One of the first things we do with a new client is to have a look at any existing policies they may have in place. Often, they have been provided with a staff handbook by their previous HR provider which has been sitting on a shelf gathering dust for years and will consequently be out of date.
We were sent one such handbook to review this week, at 91 pages it was quite a read! Many companies are paralysing themselves with unnecessary paperwork of which managers don’t know the content, and employees don’t read.
Why does this happen?
You don’t know what you don’t know
Presented with a range of policies to choose from, an inexperienced manager or business owner may include everything “just in case”. After all, how would they know what policies are needed to protect the business legally and what are mere “nice to haves”?
A dubious inheritance
Sometimes a manager will bring with them the policies from their last (often much larger) employer. They may inadvertently be giving away entitlements (such as enhanced maternity pay) thinking that the policies of their old employer represent the legal minimum.
Policy making as a reaction to something that happens in the business is common. One person comes to work dressed inappropriately – all of a sudden the business has a dress code policy. Someone’s weekly veg box makes the communal kitchen smell of cabbages – we’d better have a policy on personal deliveries at work. The facilities manager is incapable of parking within the lines in the car park – before you know it we’ve got a policy on considerate use of the car park. This may be fine, as long as it is not used as a method of sidestepping the issue rather than dealing with it head on. A new policy is no substitute for a conversation.
Cover all angles?
It’s impossible to legislate for everything that may happen in a business and you won’t ever manage it. Take my favourite ever illustration of this point, BBC3’s The Call Centre (a fly on the wall documentary made at the Save Britain Money Group’s contact centre in South Wales). In one episode, the MD Nev Wilshire is alerted to the fact that an unidentified female member of staff has used the bin in the ladies toilet, umm, as a toilet.
Entirely tongue in cheek, Nev says… “We haven’t got a company policy on ****ing in the bins. It’s something we’ve obviously overlooked…”
Of course, he doesn’t mean it. It’s something so ridiculously obvious that no-one would think it necessary to write a policy about. And even if there was a policy, would it prevent this sort of bizarre incident. Probably not!
What’s the answer?
We believe that most small businesses need only a handful of key policies to get them started and we’ve listed below a few tips that will help with the management and development of employment policies in a way proportionate to the size of the business.
As a minimum, every business should have disciplinary and grievance procedures and an equal opportunities policy. A health and safety policy is also essential. Depending on the type of business, the next recommendations will usually be computer, internet, email and social media guidelines. If not dealt with in the employment contract, sickness absence reporting procedures and holiday guidelines will also be needed. In many industries, an anti-bribery policy should also form part of this core collection.
A collection of policies can be made more manageable (and more likely to be read) by categorising, for example:
- those everyone must read and adhere to at all times (e.g. equal opportunities, health and safety)
- those that should be read before exercising an entitlement to which the policy relates (e.g. holiday booking)
- those that need only be read by staff who have certain benefits (company car, mobile phone policies)
Many small businesses will honour their statutory obligations when it comes to family related entitlements such as maternity leave, paternity leave and shared parental leave. If the statutory scheme is to be used, the business could simply state that it will follow whatever statutory scheme is in force at the relevant time. This saves not only paper, but also the need to rewrite policies every time the law changes. Bearing in mind that the rules around statutory maternity leave have changed at least 10 times in the past 15 years there is a lot to be said for referring to the scheme “currently in force” and simply checking what that scheme involves when the time actually comes.
Those businesses who intend to enhance the statutory minimum ought to set it all out in writing from the start, but should then review regularly to make sure that any changes in the law are reflected.
As a business grows, it will inevitably need or want to put in more written guidance and that’s fine. Just as long as it is an informed decision, it can help the business function smoothly and lets staff know where they stand. Just watch those jerky knees though folks!
If you are suffering policy overload or you don’t know where to start with putting some in place fill in the contact form or call us on 01604 763494.
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