Five reasons every small business needs an employee handbook
In the corporate world, employee handbooks are pretty ubiquitous. Nearly everyone who starts a position at a large company is given a booklet (or at least a thick packet) to peruse on their first day at the office.
When it comes to small businesses, however, employee handbooks may be completely absent — job parameters and company policies are simply conveyed through word-of-mouth. And that can lead to problems for both employees and employers down the road. If your business is currently lacking a handbook, here are five reasons you should seriously consider putting one together.
A handbook will cover things not mentioned during training. An employee handbook is NOT a viable substitute for a thorough, engaging orientation program. You should not simply hand new hires an employee handbook, tell them to read it and then hope that they commit the whole thing to memory.
That said, the handbook can catch details that may fall through the cracks, and compensate for different trainers inadvertently emphasizing one area or another. The handbook can also cover topics in far more detail than a training program might have time for, as well as empower new hires to seek out answers themselves instead of asking coworkers or supervisors every time they have a question.
Handbooks (should) describe job responsibilities in a clear, concise manner. If you’ve ever had to reprimand an employee for not fulfilling one of his/her duties and received a reply of, “I didn’t know I was responsible for that. Nobody told me that was my job, too,” then you can relate.
While you should always outline specific job expectations during a prospective hire’s interview(s) to avoid their being caught off-guard during their first few months of work, the handbook can reinforce your company’s rules and expectations for all new (and existing) employees.
If an employee claims that something is not “part of their job description,” you’ll be able to clarify and point to something in writing. It may also give your employees a way to stand up for themselves against overbearing supervisors or coworkers who would take advantage of their generosity or naiveté.
Handbooks can help facilitate fair treatment for everyone. Perhaps your company’s handbook clearly states that employees are not allowed to do certain things: access social media websites on work computers, take/make social calls while they’re on the clock, dress in an overly casual manner, mosey into work 30 minutes late, etc.
The handbook should also clearly state what the penalty is for breaking these rules, whether it be as minor as a verbal/written warning or as severe as termination of employment.
This helps ensure all employees are held to the same standards of behavior and that company policies are applied evenly across the board. It can also help defend higher-ups against claims of favoritism or discrimination.
One of the keys to fostering a great work environment is to keep an ear open for employee comments or suggestions. If your employees know their feedback is taken seriously, they’re far more likely to feel like valued members of the business.
The handbook can be a great jumping-off point for feedback conversations; don’t be afraid to ask an employee, “What do you think about the handbook? Are there any revisions to the text or formatting that you’d suggest?”
Make it clear that, while you’re not looking for comments on company policies at this moment in time, you want their opinion on how the handbook could better convey information (“Let’s put a map of the building in the disaster preparedness section so that evacuation routes are easier to visualize!”) or offer more detailed explanations (“Could the section on dress code actually define what we consider ‘business casual?’”). You may be surprised by the answers you receive.
Handbooks are a living history of your company’s growth and evolution. In case the previous section didn’t make this obvious: employee handbooks should not be considered sacred, irrefutable documents that must remain constant and unchanging for as long as the company exists.
In fact, you should really review (and, if necessary, revise) the handbook at least once a year in order to keep up with current labor and tax laws, your company’s shifting role and/or focus in your industry, and any unforeseen issues that will (inevitably) crop up as your company expands and your employees change.
The handbook and its previous editions can essentially serve as a reminder of what kind of business your company was when it started out and how it has evolved since then. It may even encourage you to “stick to your guns” in a fast-paced — often cutthroat — world.
Lastly, some employees may take pride — or at least see the humor — in pointing to a line of the handbook and saying to a new team member, “Yeah, I’m the reason we’re not allowed to download Spotify on to our work computers.” That’s a unique way to facilitate camaraderie and a sense of togetherness for employees.
Handbooks are great tools for bridging the gap between employees and employers, and they’re a way to ensure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to policies and expectations. They’re also a living record of your company and how it has changed since its inception.
Writing an employee manual can be a bit tricky if you’re starting from scratch, but a certified PEO can help immensely in this regard.
The bottom line: an employee handbook is a bit like a compass. You — and your employees — probably won’t need one on a daily basis, but they can provide much-needed guidance in certain situations … and possibly save your bacon when you’re in a really tough spot.