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Navigating HR: Directions for Writing an Employee Handbook

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    We all know the drill: on your first day on the job, you’re given an employee handbook to read and review. Some people toss it in the backseat of the car and never see it again. Some sit down with a highlighter and review every policy. Others may do a mix of both. 

    It’s like printing out directions on Mapquest. My mom highlighted and wrote notes every time we went on a trip. I, however, tossed it in the passenger seat and was resolved to figure it out myself. Either way, both are pointless if there’s no destination. 

    An employee handbook should be a living, breathing document. It’s like a fine-tuned GPS that alerts you to upcoming accidents, cautions about red-light cameras, and gives you plenty of time to find your exit. 

    You don’t want your team to be lost when it comes to company policies. It creates a foundation of trust and transparency from the beginning. As an employer, you’re communicating what you care about as a company and what you want your employees to care about. 

    In this article, we’re going to give you four directions for writing the best employee handbook. 

    1. Invite them on the journey.

    Which one sounds less confusing and more inviting: 

    • How to Not Get Lost: Don’t take Exit 24e or you’ll wind up in a dead zone and then you can’t listen to these directions to get out of the dead zone and now you’re lost and you’ve added 3 hours and 55 minutes to your trip. 
    • Are you ready for our adventure? Grab a coffee, pick your favorite playlist, and let’s hop on I-40 east. It’s a beautiful day to travel through Tennessee – you’ll be in the Smokey Mountains before you know it. 

    For your sake, I hope you picked the second one. It’s much easier when your path to success is outlined, instead of terrorizing your staff with how they can get fired. 

    An employee’s first day should be exciting – they’ve made it to the end of the anxiety-ridden job search, and you’ve finally hired the perfect candidate. What will your journey look like with them, and vice versa?

    So, share your story: 

    • Why did you start your business? 
    • How has it grown over the years?
    • What are your values? 
    • Who do you want on your team?

    Include pictures of your progress, where you started, or future sketches of where you want your business to go. Write a handwritten note on the first page that warmly welcomes them into your story. 

    60% of staff avoid reading employee handbooks. 


    2. Take it one mile at a time.

    Take your employee handbook one mile at a time. You don’t read directions all at once and then hit the road, do you? Each mile indicates you’re getting closer to your destination. 

    When you’re writing your handbook, consider what you think is crucial for your team to understand in each stage of their time as an employee. 

    What quick hits do you want your new hire to understand? They probably don’t need to review time-off policies since they won’t receive benefits until after their ninety days. Prioritize welcoming your new hire and getting them excited to excel in their role: 

    • How do you gauge performance? 
    • Who will they develop into professionally? 
    • What does their future look like at your company?
    • Why should they continue to work for you?

    You’ve invited them on the journey, and now they’re on the highway. Direct them where they need to go and where they can go. 

    3. Put up the guard rails.

    If the handbook is a GPS system, the policies are the alerts that warn you about car accidents, rush hour traffic, and speed limits. They exist to keep you and other employees safe. These policies include, but are not limited to: 

    • Harassment
    • Fraternization 
    • Violence in the workplace
    • Drugs and alcohol policy
    • Weapons 

    Even if you’re a small business with a couple of team members, you need to create and outline your policies now. As your business grows and you hire more people, be aware of the worst-case scenarios. Choose to be proactive instead of reactive. 

    4. Stay up to date.

    I downloaded a new navigation app recently – and it’s the best. It allows me (and other users) to update the app in real-time of any road hazards, debris, or fender benders – and acknowledge if they’re still there or not. It helps me stay safe – and gives me the opportunity to help others stay safe, too. 

    Your handbook should consistently be updated – and not just once a year. Our federal and state policies are constantly evolving and changing, especially post-pandemic. Being ahead of the game ensures that you and your employees stay on the same page, and shows them that you care about their safety and wellbeing. 

    Reward them on the way. 

    Anytime I’m driving from Memphis to East Tennessee, I don’t let myself stop for anything until I’ve made it through Nashville. It helps me stay focused, and I know the longest part of the trip is over once I start seeing the mountains. 

    Your new employee is on their journey, but how do you get them to stick to the directions? 

    • Incentivize your team to read and study the handbook. Quiz them on your policies and offer a prize if they get a good score, such as a free lunch or a goodie bag. It motivates them on their journey and makes their stops more rewarding. 
    • Put positive pressure on your team to acknowledge updates to the handbook by asking them to sign it electronically after they review it. 
    • Set aside time for questions about updates or policies. Block off 10-15 minutes for each employee to meet with you or your HR manager. 

    Where would we be without GPS? Still printing out mapquest directions or reaching over the backseat to find an atlas that you’ve literally never used. It’s unsafe and it’s impractical. If you’re like me, you’d ignore it because it’s too complicated and end up hopelessly lost. 

    Think of HR like a car: it’s protecting your team on their journey as employees. The handbook is the navigation system that guides them along the way. Even if they’ve been there for years and know the directions by heart, your updates will help keep them from getting lost. 

    Need help getting started with your handbook? Check out this article on what outsourcing your HR department looks like, or listen to our podcast episode where Greg Henderson dives into helpful tips on handbooks.