Workplace Policies: Be Careful of What you Wish For

S. Lorrie Ray, Membership Development



When you have an issue arise in your workplace, do you find yourself or others saying, “There ought to be a policy . . . “  That reaction as a basis for a policy can cause you more trouble than the bad behavior did in the first place.

Why is this so?  Because a policy generated in this way may not fully consider the unintended consequences.  To do that, use this checklist to make sure the policy makes sense and is implemented properly:

1.  Determine how often the issue is likely to come up.  Is this due to a single employee, or is it a persistent problem?  If it is due to a single employee, talk to the employee and let them know their behavior needs to change.  If it is a persistent issue, move on to the steps below.

2.  Find out if there is an existing policy.  Whenever there is a request for a new policy, look at the policies you have. Is there one that applies already?  It is easy to put policies into a manual and then forget that they exist.

3.  If there is an existing policy, find out how it works.  Policy language can be confusing, and even if it’s not, people interpret policies in different ways.  Make sure you know how the policy is being applied before making any new policies or making any changes.  It may be that more training is needed on applying the policy.

4.  If you are going to write a new policy, or change one, get plenty of input.  Policies that come from the top, without talking to those who have to follow the policies are likely to fail.  Use a simple process map to determine how it will really work, and who will be involved.  Then talk to those employees to find out how they would achieve the results you wants.  They may have a more ingenious method.

5.  Once you understand the policy and are tired of thinking about it, remember that you will need to explain the policy several times before it’s understood.  It is so important to provide a complete explanation. Start with why it’s necessary, and then go on to explain how the policy will work and who it will impact.  Expect to do this several times and in different circumstances before it’s understood.

6.  If someone fails to follow the new policy, help them walk through it at least once and maybe twice before letting them know they must follow it, and then make sure that they do.  If it is not followed, there must be consequences, or it will be irrelevant.

7.  Continually train employees on your policies.  Often employees and managers are not aware of all the policies.  Have continuing training to employees about policies that are relevant to them.  In this way, the policies can be followed when the need arises, and not learn about them after the fact.  Keep the trainings short.  One organization sets aside 10 minutes in staff meetings to train on relevant policies each month.

8.  Be prepared for questions from employees.  Can you explain how the policy applies to employees?  Employees will typically go to their manager or supervisor, so make sure these folks are well armed with answers.  They should either know who can answer questions they cannot, or have FAQ’s that can help them with the policy.

Now good luck and happy policy making.