Desk with papers and laptop

HR Simplicity Challenge: The 5 Worst HR Policies

I have been reading Walter Isaacson’s biography on Steve Jobs and if there’s one thing that stands out in my mind, it’s Jobs’ everlasting quest for simplicity. He applied that to every stage of the design and every inch of his products – not to mention his personal life. You only have to watch toddlers with an iPad to understand how well he succeeded in achieving his goal.

When I started thinking about applying simplicity to HR, the first thing that came to mind is policies and procedures. With all the focus on becoming “employer of choice” and “employee engagement”, I wonder how we think a “policy department” contributes.

If you read my recent white paper, you know I like to focus on creating the agile HR organization, that is close to employees. But when creating HR policies, we seem to assume that employees won’t do a good job and have no common sense.

That’s not to say policies are not useful and we can do completely without. However, once HR starts writing policies, what is very simple often ends up becoming very complicated. Why is that? Because we like to include all the eventualities and exceptions, and what could have been very straightforward suddenly becomes complex.

Now don’t get me wrong: every company needs a few HR policies so people are treated fairly and equally – but here are some we could do without:

– a 10 page policy on how to conduct meetings
– dress codes for “casual Friday” – shirts with collars and without pictures!
– guidance on how long an employee can read a newspaper or magazines
– requiring foreign employees to hand in their passports (which is illegal in many countries)
– a 15 page questionnaire to be filled out when interviewing a new hire, refusing to consider applicants that don’t fill out forms completely and only selecting new hires from a limited list of schools

So here’s my Simplicity Challenge to all HR people out there: next time you write a policy, keep it simple (and legal) and limit it to 1 page. Try no to work all exceptions in, but accept the fact that you will need to deal with exceptions as they come along.

Do you think that’s possible? Your employees will be so impressed! Do you already do this? I would love to hear from you!

With special thanks to @MJCarty @DeadBeatMum @TriciaGroom @ RafaDavies @TimDouglasHr @JestChill @utpalghosh @adityeah @dearvishy @annagh and @oyeThakkar for providing examples of policies.

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  1. What a great post. It’s about time we started to make everything a bit more simple. HR has a tendency to over complicate things, from policy writing to giving guidance to managers. When I worked in local government we had a policy for everything. We had so many long and over complicated policy documents, I’m surprised that we didn’t have one for making a cup of tea or taking a toilet break. However, in the defence of a HR policy writer, it can be quite difficult to keep a policy short and simple with the raft of employment law we have to wade through, but I’m always up for a challenge 🙂

    I’m new to your blog having seen someone RT a link today but I’ll certainly be back for some more reading.

  2. Hi Emma, thanks for sharing your experience, glad you liked the post and would love to hear how the challenge works out for you.

  3. Great post! If you have to write a 5 page policy to enure your employees understand point by point why it’s a bad idea to stock the community fridge with beer, then chances are you’re not hiring right and you have bigger issues than policy writing at hand. 😉

    That being said, I am a big fan of keeping our policies to 1 page, with a few exceptions (a travel policy, for example). I find that when we treat our employees like adults and with respect, that’s the behavior and the culture we engender.

  4. Pingback: HR Simplicity Challenge: The 5 Worst HR Policies | Human Resource Vetting

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