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The Importance of Workplace Policies and Procedures

Published December 09, 2020 (last updated December 10, 2020) Author: Employsure
employee happy in workplace with many workplace policies

There are many different types of businesses in Australia and many different types of workplaces. Each will have its own processes, ways of doing business and dealing with customers. When you add the human element of employees and employers working together into the mix, it becomes obvious how important a robust workplace policy is.

What is a Workplace Policy?

No matter what type of workplace or business you run, policies are important as they help clarify and reinforce the standards expected of employees in all their professional dealings, as well as help employers manage staff effectively by defining what’s acceptable and unacceptable in the workplace. Policies are often provided to employees in a handbook that clearly outlines all workplace policies and procedures, or the policy itself may form part of the employment contract.

Benefits of Having Company Policies

A well-written company policy can help a business in many ways. Policies show that the organisation is efficient and diligent, raising stability and ensuring consistency in the decision-making process and in operational procedures.

Policies also benefit employers if they ever are forced to defend themselves against an unfair dismissal claim, WHS prosecution or liability claims. But the benefits of robust and well communicated workplace policies offer more every day, prosaic benefits, such as they:

  • help employees understand your expectations with respect to standards of behaviour and performance, and gives them defined boundaries that are consistent with the values of your business.
  • provide a set of guidelines for decision-making in everyday situations that employees can refer to, which can help to maintain stability even during periods of upheaval or change.  
  • allows you to treat all employees equally, ensuring uniformity and consistency in decision-making and operational procedures
  • provide all and sundry with a documented method of dealing with complaints and misunderstandings, which should help avoid any undue claims of favouritism or discrimination
  • can assist in assessing employee performance and establishing accountability

Communicating Policies to Staff

However, a workplace policy is no good if it’s not communicated effectively to new and existing employees. If you are ever brought in front of a court or tribunal defending yourself against an employee case, it’s unlikely any dismissals for breach of workplace policies will be upheld if all the workplace policies were communicated properly to employees, and applied consistently across all.

The key to success is regularly updating and reviewing workplace policies and procedures, and then holding regular training sessions with your employees to inform and remind them of relevant workplace policies. This way, you can ensure that, as a business, you are all ‘pulling in the one direction’.

How to Develop Policies and Procedures in The Workplace

When you sit down to draft your workplace policies and procedures, it can seem a daunting, almost overwhelming, task. But don’t panic! Following these simple steps will help.

Tailor the policy to your business

Workplace policies and procedures are not, unfortunately, a ‘one size fits all’ solution. Rather, they should be tailored to the needs of your business. If you do use workplace policies and procedures from another source, they should be adapted to suit your workplace operations.

Define obligations clearly

Workplace policies and procedures should be written in plain, easy to understand English. This is not the time for confusing corporate-writing, full of jargon and double speak! All policies should be short and succinct and communicated in such a way that everyone in your workplace understands exactly what is expected of them.

Make your policies realistic

We all want to improve and, indeed, should constantly strive for improvement, but there is no point in trying to adopt a workplace policy which aspires to the best practice possible, if the reality doesn’t match the ambition.

Simply put, you need to ensure your business has the time, resources and personnel needed to adopt and implement any workplace policy you draft. Otherwise, employees will become discouraged at constantly not being able to meet expectations, and your workplace policy will run the risk of being just another official document on the staff intranet …

Once you’ve developed and drafted your workplace policies and procedures comes the really challenging part: implementing them. Here are some simple steps you can take to ensure your workplace policies and procedures have the best chance of being seamlessly adopted into your workplace.  

Consult

It sounds simple, but many forget this step. Just because you’re the boss or manager, doesn’t mean you should – or indeed, have to – go it alone. When developing your workplace policies and procedures, you should consult with all relevant stakeholders, including health and safety representatives, regular contractors and, of course, your employees.

Consulting will mean that everyone understands the importance of your workplace policies and procedures, as well as ensuring they are realistic and actionable on a daily basis.

Publicise the policies and procedures

As mentioned earlier, your workplace policies and procedures are no good if they’re not effectively communicated. The solution is to put your policies and procedures in writing and make them readily available to your entire workforce. It’s a good idea to try and keep all your workplace policies and procedures in a single handbook, with the manual available to all staff, new and old.

If you have a company intranet, it also doesn’t hurt to have your workplace policies and procedures available there, especially any and all health and safety documents.

Train all employees in your workplace policies and procedures

This isn’t just a ‘nice to do’: as an employer, you have an obligation to provide adequate information, instruction, supervision and training to your employees. You need to ensure that new employees and contractors are trained in the relevant workplace policies and procedures (contractors should receive the WHS policies only), and that all existing staff receive appropriate and timely training, such as bi-annual refresher courses. It’s a good idea to keep track of who has received what training, and keep a sign-off sheet indicating that the employee has understood and agrees to comply with your workplace policies and procedures.

Workplace policies and procedures should also be discussed regularly at team meetings, keeping them top of mind for all employees and reiterating their importance – and the importance that you place on them as the boss.

Consistently implement your policy

Your workplace policies are not just pieces of paper to be read once, then forgotten. They should follow the behaviours and methods of all your employees, every day, as they go about company business. Therefore, supervision of your workplace to ensure proper implementation of your workplace policies and procedures by all employees is essential.

