As a young employee, I used to think that policies and procedures were just a dull and boring part of the workplace. They were something that was a necessary evil, more important for the management than staff, and could be ignored for most of the time. As time has gone on and I have worked for a number of different aged and disability organisations and in various roles, I have come to realise that they are a valuable and essential resource for both management and workers. Why?
- Consistency – when a workplace has set policies and procedures, staff are not constantly having to make decisions on what to do in various situations or change how they approach their work. On remote communities, and I’m sure in other workplaces, I noticed that staff were constantly having to change the way they worked according to each new coordinator who started. This is confusing and more than a little frustrating for them, as well as the clients. Written policies and procedures give power to the staff, allowing them to direct new coordinators in the way things operate in their community.
- Stability – where staff have to constantly change the way they do something to adapt to the personal preferences of a new manager, rather than the new manager following set procedures, there is likely to be higher staff turnover and a less stable workforce.
- Equality – policies and procedures are a way of ‘leveling the playing field’ for both staff and clients. No one gets preferential treatment because they are related or they are liked more by their supervisor or manager. People are accepted onto the program because they fit a certain criteria, or they receive a particular service because they have an identified need.
- Guidance – it’s always difficult for a new person to know what is standard practice for their new workplace. They might be guided by what their work colleagues do or say, but is this necessarily correct? By referring to their organisation’s policies and procedures, the new worker, supervisor or manager can pick up the correct processes for their workplace.
- Timeliness of response – policies and procedures allow a worker or supervisor to respond to incidents or requests in an appropriate manner without needing to gain ‘up-line’ feedback.
- Safety – many of your organisation’s policies and procedures are in place to safeguard both clients and staff; promoting physical, emotional and cultural safety in the workplace. Workplaces that are ‘safe’ are likely to be more harmonious, productive, have a lower staff turnover, with the additional benefit of lower work cover insurance premiums.
- Knowledge of boundaries – it is important that all staff understand and work within the scope of practice for their role. Well written policies and procedures will define the responsibilities each person has in a given situation.
- Cost efficiencies – developing standard practices can lead to cost efficiencies. For example, policies and procedures might define limitations on where and when purchases can be made. Management may negotiate bulk purchasing discounts or identify approved items for purchase, limiting excessive costs and potentially waste.
- Uniformity – where an organisation is large, or spread out over a number of locations, policies and procedures assist to maintain a uniform approach across the organisation. It allows staff to move from one area to another within the organisation freely and with minimal disruptions.
- Compliance – many Government contracts require organisations to have policies and procedures. There is also an expectation that that organisational policies and procedures are accessible to all staff. Your organisational staff handbook may assist hands-on staff in understanding important policies and procedures applicable to their role.
As consultants we still go into organisations where there are few or no policies and procedures in place, or at least no one knows where they are. If that’s the situation in your organisation, hopefully the above list will prompt you to review your situation and start formalising your written policies and procedures. If you have your policies and procedures in place, are they up to date? If you are unsure perhaps this is a good time to review those you have against your current programs.