Documentation In The Workplace

By Amanda Covaleski
Nov. 29, 2022
Articles In Life At Work Guide

Find a Job You Really Want In

We refer to records and documents almost daily to help us understand situations and make good decisions. Just like you want to have thorough documentation of things like your financial accounts or your professional experience before you make a big decision, keeping accurate records of things that happen at work can be extremely useful.

While anyone can keep documentation of what goes on in the office, it’s particularly helpful for people in human resources departments. Thorough records can help give HR professionals the information they need in order to do their jobs.

There are many ways to document events and keep records, but creating a documentation system will help you and your team ensure that you’re taking the best notes possible. Creating a system allows you to have consistent documentation across the board, no matter who contributed to the record.

Key Takeaways:

  • Documentation is the process of recording any event.

  • Documentation helps with employee evaluations, compliance with government regulations, and financial audits.

  • Documentation can be divided into 2 categories: formal and informal.

  • The best documentation provides consistency, context, and can be used as a trusted resource.

Documentation In The Workplace

What Is Documentation?

Documentation includes any kind of record-keeping about an office environment or its employees. There are many types of documentation and formats for those types, but in its most basic form, documentation is simply taking records about things that happen in an office.

Documentation can be kept physically or digitally; you just need to make sure everything is well-organized. It’s possible to keep accurate physical records with files on employees and events in the workplace, as long as they’re protected and secure.

Storing documentation digitally is how most companies are choosing to keep their HR records, and there’s plenty of tools out there to help you get that set up.

Why Is Documentation Important?

Documentation is important because it provides a reference for future use. This provides a bigger picture of the company and keeps a record of productivity and behavior.

Documentation also can be used to provide evidence or resources in a variety of important circumstances, such as:

  • Employee evaluations for promotions or terminations.

  • Compliance with government regulations.

  • Merger or acquisitions.

  • Financial or tax audits.

  • Research and development.

  • New management or ownership.

  • Company evaluations.

Since you never know what records you’ll need in the future, it’s a good idea to document as much as you possibly can. Keeping accurate records of things that happen in a company serves as a type of company history that can be used to settle disputes or even help onboard new employees.

Benefits Of Documentation

There are three big benefits to documenting things that happen in the workplace. No matter what kinds of records you keep, you can benefit from them in these ways.

  • Show employees respect. When you document things at work, you’re showing employees and outsiders that you take these things seriously and you’re a professional business. It shows employees that you respect their work and you document everything fairly, both the good and the bad.

    When sharing select records with people outside of the company, you’re proving that you’re a professional company, and you take the time to make sure everything is appropriately documented.

  • Create standardized processes. Documenting processes requires a level of standardization and organization, so by recording company practices, you’re creating a repeatable process. This can help with onboarding new hires, as well as helping current employees better understand how things are done.

  • Boost profitability. When you take the time to keep thorough records, it can help you save time and money in the long run.

    For example, when you bring on a new employee, instead of having team members walk that new hire through all of the processes their job requires, having a pool of information and documentation can help the new hire get a head start and learn on their own.

Formal vs. Informal Documentation

It might be surprising to learn that almost anything can count as documentation, so it can be hard to define what formal documentation really is. One way to think about documentation is formal versus informal.

  • Formal. Formal documentation is all about standardized record keeping. Things like employee reviews, manager reviews, or other standardized documents count as formal documents.

    Usually, there is a process for obtaining, recording, and keeping formal documents, so if you’re working on a document that follows HR or company guidelines, it’s probably part of formal documentation.

  • Informal. You might not realize it, but things like meeting notes, emails, and interoffice communication, or manager’s notes on employee performance count as documentation; they can just be considered informal documentation.

Both formal and informal documentation have their uses. Informal documentation is great for creating reminders of important ideas, events, and reviews that employees can later examine.

They’re useful for employee reviews, especially if managers have notes to look back on and gauge employee growth. Formal documents are usually used for more official purposes, like documenting specific processes within a company or creating a record for an employee.

How to Properly Maintain Employee Documentation

Keeping documentation is a good start, but making sure it’s properly maintained and done correctly is key to making your documentation a real tool for your workplace.

Unfortunately, documentation that isn’t done properly can cause issues later down the line or even prove to be useless.

One of the main responsibilities of an HR department is to keep clear, streamlined, and accurate records of employees, so appropriate documentation is important.

