Successful businesses treat policies and procedures as living documents. Leaving policies and procedures outdated can be harmful to a company in many ways as the business environment is undergoing rapid change. Gaps will start to arise and the organisation may become more vulnerable to risks. All entities are responsible for keeping up and implementing relevant and effective policies and procedures in their workplace.
Policies and procedures are important because they set a standard that every employee needs to follow. It is not only a manual that is created once and then is forgotten about. They are documents that need to be reviewed regularly to address new issues, laws or expectations.
Policy vs Procedure
Even though policies and procedures need to be updated as a whole, the two differ. A policy is a set of guidelines that directs companies and assists in the development of an action plan to respond to a certain issue. Some policies are more flexible than others, they are adaptable and they can be used in different scenarios to assist decision-making. When addressing an issue, managers should use the policies as they are what all employees abide by. Some examples of the topics they cover are usually health and safety, leave (maternity, sick, long term), IT, social media and anti-discrimination and harassment.
A procedure tells employees how to follow a policy. They provide a clear set of steps that staff need to do a task and they provide contacts of the people responsible for each task. For example, if an employee wants to take annual leave, the procedure will outline who they contact and when while the policy informs them how long the annual leave can be and when they are eligible to take it.
Policies and procedures are in place to prevent employees from being treated unfairly. By setting the same expectations for everyone, the business can create a compliance-friendly environment where workers feel welcomed.
The importance of updating policies and procedures
One of the main questions is usually ‘’How often do I update the policies and procedures?’’ but there is not a right answer. As long as your organisation ensures that there are no gaps, for example, for misinterpretation or vague language, the policies and procedures may not need to be updated. However, it is advisable that they are reviewed at least once a year to scan them for any vulnerabilities or new topics that they might be missing.
It is important to update the policies and procedures regularly as failing to do so could lead to consequences for the company. Updating policies and procedures is a way to:
-Identify missing areas
We live in a constantly changing world and the rate at which it is changing, can be worrisome for companies as it carries new threats. It was found that 69% of executives do not believe that their current policies will be able to meet future expectations. Policies and procedures did not include BYOD a few years ago. It is only now that employees have their own laptops and mobile devices and they have the freedom to work from anywhere that BYOD is becoming relevant. Companies should look at how the business environment is changing and try to create or modify policies and procedures to keep up.
Laws, regulations, and business structure may also change which could result in policies and procedures outlining something illegal or outdated. This can create a lot of confusion among staff as they are unsure of what action they need to take.
Policies and procedures highly influence the training programs provided by the organisation to workers. Especially in areas of cybersecurity, where cyberattacks are becoming more and more common, having a strong policy and procedure can result in better-organised training that educates employees. If the policies are lacking, it is likely that the training will not be as effective and it will not have the same impact.
Regular updates can also improve compliance training as workers are made aware of the new laws and regulations that apply to their industry or department.
Outdated policies and procedures have no advantages for the company. If they are not updated regularly, businesses could potentially be exposed to lawsuits as a result of discrimination or non-compliance. Performing internal audits or talking with employees are two strategies the company can use to avoid potential risks associated with outdated documents. Audits can measure the effectiveness and compliance of the current policies and procedures and can indicate when a change is needed.
The most common risks that organisations face when they do not perform regular reviews are fines, high staff turnover and damaged reputation. Employees do not want to work for organisations that do not value them and failing to adhere to laws and regulations can land a company in court.
While policies and procedures need to cover many areas, they should not be wordy or complicated. The more complex they are, the harder it is for employees to follow them. Policies and procedures need to be clear and concise, written in a language that leaves little room for misinterpretation but is easy to read. Liabilities can be created by both misleading language and overly sophisticated language as employees fail to understand what they need to comply with. If staff feels lost, it is advisable to encourage them to communicate that and amend the policies and procedures.
Identify missing areas
Another way to avoid liabilities is to look at what topics do not have policies and procedures. It took years for social media and paternity leave to be included in policies and procedures and for the latter, it was hard to be recognised as essential. Being the first to come up with new policies and procedures can have a positive influence on the reputation of the company and employee loyalty. It shows that organisations are going beyond what is required, are open to ideas and happy to listen to feedback. Identifying areas for improvement can lead to reduced costs and higher productivity as there are fewer incidents, uncertainty or judgement by staff.
Missing areas are often found during an investigation. Investigations are one of the last resorts to deal with an incident but they can highlight what employers have not addressed and what policies and procedures need to change. Statistics show that 43% of investigation reports recommended that organisational policies and procedures should be reviewed. Changes like a better definition or introduction of new topics that are not currently covered will give the business better risk protection.
Policies and procedures are one of the many ways that employers can create an inclusive workplace. Organisations in Australia are starting to introduce gender affirmation leave so transgender employees are more supported in their transition. Staff want to work for ethical companies that do not always follow the legal minimum but try to provide them with more than that. Work flexibility, parental leave for all parents regardless of gender and effective anti-discrimination policies emphasise the company’s commitment to building a friendly environment. It shows the core ethical values of the organisation and it can be very beneficial in employee retention.
Reviewing policies and procedures
Once it has been decided that policies and procedures need to be updated, they should be approved by the employer, the board or other executives. Policies and procedures may have more than one version over time, and more than one individual may have been involved in reviewing them and updating them. All edits should be documented along with the day the document was approved.
All staff should be informed of what the updates are and which policy and procedure they are relevant to. It could be something small like changing the language in the document to make it easier for staff to read or something bigger like increasing parental leave. Managers should set it as a task for employees to read the new document to ensure that they understand what it means for them. Staff may need to sign a document that confirms they read the new policies and procedures to avoid liabilities in the future.
By recording the changes made, it is easier to obtain feedback from staff on how effective the policy and procedures are and in what ways they have affected them. Is the change a positive one? Or does it make employees feel less appreciated?
One thing to note
The audience of the policies and procedures are employees. It is expected then that everything is created with them in mind while abiding by laws and regulations. Compliance should be the base for developing and reviewing policies and procedures to avoid unnecessary incidents and costs. Employee well-being should then be prioritised to create a better workplace.
At Polonious, we perform regular audits to ensure that we abide by strong international standards and local laws and regulations. We have developed strong policies and procedures that prioritise compliance, our employees and our customers. Polonious follows strict requirements to ensure that our customers receive a high-quality system that assists them in creating productive workflows while putting in less administrative effort. We help companies reduce the costs associated with investigations and compliance and make all relevant information available from anywhere anytime.
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