HR policies waste time

So asserted a Senior Police Officer at a recent event. He might have a point.

His argument was that neither managers nor employees read or understand HR policies, and, if it comes to a Tribunal, barristers trip the organisation up by finding points where the managers have “not followed their own procedures”. I’ve heard similar comments about the power that HR policies and procedures give to Trade Unions in the NHS; indeed in the care sector we have experienced a little of such power ourselves.

Long, complex procedures, often running to many pages, are common in public organisations and, in my view, Trade Unions take more care to understand them than do managers. In a related area, the temptation to throw in detail and micromanage processes can clearly be seen in privacy statements. These have been prepared by many organisations in response to the GDPR. Have you read and understood them?

The problems lie not in the principles but in that micromanaged complexity. At its heart, for example, the GDPR is about peoples rights to have personal information (about them) handled responsibly. That is not necessarily best achieved by complex processes, I suggest more will be achieved by simply following the principles in question.

When it comes to HR policies there is sound evidence to consider. It comes from the Gibbons report, over a decade ago. Merely having HR policies and procedures reduces the risk of a Tribunal claim against an employer by 30% and, if followed reasonably well, hugely increase the chances of “winning” any case raised against an employer. That is our experience too.

For small employers we believe policies and procedures are a must. But they need to be readable and understandable. That is why the ones we write are in plain English, not in “legalise”. Generic principles are easier to follow, and defend, than attempts to cover every possible contingency in very specific detail. That is also why, with the odd exception, our policies would fit comfortably on one side of A4. Employers and managers are able to read them and understand them. They serve SMEs well.

For the police, the NHS and government organisations with their extensive HR policies, often prepared in conjunction with lawyers (i.e. not HR people), HR policies might be an encumbrance. Nonetheless, at that very same seminar, the case of Victorino Chua at Stepping Hill Hospital case was quoted. There a failure to follow sound recruitment procedures was partially responsible in enabling Victorino to murder at least two patients and to attempt the murder of others.

Policies and procedures certainly take up huge volumes of time but is it time wasted? Sometimes far too much time is taken; so I agree that often time, undoubtedly, is wasted. Nevertheless HR policies and procedures can be life savers on occasion – literally.

Malcolm Martin FCIPD

Author Human Resource Practice

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