Understanding Employee Handbooks and Culture Guides
Today I want to talk to you about the much-dreaded employee handbook.
In my experience as a business coach, few things cause more grunts and groans from business owners than the idea that they should create an employee handbook.
It's not that anyone doesn't understand the purpose of one, it's just that it takes soooooo long to put one together and most business owners 1) don't believe that their employees will actually read it and 2) don't think they'll ever be in a position where the employee handbook will help save their butts. Day to day business doesn't halt because someone doesn't have an employee handbook so it's one of those things that constantly gets pushed to the back burner.
I recently began working with a 30+ year old organization and it hadn't updated the handbook in well over a decade, what was in it was wrong, and not a single one of the current employees had received it upon joining the organization. So, one of my fun projects when I came on board was to create an employee handbook, essentially from scratch. In my own businesses, I had never had an employee handbook because I had never had employees so this was my first time going through this process and boy was it painful. Trust me, I feel your pain and understand the grunts and groans.
Having an employee handbook is incredibly useful, however, because it makes sure that everyone is on the same page about what is expected of them, what company policies are, and what will happen if those policies are broken. It's a great reference if employees have questions and it covers your butt if you ever need to let someone go for breaking a policy because you'll have their signature on file saying they read and understood that they might get fired if they did X or failed to do Y.
Let's be real though, while your butt is covered, a big binder full of legal jargon isn't exactly the most welcoming thing to hand to a new employee; it's what you have to do to make sure your ducks are in a row but it's probably not what you want to do to highlight your company's culture and why it's such a great place to work.
Given that, lots of companies have chosen to have two separate documents: one full-fledged employee handbook that includes all of the boring legal stuff and what many call a culture guide, which is basically the Cliff's notes, unofficial version of the employee handbook. The employees all still need to sign the full one, but the fun one can be a better point of reference because it gives more insight into the real heart of the business as opposed to what the lawyers said had to be done. Many organizations choose to make these culture guides interactive – I've seen PowerPoints, Prezis, Wikis, a series of videos…tons of different things. So, if you want to create an employee handbook that's actually useful and your team will actually read and reference, consider making two.
Now, please note that I am not a lawyer and you should definitely talk to an experienced professional about what you need to include where, but this is just one idea to get you started.