5 Mistakes to Avoid in your Employee Handbook
Have you ever been duped into buying something that you probably didn’t need because the salesperson was super convincing and they assured you that your life would be so much better with it? I have. It was a Kirby vacuum cleaner, and it was sooo cool. I bought it, and I purged our home of the remaining “old” vacuum cleaners, an embarrassment compared to my new gadget. Life was good – I could now vacuum in the dark, something that until this exact moment, I never knew I needed, but now, now the possibilities were endless. Annnnd then my wife came home. We discussed my totally rational decision and decided that at this time, we probably should not own such a fine piece of equipment. It happened: a painful sense of buyer’s remorse. This phenomenon is typical for impulse buyers who after sleeping on it, fully understand a frightening realization—they just spent $3,000 on a vacuum cleaner.
This is the exact opposite feeling we are trying to instill in our employees while they are going through their training and “handbook” period. We do not want our brand-new employees—who should be filled with excitement, passion, and overall joy—to second-guess their decision.
Best practices are designed to show what you should be doing, but when it comes to handbooks, most employers already have a fairly good idea of what goes into a standard handbook: welcome message, at-will statements, Equal Opportunity legal clauses, harassment process, attendance policies, PTO/Benefit plans, and termination steps. Instead, this article will explain just the opposite. We will go through this process by telling you what you need to avoid. Here are the 5 mistakes people make with employee handbooks.
Mistake 1: Reading the Employee Handbook on the First Day
The handbook period is super important, and I am in no way trying to convince you to get rid of dedicating some time to it in your onboarding/training, but I am asking you to consider a new method or approach to explaining the necessary policies.
Do not make the handbook part of the first day. You can easily send them a pdf version of your pride and joy while they are sitting at home filling out all the other required forms. If they want to read it at their leisure, great, let them knock themselves out, but not on company time. I recommend spending those 2 precious hours going through your “Important Need to Know” items.
A tip that Whirks: Culture, Values, and Story
This is a wonderful opportunity to reinforce your hiring values and culture. Remember, we are trying our best not to have our employees experience any “employee’s remorse” with their decision to join our team. Values are the company’s identity, the highest principles, and the ultimate driving force—your handbook period needs to be dedicated to defining your values, explaining your “why”, and telling your story.
Company values form the foundation of a culture of teamwork, excellence, dignity, and respect, which in turn, contributes to a strong and ready company that can improvise, adapt, and overcome.
Mistake 2: Writing a Novel of an Employee Handbook
I know, I know, you have so much that has to be talked about. The average employee handbook is roughly around 50 or more pages. Try to keep the handbook condensed down to the essential items. A document that is too long is cumbersome, wordy, and useless. Avoid going into such great detail that you hand your employees a copy of War-and-Peace-length manuscript that no one would even think twice about reading. Cover the essential items with clear instructions and a primary point of contact if they have additional questions.
A tip the Whirks: Employee Review
An employee review is similar to a peer review. Peer reviews are designed to give constructive feedback to help the process move more efficiently or to stop substandard performance before it’s too late. An employee review takes that same method and allows the employee to give constructive feedback about your handbook. This is a great transparent approach to ensure your document is not too wordy or too complicated by the same exact people who will be required to read the handbook.
Mistake 3: Over Complicate the Simple Things
My time in the Army taught me many invaluable traits, tendencies, and behaviors, but one concept that was pounded into my operational mind was the K.I.S.S. method, aka: Keep It Simple, Stupid. Use clear, concise language when writing your handbook. If a sentence can communicate the intent of the policy, then there is no need for a paragraph. If the wording is too vague or too technical, it will not serve its intended purpose. An easy way to fall into this trap is by using too much legal jargon. The handbook should list the type of conduct that may result in discipline and the potential penalties, but there is no need for it to go into the rigid step-by-step approach HR will take if policies are broken.
A tip that Whirks: Create a Word Count
All good publishing entities have certain parameters they require their authors to keep. It could be a certain style, subject, etc…, but everyone has a word count. I suggest you introduce this word count idea to your handbook and stick to it. I believe there is a quote that goes as such: “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” The ability to take complicated or restrictive policies and break them down into simple terms requires time. Take your time so you can keep it simple and concise.
Mistake 4: Adding Operations to your Employee Handbook
A well-written handbook is everything. This is the first opportunity to instill trust and transparency. The handbook can be a valuable resource that creates positive energy. A poorly written employee handbook can create confusion, apathy, and discontent. It can hamper your attention and cause rippling effects throughout the company. Do not try to add operational procedures into your handbook. The handbook is a place for policies, behavior expectations, and unique employer practices—it is NOT a catch-all for training and manuals. The handbook should include who to call in case of an emergency, but it should not go into all the possible scenarios that could be included in an emergency situation.
A tip That Whirks: Separate Operations Manual
Read and review your handbook and if you come to a checklist—a step-by-step process for doing something, or a flowchart—remove it and create a separate manual. A good rule is to ask the question, “Does this tell me what I need to do or how to do it?” An overview of what I need to do stays in the handbook. The other stuff that helps me answer the question of how to do it— that goes in the operation manual.
Mistake 5: Not Knowing Who/When Signed It
All the effort involved in developing, simplifying, creating, and presenting your handbook will go to crap if the people it was intended for never get it. Requiring employees to sign the handbook not only ensures they received it and understood it, but it’s evidence if there is ever a dispute or disciplinary issue. Requiring a signature post-receiving or reading the employee handbook also reinforces the company culture while giving an additional channel for employees to deliver and receive feedback.
A tip That Whirks: Automate the Process
The employee handbook describes important, need-to-know information about your company. All employees need to agree that they understand that it is their responsibility to read and comply with the policies contained in the handbook. An easy and effective way to ensure this acknowledgment happens with every employee is to automate the process. An email or alert goes out to each employee, attached to the alert is a PDF version of the handbook. The alert informs them that their electronic signature is the acknowledgment and will be kept digitally.
Avoid Employee Buyer’s Remorse
A well-written employee handbook will simplify your company’s processes and prevent employees from experiencing “buyer’s remorse” with their new job. Remember to keep it focused on company culture, values, and your story. Write it concisely, making it easy to read and tailored to your company. Finally, make sure you have a consistent way to ensure all employees are receiving it and acknowledging their receipt of it. Scan back through the “a tip that Whirks” sections of this article to give yourself a checklist to follow as you write/review your handbook. And if you find you need additional help with your HR processes, check out all the ways we can keep you compliant and culture-focused on our Whirks People page. Want to talk to a real person? We can do that too!