Employee handbooks: version 2.0

Deborah Sweeney | April 8, 2012 | Comments (0)

Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation. A graduate of Pepperdine law & business schools, she is also a mother, wife and small business owner. Follow her on Twitter 

Employee handbooks are a widely despised relic of corporate culture. Nearly everyone hates them; from the lowly secretary who was drafted to write the darn thing, to the HR manager who had to proofread it, to the new employees who tuck it in a drawer and only bother digging it out when they need to know how many days they can call in sick before being written up.

Every job I’ve ever had has given me an employee handbook as part of the “welcome aboard package,” wedging coffee mugs and pens etched cheerily with corporate slogans into a box with my contracts and other pieces of important paperwork. And I, like many other employees, scanned the first five pages and suddenly lost complete track of my handbook.

But despite this reputation, businesses all across America are still printing out these thick handbooks and passing them around without any real drive to update them. We live in the digital age, and yet are bound to piles of paper that were likely first written in a steno pool. I implore all business owners to re-examine the handbooks they pass out and at least try to make them a little more palatable.

Create a searchable, digital copy

Like I said, we live in the ‘digital’ age – an era where physical barriers are being knocked down thanks to our collective preference for hyper connectivity and handheld gadgets. There is no reason why new employees should still have to lug a physical copy of an employee handbook home after their first day! Create a digital copy in a PDF or word format, something that your employees can search through, and ask them to, at the very least, keep it on their computers. They’ll have the answer to nearly any HR related question right at their fingertips, and the means to actually find those answers without investing a lunch hour to carefully studying and annotating their employee handbook.

Inject a little creativity or style, please!

Business writing is so utterly, irritatingly dry, but it doesn’t have to be. An employee handbook isn’t the place to type out your stand up routine, but you can at least make it enjoyable to read. I remember trying to wade through sentences that were so haphazardly strung together with commas and semicolons that they wound up filling entire pages by themselves. One sentence should not be able to do that! While no one reads employee handbooks for fun, things like flow and style are still very important. Your employees should at least have a decent idea of what their handbook says, and they are more likely to give it a cursory run through if the writing is good. It is also a good idea to present information in a way that’s easily digestible – spreadsheets and graphics, if used sparingly, are great reference tools.

Update the Content

Does your handbook still require women to wear ankle length dresses? Does it give a maximum length that men can have their hair? Well, then probably it’s time for an update. Even if it doesn’t have anything obvious like dated dress codes, I am willing to bet you haven’t clearly laid out a policy regarding visiting Facebook on company computers, or on employees sending personal e-mails from their smartphones while on the clock. As silly as it may sound, you really should create a clearly defined policy on internet usage at work so your employees know exactly what is expected out of them. There is no widely accepted standard on things like social loafing at work, so you should be sure to outline what yours is exactly.

No one will ever go home and tell their friends or significant other how great their employee handbook is, but even if the effort isn’t explicitly appreciated, updating the handbook you use is very important. Brew a cup of coffee, sit down with the one you use for your business, and give that baby a quick read. Chances are you won’t enjoy it, but you’ll have an idea of what needs to be fixed.

Doing little tasks like this aren’t the most romantic parts of running a business, but they are important and, at the very least, you won’t have to waste time with new employees explaining to them that they cannot spend six hours of their eight hour day on Facebook.

Tags: , corporate culture, Deborah Sweeney, digital age, employee handbook, HR

Category: Career Girl, Women on the Inside

About Deborah Sweeney: View author profile.