Back to basics: Five things you need to get right with your HR

Having an in-house HR resource can be a bit of a luxury for most SMEs. It’s often a cost (or as we like to think of it – an ‘investment’, just a little biased!) that most businesses find difficult to justify when they consider all of the other things they need to have in place in order to run their operations successfully.

It seems to be fairly common that it’s not until something goes wrong with one of your employees that you realise the need to have in place some structure and key processes to support your business operations.

It also seems to be fairly common for your people issues to cause you the most concern and sleepless nights as you worry about how to manage them, particularly if you don’t have the structure and supporting processes in place to help you do so.

There are some HR basics that we often see missing in SMEs that we think all businesses would benefit from having to help make managing the employment relationship with their staff that much easier.

1. Contracts

We know this may seem a case of pointing out the obvious, but contracts should be in place with all of your employees. The number of businesses that we’ve come across or heard of who don’t have proper employment contracts in place with their staff amazes us!

Contracts form the basis of any employment relationship and cover all the conditions of employment, including references to relevant workplace policies and procedures.

It definitely pays to have an employment lawyer look over your contracts to make sure that all your bases are covered and that the correct terminology, etc, is used. It’s never too late to put contracts in place with your employees, even if they’ve been working without one to date. They’ll go a long way to insuring your employment relationships with your staff into the future.

2. Position descriptions

We briefly mentioned the importance of writing Position Descriptions (PD) in our first blog. Again, this is something that few businesses invest time in developing. From a HR perspective, the decision to develop PDs for the various roles in your business is a no-brainer. They serve a number of purposes and feed into important people practices like recruitment, measuring individual performance and determining the right structure for your business.

PDs don’t need to be an exhaustive list of all the tasks involved in a particular role. Just cover off the key responsibilities, including expected behaviours and KPIs relevant to the role. You may also want to include past experiences, qualifications and personal attributes as well, as that’ll come in handy if you ever need to recruit for the role.

3. People policies

The employee-employer relationship can often be an unpredictable one so it pays to have some guidelines in place to help you navigate your employment relationships with your team. The beauty of having people policies in place is that it clearly outlines expectations for your employees and leaves little room for ambiguity when it comes to managing their performance and behaviour at work.

Some obvious policies that come to mind to have in place include an equal employment opportunity policy that outlines discrimination and harassment issues; leave policies covering what the deal is when it comes to leave entitlements and how employees can go about applying for leave, including such things as appropriate notification periods; and finally, policies relating to general employee conduct like what the expectations are when it comes to excessive absenteeism and lateness or drug and alcohol related issues in the workplace.

Make sure your employees know the policies exist and that they’re easily accessible whether that is on a shared drive, online forum or multiple hardcopy handbooks around the office.

4. Correct pay rates

It’s all too often that you hear of businesses being caught out for not paying their employees the correct wages. Not only does it cost businesses thousands of dollars in back pay but it can also cost them their reputation.

There’s really no excuse for ignorance here. Clue yourself up and get familiar with all the conditions and rates in your relevant Award.

Unfortunately, most modern Awards aren’t all that easy to follow and can be incredibly confusing, especially with all the transitional provisions currently in place. But there is help out there, so either contact Fair Work or seek out HR experts to make sure you’re on the right track. Also, you’ll need to audit your pay rates on a regular basis to keep up with any legislative changes, so commit to doing this at least once a year.

5. Define a culture

Finally, there’s that word again – ‘culture‘. Yep, we’re getting all ‘warm and fuzzy‘ on you and going there! In all seriousness though, have you sat down to think about what you want your workplace culture to be and in reality, what it actually is?

If you and your employees aren’t on the same page then maybe your workplace culture needs a bit of work. Sharing the same values and preferred ways of working creates a sense of belonging that ultimately results in team engagement. An engaged workforce equals a productive one, so getting the culture piece right within your business will definitely pay off.

Going back to basics and making sure they’re covered off means that your business will be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to managing your people, which in our experience means much fewer sleepless nights as an employer and that’s always a good thing!

If you’re unsure of the best way to get back to basics and implement the things we’ve just discussed, feel free to get in touch with us ( and ask us any questions you might have. We’d be happy to give you some further pointers and advice to make things more relevant to your individual business needs.

Janelle McKenzie and Abiramie Sathiamoorthy are the co-founders of E&I People Solutions. Janelle has a hands-on background in HR, her philosophy is all about providing practical solutions that offer businesses real value. Abiramie has worked with a range of different businesses to set up or enhance their people processes with an end goal to help create high-performing teams.


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