What is policy writing in HR? (And how to write one)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 14 July 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Policy writing is a common duty for managers and HR professionals. Official policies and procedures help employees work towards the goals of an organisation and avoid harming its brand reputation, while also keeping employees safe and avoiding disputes. If you work in HR or lead a team, then you could benefit from learning more about writing policies. In this article, we look at what writing policies involves, how to plan for writing your policy and how to write policies that colleagues find easy to comprehend and follow.

What is policy writing?

Policy writing involves drawing up a list of comprehensive rules and best practices for employees to follow. A good policy helps remove ambiguities, provide actionable guidance, avoid legal problems and keep employees safe from physical harm. While some policies offer straightforward guidance that applies to all employees, others offer technical help for completing role-specific tasks.

Most organisations have a wide range of policies that apply to different departments. Therefore, it's common for several managers or HR professionals to be in charge of writing policies and procedures. It's important to know how to write these policies effectively, so you can contribute towards a healthy company culture.

Related: What is workplace culture, and what are its characteristics?

How to plan for policy writing

Before you write your policy, it's important to establish what you want to gain from your policies and procedures. Writing policies is often a long process, involving a range of senior colleagues, so drawing up a plan of action could help you meet strict deadlines. Here are some steps to take before writing your policy:

1. Meet with senior leadership

Policies reflect the culture and values of an organisation, so it's important for senior leadership figures to agree with them. Before you think of specific policy points and goals, set up a meeting with relevant executives or senior managers to gain their support for the project. Discussing your plans with seasoned business professionals is a great way to gain tips and advice you may not find elsewhere. During the meeting, state why you need a new set of policies and how they could positively impact the organisation.

2. Find a relevant policy template

Most businesses have standard policy templates for managers to use. These templates make the process of writing policies much quicker and easier and can easily help employees navigate the rules. If there isn't a policy template available, you may wish to create one for future use. Key elements to add to a template include:

  • A header: This section includes important information about the policy document, such as the title, signatures of approvers, the department to which the rules apply and any revision dates.

  • A policy statement: This includes information about the purpose of the policy and how it benefits the organisation.

  • List of definitions: Most policies include technical language or industry-specific terms that employees may not understand. Adding a list of key terms and definitions can help readers navigate the document and could save the organisation from long-term legal problems.

  • Procedures: If necessary, add step-by-step guidelines for completing routine tasks. For jobs you're unfamiliar with, work with the people who perform them to ensure the guidelines are accurate.

  • Conduct rules: If applicable, write clear guidelines about how you expect employees to behave at work. You may also wish to include details about the consequences of violations.

  • Reporting systems: Most organisations have clear policies surrounding how to report rule violations or accidents. Include reporting procedures in your policies and add any relevant email addresses or phone numbers.

Related: 10 key HR policies and procedures including examples

3. Find your tools for writing a policy

The process of writing and publishing a policy involves participation from a wide range of colleagues. While it's possible to track and save changes on an internal word processing program, storing several versions of the same document on your IT system can create confusion. Try to find a cloud word processor that allows several people to edit a document at the same time. You may also wish to use a specialised online policy management program, as they often include handy automatic approval functions and simple editing features.

Related: What are project management tools? (With 15 examples)

How to write your policy

Once you've obtained support from your senior leaders and established how you're going to collaborate with others, you can start writing an effective policy. Here's how to write your policy:

1. Do your research

Before you start reviewing old policies and writing new ones, it's a good idea to do some research into the organisation. The following information may be helpful:

  • Think about if there are any problems that employees regularly face and how new policies could address them.

  • Think about if any existing policies are now outdated or irrelevant.

  • Consider if there are any new government regulations for the company to follow.

As part of your research, you may wish to interview colleagues or shadow them for a few hours to see how current procedures work. You could also try interviewing external professionals in your field. Depending on your field and sector, you may benefit from researching recent updates to relevant compliance laws, regulations and accreditation rules. Ensuring that your team isn't breaking any laws is an important duty for any manager or HR professional.

2. Write your first policy draft

Once you've established your goals, you can start writing your policy. Start by writing the whole policy in full, avoiding too much jargon or sophisticated language. Keeping your wording simple benefits new hires and makes your policies easier to scan. If you decide to use acronyms, include a glossary containing full phrases. Other best practices to follow include:

  • Keep it short: Employees are unlikely to read long policies with the care and attention they require.

  • Focus on structure: Try to make your policy as structured as possible to aid navigation. Long blocks of text are hard to read and could confuse employees.

  • Check that your policies align with the law: This step is vital for avoiding legal action in the future and protecting your colleagues.

3. Identify any similar or overlapping policies

Once you've written the first full draft of your policy, look for any overlapping policies within the organisation. It's relatively common for companies to have some policies that overlap. Just make sure that the language and requirements are consistent. Any contradictions could confuse employees and even lead to legal problems.

4. Get feedback from colleagues and stakeholders

Next, send your draft out to a range of colleagues, senior leaders and stakeholders to obtain their feedback. It may be a good idea to stagger this process to avoid receiving several copies of the draft with a range of different edits. It may also help if you use collaborative software that allows several editors to respond to each other's comments.

5. Format and proofread the document

Once you've collected the feedback and made relevant edits, give the document a final proof and ensure formatting is consistent. Here are some important factors to look out for:

  • Fonts: Most policies contain professional and easily legible fonts, such as Calibri, Garamond or Times New Roman. If the organisation has a standard font for its official documents, use that one.

  • Font size: Check that your font sizing is consistent and large enough to read. Headings may be bigger than the main body of the text, but try not to go lower than size 12 font for the body text.

  • Spacing: Try to ensure that your spacing is consistent. Check that margins, paragraphs and subsections contain sufficient blank space to ensure the page doesn't look cluttered.

  • Avoid colours: Policies aren't supposed to be artistic or pretty, so avoid using too many colours. Brightly coloured text can be distracting.

  • Spelling and grammar: Poorly spelt or grammatically incorrect policies could make an organisation look less professional and undermine trust in its official procedures. Even minor errors could impact the efficacy of your policy, so try to remove any small inconsistencies.

  • Page numbers: Make sure your policy includes page numbers so that individual rules are easy to find.

  • References: Add a reference and citation section at the bottom of the policy if you use external documents for research.

6. Obtain approval

Once you've perfected your policy, send it to relevant senior leaders for them to approve. After the document is officially signed, you can publish and disseminate your policy. It's a good idea to ask colleagues to sign the document to confirm that they've read and understood it. From there, you can arrange an annual review of the policy to ensure the business remains competitive and compliant.

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