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Conflict Of Interest In Policy Application

SHAMEELA WINSTON
Some of the questions asked about the series on the development and application of employment policies suggest a fear or concern relating to conflict of interest.

It seems there are some who feel that being the author and custodian of employment policies would give the HR department, or even the HR Manager, the ability to use these policies to manipulate people, situations and even the whole organisation.

You know, create a situation where staff feel that the HR department is a sacred cow and if you wrong an HR official in any way, they would use their policies to threaten your job.

Well, the answer is, perceptions notwithstanding, there is very little scope indeed for the HR department and its officers to use employment policies against staff, or even against the organisation.

This is because of the processes involved in the development and application of such policies. Ordinarily, after the policy – whether this means a single policy or the whole policy manual – has been drafted, it has to go to the relevant Board Committee for approval, and then to the Board for endorsement, before it is signed off and treated as a bona fide policy applicable and binding on the organisation.

The process of consultation involved to actually draft a policy that would be viewed by stakeholders as representative, depending on how complex your organisational structure is, is very elaborate with initial briefings, submissions of staff contributions directly or through the staff representation committee, drafting of the initial policy, review by stakeholders, development of final draft that would be adopted by the management team and presented to the next level of management.

So, it is difficult for the department to formulate a policy that is targeted against one person or one department because when it is finally presented at the final management level, it is tested against governance and best practice by an impartial group of executives.

Once approved and adopted, the policy is presented to staff and line management is work shopped on how to apply the policy. Speaking of line management, it is important to note that while HR is the custodian of these employment policies, they are actually applied by line managers.

The HR office does not ordinarily override management. For instance, take leave. Yes the leave policy would detail how many leave days an individual is entitled to, and it would describe the process to follow when one wishes to take leave, but the HR office does not authorise the leave.

If the line manager asks the employee to defer leave to a time more convenient to department operations, the HR office can’t step in and dictate that

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leave must be approved immediately because the employee is entitled to take leave.

Similarly with overtime. Or disciplinary issues. Or performance issues. Or any other aspect of the employment policy manual. The HR office simply writes the policies, guided by business requirements, employment law and best practice, and then, once the policies are duly approved, the HR office assures their consistent and fair application by line management.

So, if there is any fear of policies being misunderstood and misused, that should not be ascribed to the HR office. The HR office is simply the internal consultant on matching staffing profiles to business needs, and one of the tools they use to provide guidance is the employment policies.

These policies are developed and applied in concert with a wide range of regulators, company officials and staff, so based on the level of transparency in the process, it is virtually impossible that they could be used to threaten and victimise staff.

But, to give the benefit of the doubt and reflect on the possibility of a personal attack on individuals on the team using policies. Let me acknowledge that I have often been aware of staff expectations that the HR office is there to protect and promote staff interests above all else, and where this expectation is not met, the perception is that the department has betrayed a colleague. There is also the expectation by staff that, if the HR office is aware of personal issues that one is going through, then, in the event of a hearing or an appraisal, the HR officer would ensure leniency because ‘they understand’. These are just two examples of how the policies can be viewed as a ‘’disappointment’ by the staff they are meant to serve and protect.

The take away is then that, as staff, it is critical that you participate fully in the development of your employment policies.

More often than not, these are seen as being the purview of the HR department, such that when it comes down to it, too many staff members are not even aware of what policies exist, what practices emanate from them, and what it all means for them.

The point I want to emphasise then is that, HR is not the resident boogey man. So there is no reason to be uneasy.

But there is every reason for you to be actively involved in the consultations that precede policy development (or review), so that you can ensure fairness and increase ownership.



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