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The nuts and bolts of an employee handbook

Posted By admin

May 13, 2021    |     9-minute read (1763 words)

Creating an employee handbook is an essential part of any business. In addition to giving future employees a guide to rules of the organization, it introduces them to the company culture. A well-documented one is an excellent tool to give employees a detailed overview of company guidelines, policies and benefits, and to let them know how the organization deals with different workplace issues. From an employer standpoint, it is a shield that protects the company ethos and culture, and it sets clear expectations while underlining employee rights. 

The handbook can act as a valuable resource for employees at various business phases to help understand where they stand. It lays out the company's rules and practices, as well as legal rights and acts, what benefits and perks they can expect, and your expectations.

Both you and your staff should use an employee handbook as a reference tool that acts like a central source of information for everyone in times of confusion. It should contain all company policies on various aspects of workplace conduct, such as obtaining paid leave, sick leave, harassment policies and anti-discrimination laws.

While these handbooks aren't legally binding, having your employees read and sign them will help you protect you as an employer and show that staff who violate the rules gave their word that they read the manual and knew the consequences. Likewise, if an employee believes they are being treated unfairly, the handbook will assist them in filing a complaint basis a proper protocol.

What should you include in an employee handbook?

Although every company's handbook is unique, there are certain parts that every employer should include for their employees' reference. No matter how small or large the business is, listed below are the key elements that you should take into consideration when scripting an employee handbook.

Company values, vision and mission

Your company might have specific core values, vision and a mission statement that you need to communicate to new employees. The tone of your handbook is set by these principles. Consider addressing how your business can impact the world and what makes it unique in the book so that new hires can understand the driving force and core of your business. 

New employees may be anxious, excite and ready to contribute, but without communicating the company’s fundamental pillars, supplemented with an effective onboarding program that offers the support they need to ramp up, new hires may find themselves stuck.

Employee benefits

Employees can receive certain perks in addition to their salary, so make sure your employee handbook lists all of the benefits they may expect from you. Benefits may include health insurance, flexible spending accounts, health savings accounts, bonuses, paid time off, sick leave, retirement, product discounts and parking.

Work hours and leave policy

If you state the working hours of your company, employees know when they should expect to be on the job. Outline how you expect employees to spend their time while making an employee handbook. What is your sick leave policy? Are employees compensated if they are unable to work due to illness? Can you give paid time off and, if so, how many days a year? Include work breaks, lunch times, leaves of absence and how these will be allocated, making sure you are compliant with state and federal law.

Workplace safety

In this section of the policy manual, highlight the most important information that new employees need to know about workplace safety. This could include subjects like first aid kits, emergency response routines, fire drill procedures, fire extinguisher locations, reporting spillages, correct personal protective equipment, navigating the workplace safely, using machinery safely and any other things particular to your business. Make health and safety guidelines that apply to your business and enumerate them in the handbook.

Code of conduct

The code of conduct instructs your employees how to act at work and, in some cases, outside of work. You can frame part of your policy on appropriate workplace language. It could mention the expected dress code, device usage rules, drug and alcohol consumption restrictions, social media dialogue and well guidelines for conflict resolution.

Digital conduct and social media policy

Establishing a social media policy and digital conduct guidelines is an integral part of an employee handbook in the modern era. If an employee posts anything on social media that reflects negatively on them and/or the company’s image, you may be able to terminate their employment them on legal grounds if there is an applicable clause in the handbook. Your employees must be mindful to be cautious when posting online as they represent your company. Social networking policies vary by workplace, ranging some extremely strict to relatively lax.

Laws for discrimination and harassment

Despite local, state and federal employment laws against it, workplace discrimination exists, and in some organizations, it is worse with many minorities facing abuse and harassment. Employees can experience discrimination or harassment due to age, race/color, national origin, religion, sex, retaliation, disability, equal pay/compensation, genetic information, pregnancy, LGBTQ+, cultural and social beliefs and more.

As a responsible and impartial employer, you should make it clear to your staff what their rights are in terms of discrimination and harassment policies, as well as instruct them how to file a complaint. Additionally, make a list of the existing local, state and federal regulations that are applicable to your employees, and provide information about the disciplinary actions that will be taken against employees who engage in unlawful behavior. 

Nondisclosure and conflicts of interest

If you deal in an extremely competitive sector, you may want to have your employees sign a non-disclosure agreement that prevents them from sharing confidential information about your company with third parties. Also, include a segment on dealing with conflicts of interest, and be very clear on how you intend to treat these situations if they arise.

How to create an employee handbook

An employee handbook is hard to compile or start with in the first place. The correct way would be to jot down points or ideas about your business on paper. The key is to think of the entire business as a whole.

Can you picture the overall vision for your company?

Below are some ways to create an employee handbook that will make it easy for small business owners to develop one for their workforce.

  • Write about your company culture and values.
  • What does your business stand for?
  • What are your values?
  • Is there any particular cause you care about?
  • How will you change the world around you?
  • Does your business have a mission statement?

Ask yourself these questions and you jot down your answer. You should have written down a fair amount about what your company stands for. Your values can be simple and basic, or very complex. You may prefer a fresher approach or a more traditional one. Discuss what to include with your management, and start detailing how your business looks on paper, and then pass on the message to other members of the staff and new hires.

Make company-specific policies

Making company policies is by necessity a broad topic. Different businesses will have diverging policies when it comes to their size, revenue, type, work, space, people and location, for example. However, your policies should be tailored to your organization. They should also factor in the people who will be working for you, and people who you want to work for you. If you want to attract millennials, a flexible work atmosphere might just do the trick. On the other hand, experienced people might prefer future safety plans and health benefits. 

Know applicable laws

Based on where you are located, the labor laws that you have to keep in mind at the local, state and federal level will vary. You must keep your employees informed about applicable laws, and make sure your management is at par with all the new regulations that come in to play. Laws change, and so should your employee handbook. Periodically check for information from the proper authorities so that you can update the handbook and transit it to your employees in an easy-to-understand manner.

Make summarized versions of every policy

It is always a good practice to create a summarized version of your rule book or handbook. This serves as a ready primer for employees and employers alike. Use bullet points to note key points, which correspond to policies and procedures and separate sections for narrowing in on specific details when necessary. This will make it easy for you to create a handbook.

Handbooks need to be easy for employees to find the information that they require quickly. Summaries of policies help the handbook be more palatable and easier on your workforce.

Pick a template

If there is no budget to hire a dedicated HR team to create your handbook, fret not. There are many online resources to help with handbook templates for free or inexpensively. Or you may send your template to the HR department to fill in the rest. 

It may seem like an uphill task, but using a template is a great way to get the ball rolling in creating your own version of an employee handbook. Once you have the basics, you can quickly make the necessary changes, thus tailoring it for your needs. Never underestimate a good template.

Include readable content

Make your handbook readable. Don’t make it into a massive tome that your employees avoid and see as a chore to read. Don’t make it into a boring textbook-like volume that dissuades people from reading. Keep your paragraphs small and concise.

Hire a good writer to make your content readable and engaging for your employees. Many businesses rely on humor to get their point across, but others just cut right to the chase and convey their point across in as few words as possible. Formatting is essential, so consider employing graphic designers to customize the book’s layout and to add an element of sophisticated design. 

Make it accessible

Not everybody likes text. Make your material pop by introducing bullet points, infographics, illustrations and charts to mix it up. The point is to make it more accessible. You may wish to consider making yours available in an audiobook if you have visually impaired workers. Make sure that your book considers the needs of all employees who will be using it. Digitizing the handbook so that it is accessible in another format will save paper. It will also make it easy for employees to access and read at their own leisure.

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