Why you don’t read your own employee handbook (and what you can do about it)

I bet you have never read your own employee handbook completely. Many haven’t and I totally understand. Most employee handbooks are boring. They are not really handbooks. They are a set of rules put together and start off with a boiler plate “hello, thank you for working for us” story of the owner of the company. It has nothing to do with handbook. A handbook should explain the culture, on how the people in the organization work together, but often times the handbook only tells you how not to do things.

Tim Gould has a great blog post about why you can live without an employee handbook on the HR Morning website. I can only totally agree with him. Most of the organizations have a handbook, because it is a good thing to have. Yes I agree it is a good thing to have, but only when you work hard to make it a good thing. But how do you that?

Let’s start at the beginning. What is the reason you would like to have a handbook? Is it for the employee that knows exactly what to do, have a great attitude, and performs above his peers? Not really. When we ask employers why they need one, they generally say: “It is all about the employee that doesn’t get it”. So they would like to have is a document that you can show the rest of the world, this is what he did and here on page 49 it is stated that this is not allowed. But why do you want to do that? Just to save yourself some backs on unemployment taxes? Preventing a huge lawsuit, because this former employee claims you fired him because of one of the many protected reasons?

I am sure by reading this you get already a little angry. You know exactly what we are talking about. But what if you can prevent this situation all together? Look at the definition of culture:

When you look at many of the issues that exist with employees they just don’t fit the culture. There is nothing wrong with their skill-set, but it is about their understanding of your (organizational) culture.

Not surprising, your organizational culture is close to the culture you grew up in, the way you want to live with people. This might not be true for your employees and it is now the role of the organization to share those shared values and what is a better place then to do this in an employee handbook? I hear you thinking, that handbook that is covered under a layer of dust? Well, think about why it is  under all of  the dust. When you write an employee handbook, that supports employees to understand the culture and support you in court, it will meet our four standards.

  • Fits with your organizational communication style
  • Covers your business challenge
  • List companies unique benefits
  • Labor attorney reviewed 

Most employee handbooks are boiler plates, either provided by their labor attorney (who is not an expert in social interactions), their CPA or a traditional HR Firm. All are trained to see HR as a transitional department, not as an area of an organization that supports the organizational goal. They might cover the last point, maybe the second, but often times not the number one, fit with your organizational communication style or the unique benefits of your organization. It is not something that fits with your culture and is not an interesting read. If you would like to understand how to write an employee handbook so it matches all four standards, request our free white paper here:


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