How to write clear and effective HR policies for your organisation

HR policies may not be glamorous – and they are definitely the butt of endless jokes – but that doesn’t make them any less essential to a well-functioning organisation.

It does mean that writing or updating your organisation’s HR policies and procedures can easily slip to the bottom of your to-do list.

Covering things like codes of conduct, health and safety, and performance management to name just a few, HR policies are the framework within which people in your organisation work.

But not making time to look at your policies can cost you and your organisation, in both dollars and hours. That’s because well-defined policies set clear expectations for staff and volunteers. They outline best practices; support consistent and fair decision-making; and can help ensure your staff are being compliant with current legislation.

Taking the time to write great policies can save you from dealing with the fallout that can arise from their absence – which could be anything from bullying to workplace accidents to simply unhappy staff and volunteers. And it will ultimately free you up to get on with more impactful work too.

The beginning of a new year is a natural time to reflect and consider the bigger picture – so here are five tips to help you write more effective HR policies in your NFP:

1. Use clear language

With a major purpose of HR policies being to outline relevant information to your staff and volunteers, it’s critical they understand what you’re trying to convey.

Ensure points can’t be missed or misinterpreted by using less words, short and simple sentences, avoiding jargon, and spelling out acronyms and legal terms and being as precise and consistent in your language as possible..

For (a real-life) example:

“The team leader’s responsibilities will include but not be limited to: Coordinate the exiting operational requirements for employee off-boarding . . . ”

Could be written more simply as:

“The team leader is responsible for processes when employees leave the organisation.”

If you really need to use jargon or acronyms, you might consider providing definitions for new staff or volunteers.

2. Keep it as brief as possible

While you’ll certainly want to ensure you cover all details – particularly when it comes to the legal side of things – an overly lengthy document will likely result in staff missing key information. And that defeats the purpose of drafting an HR policy to begin with.

For every separate document, think about the document’s audience – your staff and/or volunteers – and they key information they’ll need to get out of it. Avoid excessively long sentences and paragraphs, and use bullet points and lists where appropriate.

3. Avoid information that may become quickly outdated

While it’s important to be as specific as possible, in certain circumstances it’s better to be a little more general.

Case in point: information that could quickly become outdated is best left out of HR policy documents. Avoid using staff names or other variables that are likely to change.

For example, rather than writing, “must be signed off by Susie Smith”, use the more general, “must be signed off by the General Manager”.

Also consider including a “Last Updated” date on each document so you can easily see how long it’s been in existence.

4. Clarify eligibility

Avoid grey areas by ensuring every policy addresses any eligibility requirements – whether they apply specifically to full-time, part-time or casual workers, volunteers, front-line staff, managers or the entire workforce.

For instance, are your organisation’s leave procedures the same for volunteers as they are for full-time staff? What about professional development entitlements, overtime policies or rules around confidentiality?

You might also want to consider other eligibility factors, like tenure of employment – for instance, do the same policies apply to new staff members who are on probation? – and also location, since some policies will only be relevant for office based or remote workers.

5. Allow for necessary exceptions

Keep in mind that most policies won’t be relevant to every possible circumstance – and, in fact, they shouldn’t.

As such, ensure the policy allows for exceptions by using language like ‘generally’ or ‘typically’, not absolutes like ‘always’ or ‘never’.

Of course, there are exceptions to these exceptions – for instance, a workplace conduct policy could certainly specify that violence and bullying at work won’t be tolerated under any circumstances.

These are just a few tips to get started – there are so many more elements to a great HR policy! If you’ve got some valuable lessons you’ve learned from writing or updating your NFP’s HR policies, please share with the community in the comments below!

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