It was a bitterly cold, grey Melbourne Saturday and I’d just brought home my boys from a ghastly early indoor soccer match. I couldn’t warm up. So at 10.30AM, I lit the wood heater as the hydronic heating system wasn’t working fast enough. In no time at all, and with plenty of fire-lighters, the fire was cracking and blazing. The heat was delicious as I went about my boring chores. At one point, mid-afternoon, I bent down to open the door and throw another log in, and heard the awful, horrifying sound of fabric tearing. I’d split my pants. Ok, so they were old and worn, and perhaps—no, definitely—I was making them stretch over too much area. I felt embarrassed, even though I was at home and Hubster and the kids were nowhere close to earshot, and they wouldn’t ever know unless I told them. I could actually just throw the pants away. Of course I told them; Hubster even suggested buying one of those iron-on patches, like that’s going fix the issue.
But my pants-tearing incident of 2016 did get me to thinking about businesses, small and large, who continue to use old and worn policies and procedures, making them stretch over departments that are bigger than they used to be, or trying to patch them up in an effort to keep them looking sort-of ‘fittable’ (I know that’s not a word, but work with me).
What’s the point of policies and procedures anyway? And do your employees refer to them, know where to find them? As the business owner, how long has it been since you’ve looked at your own policies and procedures? Do you still have a ‘manual’ in a three-ring binder (remember the A4 white, plastic-coated folders?) sitting on a shelf—just because you have to have one?
Setting one up when you started your business was a great idea, but now that your shingle has been swinging above the door for some years and staff members have come and gone, it may be time to re-think them and re-fit them to your business as it looks, right now.
While I’ve just poked fun at the policy manual circa 1980s, in fact it is still perfectly appropriate, and for some small businesses it will suit their purposes exactly. These days many organisations will have intranets where all policies and procedures can be found. Many small and medium-sized companies use cloud-based data storage systems to store and access their files (including their policies). At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter where you keep them as long as they’re accessible.
Your policies and procedures should be thought of as a living entity; one that moves and grows with your staff and your business. Well-written policies and procedures provide the boundaries within which both employers and employees operate. They are the next logical extension of an employment contract, Enterprise Agreement or Award. They provide both the employer and employee with clear guidelines on how each should behave in regards to conduct, entitlements, discipline and grievances, amongst other things. They can save time when there’s an issue—staff consult the policies and procedures instead of emailing and waiting for a response. They also demonstrate that your business is efficient, professional and operating effectively and in many instances form the basis of certification’s such as ISO.
Some policies and procedures are not mandatory, but a lot of what’s contained in the non-mandatory ones does often arise from workplace laws in our various states and territories.
The Fiddes Group advises that every Policies and Procedures ‘manual’ should contain sections on:
Code of Conduct, which clearly states how you, as the employer, expect your staff to conduct themselves within the office and ensures that acceptable standards of conduct and work performance are maintained and that individuals are treated in a consistent and fair manner.
Disciplinary Policy, to outline what happens where breaches of the code of conduct occur, including the type and number of warnings, and what activities will lead to the termination of employment without warning.
Leave Policy, as every staff member needs to take leave, whether it is annual, sick, compassionate or maternity/paternity. This section should clearly outline the processes to apply for such leave, so that your employee can do so without unnecessary interruptions to the work day.
Occupational/Workplace Heath and Safety, as every business, company or organisation whether big or small must comply with their State or Territory’s heath and safety legislation.
Grievance Policy, as everyone must be aware of how to raise and resolve grievances within the workplace.
It is helpful to your staff if they are included in the updating, or implementing, of the policies and procedures. Most of us like to be included in anything that affects us, right? So, get the staff together, perhaps an afternoon or lunch where you can converse over the inclusions and timeframes of some of what’s mentioned above. At the Australian Human Resource Institute’s recent national convention, Aaron McEwan talked about the success that can be achieved when taking a collaborative approach to change. In his presentation on The Open Source Organisation, McEwan noted that effective change (even if it is only a policy) is more likely to be successful if driven collaboratively by all, instead of from the top down.
Don’t let your policies and procedures become unfittable to your business, stretched to the point of tearing. Don’t forget about it; don’t leave it dusty and out-of-reach in a bookcase in the storage cupboard. Get it out, read through it to make sure it fits your business as it looks now, and update if necessary. As always, The Fiddes Group can help you to create policies and procedures that will undoubtedly make your business better.
Source: some paragraphs in this blog are adapted from Employment Essentials Workplace Policies and Procedures www.industrialrelations.nsw.gov.au