HRA Blog

Employee Handbooks for the Modern Workforce

Written by Tiffany Aukema on .

Over the past several months, I have worked on three employee handbooks which often causes friends and colleagues to groan, roll their eyes and let me know how sorry they feel for me.  Ironically, working on employee handbooks is something I really enjoy and find rewarding!

I admit, workplace policies aren’t particularly glamorous and often seem antithetical to workplaces that are more often moving towards progressive ideas such as telecommuting, flexible schedules, and unlimited PTO. Even last week an HR colleague of mine suggested that companies need to scrap rigid policies and encourage creativity by allowing flexibility in all aspects of the work experience.

I am encouraged that companies are starting to think outside the box and come up with creative ways to work.  However, I would argue that as new ideas emerge, employment policies need to change, not be eliminated.

While employees want less stringent rules, they also need to understand workplace expectations.  Clear expectations help create a foundation of fairness, consistency, and organization.  Without a clear set of expectations, employers encourage the “I didn’t know…” mentality, which leads to frustration, decreased morale and, in more extreme situations, lawsuits.

The good news is that employers can get around the negative stereotype of employee handbooks.  Workplace policies can be progressive!

In creating an employee handbook, employers should consider the following:

  1. Take a close look at your culture. Employee handbook policies should accurately reflect the current environment both inside and outside your organization. It’s important to carefully read and thoughtfully reflect on each current policy. Revise any policies to mirror the values of the organization and represent the daily experience, and ensure the policies are written in a tone that is consistent with the company voice.
  2. Consider creating a two-pronged handbook that addresses the compliance needs and the culture. Certain policies are necessary to protect both the employee and the employer, but the entire handbook doesn’t need to be a stodgy set of policies. Know which policies are important for legal reasons and which policies are important to the employee work experience, creativity, and productivity. The EEO related policies can be drafted in a way that supports diversity as a company value rather than “because it is the law.”
  3. Ask your employees what is important to them. Creating a new employee handbook is a perfect time to engage staff and find out what is important to them. While employers shouldn’t expect to change the world with a new handbook, small and measured changes suggested by employees can be implemented.
  4. Once completed, have an attorney review your new employee handbook to ensure compliance with employer laws and that new policies are written in ways to avoid possible litigation.
  5. Thoughtfully introduce the new employee handbook with careful communication. Let employees know that the policies were written in a way that reflects your organization’s values. Help them understand why rules and expectations are important to a healthy workplace. The employee handbook serves as a central resource for workplace concerns.

As your organization looks to the future and you consider embracing progressive work styles and environments, don’t ignore the employee handbook and assume it doesn’t have a place in the modern workplace.  Leverage the handbook to reinforce your company culture, while at the same time, providing employees with a confidence that your organization is practicing policy with fairness and consistency.