By Alissa Penney, A Better HR
Your company is growing. Things are really taking off and you’re ready to add employees to your team to help take your company to the next level. As exciting as that is, there are a lot of complications that come from growing. You already know what to expect in your day to day work duties but how do you communicate those expectations to your new employees?
Employee handbooks (or policy manuals) are a great tool for instilling your company’s culture and values in your employees from day one. They’re not as hard as you might think! And they certainly don’t have to be hundreds of pages long either.
If you’ve never created an employee handbook before, it might feel daunting to get started. Fear not! I’ve compiled helpful information for you below.
Decide how to describe your company culture
Deciding on how you’d like to communicate your company culture with your employees is a critical first step. It will set the tone for the whole employee handbook as well as your employees’ expectations. If your company has a strong commitment to customer service, drive those points home in your handbook. Nordstrom’s handbook is essentially just a 5x card that says "Use good judgment in all situations”.
They have other internal process/procedure policies but they decided to create an incredibly simple handbook and build everything else around that. I’ve already said it, but it bears repeating: Handbooks do not have to be long. Employees can get bogged down with information overload in their first month with your company - short and simple may be the best way to get them onboard and ready to contribute to your company culture. There’s no one “right” way to do it!
Make it fun
Get creative with how you communicate your company’s culture. Use visuals! Charts and graphs are nice, but graphics are an excellent way to draw employees in and make the information being thrown at them especially memorable. Zingerman’s employee handbook uses tons of visuals and even has cut out hand puppets of the company’s founders - their handbook is for sale too (along with lots of other training materials)!
Most of the large and successful companies that we see today have innovative employee handbooks - plenty of whom are happy to share those handbooks with you! I’ve got a list of examples for you at the end of this article so feel free to take a look for inspiration.
Imagine it’s your first day
What do new employees need to know? How do they go about finding information? Where do they park? What time is lunch? What does the chain of command look like?
There are a million questions new employees have when starting a new job. A handbook is the perfect way to communicate all of the important information right off the bat. It also helps you explain why you do things the way that you do and what makes your company unique. You’re not like every other workplace, so share that with your employees!
Decide what’s critical for employees to know when getting started with your company and work your way from there. If it’s something that you feel can wait, it might be better to put that information in another document or format for your employee to consume at a later date. Making them feel like they’re part of your team from day one will help keep them engaged with your company longer!
Include legally required policies
Is the purpose of your handbook to provide you with legal protection? Then you absolutely need to include legally required policies. Harassment, time and attendance, confidentiality, ADA, and EEOC policies must be included in most states. Check with local legal resources to ensure that your handbook includes all of the legal policies required for your area to make sure that you’re compliant.
There are plenty of great resources available, including your local Chamber of Commerce and local Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) chapter. The Chamber of Commerce can provide you with free resources, SHRM does require paid membership to access resources but takes a lot of the guesswork out of creating a handbook. As a bonus, they have an employee handbook with annotations already created for you so it can be pretty painless to make necessary updates.
Have a signature page
Employee handbooks should always have a signature page so that you have it on record that your employees have read and understand the employee handbook’s contents. This helps you hold both them and your company accountable for the standards described in the handbook.
This is great language to use:
“I hereby acknowledge receipt of the employee handbook of [COMPANY NAME]. I understand and agree that it is my responsibility to read and comply with the policies in the handbook.
I understand that the handbook and all other written and oral materials provided to me are intended for informational purposes only. Neither it, company practices, nor other communications create an employment contract or term. I understand that the policies and benefits, both in the handbook and those communicated to me in any other fashion, are subject to interpretation, review, removal, and change by management at any time without notice.”
It gives you room to change and grow your handbook in the future and also reminds employees that the handbook is not an employment contract.
Don’t forget that the handbook is likely the first thing you give to your employees so you should have some fun with it! Just because some of the language has to be formal for legal reasons doesn’t mean that the whole handbook has to read that way. There are plenty of companies out there that have amazing handbooks that throw everything we used to think a handbook had to be out the window.
You can check some of them out here:
My personal favorites are Valve and Tesla’s handbooks. Valve, simply for the way that it really sets the tone for its employees up front and incorporates all of the company’s video gaming products into the handbook. Tesla because it doesn’t skip the administrative stuff but still manages to keep the same cultural tone throughout its very lengthy 4 page handbook.
Employee handbooks don’t have to be scary!