Putting your people and organization into focus

Home / Cost & Compliance / Employee Handbooks

Why Must Policies be put in Writing?

In small companies or those operating under a relatively close-knit management group, policies are usually “understood.” While they may not exist in writing, managers and supervisors have a good understanding of the company’s stance on basic employment issues.

However, what is “understood” can also be misunderstood.  For example, when the company’s Senior Vice President calls a meeting and launches a tirade about late-arriving employees who trail past his office window every morning, one manager may interpret it as a decided shift in the company’s policy toward tardiness.  She responds with a sudden crackdown on tardiness in her department, docking every non-exempt employee who arrives even five minutes late.

Another manager, present at the same meeting, takes the VP’s outburst with a grain of salt.  The weather has been bad lately, the road leading to the company has been torn up for sewer repairs, necessitating a detour, so naturally people have been having a little trouble getting in on time.  Besides, he’s certain that the VP isn’t directing his comments at his department; there are other departments that have far worse records for tardiness. So he decides to sit tight for awhile and wait for this “storm” to blow over before he does anything drastic.

Situations such as this lead to resentment and frustration.  What happens when two non-exempt employees from different departments compare notes on how their supervisors react when they arrive late?  The individual whose pay has been docked will have every reason to be angry.  On a company-wide basis, this can mean lower morale and productivity, more grievances, and understandably poor supervisor/employee relations.

Managers and supervisors who have worked for the same company for a number of years may think they understand their employer’s policies, but all they really have is a sense of how their peers and predecessors have handled similar situations in the past.  Other managers rely on instinct, dealing with each situation as it arises and relying on their own “good” judgment to make the right decisions. Either approach results in inconsistencies, which in turn can result in misunderstandings, grievances, and even lawsuits.  A single manager’s decision—with no written policy to back it up—can set “policy” and influence dozens of similar decisions by other managers and supervisors.

If the original decision was a good one, this may not result immediately in any disastrous consequences. But what if that manager was prejudiced against women or minorities? What if he or she acted illogically, irrationally, or even illegally? The original error in judgment will be repeated many times over by managers and supervisors who think they are acting in accordance with “company” policy.

These few examples of what can happen when policies are not put in writing show that a comprehensive written policy manual is essential in today’s complex, competitive, and regulation-ridden corporate environment. No manager or supervisor can be expected to keep up with all of the latest changes in federal and state laws and the shifting characteristics and expectations of the workforce, as well as top management’s objectives for the company’s long-range growth and development (to name just a few of the many forces that shape company policy on a continuing basis).

A Single Source

There must be a single, up-to-date, authoritative source of guidance and information to which managers and supervisors can turn not only in situations where the “right” course of action is unclear, but also in cases where they are tempted to act on memory or instinct.  With a policy manual to point the way, or to back up what they feel is a justifiable action or decision, company managers and supervisors will be able to act swiftly, decisively, fairly, legally, and consistently.  Employees will then know that they are being protected from personal bias and poor judgment. They will also know when to observe the “speed limits” with regard to their conduct.

Of course, having a policy manual will not solve all of your problems.  Supervisors must not only know what the company’s policies are, but they must also understand the reasons behind them.  Without this understanding, they cannot effectively enforce the policies.

Policy as Framework

The point here is that good written policies do more than help supervisors and managers make difficult decisions.  They provide the framework and background for such decisions, so that supervisors can explain to their subordinates (and to themselves) why a certain action or decision is the right one under the circumstances.

Writing a handbook is a good step. Even if you write one, you need a plan to communicate it properly to the entire organization.  That is absolutely vital.

What are the next steps?

You can have an employee handbook without too much time and effort on your part. It will be branded to your organization. Policies will be organized and up to date with state and federal laws. You will have a place where all your employees can look to determine what the rules of your company are saving time and energy on your part. Check with your TalentValue advisor for suggestions on how to proceed from here.