5 tips to improve your employee handbook

Instead of collecting dust, it should be a tool that explains everything about the culture of the organization

How long has it been since you reviewed your employee handbook — or since your employees referenced it?

When employee handbooks are correctly developed and implemented, they can serve as a sourcebook for both the managers and employees. Unfortunately, employee handbooks often are not crafted in the right way, and as a result collect dust on a shelf.

A handbook should be a tool that explains everything about the culture of the organization. It is part guidebook, part legacy. When employees understand the culture of the organization, they better understand how they should act. Outlining clear expectations is the best way to eliminate problems.

How can you ensure that your employee handbook provides a good explanation of the organization’s culture outlines benefits and expectations and at the same time will hold up in court or against the unemployment board? Follow these five tips and the effectiveness of your handbook will improve.

1. The writing fits with your organization’s 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. It is easier to identify with a message when it is written directly for you.

Most handbooks are written in a stick approach — if you do this wrong, then we will do this. Instead, write what behavior you would like to see, explain your values. Employees are much more likely to abide by the positive suggestion.

2. The handbook covers your business challenges: Every business is a community in its own right, with its own challenges. Take a look at your specific challenges and focus on those. Keep in mind that it is impossible to write a handbook that will cover every situation or challenge. In trying to cover everything, you will most likely limit yourself and the company and inevitably break your own rules. When you start breaking your own rules, you can imagine how that will look when you explain that the rule your employee is not following is written in that same handbook that you don’t follow yourself.

3. List your company’s unique benefits: Each company can develop its own unique benefits package. These benefits give your organization its character. Benefits that are off the beaten path have a higher impact on your employee morale than standard packages that oftentimes have low utilization rates.

Employees love to work for a company that is special, and research shows that those employees are more productive. Think about Google, Zappos and, locally, Dyn and Northeast Delta Dental. These companies built their organizations around their unique identities and have been rewarded over and over again as best employers to work for.

4. Labor attorney-reviewed: Attorneys have experience in dealing with many agencies and are up to date on the latest court rulings. A handbook should not be considered complete without a review by an attorney. On the other hand, attorneys may not be specialists in developing high-performance workforces. Attorneys should be part of the process, but not the only resource you use. As each company is different, each handbook is different and inevitably your legal exposure is different. Make sure that your handbook (not the template the HR consultant is working with) is reviewed by legal counsel.

5. Up-to-date: Every month, there is a court ruling that impacts how we can work with employees. Among current hot topics are restrictions on social media and the use of GPS tracking software. Over time, your company culture changes as new generations enter the workforce. An employee handbook should be updated regularly to matches the changes in legislation and the culture of your organization.

When keeping these five tips in mind, I am sure that your handbook will support your company’s objectives.

Mirjam IJtsma is president of Manchester-based Cultural Chemistry LLC, a boutique human resources firm. She can be reached at mirjam.ijtsma@culturalchemistry.com.

Categories: Business Advice, Workplace Advice