Every business needs an employee handbook. Companies often use handbooks to familiarise new employees with the company’s mission, values, and policies, but they are also useful for existing team members.
Why do you need one? Businesses need an employee handbook to:
- Communicate to employees what the company expects of them.
- Share with employees what they can expect from management.
- Outline key company policies.
- Help employees in distress.
- Ensure compliance with the law.
- Defend against potential employee claims.
Read on to learn nine important best practice tips.
Engage your team in the process
The employee handbook needs to be useful to everyone at the company. Everyone should have a hand in its creation. A manager will have a different perspective to a junior employee. A new employee will have a different view to a long-serving team member.
Don’t try to create the handbook by yourself. Instead, put together a team from across the organisation to work on the project. Ask everyone to suggest things that should go into the handbook. Use a dedicated email address, an online survey, or a suggestion box in the office.
People are more likely to buy into the guidelines laid out in the handbook if they have a hand in their creation. Your existing team members understand what information new employees will need.
Once you’ve finished writing your handbook, ask all employees to read it. Include a page at the back where they can sign to acknowledge they have read the policies and will abide by them. Detach the signed page and keep it in each employee’s personnel file.
Ensure the handbook tone is consistent with your brand voice
The language in your handbook should be consistent with your brand’s voice. This helps to embed brand voice and values at every stage of the employee journey. According to Clutch, employees that internalise their company’s brand are more likely to meet their goals.
I’ll give you an example. Let’s imagine your brand voice is an informal one, and you fill your employee handbook with humour and slang. When your employees interact with customers, they will mirror this tone.
This means the customer experience is in line with your vision. If you write your handbook in a formal corporate tone, it will feel jarring. This will make employees feel disconnected from your brand voice.
I saw a great example from Sterling Mining Co. The handbook features an amusing picture of a dog wrapped in a blanket, overlaid with text bubbles. The text reads:
“What do people wear?”
“We’re super casual. Jeans, tshirts, running shoes are the most common. Sometimes people wear blazers if they are feeling fancy”.
This indicates a laid-back and irreverent culture.
The right handbook helps to embed your brand identity. And a consistent, strong voice is crucial to effective marketing.
Detail the onboarding process
The employee handbook should help new employees adjust to their working environment. Onboarding should be a comprehensive process that lasts far beyond the first day. Good onboarding makes the new employee feel welcome and confident.
This way, they’ll be able to dive into their work and start being productive from their first week. In the years I’ve been running my agency, I’ve learned that onboarding is critical. It can make or break an employee’s relationship with the company.
Thus, your onboarding process needs to be as thorough as possible. You can include a checklist in the handbook of things the new employee should know by the end of the process. Consider the following:
- Who do they report to, and who is in their team?
- What tools and software will they need to do their work?
- How does their team communicate?
- Is their email account activated? What about any other IT requirements?
- Do they have to log their hours, and if so what system do you use?
- What is their first assignment?
- Is there any required reading or training?
Make sure you include specific steps that managers need to follow, too. This will ensure consistency in the onboarding of new hires. Your process must be strategic, standardised, and consistent. If it is, you can expect better employee engagement, performance, and retention. This will lead to better results for your business.
Cover potential employee development paths and the business development plan
Your employee handbook should include routes to career development. It should tell employees about the availability of promotions and further training. You should outline how you make these decisions. What is the scope for advancement within the company?
This information ensures consistency in decision making on things like raises and promotions. It also shows your employees that the company values their future. A clear development path helps to keep your best employees and attract great talent.
This also enables transparency. Is there room for growth in a particular role? If not, you want to hire someone who will be happy to stay put for some time, not someone who is keen to advance quickly.
It’s also vital that employees are aware of your business development plan. The business development plan covers the company’s core goals and how it plans to achieve them. It might include things like:
- Expanding into a new market
- Beginning a recruitment drive
- Opening a new premises or department
- Launching a flagship product.
Include a clear future roadmap for both the business and employees. This will assure your employees that you know exactly where you’re heading. If they understand your plans and ambitions, they will be more invested in them.
Be aware of your legal obligations
Your employee handbook should help develop a great company culture. These could cover everything from a smoking ban to anti-harassment policies. Your aim is to make your business a vibrant, diverse, safe, and enjoyable place to work. Your rules should reflect this goal.
The exact policies will vary from one company to the other. Some will be legal requirements. In the UK, the Equalities Act 2010 suggests that all companies have an equal opportunities policy. This means the company will protect all applicants and employees from discrimination. You have both a legal and moral obligation to treat employees equally.
If you’re not familiar with the legal requirements, ask your HR department or a lawyer.
Keep policies flexible
It’s best to keep your company policies as flexible as possible. General policies are better than highly specific ones. It’s impossible to include every single situation that will ever arise. Your best bet is to provide general guidelines and then make decisions on a case-by-case basis.
In other words, most rules and policies should be about the spirit rather than the letter. What is the purpose of a rule? Make sure you understand that before you include it.
This system of flexibility also empowers your managers and employees to exercise judgment. They can then make the best decisions, without feeling micromanaged. As long as you hire people you trust, there should be few problems.
Explain the escalation process in detail
The escalation process is what happens when a serious problem arises. You might also call it a disciplinary procedure. If an employee violates your company policies, how will you handle it?
A robust escalation process tells your employees what you’ll do if their conduct is a problem. It also ensures that they know their rights and how they can expect you to treat them in the event of a serious issue.
Your escalation process can also protect the company. If an employee sues you for wrongful dismissal, you can turn to the employee handbook. It should show exactly how you arrived at the decision to let them go. You must keep detailed written records of any disciplinary procedures.
This process usually comprises at least the four steps shown above. Some companies might include extra measures such as a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP). There are circumstances where you’ll need to let someone go immediately. But this should only be the case when their behaviour amounts to gross misconduct.
A robust escalation procedure allows employees the opportunity to correct problematic behaviour. It also lays out a specific process for managers to follow.
Review and update the employee handbook regularly
Reviewing and updating your employee handbook is a must. Times change, laws and industry regulations change. New issues can arise which demand a change in policy. You might need to add, remove, or change certain policies as your company grows and your team expands. Your handbook cannot be a static document, because you cannot predict the future.
Choose a frequency of handbook review that makes sense for your company. Once or twice a year will suit most companies. Diarise the handbook review and make sure it happens. Once you’ve reviewed the handbook, send an email to all employees. Ask them to review the changes and ensure they understand them.
If you’re still asking, “do I need an employee handbook?” then the answer is yes! Everyone in your team needs a one-stop portal for all the relevant information.
Employee handbooks outline the rules of your company. They let employees and managers know what to expect and how to behave. They can also help to build the kind of culture you want to see in your business.
Your handbook must be well-written, accessible, and as comprehensive as possible. The handbook must not be one-sided. It should balance the interests of both the employee and the company. In other words, it’s not a document designed to dictate to your employees. Its purpose is to make your workplace positive for everyone.
With an effective handbook, you help ensure the smooth running of your company. You can also head off many problems before they arise. Protecting your employees will improve their morale and productivity. Your employees are at the heart of your business – if you look after them well, you’ll reap the rewards.
About the Author
Matt Diggity is a search engine optimisation expert focused on affiliate marketing, client ranking, lead generation, and SEO services. He is the founder and CEO of Diggity Marketing, The Search Initiative, Authority Builders, LeadSpring LLC, and host of the Chiang Mai SEO Conference.