HR Blog

Handbooks & Templates - Going from Good to Great

07/01/2017 | Dee Yingst

Your company isn't just like every other company, so why should your employee handbook be just like every other employee handbook?

I always worry when I hear an employer say they made their handbook from a template they found on the internet or copied it from a friend's company.

There are a lot of agencies that have something to say about what's in your handbook and it's important that your handbook reflects the guidance of these different agencies in addition to the more obvious stuff like wage and hour rules. You also need to know whether certain rules apply to you.

There's so much that can go wrong with just using a template (even one from a reputable source).  I've seen things like a 12-employee company with a detailed FMLA policy or a 75 employee company without one; work rules that prohibit or discourage employees from discussing their pay or require that supervisors are always treated with respect; a big empty hole where there should be a conflict resolution policy; or a requirement that a drug test follow all workplace accidents.

Not to mention the tone of many of these documents. Some of them amount to little more than a list of "shall and shalt nots" filled with exclamation points that make it seem as though the reader is just being yelled at.  Nobody likes to be yelled at.

A template isn't the worst place to start but it's not where you should finish: Taking your handbook from good to great means thinking of it a little differently.

Think of your handbook as a tool to remind employees that they've made a great choice by joining your organization. Look at it as a roadmap for a successful working relationship. Remember, the most expensive employee you have is the one you have to keep replacing.

Start with positive messaging to set the tone for the entire handbook.  Tell the employee who you are, welcome them aboard, and then tell them how they fit into the organization: Do all that before you start getting into work rules.

Your employees should be able to turn to your handbook for answers to basic questions (how much time off do I get?) and to find out where to get help with more complex issues (I don't think I'm being treated fairly, how do I get help?). A handbook should tell them what they can expect from you (the "benefits") and what is expected of them (the "rules"). But it's not all about rules and policies.

When I create a handbook I ask a lot of questions.  By inviting a conversation I can learn a lot about an organization: where they've been, where they're going, and what's important to them.  From there I ask questions about work rules and practices so we can be sure that policy matches practice. All of that information gets combined with the regulatory guidance I mentioned earlier to create a well-rounded employee handbook.

I will leave you with these thoughts:

Brand it. Your handbook should reflect the overall visual presentation of your organization. Use your logo; use the fonts and colors that are typically used on your sales literature or your website if possible.

Break it up and make it interesting. If you have photos (or can take some) by all means use them. A well-placed photo of the original founder or maybe the original storefront placed with your opening messages can underscore the importance of the legacy of the company. Photos throughout the book also help break up the text and make it more interesting.

Tone matters. Be sure your handbook talks to your employees, not at them.

Readability is important. Make it easy to read and understand; stay away from 'legalese' and technical jargon. Have a solid table of contents and organize it logically and thoughtfully. It's important to hit the major points but remember not to get too wordy or you'll lose your reader's attention and the overall message. Detailed procedures belong in a procedure manual, not an employee handbook.

Every company has a story; your handbook is another opportunity to tell your story.