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These Common HR Mistakes Are Easy to Avoid!

People Practices for peak performance_v3“We hire nice people.” That’s the brand promise of a healthcare company that retails specialty products. This slogan is prominent in their recruitment ads and in facilities serving patients and customers. It’s the perfect encapsulation of three common HR mistakes that are easy to make and, fortunately, also easy to avoid.

The first mistake is relying on subjective descriptors and metrics. Nice is in the eye of the beholder. It’s situational. It invites unconscious bias in the hiring process. We’ll dive deeper into this mistake in a future post in this series, People Practices for Peak Performance.

The second mistake is that this brand promise sets the bar too low. There are a lot of nice people in the world! With such a low and non-specific standard, how are employees supposed to feel special? What challenges do they feel uniquely equipped to handle? So long as they’re nice, what more do they really need to do or prove? We’ll be covering this in a variety of ways throughout this series.

In this post, we’ll directly tackle the third mistake. It’s the assumption that hiring the “right” people is all you need to do to ensure success. No matter how awesome employees are… no matter how good your screening and selection process is… people need more. Expecting them to do a good job, by virtue of their traits (like niceness), is unfair and lazy.

Establishing people practices and policies is essential in selecting, hiring, retaining, developing, and engaging employees. Most businesses have some people practices and policies. Start there and work your way through this article with those in mind.

Audit Your People Practices and Policies

Graphic Showing Picking in between numbers 1 to 4Whether your people practices and policies are formal or informal, you’ve already introduced them.

If formal, you have an employee handbook or a policy manual. It covers the procedures for claiming leave, vacations, benefits, pay increases, etc. It explains policies related to conduct, attendance, use of technology and social media, protections for        employees, and so forth. And it provides information about how to file grievances and report misconduct.

When there’s a formal set of policies, it’s usually provided to employees during onboarding. Time is spent to review the established people practices and policies and to answer the new hire’s questions. Typically, the new employee signs a document stating they have received, reviewed, understand, and will abide by the policies.

If you have informal people practices and policies, they’re probably not documented. They may not have been reviewed with employees. You’re relying, instead, on the observations and interpretations of each employee to uphold these practices. In small organizations, this may be sufficient. But as your organization grows or as new people join the team, the clarity and consistency will wane.

That’s why even small companies should consider codifying policies and people practices. If you already have them, a periodic audit is also important so that updates can be made to maintain consistency and clarity.

As you create and audit your people practices and policies be sure to include and routinely update:

Company Information

This sets a cultural tone and introduces the company to new hires. You’ll want to cover:

  • Company history, mission, vision, and values.
  • Company leadership (who they are, what they do)
  • Employer promise for the employee experience
  • Contact information for key personnel (HRBP, manager, tech support, etc.)
  • Job description and org chart (where the employee fits in the organization) 

Employment Status Policies

In accordance with federal and state regulations, spell out the classifications of employees and what the implications are for each classification:

  • Part-time vs. Full-time
  • Hourly Wage vs. Salary (exempt vs. non-exempt)
  • Employee vs. Independent Contractor
  • Temporary vs. Permanent
  • Job Levels or Grades
  • Probationary Period for New Hires
  • Employment at Will
  • Union Eligibility and Membership
  • Shift Differentials
  • Job Title and Associated Responsibilities
  • Disciplinary Actions, up to and including Termination
  • Work Authorization Policies (I-9)

Leave Time Policies

In accordance with federal and state regulations, explain your expectations for when, where, and how people will work or will notify you when they’re taking time off for various reasons. Include your:

  • Attendance Expectations
  • Paid Holidays (company-wide days off)
  • Sick Day Policies
  • Paid Time Off (PTO) Policies
  • Vacation Day Accrual and Use Policies
  • Compassionate Leave or Bereavement Policies
  • Family Medical Leave Act Policies
  • Parental Leave Policies
  • Jury Duty, Military Leave Policies
  • Worker’s Compensations Policies
  • Work from Home / Remote Work Eligibility Criteria
  • Conflict of Interest Policies (what employees do “off the clock”)

Professional Standards

This is a code of conduct. It describes HOW people are to conduct themselves at work and includes behavioral examples, as needed, to set clear expectations.

