The moment you start considering building a team, the employee handbook becomes one of the most important tools of your business. As an employer, you will be required by law to comply with a multitude of policies as well as ensure that your employees are aware of their rights. At the minimum, a handbook acts as both a resource for your staff in learning company policies and procedures as well as legal protection for you as an employer.
But the handbook can, and should, be so much more than a list of legalities and procedural descriptions. It is your new employee’s first glimpse into the culture of your company. Employers should keep this in mind. Beyond the list of legal requirements, what else do you want this new member of the team to know about your company?
Let’s cover both the material a handbook should discuss and how to design one that will be a useful resource to employees throughout their time at your company (because a handbook that gathers dust is a very sad thing).
Essential components in an employee handbook
There’s a lot of policies to comply with as an employer, especially in the state of California. Everything from the various types of leaves (FMLA, jury duty, sick leave, paid time off) to on-the-job rights (meal and rest breaks, lactation accommodation, health and safety policy), these will make up the bulk of your handbook.
But the real effort to convey company culture is in the policies discussed that go beyond legal requirements. Such as:
- Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI): What policies does your company follow to ensure the fair treatment of all its employees? How are all employees invited to participate in company objectives AND given the opportunity at advancement, all the while feeling both welcomed and encouraged to contribute?
- Additional leave policies. Some companies go beyond what is required of them when it comes to available types of leave for their employees or they expand upon the existing policies, all in an effort to offer a healthy work-life balance. Examples of this include expanded parental leave, bereavement leave, or the ability to take time off for an undisclosed personal reason.
- Wellness/mental health policies. Big topic recently, especially after the pandemic. Typically these policies and lists of available resources are written alongside the explanation of benefits, and serve to communicate how the company will support the overall health of the employee. It’s an invaluable opportunity to make a statement about the manner of employer you will be.
- Remote work policies. Another hot topic born of the pandemic, the option to work remote (if applicable) should be thoroughly discussed in the handbook. Expectations should be clearly outlined, as well as the resources that will be available to employees to ensure they feel a part of the team.
- Pay equity and wage transparency policies. Recent leaks of the disparities in wages, especially among genders, has both resulted in requirements by law to make available pay scales and an interest in business owners to communicate and support any additional policies they adopt to ensure equitable treatment.
Now that you have more than enough material for the handbook, you might be thinking about how to present all this information. Without putting the reader to sleep. Here we go!
Writing an engaging handbook
- Feel free to write in a (somewhat) informal manner. Professional doesn’t have to be boring. While you don’t want to pepper the text with trendy slang, do consider a more conversational tone.
- Consider design! What does that mean? Use white space to your advantage. Look into how things like sentence length, paragraph spacing, and the use of images help to break up the text so that it’s easier to read.
- Ensure the table of contents is correct. And don’t bury one topic in another.
- Liberally place contact information. Having the relevant contact’s email or phone number included within a subject will help your staff direct their questions to the right person the first time.
A good employee handbook is a living document supporting a dynamic business and as such changes to the text will likely occur on a regular basis. There are a few ways to do this efficiently, and it’ll pay off to follow them. Let’s discuss.
How to effectively make changes to a handbook
- Notify employees prior to making changes. This isn’t required unless advance notice has been stipulated as policy or a union must be kept in the loop, but it makes for very good practice as it helps to build trust with staff. Invaluable.
- Ensure changes are legal. It may appear obvious but employers do sometimes make the mistake of implementing new policy changes without first making sure they follow legal guidelines. Do your homework!
- Get all departments on board prior to roll-out. Make sure accounting, etc. have been prepped of upcoming changes and are prepared to support them on day one. Changes to policies will go much smoother if everyone is ready for them.
Utilizing these tips will get you a handbook that you’ll be proud to present to new employees and most importantly, a resource that will be utilized throughout their time at your company! One last tip, if you think of the handbook as a product of the marketing department, it could help motivate you to make the extra effort in designing a great one.
Still feeling overwhelmed? Eos HR can take the project off your hands! We help new employers provide all the essential materials to employees so they can feel confident they’re in legal compliance AND that their team is properly supported. Schedule a free consultation today to learn more.