The employee handbook is one of the most important documents you can create for your company, but also one of the most overlooked. Some companies wait years before ever creating a handbook, and others just have a lawyer bundle a bunch of legal jargon into a PDF and rarely give it a second thought. We think (well, we know) there’s a better way to do it.
Creating an employee handbook is an important step towards building the company culture and environment you wish to cultivate. The way you craft your policies, explain your mission, and communicate rules and expectations to employees will play a role in the type of talent you’re able to hire and retain.
Here, we wish to briefly review five easy, simple ways to make dramatic improvements to your employee handbook. These five steps will allow your leadership team to connect on what really matters, communicate ideas and policies clearly, and turn your handbook into a document that is easy and enjoyable to read.
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5 Ways to Improve Your Employee Handbook
1. Write with clarity
Handbooks are often full of legal jargon, long-winded explanations, and technical terminology. When it comes down to it, your policies won’t be followed if they can’t be understood. Write clearly. Write like a human will have to read and understand it (because they surely will). Write for all degrees of reading comprehension.
While we understand that some legal jargon or technical terms may be essential to include, there is always room to clarify the meaning of the content in a more simple way. For example, your legal team may insist on adding in a few complicated paragraphs that outline the company’s cyber-security policy. At the end of the section, restate the primary essence of these paragraphs in a simple, concise way. Doing so will give employees who did not read the complicated explanation (or otherwise did not understand it) some clear direction on the policy.
2. Emphasize readability
Have you ever looked at a document or clicked on a blog post and just saw a long, never-ending wall of text? Did that make you want to read further? Probably not. Unfortunately, readability is often forgotten when writing a legal document like an employee handbook. Long paragraphs with tiny fonts are the norm. Let’s change this.
When creating your employee handbook, make use of different font sizes, font weights, and even font sets. Use paragraph headers, bullet points, and white space to create a readable, digestible document. Use visual hierarchy to help readers navigate from one section to the next.
After all, you want people to read this, right? They won’t if it’s not easy to read. Luckily, you can change that. Make it easy.
3. Simplify policies
When baking, it’s critical to follow a recipe to get the desired result. Every ingredient and every instruction must be carefully followed. You’re told exactly how much of something to put in, when to stir it, and what temperature it should bake at.
In a similar way, there are many companies that treat their policies like a baking recipe. These companies like to outline everything that can or will be tolerated, as well as everything that goes against the policy. These policies try to lay everything out clearly so that it’s impossible to interpret them another way. This makes for some long, complex reading that most employees will forget anyway.
The other option is to simplify policies and place trust in your employees to make decisions based on the spirit of the policy. Yes, there is some inherent risk to this, but if you’re confident in your hiring process and consistently bring on good, mature people, you shouldn’t have a problem. For example, Netflix famously does not have a dress code policy. Why? Because they believe that most people “understand the benefits of wearing clothes to work.” Hubspot, despite being a public company, uses a simple three-word policy for just about everything: “Use good judgment.”
We’re not saying you need to take an extreme approach and do away with all your policies. However, it may be worth reviewing a few of them just to see where you can simplify.
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4. Tell your story
Your employee handbook should be a lot more than just rules, regulations, and codes of conduct. For many employees, it could be their first introduction to your company’s history, its culture, its values, and its mission.
Unfortunately, many companies leave these things out of their handbook. They choose to focus solely on the policies and legal notices they wish for employees to agree to. In most cases, we believe this is a mistake.
Take some time to tell your company’s story. Make the handbook a valuable asset and resource in the hands of each employee. Express your thinking about the company’s core values, why they were chosen, and what the company does to reward that kind of behavior.
So much good can be done through storytelling. Use the handbook as an opportunity to build your culture, initiate camaraderie, and get employees excited about the future.
5. Commit to handbook reviews.
Too many handbooks go stale. They’re created near the inception of the company and they’re not updated for years. Finally, when updates are made, they’re typically not updated to add any of the suggestions that we’ve outlined above.
We suggest committing to having at least one handbook review every single year. Get a group of employees together (HR leaders and executives) and have open discussions about what could be improved, what could be added (or removed), and how valuable you think the handbook is to current employees.
You may even choose to survey employees before the handbook review and ask them questions regarding company policies or rules. This may be a great way to gauge whether or not employees are even reading the handbook and learning anything from its contents.
Every touchpoint you have with an employee at your company leaves an impression. Your employee handbook can be an important part of an employee’s onboarding process because it effectively introduces them to everything you want them to know about your company. Rather than hearing it from other employees (who may or may not have positive things to say), your employees should hear your story and learn about your company in the exact way you intend them to.
The employee handbook is like an internal marketing resource that is completely within your control. It can be as informative and friendly as you want it to be. Don’t miss the opportunity to improve the employee experience at your company by overlooking or undervaluing the employee handbook. Start making the five changes we recommend today so that current and future employees will benefit for a long time to come.