How long’s it been since you reviewed your employee handbook? How effective is an employee handbook that you don’t use?
When employee handbooks are correctly developed and implemented they can actually serve as a handbook for both the company and the employees. Unfortunately often times the handbook is not crafted in the right way and become a dust collector. How effective is a book that is only being used, on the first day of your new hire? An employee handbook should be a book that explains everything about the culture of the organization; it is part a guide book, part a legacy. When employees understand your culture they better understand how they should behave. And isn’t prevention the best way to eliminate any problems?
The question remains, how can you make sure that your employee handbook provides a good explanation of the organizational culture, explains the benefits to the employees and the expectation that the organization has towards employees while at the same time will held up in court or against the unemployment board? When we develop handbooks for our clients we focus on four areas that will make the employee handbook an attractive and used guideline for all in the organization.
1. Fits with your organizational communication style
Employees tend to trust information that is given to them in a consistent way. When you communicate informally with them, then your handbook should be written in an informal style. Creating an informal style can be done by avoiding jargon and by writing in the second person, instead of the third person.
Think about it, you get a personal relation with a message when it applies to you, when it applies to they it is much harder to feel that you have to follow that rule. You can avoid text that is written to them. It is psychology 101.
In the employee handbook you explain your organizational culture. When you look at the definition of culture you will understand why you can explain what you expect and can leave out what you don’t expect. ( the definition of Culture is shared beliefs and values of group: the beliefs, customs, practices, and social behavior of a particular nation or people). What can be common sense for you might not be for your employees. If they have be around people from other cultures (which is life style, social environment, earnings and even country/state cultures), they might not understand that for example showing up 10 minutes late is not OK.
Most handbooks are written in a stick approach, if you do this wrong then we will do this. Why don’t you turn it around and write what you would like to see. People are much more likely to follow what you would like to see.
You will understand that when you understand this point, that we don’t have to make a point about the boilerplate handbooks that you can download, buy or get from places that don’t write your handbook as an art.
2. Covers your business challenges
Every business is a community on its own, with its own challenges. Take a look at your challenges and focus on those. If you work in an environment where it is normal that employees go without a shirt in the summer, and you feel that is not appropriate when clients are around, then explain that you would like to see that everyone wears a shirt. But don’t write a detailed dress code, when everybody shows up in the appropriate clothing. Just write one sentence about how well the employees adjust to the different needs of their clients. Think about what kind of people you recruit and what you feel that you have to explain to employees over and over again.
Keep in mind that it is impossible to write a handbook that will cover any situation you will ever be in. When you try to cover everything, you probably will limit yourself and the company extremely and you will inevitably break your own rules. And when you start breaking your own rules, you can answer the question how well that will look in front of judge when you explain that the rule that you want your employee is not following is written in that same handbook that you don’t follow yourself.
3. Own unique benefits
The great thing about being a small business is that you can develop your own benefits. Those benefits give your organization her character. Do you believe that everyone should take one week of vacation a year? Then provide one week paid vacation that employees should take as one week. Do you believe that employees who have finished a project before the deadline, should be awarded, then do so. Or are you a strong believer that people, who use a bicycle to go to work, should receive a special treatment? Then do so.
You can also think about encouraging employees to organize events outside work hours, or come up with cost saving ideas, or allow them to bring in their own computer or table. Anything that makes your organization stand out and not a cookie cutter company will support your overall company goal. Employees love to work for a company that is special and many research shows that those employees are more productive. Think about Google, Zappo’s and more local Dyn , Stonyfield and Northeast Delta Dental. They build their organization around their own identity and have been rewarded over and over again as best employer to work for.
4. Labor attorney reviewed
Attorneys are important to us. They have the experience with dealing with many agencies when things do go wrong. When we write our employee handbook we need to make sure that what we do, can stand the challenges of the law when things do not go well. But we should not solely rely on them when it comes to managing employee risks. They are legal experts, but attorneys are not experts when it comes to managing group dynamics.
In our organization we develop many handbooks and not one of them is considered being done, without a review by an attorney. Each company is different and with that each handbook is different (although the many employee handbook templates you see on the internet might indicate otherwise), and inevitable your legal exposure is different. Although we have a more than average understanding of the law, we don’t practice law like an attorney does. You want to be cautious to go solely to your attorney to write your handbook, as it will then not match your culture, and might not help to keep your employees happy. It is a combination. Also many websites offer now employee handbook templates, although the text itself is being reviewed by an attorney, it is not reviewed your specific situation. Some caution is warranted here! You cannot go without; you cannot use it as the only way.