Does Your Employee Handbook Need a Makeover?

Nothing about your business is chiseled into granite. But if your handbook goes years in between revisions, you might be giving your employees — as well as prospective new hires — the idea that you’re treading water or that you’ve gotten stuck in time.

For reasons ranging from the practical to the legal, it’s a good idea to take a look at your employee handbook to ensure it still reflects your company’s culture as you see it and still serves as a useful employee resource. Here are a few questions to answer as you reconsider whether your handbook still meets your needs in its current form.

Has Your Mission Changed?

The mission statement is one of the key components to any employee handbook. If it’s been a little while since you last made a revision to your company’s mission statement or values, or something about your process or outlook has changed in the meantime, this could be a great opportunity to take a fresh look.

The question is, what goes into a mission statement? It has to be more than platitudes. Think about what your company values, how it fits into the world, and where you see yourselves in the future. The language you use should be precise enough that you can evaluate job candidates — and they can evaluate themselves — for cultural fit. Do you want employees who embrace change? Go the extra mile? Take advantage of your company’s community outreach efforts? If so, this is where you’ll put language like that.

Job-hunters and recruiters alike want to know what they’re getting. Moreover, potential new hires want to know they’re getting involved with a company that gives back to the world in some fashion and that’s mindful of its place in the world. This is your chance to show that off.

Does Your Handbook Give Comprehensive Details on Employee Benefits?

Remember that your employee handbook isn’t a disposable ream of paper to be glanced through on day one and then discarded without another glance. As a business leader, it’s wise to think of your company’s handbook as a living document and a resource your employees can depend on to get their questions answered or to move their problems closer to resolution.

Employee benefits are a big piece of this puzzle — and employees appreciate not having to search the four corners of the earth when it comes to getting their questions answered about vacations and employee leave. As you put together your handbook revisions, make sure it contains all of the relevant details about the following:

  • How much vacation time is allotted? Do employees accrue more each year they spend with the company?
  • How much advance notice must employees give before an upcoming vacation or other leave of absence?
  • How much personal time does your company award employees? How is PTO accrued, and does it expire at the end of the year?
  • How are sick days handled?
  • Which holidays does the company observe? For which holidays do employees receive compensation, if any?

It’s likely your employees will have questions about telecommuting policies at some point, too, given that 43 percent of all American workers spend at least some of their time working from home. Lay out how this works in practice, including what kind of technology is required to maintain productivity and accountability.

Flextime is another point worth considering if your handbook doesn’t currently address it — or if your company doesn’t offer it presently. In 2017, nearly a third of all businesses in the U.S. offered flextime in some form. There are many benefits associated with schedule personalization, including improved morale and better company productivity, so consider making this a new addition to your handbook during your next revision.

Do Employees Understand What’s Expected of Them Daily?

If the managers at your company find themselves explaining the same standards of conduct on a regular basis, or have to remind employees more often than they’d like about practices and procedures, it’s probably time for an employee handbook makeover.

After all, this is another point on which your company may “evolve” over time. Your dress code might not change that much from year to year, but when was the last time you took a fresh look at your company’s:

  • Drug testing policies
  • Rules for the personal use of technology
  • Social media and web browsing policies
  • Non-disclosure agreements and approach to client privacy
  • Policies regarding acceptable apps and software installation on company-owned equipment
  • Procedures for resolving conflicts in the workplace

The list goes on. You can, and should, be encouraging your employees to think outside the box, seek out tools that make their lives easier, and become more adept at solving problems in a novel way, or with a more efficient process. You shouldn’t be so concerned with drawing up ironclad policies that it stifles employee creativity — but neither can you leave anything up to chance where there daily lives and expectations are concerned.

Has It Been a While Since the Last Revision?

Like it or not, every calendar year brings changes to employment law — and court decisions bring new precedents on a regular basis. One example is the concept of “at-will employment,” which is the norm rather than the exception in many modern workplaces. There are many reasons why contract-based employment may bring more harm than good to companies that adopt it, but if your company chooses to go this route, you can’t afford to be ambiguous about it.

Sexual harassment is another area where, if you can believe it, many companies still find themselves behind the times. Every organization owes its employees a comprehensive process for reporting and redressing harassment in the workplace. Be specific and proactive. This includes letting employees know, early on, which departments or employees to approach about reporting harassment or any other problematic behavior.

Remember, ultimately, that employee handbooks represent the first “taste” your new hires will get of your company’s culture and how it operates. It shouldn’t be written in a dry or unapproachable manner — it should, up to a point, have some charm and character. As we’ve seen, there are a few serious matters that you’d do well to outline in detail (and in legally binding language, as needed), but don’t be afraid to have a little fun with it, either.

Bio: Nathan Sykes is the editor of Finding an Outlet, a source for the latest in IT and business news and trends.