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Are Employee Handbooks A Lifesaver Or A Nightmare?

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Small business managers and corporate professionals alike are familiar with the daunting task of managing an ever-growing workforce, yet fewer of them than ever before are relying on the help of an employee handbook to achieve their organizational objectives without stumbling along the way. This is because many business professionals view employee handbooks as an undue burden and would much rather roll with the punches than predetermine how employees should behave.

Is there any logic to this natural dismissiveness towards employee handbooks? Are they really a nightmare, or could they instead be a real lifesaver? Here’s what you need to know about embracing employee handbooks.

Organization is key

The most important thing to understand about employee handbooks is that they facilitate greater organizational prowess throughout the ranks of your company. It’s technically possible for businesses which lack employee handbooks to run smoothly, but it’s much more challenging, largely because rank and file workers have few places to turn when something inevitably goes wrong.

Larger companies in particular can benefit from employee handbooks, as they often deal with more numerous workforces, but small businesses can also tap into the benefits of an employee handbook if they follow the right steps.

It’s also imperative to remember that not all employee handbooks are equal. Some are deeply complex whereas others are relatively plain, muted, and simple. Which style of employee handbook you rely upon will largely depend upon your company culture, size, and the complexity of your logistical and hierarchical structure.

Larger companies can benefit from heeding the advice of Deloitte, which has released an extensive guide exploring the finer points of more complex employee handbooks. This denser handbook style, more fit for larger and more corporate businesses, focuses extensively on operational considerations that your handbook will need to consider.

Smaller businesses shouldn’t be intimidated by dense corporate text that are difficult to parse, however, especially since keeping an employee handbook simple and understandable is essential towards leveraging them effectively to achieve commercial gains.

Never allow yourself to forget that if your workers are incapable of understanding your employee handbook, you essentially have no handbook in the first place, as this is supposed to be something that’s easy to refer to whenever there’s a crisis.

Small businesses should also be aware that you can’t use an employee handbook as a substitute for good managers. While they’re useful, especially when it comes to training newcomers and familiarizing them with the company, they’re only one tool amongst many when it comes to instilling and maintaining discipline and productivity within the office.

Know what NOT to do

If you want your employee handbook to devolve into a real nightmare, an ugly document which employees struggle to parse, then you can forge ahead alone. If you’re interested in churning out a stellar handbook that actually guarantees results, however, you’ll want to know what not to do before you get started, as the simple mistakes which have frustrated the efforts of others could come haunt you, too.

Doing your homework by reading about the most common mistakes included in most employee handbooks will go a long way towards guaranteeing that your business won’t produce an error-riddled handbook which confuses employees just as often as it helps them.

What shouldn’t be included in an employee handbook? While it should ultimately be engaging to read, it can’t be too over the top and personalized, as this is a company document which is supposed to serve as a useful and relatively neutral set of instructions. Try to be too funny, too relatable, or otherwise too goofy in your employee handbook and you’ll foil its usefulness while ensuring your workers don’t take the company culture too seriously.

You don’t have to be stuck up when writing an employee handbook like you would a legal agreement written by a law firm, but understand that a sense of seriousness and professionalism is necessary if you want the behavior of your workers to reflect positively on the image of your company.

Ultimately, knowing what not to do will also entail understanding your company’s unique and pre-existing culture. If your workforce has been operating without an employee handbook thus far, it will be jarring to introduce new rules, regulations, and guidelines all of the sudden.

This doesn’t mean you should remain entrenched in the past, of course, but rather that you need to introduce changes slowly and surely, helping your employees master the new rules as you bring them forth.

Know why they exist in the first place

Finally, you need to appreciate the reason employee handbooks exist if you want yours to be a roaring success; if your employee manual isn’t putting employees first, you’ve made a terrible mistake. This document exists because your rank and file workers will frequently need advice, but they won’t always have a manager or experienced coworker to turn to.

If your handbook isn’t chock-full of useful information which can help your workers escape a bind, you’ve done little to prepare them for the struggles they’re about to encounter in the commercial arena.

Remember the golden rule of putting workers first and designing employee handbooks around them, and soon your company will be running more smoothly than ever before. Remember that managers who fail to take everyday workers into account when churning out handbooks are really producing nightmarish content that’s hardly useful to anyone.

Consulting an uninvolved third party, perhaps even a professional, and asking them to review your employee handbook could be very useful to know your employees’ rights in that situation. Furthermore, collecting anonymous feedback from your rank-and-file workers will go a long way towards ensuring that future versions of your official company guidance are more accurate and useful than ever before.

A useful employee handbook produced by wise leaders will serve as a lifesaver for many in your business. Fail to put the needs of workers first, however, and you’ll have created a document which produces nightmares and constant difficulties for your employees.

Remember not to rush too quickly into the creation of an employee handbook, and invest properly in its initial creation, and soon your workers will be more confident in times of crisis than ever.

Published: August 28, 2020

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matthew davies

Matthew Davies

Matthew Davies is a creative and passionate HR Director with 15 plus years proven experience up to board level in international and world-class corporations. He has had the privilege of working on a wide range of projects that have enabled him to apply his leadership and technical skills and he have proven expertise in managing change, business integration and outsourcing.

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