Ditch that HRM policy

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“Human Resources Policies” is a very technical subject matter. The thought of writing an article on that makes me think of all the technical things I could be writing right now. But good articles are not about they being technical, but about they appealing to the ‘average’ employee in the workplace and non-professional HRM people.  In writing this article, I am desperately thinking about demystifying Human Resources Policies.

By virtue of our borrowing of many workplace practices and policies from our colonial masters (the British), some archaic workplace practices continue to linger. But with globalization and the proliferation of cultural diversity in our workplaces, time has come, indeed time is overdue where organizations and HRM professionals begin to rethink the practicality and ‘sense’ in some of our workplace practices that we continue to hold on to. In essence, some, if not most of our workplace (HRM) policies are outdated, in breach of current labour laws or are just impractical and dead to the real needs of employees today.

It is not helpful to attempt an understanding of HR policies in strait jackets. Definitions are currently as diverse as they come. While the Collins English Dictionary defines a policy generally as a plan of action adopted by a person, group or state, a very renowned writer and HR practitioner (M. Armstrong, 2001) defines Human Resources policy as “continuing guidelines on the approach the organization intends to adopt in managing its people”. Surely, the two definitions assist us to picture what an HR policy is.

Some writers have however defined it as “statements of conduct telling organization members how they should act in certain specific circumstances”. Policies are also combined with procedures in general usage most often. So are they different or the same? Armstrong, summarizes as follows – “A policy provides generalized guidance on the approach adopted by the organization, and therefore its employees, concerning various aspects of employment. A procedure spells out precisely what action should be taken in line with the policy”.

So this is what I think. Human Resources policies are generalized guidelines on employee management, adopted by consensus in an organization to regulate the behaviour of employees and their managers or supervisors. As for the dichotomy between an HR policy and a procedure, they can be compared to a human being and the shadow. Both are inseparable and as shadows set the outlines of a human being, so do procedures set the outlines of an HR policy.  

“Human Resources policies are generalized guidelines on employee management, adopted by consensus in an organization to regulate the behaviour of employees and their managers or supervisors.  ”  In essence, some, if not most of our workplace (HRM) policies are outdated, in breach of current labour laws or are just impractical and dead to the real needs of employees today.

From the above definitions, explanations and illustrations, it is quite clear that HR policies outline what and how HR professionals undertake their day to day activities in the workplace. Because every HR action and activity in the workplace today is highly regulated and has legal, human rights and discriminatory implications, it is important that such actions be regulated and directed austerely. This is what makes HR policies very important and necessary in every business environment today.

Another reason why HR policies are extremely important in the workplace today is that they set the direction an organization wants to take in the management of its employees. Business management practice requires that an organization adopts a distinct approach towards managing employees and getting the best out of them. So surely, a solid HR policy is a must for every business today. Unfortunately, most HR practitioners pass off their Conditions of Service or Employee Manuals or Handbooks as HR Policies. These documents should or are rather, derivatives of the comprehensive collection of all HR Policies (HR Policy Manual). Contracts of Employment, Conditions of Service, Employee Handbooks are all or should all come from the HR Policy.

Further, tertiary learning schedules often do not include Human Resources Policy Development as a course or specialization. Having taught HR to tertiary and post graduate students for a number of years now, I try to smuggle HR policy development taught processes into my teaching outlines. This perhaps explains the obvious lack of competency in many HR practitioners on the development of HR Policies that work. The development of HR policies is not only a science but an art also for the design must take into consideration implementation factors that ensure that the policy meets specific objectives and is aligned with the organizational overall direction and goals.

This article is not to discuss how HR policies are drafted or developed. It focuses on tips for making HR policies more legally compliant so that they can stand the test of time in legal and procedural assaults and confrontation.  Further, this article will advocate the ‘ditching’ or abandonment of some HRM policies and practices which in our opinion are outdated and out of practice. Controversial as some may sound to both Employers and Employees alike, it is good practice that they are considered carefully to commence discussions for change.

So we will go through …………….policies we think should be ‘ditched’.

I chanced on a June 2016 article on Forbes by Liz Ryan titled “Ten Obnoxious Company Rules to Kill in 2017” in which she outlines some policies to discourage and if possible expunge from workplace policies. She says:

“1. Get rid of any rule that links time off from work with a disciplinary infraction. If an employee needs time off to deal with a personal issue (a kid’s illness, a court date, a plumber’s visit, an automotive repair, etc.) and they don’t have available paid time off to cover the absence, then don’t pay them — but don’t put a black mark in their personnel file! You hire adults. Don’t treat them like children.”

How to deal with this is to scrap the traditional and rigid “casual leave” and adopt a more flexible “compassionate leave” system where on merit, staff are provided with time off work to handle emergencies and highly important personal situations.

“2. Kill the policy that requires an employee who wants to apply for an internal transfer to get their manager’s permission first. You can’t stop your employees from applying for jobs with your competitors. If you make it hard for employees to transfer internally, they’ll take the path of least resistance and leave your company altogether.”

The rule is to as much as possible, let employees work in environments (departments) they are happy to work in. An organization may not meet all such needs but surely, the mindset should be encouraged.

“3. Get rid of any policy that stacks or ranks your employees against one another. Vile and pointless stack-ranking programs are ineffective, expensive and trust-killing atrocities.”

