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Six Tips for Creating an Employee Handbook for the First Time

November 23, 2019

So you’re writing your first employee handbook. Good – creating a comprehensive collection of policies and procedures may improve efficiency and reduce your liability if something goes wrong. A thoughtfully-written handbook gives you something to point to when employees have questions or object to disciplinary action taken against them. Distributing a handbook makes quick work of clarifying your expectations for your workforce, and that’s in everyone’s best interest. But creating an employee handbook from scratch isn’t a quick or foolproof project. Keep these tips in mind, to create a handbook that employees will actually read. 

  1. Remember That It’s For Real People

Ideally, your handbook will be packed with truly useful information that you want your employees to have. They’ll only get that information if they’re willing to read the entire handbook, and if it’s written in an accessible way. Filling the pages with legal lingo or packing the book with dozens of chapters won’t help you accomplish your goals. Be mindful of not going too far in the other direction by using a jokey tone or glossing over important subjects. The handbook should give readers an idea of your company culture, but it doesn’t have to be a super entertaining read.

Use simple, conversational language when possible. You might want to ask yourself, as each section is finished: What do I need to communicate about this topic? Could an average employee understand this information the way I’ve explained it?

  1. Provide Context for Policies

As the employer, you don’t have to explain the thought process behind the rules and regulations included in the handbook. But, again, your employees are real people, and they may be more willing to comply with your policies if they understand the reasoning behind them. Provide context for handbook rules whenever possible.

For example, you might have a specific procedure you want employees to follow when calling in sick. Rather than simply writing something like, “Employees who will be out sick must speak to [x] by phone by 8 a.m.,” you might include a sentence about why you can’t accept absence notifications via text or email. This strategy might also help you identify policies that are unnecessarily strict; if you can’t think of a good reason for why a rule exists, it’s worth asking if it should exist at all.

  1. Highlight Your Perks

A handbook shouldn’t be just a long list of rules. It should be a useful resource for your employees, and a means to highlight everything great about working for your company. Include at least one section dedicated to the perks and benefits afforded to your employees. Do you have a bonus program? Will you allow employees to work from home sometimes? Talk up all those points in the handbook; knowing that they’re appreciated can help keep employees motivated and engaged in their work.

  1. Address Digital Security and Social Media  

A comprehensive handbook should include sections about your expectations around employees’ online behavior. If you don’t have a separate cybersecurity policy, include relevant information in your handbook. You might want to address the frequency with which employees should change their passwords, and give instructions for reporting a potential security breach. Spell out security policies for company-issued digital devices to minimize the chance of employees misplacing laptops with sensitive data or connecting company devices to insecure public WiFi networks.

  1. Consult the Workforce

Have you ever heard the saying that a camel is a horse that was designed by a committee? Getting your entire team to sign off on everything that’s added to the handbook would probably prove to be a waste of time, and you don’t need your employees to approve of your rules and policies. That said, when you’re drafting a handbook for the first time, it might prove useful to survey the staff about what they’d like to see included in it. Do they have questions about particular policies? Do they have concerns about behavior that they want the company to address? You may even want to choose a few trusted employees to read a draft version of the handbook and make suggestions about additions and changes. 

  1. Make It Legal

A complex mix of local, state and federal laws affect your business, and industry-specific regulations might be in play too. It’s feasible that you could put policies in your handbook without realizing they violate employment law. Putting those illegal policies in print opens the door to lawsuits that could easily be avoided. Do just that by having an employment attorney review the language before sending the handbook to print.

No matter your company’s size, age and industry, having a high-quality employee handbook is an important protective measure. It’s a way to shield yourself from legal conflict and get your entire workforce on the same page. It’s also a big undertaking, so you might have questions about how to proceed. Commonwealth can help. Join us for our free webinar Why You Need an Employee Handbook on Tuesday, December 10 at 1:00 PM EST. We’re also here to address any specific questions or concerns. Contact us today!

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