Difference Between Guideline and Policy

Edited by Diffzy | Updated on: April 30, 2023


Difference Between Guideline and Policy

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If you’re reading this article, chances are good that you’re either an employer or an employee, and either way, you’ve probably heard the terms guideline and policy used in a work-related context. But what are they, exactly? And how do they differ from one another? This post will help you figure out what the difference between guidelines and policies is.

A Guideline is something that directs, informs, or recommends actions or practices. Whereas, A policy is written down (It can be a guideline) that guides decision making and details how tasks should be carried out. An organization may have many policies but only one guideline. Policies are used to guide people’s behavior in organizations whereas guidelines are intended to help people make appropriate decisions for themselves on a day-to-day basis. It is not uncommon for an organization to establish policies without ever establishing any guidelines. This lack of distinction between them can lead to confusion among employees who do not understand whether they are expected to follow established procedures, memorize specific rules, follow their own best judgment o,r do some combination of these things. They also run into trouble when trying to reconcile contradictory statements about what an employee should do in a given situation. To avoid such confusion organizations must define clearly both their policies and their guidelines so everyone knows what they need to know when faced with an issue or situation requiring guidance from management.

Guidelines give us general information while policies give us direction on a particular matter. We can draw more information from guidelines as compared to policies because we get it more frequently than policies, especially when we use computers or other technology at work. Guidelines are flexible documents; therefore, if there is a change in the organizational environment or if new methods and tools emerge then those changes can be easily reflected in those documents, unlike policies where changes cannot be made easily. For example, a company might have a policy in place around employee benefits or time off requests while another company might just use their internal guidelines instead of making those practices official company-wide rules.

Guideline vs. Policy

If you’re like most people, then you aren’t exactly sure what separates a policy from a guideline. After all, they both seem to be related to rules that an organization or company follows. There are subtle differences between these two things, but they are often used interchangeably in conversation and frequently provide us with similar information when we need it. However, there is quite a bit of overlap between policies and guidelines. Let’s take a look at some ways that companies can use each tool for management purposes. We will also highlight a few key points that separate them from one another. With a little more knowledge about their uses, you might find yourself using them more effectively than ever before! You never know until you try! Get Started Today!

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Difference Between Guideline and Policy in Tabular Form

Basic Guideline Policy
Define A guideline is a rule or recommendation regarding what to do, often used when more than one option is possible A policy is a rule or regulation that is officially adopted, usually by an organization or government agency
Statement General            Specific
Rigidity            Not Rigid        Highly Rigid
Source Rules and Procedures Actions, Regulations, and Objective
Represents            Can be Broken and violated Cannot be Broken
Objective            Put things in order            Sets the value in a company

What is Guideline?

A guideline is a rule or recommendation regarding what to do, often used when more than one option is possible. For example, if you want to learn about how to improve your child’s social skills, you might look for a parenting guide that offers guidelines on how parents can encourage children’s social skills. A guideline may be based on principles that aren’t mandatory but serve as suggestions for what works well in most situations. In contrast, policies are obligatory rules, regulations, and requirements.

They are generally developed by experts or someone in authority; in many cases, policies are made to provide order for large groups of people working together toward common goals. Policies tend to be unwavering rules that must be followed rather than optional recommendations or advice. The lines between these two terms can sometimes blur, however. A policy can be described as a guideline if it has become so entrenched in an organization that it is seen as a standard practice or requirement instead of something that can be altered at will.

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Types of Guideline

Guidelines are voluntary recommendations. While they're useful, policies are legally enforceable. For example, you might work for an organization that has a guideline saying employees should wear professional business attire to work, but employees aren't required to abide by it. If you don't want to dress up, nobody will stop you from coming to work in your gym clothes. On the other hand, if your company had an official policy about wearing business attire in most situations, you would be forced to obey it or face disciplinary action or termination.

Another distinction is that guidelines often deal with administrative or procedural issues whereas policies tend to address larger topics like safety or ethics. (In some cases, though, one may cover both.) Policies also tend to have much more weight behind them—for instance, when one comes down from senior management. Because of their weightier nature and tendency to require people to do things rather than just recommend them, policies usually carry more serious consequences than guidelineAnyany policy violation can lead to punishment under employment law (up to and including firing). Even violating a guideline could result in serious consequences; however (unless there was an agreement between parties stating otherwise), courts typically won't hold employers liable for enforcing these kinds of agreements since they aren't legal contracts between employer and employee.

