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People Management

Are your HR policies out of date and potentially harmful?

Formal processes that were designed years ago may be damaging to a people-centric organisational culture, warn Stephen Adams and Jenni Miller. 5 July 2023

Are your current HR Policies out of date and harmful?

We think we can all agree that HR Policies play a hugely important role in not only outlining the responsibilities of both the employer and the employee, but also in supporting the overall culture of an organisation.

We have seen a significant shift in businesses adopting a more people centric approach to their workplaces but often their HR policies are not supporting the same message. Often these policies, written several years or even decades ago, were designed to protect the company rather than serve the employees and if applied as they were originally intended, can damage the good work being done in terms of culture shift.

Conflict at work

The best example of this are those policies designed to deal with conflict, namely traditional Grievance, Bullying and Harassment policies. We know that conflict and resulting issues are inevitable in any organisation, in fact it costs UK businesses £2.85 billion per year (ACAS), but what is the true cost of conflict? 

All the areas that a people centric approach should be aiming to improve are in some way affected:

• Wellbeing

• Morale

• Productivity

• Brand Representation

• Recruitment

• Retention

• Time

• Money

• Culture

What causes conflict?

As humans, we are not always going to get along or even like each other. We have an inherent belief in right versus wrong and a sense of justice. Conflict is perfectly natural and happens every single day when people may not agree on something. 

There are 2 different types of conflict: Constructive and Destructive. Constructive Conflict can be uncomfortable when colleagues disagree, however, if both parties are open minded (they listen and demonstrate a degree of respect), they can come away with a win/win scenario. When Constructive Conflict is not resolved or addressed in the early stages then it turns into Destructive Conflict and can spiral out of control. We see the “I win, you lose” mentality and it is usually at this stage that those formal grievance, bullying and harassment policies are put into practice.

As a rule, individuals do not want to go through these formal processes. The amount of stress caused can be enormous and is hugely detrimental to both physical and mental health. It also doesn’t just harm the parties involved but also their families and work associates. Yet if the HR policies say this is the correct and only way to deal with conflict then they often have no other way out.

You can see how this goes completely against the people centric values that many organisations are now trying to adopt. We have worked with many organisations helping them in re-aligning their policies and the main light bulb moment comes when employers realise their own policies are actually fuelling the destructive conflict beast. 

Modernising HR Policies

If everyone involved is willing to listen, learn and find a solution, there are very few issues that can’t be resolved by a decent conversation. Organisations should be striving to accomplish this because it is far more favourable than following a formal procedure. For each difficulty or issue (including attendance, performance, well-being, deterioration of standards, feelings of being unfairly treated etc.), we should be promoting the use of a modern and agile HR framework which promotes early dialogue. 

These types of positive performance frameworks place a strong emphasis on giving constructive, considerate and cooperative feedback. Employees’ confidence grows, expectations are made clear, and mistakes are learned from using a dialogic approach and ongoing informal involvement. Further benefits include;

• Improved colleague well-being

• More inclusive for colleagues

• Quicker to reach an outcome

• Colleagues retain more ownership

• Allows colleague to be more productive

• Saves costs and time

Principles of Early Dialogue Framework

• Adult to Adult –Genuinely trying to reach a mutually successful outcome, in constructive conversations that promote understanding and being respectful to everyone involved. 

• Addressing the issue – Focus on and start addressing a problem, collaborate with the intention of coming up with a solution.

• Clear and transparent dialogue – Being transparent at work means adhering to the idea of open communication in all circumstances. 

• Colleague Support – Forging strong working relationships with co-workers is essential to fostering teamwork and nurturing a positive workplace culture. 

• Growing Performance – To maximise employee value. It seeks to uphold and enhance employees’ performance in accordance with organisational goals.

Early dialogue solutions can include; positive dialogue conversations, coaching, facilitation and mediation to name just a few. They bring together best practices from behavioural science, emotional intelligence, non-violent communication and positive psychology creating a straightforward, practical model which can easily be implemented. 

These progressive HR frameworks can replace those out of date and harmful policies and help shape people and culture strategies in any organisation, regardless of size or industry.