  • Interacting with Others
  • Safety Procedures
  • Drug Testing Policies
  • Corporate Social Responsibility Policies
  • Dress Code
  • Fraternization and Employment of Relatives Policies
  • Customer Engagement Practices

Protections for Employees

In accordance with federal and state regulations, be sure to share the following policies with employees (and provide training to ensure understanding at all levels).

  • Fair Hiring & Internal Promotion Practices
  • Anti-Sexual Harassment
  • Anti-Hostile Work Environment
  • Anti-Discrimination
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
  • Equal Opportunity Employment
  • Anti-Retaliation Protections for Whistleblowers
  • Violence in the Workplace
  • Accommodations for Neurodiversity, Disability, Employee Needs

Procedures for Filing Grievances

Describe the steps employees should take if they have been subjected to discrimination, harassment, hostility, or violence. Include:

  • How to document offenses
  • When to escalate a matter to HR
  • What to expect in an investigation
  • How to file a complaint with the EEOC

Cybersecurity and Technology Usage

For employees who will use company equipment, phones, computers or devices. Be clear about what is permissible on company devices.

  • Cybersecurity Protocols
  • Laptop, Cell Phone, Device Policies
  • Social Media Policies
  • Internet Usage
  • Privacy Policies (when using company devices or accounts)

Pay, Benefits, and Bonus Policies

Be as clear as possible in outlining what, when, and how employees will be paid or incentivized.

  • Regular Pay vs. Overtime
  • Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) Regulations for Overtime
  • Payroll Deductions and Withholding Policies
  • Eligibility for Pay Increases
  • Direct Deposit Options
  • Company Benefits and Insurance Offerings
  • Perks and Bonuses
  • Training/Development Opportunities
  • Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
  • Tuition Reimbursement
  • Employee Referral Bonus Policies
  • Unemployment Compensation Policies
  • Acceptance of Gifts Policies

To audit your existing handbook or the understanding of informal policies, conduct a quick survey with a handful of managers and employees. Ask them to describe the differences in job levels within a department, the way vacation time is calculated, and your policies related to how employees interact. (Note: pick any three items from the list above. These are merely samples!)

When you ask these questions, it’s not to test the manager or employee. It’s to test the clarity and consistency of your policies and how they’re being administered.

Clarity is the first aim of the audit. No one can administer or access benefits if they don’t understand them. No one should be held accountable for policies or protocols that are vague or open to interpretation.

Consistency is the second purpose of the audit. When you know where the gaps are, you can shore up the handbook, training, and onboarding so people practices are fairly and consistently administered.

One & Done Sets You Up for Common HR Mistakes

Without a formal handbook or codified set of people practices and policies, you’re at risk of making common HR mistakes.

Without an onboarding process to provide every new employee with a common foundation, you’re setting some employees up to flail or fail.

Working smarter, not harder, you’ll proactively create and communicate clear, consistent policies and people practices.

To establish clear policies, convey them to all employees, and consistently administer them:

Enlist Senior Executives in setting an example, supporting HR’s efforts, and abiding by the policies. “Rules for thee and not for me” is a surefire recipe for inconsistency that confuses people and allows wiggle room for others to operate outside of policies.

Train Managers to understand and uphold policies. They should also know when to consult the handbook and when to escalate matters to HR or senior management. Most importantly, they should fully understand employee protections and vigilantly address any behaviors that make others feel unsafe, unwelcome, uncomfortable, or unable to perform their job fully.

Recognize Exemplary Performance when someone upholds a policy diligently or course corrects. For example, if employees are restricted from using social media on company-issued devices, thank the ones who don’t access it. If IT is routinely spot-checking usage, note the good examples (not just the bad!). Send a “thank you” note to those who abide by policies like these.

Address Deviations from Policies swiftly and seriously. If you let it ride, you’re inviting more of the same. Though uncomfortable to address dress code violations, fraternization, harassment, and other sensitive matters, it’s imperative that managers know how to do this and follow through every time.

Create a Culture of Peer Accountability so employees keep each in check. When someone starts to tell an off-color joke, there’s nothing more powerful than a peer stepping in to say “This isn’t really the time or place for that joke…” When people practices and policies are crystal clear and consistently applied, they eventually carry over into the culture and become “just how we do things around here.”

Think back to situations where things got messy in a dispute with an employee. What would have been different if you’d created, communicated, and reinforced policies and people practices? One incident alone can make this process worthwhile!