When it comes to documenting the employees at a company, there are a few guidelines and systems you need to follow. We’re going to give you a few tips to help you make sure you’re keeping accurate and proper documentation:

  • Document employee files. It’s important to keep certain documents on hand for all employees, like resumes, job applications, employment eligibility, disciplinary reports, performance reports, leave of absence letters, and emergency contacts.

    Keeping basic documents like these can help you in the long run if you ever need to refer back to them for future hiring decisions or employment history.

  • Provide performance expectations. Often HR departments will need to document any issues with employee performance, but a key part of this is providing the performance expectations in the first place.

    You need to document what’s expected of the employee before you can document any issues with their performance, so make sure you communicate performance requirements as soon as possible.

  • Contextualize events. One of the best things you can do when creating documents is to contextualize what you’re documenting.

    Not everyone who reads the report will have the same knowledge as you or the people involved, so make sure you give some background on what you’re describing. List all of the people involved, any relevant events, and over-explain to be safe.

  • Don’t discriminate. This should be obvious, but it’s always good to be reminded to leave discriminatory statements out of records. Don’t make assumptions about employees or leave discriminatory statements in records.

    For example, you don’t want to create a report about a sexual misconduct or sexual harassment case and note the sexual orientations of the employees involved.

  • Document after an employee leaves. Even if an employee leaves your company, you should keep their records on hand and document their exit.

    Compile things like remaining paycheck info, resignation or termination letter, and exit interview in case issues come up in the future.

  • Aim for consistency. It can be hard to make every report the same, but try to be as consistent as possible. That includes things like facts you choose to include, the language you use, and how you talk about the employees in question.

    Being consistent is a key part of accurate reporting.

  • Keep reports factual. Sometimes coworker or manager complaints, negative employee reviews, or other reports come up, and you need to document them. In these cases, it’s important only to record the facts and try to keep emotions or perceptions out of the official documents.

    This applies to both negative and positive events that are recorded. Keeping reports factual can help for later reference or when creating disciplinary reports.

  • Create plans. If you talk to an employee about performance, you should have a plan to help them improve in place.

    In these cases, it can show that actions were taken to help an employee create a path for success and give the employee the opportunity and support to succeed.

  • Stay honest. In a role like this, where you’re responsible for documenting workplace events, it’s important that you stay honest and unbiased.

    Keep your reports as honest and factual as possible. Try not to stretch the truth or make guesses at why an employee is behaving in a certain way.

  • Reread your records. Before submitting a formal document, take a moment to reread it and make sure you followed the appropriate format, used clear language, and followed these tips.

    Taking a second to edit your work will help you catch any errors and give you a chance to make sure you followed proper protocol.

Uses of Documentation

Since there are many types of documentation, like formal and informal, there are lots of different ways official records can be used. Knowing the purpose of the document you’re writing can help you contextualize it and include all of the relevant information. Here are a few ways that official documentation can be used in the workplace:

  • Record of employee performance

  • Record of disciplinary actions taken

  • Document company policies

  • Document company procedures

  • Document work instructions

  • Records for HR use

Documentation FAQ

  1. What are the 3 rules of documentation?

  2. The 3 rules of documentation are immediate, accurate, and agreed upon. Documentation should occur immediately to ensure accurate record keeping.

    The documentation needs to be accurate so that it can be used as a trusted resource. This trust is apart of the agreement all parties in the documentation should have regarding the documents in question.

  3. What are types of documentation?

  4. Documentation can be broken into two categories: formal and informal. Formal documentation is standardized, while informal is not. Formal documentation includes financial records, employee reviews, contracts, and regulations. Informal documentation includes emails, meeting notes, sings, and memos.

  5. Is documentation necessary?

  6. Yes, documentation is necessary. Documentation acts as a resource on which to make informed decisions. Without documentation, businesses would not be able to use the past information to improve their future.

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating / 5. Vote count:

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

Articles In Life At Work Guide
Never miss an opportunity that’s right for you.


Amanda Covaleski

Amanda is a writer with experience in various industries, including travel, real estate, and career advice. After taking on internships and entry-level jobs, she is familiar with the job search process and landing that crucial first job. Included in her experience is work at an employer/intern matching startup where she marketed an intern database to employers and supported college interns looking for work experience.

Related posts