Does your business have an employee handbook? If you answered no, you are in very good company. The majority of small and midsized businesses fail to produce employee handbooks (also known as employee manuals) because they believe they don’t have enough employees to warrant creating one. However, whether a business has five, 50 or 500 employees it is a great tool to set expectations and communicate everything from the dress code to employee benefits to conduct policy.
An employee handbook can be an important human resources document with business rules, policies, and legal requirements. It can also showcase your company as a great place to work and help build a positive culture and inspire employee loyalty. The manual can also motivate employees to work hard and encourage them to contribute to the success and growth of the business.
An employee handbook offers the following benefits for your business:
- Protects business from sexual harassment, discrimination, and wrongful termination lawsuits.
- Promotes a positive, productive and safe work environment by presenting policies and regulatory requirements.
- Highlights benefits including health insurance, retirement plans, paid time off and disability insurance.
- Shortens the onboarding process and provides employees with a reference guide for when questions arise.
- Establish accountability and transparency by demonstrating all employees are treated equally.
- Defines expectations and sets a positive tone for new employees
Creating a handbook can seem like a daunting task. You may be overwhelmed by deciding what needs to be included. However, the right tools, resources, and guidelines can streamline the process and help you make the handbook an effective and useful document. Read on to find out how a handbook can reflect your business culture and values, and also motivate employees to work hard and help achieve business goals.
Create a Handbook Your Employees Will Read
Your employee handbook provides a roadmap for your employees to navigate your business culture. While it conveys critical messages to influence employee behavior, the handbook needs to resonate with the employee and encourage them to read and use the document. The handbook is more than a list of policies and procedures, it’s an opportunity to tell your business story in an appealing and approachable way.
Employees will interact with the document regularly so it needs to be eye-catching, easy to navigate and enjoyable to read. While the handbook is never going to be as exciting as a bestselling novel, there are strategies you can use to help employees quickly understand what’s expected of them.
Write in a Casual Voice and Keep it Simple
- Use a conversational tone as if speaking directly to the employees.
- Replace “management” or “company” with “we” and “us”.
- Keep paragraphs short – only a few sentences long.
- Remove technical and legal jargon and replace with clear, concise language.
- Use bullet points and subheadings to break up the text.
- Name the handbook something more appealing. Some examples include: “Rules of the Road”, “Your Guide to Surviving at XX Company”, “Playbook”, “Culture Code”. Think of a captivating title, which will help employees forget they are reading policies.
- Keep the tone uplifting, fun and light and use humor as appropriate. Pop culture references, memes, amusing quotes, and anecdotes can help amplify your message.
- Recruit employees to provide input and contribute to the handbook.
- Use examples to illustrate policies and rules.
- Create a narrative using color, photos, videos, and graphics to help employees visualize themselves as part of the business’s story.
- Be creative and imaginative. Some companies use interactivity and animation to make reading the handbook more appealing. Others get creative with the layout. Several companies have designed the handbook as a comic book while a restaurant could be set up like a menu.
Make it Engaging
Promote the Perks
Most of the handbook features what you need from the employees. By showcasing the benefits and perks you offer, you can show employees you value their contributions and want to invest in their well-being. In addition to sharing benefits such as health insurance, 401k plans and paid time off, other perks to highlight include:
- Training and tuition reimbursements
- Time off to volunteer
- Flexible work arrangements
- Employee assistance programs
- Employee appreciation and awards
- Employee discount program
- Free coffee
Present Your Handbook
Don’t just distribute the handbook. Demonstrate the importance of the handbook by being creative in showcasing it to employees. Things to consider:
- Publish it in a format every employee can easily access such as corporate intranet site or sending by email.
- Ensure it’s available in a mobile format that employees can access when they aren’t at work.
- Digitizing the handbook is easier to revise and update than printing a hard copy document and more environmentally-friendly.
- Plan an annual event to introduce the handbook to emphasize its importance.
- Promote in a fun and light-hearted way. Create interactive surveys and quizzes and offer prizes to employees who complete the survey or answer quiz questions correctly.
What needs to be in the handbook?
- Hiring and screening policies – explain terms of employment, define “at-will” status and grounds for termination. Include employment screening requirements, who is subject to them and when screenings need to be conducted.
- Payment schedule – tell employees how and when you will pay them. Also, include requirements for overtime pay.
- Employee classification – clarify how employees are classified (full-time, part-time, temporary, contract, on-call).
- Meal and breaks – tell them the time allotted for meals and breaks.
- PTO policy – includes vacation, sick, bereavement, jury duty, holidays and any other day employees can be out of the office but will be paid.
- Benefits – provide eligibility requirements for benefits such as health insurance, retirement plans.
- Performance reviews – detail the process for reviewing employee performance – when reviews occur, how the reviews are conducted, etc.
- Safety and security – explain safety regulations and security guidelines employees must follow to ensure a safe work environment. Include access restrictions, signing in guests and keeping confidential information stored securely.
- Resignation and termination – outline the steps to be taken when an employee wants to resign from the company (how much notice, verbal or written). Also, describe the grounds for discipline and termination of employment.
- Disclaimers – state the handbook does not represent an employment contract and the policies can be revised or terminated anytime.
- Acknowledgment of receipt – require employees to acknowledge they received and read the handbook, and they agree to abide by policies in the document.
How do I preserve the company’s culture?
- Company overview – provide a short statement on the history, goals, and culture of your business.
- Dress code – clarify appropriate workplace attire (business, business casual, casual) so employees know how they need to dress for work.
- Drug and alcohol policy – explain actions to be taken if the employee is found to be using drugs or alcohol in the office. Define when alcohol may be used on premises (ie. a business event, at management discretion).
- Ethics policies – provide the code of conduct employees must follow and implications for not following.
- Personal technology usage – detail the restrictions on employees using company technology for personal use.
- Social media policy – provide employees with guidelines on using social media for work purposes and what information they are allowed to include about their jobs and the company on social media.
- Data and customer privacy – describe the rules employees must follow to ensure confidential customer data is secure and cannot be accessed by unauthorized employees.
- Accepting gifts – detail rules around accepting gifts from clients.
- Conflict resolution – clarify the process to be followed if conflicts occur between employees or managers.
Check and Double Check
The handbook is not a legal document but it does contain important policies and legal requirements. To ensure the handbook complies with laws and regulations, ensure you consult an HR professional as well as an attorney to ensure the information in the handbook is accurately described and meet local and federal laws.
In addition to an HR and legal reviews, ensure you have the document reviewed by other people in your business. Ask at least one employee and one manager to review and report back on if the document in clear and easy-to-understand. Also, ask someone to proofread for any grammatical errors.
Keep it Up-To-Date
The handbook is a living document and will need to be updated and revised as laws and policies change. Set a formal schedule to review the document annually, semi-annually or monthly and make any revisions.
An employee handbook or manual is a booklet that provides information and guidance to employees regarding your business practices, policies, and procedures. A good handbook is a valuable resource for employers and employees and an important tool for creating a strong relationship between you and your employees.
Haku Kapule is a contributing editor at 365 Business Tips, a new blog that prides itself on presenting the best advice and practices for small and medium sized businesses everywhere. He’s passionate about finding and offering useful tips to small business owners. He is an expert in digital PR and marketing strategy and has assisted with the increase of digital presence and customer support for small and large companies alike.