This also implies that any failure to meet the agreed upon policy or procedure should be followed up on and addressed, and that full compliance with the stated requirements is needed to ensure a safe workplace.

It should go without saying, but all supervisors and managers – including yourself – must lead by example when it comes to implementing workplace policies and procedures. Modelling expected behaviour via all levels of management is the most effective demonstration of a workplace policy. After all, if managers condone practices which do not comply with a policy, it could later be argued that disciplinary action against an employee who fails to follow the policy is unfair.

Review workplace policies and procedures regularly

All your workplace policies and procedures should be reviewed periodically – some WHS legislation may require you to do so, but otherwise this is not an obligation for employers. If any changes occur, ensure these changes are communicated with your employees. Not the previous policy, and then state clearly the updated policy, how it has changed, and how this change affects employees.

Enforce the workplace policies and procedures

Finally, once your workplace policies and procedures have been implemented, you need to enforce them: or ‘walk your talk’. You should apply your policies consistently, as this will mean everyone is guided by the same policies. Obviously, the simpler the system, the easier it is for your employees to understand and for you to enforce health and safety policies and procedures.

Workplace Policy Checklist

Don’t be daunted by the seemingly overwhelming task of writing a workplace policy. In essence, all you need to consider is that a workplace policy should:

  • clearly state the aim of the policy
  • explain in plain English why the policy was developed
  • list who the policy applies to (i.e.: all employees/management only)
  • set out acceptable and/or unacceptable behaviour
  • clearly state the consequences of not adhering with the policy
  • provide a date when the policy was developed or updated

Also remember that employment law does change, and any changes to your award or agreement may also require a review of your policies and procedures. You should strive to stay up-to-date with relevant changes to your industry by regularly checking with a workplace relations expert.

Types of Workplace Policies Examples Every Workplace Needs

Not all workplace policies will be needed by your workplace, but the following is a list of common workplace policies that you should consider for your workplace:

  • code of conduct
  • recruitment policy
  • internet and email policy
  • dress policy
  • smoking policy
  • drug and alcohol policy
  • use of company property policy
  • health and safety policy
  • anti-discrimination and harassment policy
  • first aid policy
  • grievance handling policy
  • discipline and termination policy
  • use of social media policy

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What Is The Purpose Of Policies And Procedures In The Workplace?

    Workplace policies and procedures can be incredibly frustrating and absolutely time-consuming, trying to keep up with all the legislation and compliance updates. But whether you love or hate workplace policies, one thing is certain: every business needs them. This is because policies and procedures in the workplace are essential for the efficient management of employees in any business. Detailed workplace policies and procedures outline the correct ways of working, sets standards of behaviour and helps articulates your organisation’s mission and values.

    In addition, they provide a decision-making framework to ensure integrity and fairness if issues arise, thereby minimising legal and safety risks for you and your business.

  • What Is WHS Policies And Procedures?

    Work Health and Safety procedures provide systematic steps for performing tasks in compliance with company policies and the Work Health and Safety Act (WHS Act). Your WHS policies and procedures are a set of actionable steps for managing risks and creating a safer work environment.

  • Who Is Responsible For Policies And Procedures In An Organisation?

    The responsibility for developing company policies and procedures can vary, based entirely on the size of the organization. As a small business owner, you may take on the task of developing policies and procedures yourself. No matter if you do decide to write your workplace policies and procedures yourself, collaboration is key. You should always seek the input of other managers, leaders and/or employees. And, of course, it is everyone’s responsibility to make sure a workplace’s policies and procedures are adhered to.

  • Do Company Policies Have To Be In Writing?

    They don’t have to be, but it makes every sense to write your workplace policies and procedures down, and to have them readily accessible for all staff. Not doing so simply puts your business at risk.

    Here are three reasons why it’s a good idea to write your workplace policies down.

    • It holds employees to expected standards that are clear for all to see. Without writing policies down, it becomes difficult to hold your employees responsible for violating a policy they can easily say they weren’t aware of.
    • It limits your liability, again for the above reason. At the very least, you should plan to have your Workplace Health and Safety policy, Equal Opportunity Policy, Employee Code of Conduct Policy, Leave of Absence Policy, Sexual Harassment Policy and Employee Disciplinary Action Policy written down and readily available.
    • It avoids having disgruntled employees who have been reprimanded for policies they didn’t know existed. If this happens, it affects employee morale, productivity and loyalty. The flow on is, if the disgruntled employee leaves, you now have the added cost of recruiting and training a new employee.
  • What Should Be Included In A Workplace Policy?

    Common workplace policies that could assist your workplace include:

    • code of conduct.
    • recruitment policy.
    • internet and email policy.
    • mobile phone policy.
    • non-smoking policy.
    • drug and alcohol policy.
    • health and safety policy.
    • anti-discrimination and harassment policy.
  • What Is Workplace Procedure Meaning?

    Workplace procedure refers to a specific action plan for carrying out a policy. Procedures tells employees how to deal with a situation and when, outlining the steps needed to be taken to adhere to a policy.

  • How Do You Write A Workplace Policy?

    • Consult with your employees and management team
    • Tailor the policy to your business
    • Define obligations clearly
    • Make your policies realistic

     

    And, of course, once written, what is equally important is communicating the policy to your employees.

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