What is Policy?

A policy is a rule or regulation that is officially adopted, usually by an organization or government agency. Organizational policies are meant to enforce rules within companies and provide employees with guidelines for acceptable behavior within their respective industries. For example, most businesses have written policies regarding dress code, absenteeism, proper conduct in meetings, and professional correspondence standards. Each industry has its unique organizational policies depending on its specific needs.

Corporate policy manuals are often used to dictate the actions of every department in an organization; such as Human Resources (HR), Marketing, Sales & Advertising, Operations/Logistics/Supply Chain Management (ILSM), Information Technology (IT), and more. Some organizations have so many policies that they create separate handbooks just for each one. However, most organizations opt to keep them all together in one location, known as a policy manual. Examples of some common business policies include those regarding harassment and discrimination, sexual harassment training requirements, ethics and compliance issues, whistle-blowing procedures, and conflict resolution methods.

Types of Policy

There are many different types of policy. However, in general, policies set forth organizational rules that affect members of an organization. For example, if an organization has a no smoking policy, then it means that members of that organization are not allowed to smoke on work property. Organizational policies may include personnel policies, such as disciplinary action for violation of rules; financial or budgetary policies; or benefits packages. In short, organizational policies have wide-ranging effects on members within an organization.

A good way to think about policies is as guiding principles for how members should act within an organization. The guidelines set forth by these policies typically outline consequences for breaking these rules and can vary depending on each organization’s needs. It is important to note that policies are not meant to be broken, while guidelines are meant more as suggestions.

The Main Difference Between Guideline and Policy in Points

  • A policy is an organized course of action designed to achieve an organizational objective. A guideline, on the other hand, does not have that same level of weight behind it.
  • It’s more like a recommendation. And one important thing to note about policies is that they’re often adopted by organizations as standard operating procedures (SOPs) so they have some legal binding associated with them—but guidelines don’t have that same weight of law behind them. This means you may be able to get away with less when it comes to guidelines than you can with policies but what makes any policy worth following is its ability to make things more consistent for your organization.
  • That being said, there are many similarities between guidelines and policies: both are recommendations from the management; both should be based on research; both should be communicated clearly, and both should be easy to understand.
  • The main difference between a guideline and a policy is that a policy has more weight behind it. Policies are usually made into SOPs because they’re necessary for day-to-day operations. Guidelines, on the other hand, tend to be more flexible and aren’t necessarily required for daily business practices.
  • In general though, if something isn't going to change or alter how you do business then using a guideline instead of a policy is probably fine—as long as everyone knows what those guidelines mean!
  • In an organization like the public sector, Corporate sector, education, and government sectors where standard procedures are followed, it is of utmost importance to understand what exactly a guideline is.
  • A Guideline should be clear about everything that comes under its ambit but also needs to state clearly which things must be followed by everyone. Any deviation from these norms will not be acceptable.
  • This shows that guidelines are mandatory whereas policies can be modified in light of available resources, changes in laws, etc but only after proper consultation with the authorities who set them up.
  • On the other hand, policy makers have more power than a guideline writer or anyone else for that matter. They are free to modify or amend any policy as they see fit. The only condition is that they should consult all stakeholders before making any changes to existing policies.
  • A policy maker has more freedom and authority than someone who writes guidelines because they can make changes as per their convenience without consulting anyone else while writing a guideline needs approval from senior management or higher authorities before publishing it on the website/ intranet etc.
  • Policy writers do not have much power since their job involves creating documents that guide employees so that they know how to perform their duties properly while keeping organizational goals in mind.


It is a mistake to think that only companies have policies and guidelines. Even school systems have to have some sort of policy for every student, teacher, or staff member. No matter where you work or go to school, there are going to be policies that you need to adhere to at all times. Without these policies, chaos would ensue as everything would be done on a case-by-case basis which would not be beneficial for anyone involved. Make sure you know how different situations can play out so that everyone gets what they need from any given situation.



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"Difference Between Guideline and Policy." Diffzy.com, 2024. Sat. 18 May. 2024. <https://www.diffzy.com/article/difference-between-guideline-and-policy-390>.

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