be as daunting as it sounds. One method is to wait to create the index until all, or at least most, of the policies and procedures have been written and approved. Then type the subjects covered under each policy into a spreadsheet, along with a page number.
If you are not sure which word or words a policy should be indexed under, consider what an employee would be most likely to look under first. If you think there is more than one option, place the topic under multiple entries.
Then you can sort the list you have created into alphabetical order. You’ll find that Microsoft Word also has several advanced functions for the creation of tables of contents and indexes.
Here is an example of a Policy and Procedure Table of Contents:
- Organizational Chart
- Job Descriptions
- Dress Code
- Tobacco-Free Workplace
- Drug-Free Workplace
- Weapon-Free Workplace
- Cell Phone Use
- Computer and Internet Use
- Social Media Postings
- Harassment-Free Workplace
- Safety and Health Procedures
- Employee Evaluations
- Vacation and Personal Time Usage
- Payroll Processing
- Arbitration Procedures
- Legal Disclaimers
When you create a Table of Contents in Microsoft Word or on an Excel Spreadsheet, you can customize the way it looks. If you like, you can keep the same formatting, no matter how many times you update the table.
Your table of contents is not the place to be flashy and creative. Simple page numbering and document labeling is critical.
Now, here are some specific ideas of how the Table of Contents and the Index will differ:
Employee Behavior. You can use this general heading in your Table of Contents to include your attendance policy, breaks for meals, and your overall expectations of employee conduct.
Specific index entries, however, may list attendance, breaks, harassment, discrimination, smoking and substance abuse policy bans, Internet use, and dress code.
Pay and Promotions. This general heading will be found in the Table of Contents. However, index topics related to this section may include: Vacations, Paid Time-Off Policy, Observed Holidays, Sick Leave, Family Medical Leave, Military Leave, and Performance Appraisal and Review.
Benefits. This section will offer employees general information on benefits offered in health care, dental, vision, and life insurance, such as the criteria for eligibility. Specific areas, such as a childcare package, will be found in the index.