How to discourage policy and procedure non-compliance in the workplace

Policies and procedures that are open-ended or difficult to understand make it hard for your personnel to follow, no matter how great those policies may be.

December 22, 2020

Article highlights

  • Reasons your staff are not complying with your policies
  • What you can do to change your culture

Compliance is the ultimate goal of policies and procedures. That’s why you have taken the time to construct reliable manuals and make them readily available to your employees.

While creating strong policies is a great start, you want your team both to understand and adhere to the guidelines you have put in place. After all, your policies exist to ensure the safety and success of your employees and those with whom they work.

Ideally, your employees will be able to perform and comply without close supervision.

It starts with cognizance, Eric Chester wrote in Fast Company.

“Any manager can get people to do what she wants by standing next to them. But what happens when the manager turns away? The workers must feel an internal need to comply with what they know is right. They have to know what they’re supposed to do, and they have to do it without the manager standing over them.”

Non-compliance in the workplace can be a major issue, jeopardizing both professionalism and safety. Non-compliant behavior can lead to health and safety risks, HR struggles, government fines.

It can also be grounds for termination in some cases.

While non-compliance can have many roots, it is your job as a leader to encourage compliance to the best of your ability. But how?

Let’s take a look at some ways to encouraging compliance with policies and procedures – it may be simpler than you think.

Make sure your policies and procedures are easy to understand

Communication is the first step to compliance. According to Chester, “If you aren’t communicating clearly with your workers, they’ll never really understand your expectations, whether it has to do with a hard skill or with values.”

If you want your employees to understand your policies, make them easy to follow.

This means they should be well organized. Try to set up policies and procedures in a logical way, keeping them uniform with policy templates for a consistent structure.

Your employees will have a much easier time navigating your documents when you arrange them efficiently, ideally with a table of contents, clear section titles, and a glossary of relevant terms.

It is also crucial to make sure your employees can understand the language you use in your policy manuals.

Steer clear of overly academic or complex language and break down each policy as simply as possible. While there is no need to “dumb down” your policies, you will find it helpful to write your material as simply as possible. This way, your material will be easy to digest and retain on the go.


As a rule of thumb, try to keep your documents at a sixth- or seventh-grade reading level. You can easily accomplish this by avoiding advanced vocabulary and keeping your sentences short and straightforward when possible.

Online tools like Hemingway or Grammarly may be helpful as you seek to optimize your documents.

Write policies and procedures that are precise and clear

Too often, policy documents are left ambiguous and open-ended. This part is less about language and organization and more about the policies themselves.

It is your responsibility to help your staff grasp which policies apply to them. Be as specific as possible as you develop and write your policy documents so your employees can quickly figure out not only what to do, but when and how to do it.

Make it easy to access your documentation

Housing stacks of paper documents in your office may create a problem for you and your employees.

Policy and procedure manuals need to be properly distributed so all your employees can access them in a pinch. Encouraging staff to comply, especially in quickly escalating situations, starts with making your documents readily available.

Rather than going an old-fashioned paper route, consider keeping your policy manuals online.


Search capabilities enable personnel to find specific documents quickly and easily. And as a bonus, you will save money on paper and other resources.

Train your employees on compliance issues and test their comprehension

Reading your policies and procedures is one thing, but your staff is unlikely to comply if they do not retain the information you share.

Training and testing are two helpful measures of encouraging your team to understand your policies. They can also ensure your staff members know how to apply policies in a variety of situations.

Online training tools offer the ability to customize your staff’s learning experience. Subsequent testing ensures everyone is on the same page and can apply their knowledge to real-life situations.

Both of these tools increase accountability and encourage optimal compliance on the job.

Notify staff when policies or procedures change

This problem may occur if you require your staff members to sign off on policies and procedures one time, and one time only. As you know, It’s vital to update continually to ensure compliance with local, state, and national regulations along with changes in company culture.

For this reason, you should revisit and revise your policies and procedures frequently. Make it a habit of sharing your updates and requiring new signatures with each round of changes.

Regularly re-distributing your documents will hold your staff accountable for compliance to evolving documents. Of course, all of this will be more efficient with an online policy management tool.

You can quickly ask for and receive signatures on your updated policies and always make sure everyone has the most recent version of every document.

Seek honest feedback

The guidelines of governing bodies will drive the content for most of your policies. Your organization may also add specific guidelines based on its culture.

Unfortunately, this does not mean your employees will automatically be on board. Though your policies may not be flexible, it is important to ask your team for feedback on a regular basis.

An anonymous, online platform may encourage your employees, to be honest. This way, you can use the data and comments you receive to set the tone in the office, which can encourage a positive mindset conducive to compliance.

Be consistent in how you respond to non-compliance

Some non-compliance in the workplace stems from lack of enforcement or consequences.

When your staff violate policies and procedures you have put in place and communicated, make sure you enforce them with consistent repercussions. You established your rules for a reason, primarily to prevent chaos, destruction, and risk exposure.

Lack of enforcement sends a message your policies are not important, encouraging employees not to take them seriously.

Remember, your policies are in place to ensure the safety of your team, and staying on top of enforcement can literally be a life-and-death issue.


Lead by example

At the end of the day, the leaders of your organization create the culture for your employees. In this way, compliance trickles down.

Discourage workplace noncompliance through modeling the behavior you want to see. Chester calls leading in ethics and policies “radiating.”

“Radiate, a transitive verb, means to spread something all around as it emanates from a center. The key to radiating values is to establish them as central ideals and then find ways to spread them throughout teams and organizations.

“That includes living them out yourself, of course, but it also includes celebrating them, hiring people who display them, incorporating them in company meetings and communications, and sharing them with those who need them the most.”

Even if your employees do not consistently comply to your policies, it is never too late to make changes in your organization. Encourage excellent conduct by avoiding the above pitfalls and implementing changes where you see fit. Learn more about successfully implementing compliance practices by checking out our article here. 

By taking proactive measures on the front end, you can prevent future issues and set a healthy, successful culture in your organization and community.

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