An employee handbook is an essential guide for your company’s employees. A more sophisticated explanation is given by the Memphis Business Journal, which states, “A handbook is an essential tool for organizations to use in defining and communicating mutual expectations for the employment relationship.”
At the time of joining the organization, the handbook can play a vital role in familiarizing your employees with the company’s policies and its terms and conditions. Additional information such as dress codes, benefits, expectations, etc., are usually provided in the employee handbook to help the employee understand the nature of the company.
It is often mistakenly assumed that small businesses or startups don’t need employee handbooks, instead, it’s understood that the focus is just on work and not on employee development. But what would you do if there were any cases of harassment or violations of company policy - all for which you have no defined rules, no disciplinary actions or no code of conduct defined? This lacking in defined rules and codes of conducts can cripple your business leading you into a legal mess. You can avoid negative confrontations and unfriendly waters by simply creating an effective employee handbook. So how do you set about doing that? Here are some tips to help you out.
Get a Legal Expert to Work With You
If you’re running a business, you surely must have legal support. So anytime you decide to create an employee handbook, run it by your legal team. Better yet, if you have the budget, ask your legal team to create the handbook for you covering essentials such as benefit policies, leave policies, bonuses, performance merits, salary raises, termination, etc. This is where you will run all the conditions in the handbook by the legal counselor and ensure that your conditions do not violate employee rights law and that they are up-to-date with labor laws. A mistake in your policy could lead to a lawsuit and could affect your business on the whole.
Decide on the Table of Contents and Information Categorization
What are the core areas you are looking to cover in the handbook? What is your prioritization of them? Categorize the information you want to state in your handbook and divided the information into priority categories likewise. Handbooks usually start with the company’s introduction, its motives and visions and its ambitions, followed by expectations from employees and the necessary code of conduct. Towards the later half, you can discuss leave policies, benefits, bonus percentages, etc. Finally, you can end the book with a company quote or any other motivational message you deem suitable.
Important Must-Have Content
While employee handbooks may differ from company to company, there are core policies such as confidential contracts, anti-discrimination, sexual harassment, etc., which should be covered by all handbooks. Here’s a list of must-have content in your handbook. The Small Business Association has provided a list of pointers given below that should be part of your handbook.
- Non-disclosure agreements and confidential contracts
- Anti-Discrimination Policies
- Sexual Harassment
- Work Schedules
- Standards of Conduct
- Safety and Security
- Employee Benefits
- Leave Policies
Missing out on any of these core topics could land you in a tough spot especially when you will have to deal with complicated situations that can arise from the lack of defined rules. For example, women in your organization may face sexual harassment if there are no clear rules mentioned to tackle the problem.
Avoid Redundancy and Keep Information Clear
Make sure the information stated throughout the employee handbook is clear and does not have redundancy. To achieve this, keep your written words precise and language simple, as being needlessly wordy could lead to confusion and unclear objectives. The best instructions are clear and directive instead of vague and wordy and if you require employees to read up on extra legal proceedings, then attach a reference or a link (if the handbook is a pdf). Also, encourage your employees to read the fine print. Don’t try to cramp heavy legal information into the handbook for it will prevent the reader from actually reading what matters.
Reduce the Corporate Jargon
An employee handbook doesn’t have to be written in corporate jargon - keep the language simple and the tone friendly. Filling it with legal and corporate jargon will not be a guarantee to settle any dispute with your employees because frankly anyone would be intimidated by a technical or legal document. Write for your employees’ understanding since the purpose of the handbook is to communicate information and not to reiterate legal policies.
Evaluate Your Handbook Annually
As your business grows, your organization may have changes in policies and work processes which need to be mentioned in the handbook. Therefore, make it an official practice to review your handbook annually and ensure that the right information is incorporated, after a legal review. Most organizations fail to update their handbook and before they know it, they are caught in an unpleasant situation that could have easily been prevented had policies been updated.
Avoid Turning the Handbook into a School Rulebook
Now you may love discipline and may want your employees to follow strict rules in terms of dress codes or corporate mannerisms, but turning your handbook into a school rulebook is definitely not a good idea. If your handbook contains basic rules such as, “no mobile phones during meeting hours,” or, “no office gossip,” etc., you’re actually intimidating employees even if the rules make sense. Some things are not meant to be written in words, rather observed, experienced or talked about. The last thing you want is your newly hired talent to feel intimidated and mistrustful of your organization. If your handbook is too lengthy, too directive and too authoritative, then you are already setting yourself up to be seen as a threatening boss or an unforgiving company. Keep it easy and use the handbook to give basic information about your expectations rather than using it as a disciplinary guide.
Give it a Good Visual
Now you might not want to invest much in designing a handbook, but in the long run, it will play a fundamental role in connecting your employee with your organization. A well-designed handbook encourages employees to actually read the handbook and help them embrace the company culture. Add in pictures of your organization, your past and current employees, their quotes and their experiences to give more organizational value to your handbook. Sometimes, marketing to your employees brings about surprising results!
Present it Creatively
Employee handbooks are usually dry, stiff, and boring, which is why most employees feel far from motivated to give it a read. So, if you really want your employees to go through this valuable information, you need to present it creatively instead of merely attaching a PDF. Make it part of an employee orientation and welcoming gift or as an interactive online survey where their participation also means their attention to the information.
Hire a Professional Writer
If you don’t have the time or the expertise to write an employee handbook, then hiring a professional writer with an HR background or experience in writing employee handbooks may be a good idea. You do need to, however, work closely with the writer to ensure that the information is not too generic and that it represents an accurate picture of your organization.