A 10-step DIY guide to developing HR policy

Written by Etienne Pretorius

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1 Do you really need this policy?

Before you start drafting a new policy, make sure that you’re not in the habit of creating solutions without defining the problem first.

If this is a new policy altogether, what are your goals? There are three things to consider:

  • Does your company really need this policy?
  • What value can it bring to employees and the business?
  • How will it benefit the company culture?

2 Do you know stakeholder roles before drafting?

The first task to be completed is identifying all the stakeholders, who are individuals and groups who have an interest in your policy. These people can come from within your organization or from outside, and will include the following:

  • Target audience: Who is the policy for? This could include employees, executives, managers or other staff members.
  • Policy manager: Who will manage the policy? This refers to someone who is responsible for gathering business requirements and ensuring that policies align with them.
  • Policy implementor: Who will be responsible for implementing the policy? This includes those who must ensure that any processes and procedures comply with applicable policies.
  • Policy auditor: Who will be responsible for auditing the policy? This includes someone who verifies that all compliance requirements are being met by different departments and teams.
  • Process owner/policy maintainer: Who will be responsible for maintaining the policy? This refers to someone tasked with managing how information assets are used throughout their entire lifecycle.

3 Do you know what are the elements of this policy?

This is an important step because the elements of a policy are the same regardless of whether it’s a health and safety policy, an environmental policy or anything else. Learning what these elements are early will make writing your policy easier.

The elements of a good policy include:

  • Purpose: Why does this policy exist? What purpose does it serve? It’s good to state the purpose at the beginning of your document so that people following your policies know their goals from the start. This helps them achieve their duties more easily—and more effectively.
  • Scope: Who is this document for? How wide in scope is it? Are there any areas where your company has multiple policies about the same issue? If you know this before you write, then you can avoid creating conflicting documents later on, which could cause confusion among employees and contractors alike.
  • Definitions: What terms or acronyms do you use in this document? It’s best if your organization has one definitive list that people can refer to when they need clarification. Whenever you use a term in a document, reference its meaning here rather than define it anew each time it appears in your text.*

4 Does the policy align with the company values?

If you are a start-up, you probably already have some thoughts on this. However, if your company is large and complex (or was created through acquisition), it will be more difficult to understand how your company’s culture may not yet be reflected in a new HR policy.

How can you measure alignment with your core beliefs? First, get out there and talk to people. Find out what they think of the proposed rule and find out what kind of work environment they want to see in their own words. What are their ideas for improvement? Secondly, consider employee surveys or polls as formal sources of feedback from employees about the draft policy. Thirdly, ask yourself: does this rule pass the test of time? Does it make sense now and would it still make sense when the landscape is different next year? Finally, speak with industry peers—if you pitch them on this policy idea over lunch and they don’t think it’s just crazy enough to work, then maybe there is something missing from within your organization that needs some attention before moving forward on designing a new policy.

5 Is the policy written in simple and clear language?

  • Use plain English. Write using the same language that you would use when speaking to a colleague. Avoid jargon, technical or legal terminology that your employees might find difficult to understand.
  • Use “you” for policy statements and avoid passive voice. For example, “You can take your lunch break between 12:30 p.m. and 2:00 p.m” instead of “Employees are permitted to take their lunch breaks between 12:30 p.m. and 2:00 p.m..”
  • Use lists and bullets to explain key points as well as to separate different sections of the policy from each other into smaller, more digestible bits of information.
  • Keep paragraphs short (1-2 sentences). If a paragraph is longer than 4 lines, consider breaking it up or organizing its content into bullet points instead or linking it to additional information on an intranet page or appendix where appropriate.
  • Explain why this is important for employees at your organization (e.g., by explaining what will happen if they don’t follow the policy).

6 Is the policy as legible, short and concise as possible?

The overall aim is for the policy to be as easy to understand and follow as possible. Think about who will be using the HR policy and why they are using it. If it’s an employee handbook, you want to make sure that employees will actually read through it so that they know what’s expected of them at work and can avoid getting into trouble. If it’s a piece of health & safety documentation, then readability becomes even more important because employers have legal duties to protect their staff from harm. Therefore, there are standards that need to be maintained.

When writing an HR policy, there are a number of general rules you should follow:

  • Use bullet points, subheadings and white space (this makes content easier on the eye)
  • Use tables, graphs or images where applicable (this aids comprehension)
  • Make use of the AIDA principle – attention, interest, desire, action (this helps you engage your audience)

7 Is the information contained in the policy up-to-date and legally compliant?

  • This is a vital part of your HR policy review as any out of date or non-compliant information may lead to an employee making a successful claim against you. It is important to ensure that all policies are reviewed on an annual basis and reflect changes in:
  • Local legislation and regulation
  • Legislation in other countries where you have employees
  • Internal procedures such as technical and operational changes

8 Are there any exceptions that require consideration within the policy?

  • Are there any exceptions that require consideration within the policy?

If you haven’t already considered them, think about any exceptions to your proposed policy. Exceptions should be rare and clearly explained in a separate section of your policy statement. Here are some examples:

  • A senior administrator who is not available during evenings, weekends or statutory holidays may make arrangements with the department head to take regular time off during the week in lieu of time off at other times.
  • An employee who has been on a leave of absence for three months or longer will be required to provide medical documentation from his/her physician indicating that he/she is fit to return to work following the leave period.

9 How will you communicate the policy to employees?

Once you’ve developed the policy, now it’s time to tell your employees about it. Clearly and concisely describe why this policy is important to your organization. Make sure they know what the policy covers and who it applies to. Have them sign an agreement that states they understand and will abide by the policy. This not only puts everyone on the same page, but empowers employees to police the rule in their own areas of expertise.

10 Have you proofread the policy and how will you audit the policy regularly?

  • Policies are a vital part of your business – now that you have created one, it is important to check that it is fit for purpose. Make sure your policy answers the questions it set out to address, that all statements in it are true, clear, legal, relevant, not redundant and grammatically correct.

We have also produced a 10 point checklist for reviewing policies and making sure they remain current: http://www2.cipd.co.uk/hr-resources/factsheets/policies-procedures-checklist


And that’s it! If you follow these 10 steps closely and fill in all the blanks, you should end up with a set of HR policies and procedures that will help your employees get the job done right. But don’t forget to keep an eye on these policies as time goes by—especially if the laws change. And remember, we’re here to help, so if you have any questions, feel free to reach out.