Call them what you will - Employee Handbook, Staff Manual, Operating Procedure, Playbook - for many companies, they are one of the most common ways of setting the standards for what you expect in your workplace and are given to employees to read when they first start. Often they include things such as how you get paid, what to do in a fire, what happens if the company doesn’t think you are not doing your job etc. Or just a general collection of all the policies ever written in the business that someone thinks you might need at some point. Maybe.
I've written and read hundreds in my time. And not many I would want to do so more than once (and therefore haven’t!). The reason being that most are relentlessly dull. Written by many for the sole purpose of having one there to bring out and dust down to prove in a case of disciplinary/ grievance/ policy breach/ tribunal that you had a policy on whatever in question. They are in this case seen as the last line of defence. The ‘Goalie’ of your employment practices.
But the odds of you needing them for such a purpose are slim. And even if you do so, no amount of “we had a policy on that” will guarantee you a free pass if it is clearly at odds with how you’re actually operating as a business.
A handbook is an great way of communicating your culture, as well as one which sets expectations for your team and which helps them feel at home as well as understand what to do if they go off sick. So why not spend all that time putting creating a handbook which people will actually read. Which reflects your culture and practices. Which is actually useful to managers and employees alike? You are much more likely to ensure that expectations are set (often in a lot of important areas that need to be made clear) and that all of your team read and understand your handbook if you make sure that it is engaging, relevant and real. If it actually reflects the culture of your business and the practices which take place.
It’s not always easy. And it does take a bit of time. But like any good marketing, if you want to ensure that your employee experience is as good as your customers, then it's worth the investment. To help you out, here are my top ways to help start you off in creating a handbook which is engaging, relevant and readable for your audience of internal customers:
- Keep it short: if it’s as long as the bible it just won’t get read. Or if you can’t keep it short....
- Make sure you can navigate it easily: whether it’s a word document, google docs or online, structure it in a way which can include appropriate guidance/ hyperlinks to help people to the right places.
- Be less officious: avoid the Latin in your writing and stick to the Germanic. “The working day commences at 9.00am’? Is that how you would speak normally? Nope. Thought not.
- Avoid punitive language. You know the type. “The employee cannot/ should not/ will not etc” . It’s okay occasionally when you want to really ram something home, however anything more than a light sprinkle of this and your team will feel like they are instantly transported back to school...
- Use pictures or videos (or emoticons): no-one made a rule that you only have to have words in your handbook and like any other form of marketing, images are much more engaging than words most of the time🙋🙌🙀 Ok, Ok. So only if they’re relevant!
- Lend some humour: inserting inappropriate jokes inside the 'what to do if you get sick' paragraph might be a bit out of place and undermine what your message is, but done in the right way, any document which makes its reader smile is likely to stick
- Make it available: Don’t just print off a hard copy and chuck it in a drawer. Ensure you share on whichever online collaboration tools you use.
- Make it personal: it will be full of practices which apply to everyone, but don’t forget to speak to the reader. That means more ‘You’ and less ‘The employee’.
- Keep it live: Don’t forget to update it on a regular basis. This doesn’t mean that people need to re-sign it every year (a practice I personally don’t believe in - after all, most handbooks are non-contractual for very good reasons). But businesses evolve. So make sure your handbook does.
- Reinforce it: whatever is written down, make sure it is how you actually operate beyond the pages.
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Photo Credit: j_lai - Toyko-09