The policy paralysis

Most organizational employees are unaware of HR policies and where they’re housed.

A June 2012 survey by market research firm Business Environment suggests that almost half of organizational employees are not aware of their organizational HR policy. In the frenzy of work priorities, career aspirations, and business targets, organizational employees overlook the importance of HR policy; many even remain oblivious to the existence of an organizational HR policy. While most believe that the organizational HR policy is limited to the clauses of employment, the fact remains that an HR policy is a comprehensive manual that describes how organizational values translate into conduct and behavior during employment. It is a set of guidelines that details how an employee is expected to operate on a day to day basis and what are the non-negotiable guardrails of conduct and discipline.

While most have a formal HR policy, organizations across size and industry voice a common concern― employees violate the codes of the policy every day, oftentimes unaware of its existence and the potential repercussions of violation. Experts reason that there are many factors behind why employees are unaware of their organizational HR policy. Organizations have started realizing that lack of information about policy can end up in situations that are embarrassing and costly. A couple of the most common clauses of HR policy that employees breach are as follows.

Dress-code clause: Most employees feel that it is acceptable to violate the dress code policy of the organization every once in a while. Dress code violation is arguably the most commonly violated clause of an organizational HR policy. Employees feel that violating the dress code is acceptable during days when there are no client visits, on Fridays, and during days when management presence is thin. It is also common to hear that team members felt that it is acceptable to violate the dress code because they’ve seen a manager do it. While it may not constitute an agenda for a firm wide CEO address, it is important for HR to proactively and periodically reiterate the dress code policy of the organization to all employees through e-mail campaigns, portal messaging, and one-on-one interactions with managers.

Personal communication clause: Most employees are oblivious about what constitutes the acceptable domains of personal communication with office colleagues. It is difficult for an HR policy to capture all the aspects of acceptable communication. Most of the clauses on personal communication are really broad guidelines that are open to interpretation. While the organization should not get into hard monitoring measures to track each and every form of personal communication between colleagues, it needs to outline the norms of acceptable communication as definitively as possible.

While there can be many reasons why employees do not feel the necessity to educate themselves on HR policy, the most common causes are as follows.

Lack of training: In most organizations, training on HR policy is not mandatory. Most onboarding conversations are work-based; and broad organizational training is focused on career paths, performance management, and organizational values. It is necessary for an organization to ensure that all new hires are adequately briefed on the HR policy, including what constitute the broad clauses, what forms the organizational philosophy, and where the policy is housed (employee handbook, company portal etc.).

No recall incentive: In the scheme of work priorities, HR policy features among the employment mandates with the least recall value. An HR policy is typically referred to during situations of conflicts or disagreements. Most organizational employees believe that there is no real incentive attached to visiting and reading through the HR policy. Another key reason behind the lack of drive stems from the prevalent ‘democratization’ mindset among most organizational employees, “Everybody’s business is nobody’s business.” There are many ways by which HR can drive employees to educate themselves on HR policy. Quizzes and certification are known to be common ways by which this education can be incentivized.

An organization can potentially lose credibility and face embarrassing and costly litigation in the absence of an HR policy. Good and dynamic policy administration entails openness toward regular policy update, clear communication, and aspiration to create clauses that are definitive and exhaustive.

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