How not to write your employee handbook

What do the plays of Shakespeare, company newsletters and employee handbooks have in common? We're all supposed to read them, but hardly any of us does.

by BusinessWeek Online
Last Updated: 23 Jul 2013

Virtually all companies of any size these days produce an employee handbook. New recruits are usually presented with one on their first day, and some of them will actually intend to read it. But as the manifold tasks of the first few days in a new job stack up, reading the employee handbook slips further down on the list of priorities, and eventually it lies forgotten in the second drawer along with some old photocopies and a mouldy apple.

But even if employee handbooks are unread by the majority of employees, that doesn't mean you should stop producing them. By setting out your policies and guidelines clearly in written form, you can avoid lengthy discussions and disputes about company rules. You may also lessen your chances of being taken to court.

BusinessWeek has published a useful 10-point list of common mistakes that companies make when creating their employee handbooks. They are:

Not having the handbook reviewed by a lawyer. If you state your policies vaguely, they may be misunderstood or exploited. Ask a lawyer to review the copy before you publish.

Not taking into account local and national employment laws. The country, state or region in which you operate will have many laws relating to employees that you may be unaware of. Ask a lawyer who is expert in local employment law to ensure you are in accordance.

Creating the long version. If your company handbook is a 300-page epic, it will make your new recruit feel suffocated with laws and regulations. It will also virtually ensure that nobody reads it. Of course you must cover all of the essentials, but keep it as concise as possible.

Not providing a means by which employees can complain about harassment and discrimination. Most countries will have laws that requires this, but even if they don't, you should always give your employees the opportunity to complain about poor treatment.

Failure to read other examples of employee handbooks first. There are plenty of well-written, well-constructed company handbooks out there for you to use as a template. Save time by learning from others.

Failing to update your handbook. Laws change all the time, as does the technological and cultural environment in which you operate. Failure to regularly update your handbook to reflect these changes could lead to serious problems.

Not having a disclaimer. Without a disclaimer, you could get forced into a rigid stance you never intended to take. You will always need some room for discretion, so include a disclaimer to give you flexibility.

Not using straightforward language. If the handbook isn't clearly written, it won't be understood by employees. Make sure every sentence is clear and easily understood.

Not tactfully introducing the handbook to current employees. If workers arrive at work one morning to find a copy of a new employee handbook on their desks, they may think the organisation is unhappy with the way they are conducting themselves. Avoid this by explaining that the handbook is just a way of updating and clarifying procedures.

Failing to make sure all employees have a handbook. Everybody should sign off that they have received the handbook. That way, nobody can later claim they didn't know what the company's policies were.

Source: 'Top 10 Employee Handbook Mistakes', BusinessWeek Online

Review by: Nick Loney

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