Competition is important. But only healthy competition should be encouraged.

“4. Nuke the policy that requires employees to bring in a funeral notice to prove that a family member died, just to collect a few days’ bereavement pay. If you can’t trust your employees at a time like that, when would you ever trust them?”

We can use more humane and checks for processing bereavement benefits without the strict and hard evidence of death certificate etc.

“5. Lose the painfully-detailed dress code policy that talks down to your employees with stitch-level instructions on what to wear to work. Instead, simply tell them “Dress appropriately for a business office, and err on the side of caution.”

Dress code is a complicated one. Uniforms are currently discouraged as industry standard across the world except for eateries and industry in some cases. But a broad based policy on dressing with emphasis on decency and appropriateness for the work environment should suffice. Work culture should be a guide and driving force for this to work.

“6. Get rid of the policy that lets salaried employees stay at work finishing projects until seven or eight o’clock at night without compensation or thanks but gives them a demerit if they walk into work five minutes late in the morning.”

Overtime pay and a culture of remuneration for extra duty or work must be adopted. Flexiwork is the contemporary way of approaching such work attendance processes.

“7. Kill the policy that prohibits your managers from giving glowing references to great employees once they’ve moved on. These horrendous policies assume that your managers are too stupid to give a reference without sliming a former employee and thereby exposing your company to a defamation charge. Are your managers that stupid? If so, how stupid are you for hiring them?”

Employee referencing should be as objective as possible. Hence, a dual control mechanism must be put in place to ensure that one individual does not provide reference for ex-employees which might be based on personal sentiments of hate and dislike or extreme like and nepotism.

“8. Abolish the policy that bases an employee’s annual salary increase on any factor apart from the employee’s market value. Across-the-board pay increase policies tell your employees “We’re giving you all two percent raises this year — if you can get more from somebody else, you’d be foolish not to go get it!” The best employees will do so — after all, isn’t it every employee’s right and obligation to get paid what they’re worth?

Performance based pay and reward is the contemporary approach to employee remuneration management.  Use an appropriate remuneration mix to keep employee motivation and retention high.

“9. Lose the policy that doesn’t count or value work that doesn’t happen in your facility. It’s almost 2017, and smart employers embraced flexitime and the ability to work from home long ago. So should you!”

A good balance of work and family time is essential. Any policy that encourages and recognizes appropriate rest for employees as well as organizes their work such that they don’t always have to work from the office or a specific location should be explored.

“1o. Finally, go through your policy manual and your employee handbook and get rid of every policy that treats your employees like potential criminals — the way a depressing number of traditional company policies do. You and your employees are on the same side – there’s no “us” versus “them.”

Policy application is an ongoing process. There must always be the flexibility of amending, adopting and changing policies that don’t work. Year on year, HRM departments must relook at organizational strategies and objectives for the ensuing year and recommend workable HRM policies that can best support the implementation of those strategies and objectives.

To achieve workable and modern workplace practices, let us share the following tips.

Tip # 1: Know Your Labour Law

Almost all HR practitioners are very savvy in HR Administrative Procedure. Hence, it is easy to find HR generalists. Unfortunately, many HR practitioners do not know their Employment Law that well. The first tip to developing a solid HR policy is to know the Laws and Regulations that define the scope of the policy.

Tip # 2: Create a Policy, not a Contract

Another thing to watch out for when developing a policy is to check the structure. The structure of a policy is distinct. Not just anything can or may be called a policy. A contract of employment is not a policy. A Condition of Service document is not a policy. Neither is an employee handbook a policy. As defined, Policies are general guidelines and their structure must depict same. Policies are directives or instructions that are not immediately binding until they have been converted into legally binding documents such as Handbooks, Instructional Manuals, Condition of Service documents or Contracts of Employment.

Tip # 3: Train Supervisors, Managers and Other Stakeholders

The point that HR policies are very technical has been over emphasized so far. To this end, it is important to train or brief or inform people who will be required to participate in the implementation of the policies. Training supervisors and managers to apply HR policy is a must because supervisors and managers constitute the core of the group of people who use and implement these policies.

Tip # 4: Constantly Align Existing HR Policies with other Employee Manuals

HR policies work best when they are in tandem with other employee related manuals and instructions. There cannot be disconnect in all provisions that outline the management of employees in the workplace unless the creation of chaos is the objective. In fact, all related documents must originate from HR policies.

Tip # 5: Build consensus around HR Policies

HR Policies are universal documents that should be made available to employees in abridged forms through Employee Handbooks and other workplace manuals. HR policy development should therefore be a consultative process and not entirely a discretional management prerogative. Stakeholders such as supervisors and managers who may be expected to play a role in the implementation and enforcement of HR policies should be educated on their role in the policy implementation and enforcement.

I am quite aware that these things are better written than done. Consultants are always accused as talkers and are hardly around when the fallouts from implementation come home to roost. Effective Consultants are those that ensure that clients are guided through implementation processes to guarantee full applicability and workability. HR policies when developed must be workable. When reality-tested, they must be able to resolve the problems they are set out to tackle.  They cannot be outdated and cannot be left to gather dust. They must be living and breathing documents that solve and address real, actual, current and existing problems.

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