When it comes to onboarding new hires and managing the ongoing people part of your business, few tools are quite as valuable as the employee handbook. A self-service guide for everything from PTO policies to performance expectations, your employee handbook can save you a ton of time and effort by answering questions and setting expectations.
Yet, a recent study showed that 36% of millennial employees don’t know where to find their employee handbook, and 11% have never cracked it open at all. These statistics aside, 80% of employees say the information they receive from HR is very to somewhat important.
Your handbook isn’t meant to be the be-all-end-all training manual for your company (in fact, no training materials should go into it). Nor does it need to be a thick tome that no one will want to read. So how do you craft a comprehensive employee handbook that not only provides the important information and protects your interests, but that also makes your employees want to use it?
The purpose of the employee handbook
Start by remembering why you need a handbook in the first place. While definitions vary slightly, your employee handbook is generally agreed to be a document that establishes important policies that are expected in the workplace and that protects the rights of employers and employees. Typically, you use the handbook to communicate to employees what you expect of them and what they can expect from you, ranging from the hours they’re expected to work to the clothing they can (and can’t) wear, to the benefits they’re entitled to and the basis for disciplinary actions.
Now, let’s look into the various components you might want to include when drafting your own employee handbook.
1. About Us
Before laying out your policies and procedures, you want to give employees a sense of your company culture, your mission and purpose, and how they can help your company grow. You should include a section at the start of the handbook that helps a new employee understand what your company is all about.
This section typically includes some history about your company and its purpose and mission. If you have a particularly interesting story to tell about your founders or the company came to be, be sure to tell it. This sections should also answer the following questions:
- What purpose does our company fill?
- Who are our customers?
- What solutions do we provide?
- What makes us unique?
Why new hires need it: Learning about your company and your mission helps new employees know what you stand for and understand their part in your bigger picture. If they can embrace your purpose and mission, they can help further it. Including it in the handbook communicates that you want employees to see your company as more than just a place to collect a paycheck.
2. Code of Conduct
A fancy way of saying rules, your code of conduct should define the behavior you expect from your staff. Some issues you might want to address include:
- Dress code
- Required work hours
- Attendance expectations
- Disciplinary procedures
- Guidelines on using company equipment, both in and out of the office
Why new hires need it: Clearly setting the ground rules up front sets expectations and encourages employee accountability. You could have a difficult time disciplining an employee for an infraction if you didn’t clearly state your expectations. Be clear in stating your code of conduct so that you create a stable work environment and cover your bases should you be faced with conduct issues.
3. Compensation and benefits
Naturally, new hires want to know how they will be paid and what benefits come with their employment, like insurance and retirement. You’ll want to include your policy for evaluating performance and offering pay increases, promotions and transfers. As benefit specifics can change from year to year, avoid providing plan details, but do be explicit about what benefits are available, when they become effective and how they’re earned. Also include a clause that your benefits are subject to change.
Why new hires need it: Even if you review benefits in-person with new hires, it’s likely they won’t retain all of the information. Providing it again in your employee handbook gives them a go-to resource to refer to later down the road.
4. Anti-discrimination policy
It’s important to include your anti-discrimination policies in your employee handbook so that you comply with the equal employment opportunity laws and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Outline what the consequences will be in the case of any form of harassment, as well as what the procedure is to report harassment concerns.
Why new hires need it: In addition to compliance with regulations and laws, your anti-discrimination policy sends a clear message that you will not tolerate discrimination and are committed to providing a fair and safe workplace for employees.
5. Time off and leave policy
Include how you manage employee time off requests and what, if any, paid time off employees are eligible for. Detail when employees become eligible for time off and how it is earned or accrued, as well as the process for requesting time off. If you meet the requirements, also state your adherence to the Family Medical Leave Act and include information about what the FMLA provides.
Why new hires need it: Employees want and need time off from time to time. Stating what they’re eligible for, whether time off is paid or unpaid, and what your expectations are when requesting time off will help employees follow protocol and could protect you in the event of a dispute.
You might want to include a section providing contacts for different departments or common employee needs. This provides an easy reference that will save both your employees and you time.
Why new hires need it: Providing employees with the contacts they need will go a long way toward helping them settle in and gain access to the resources and information they need. And, as an added bonus, it will encourage employees to keep their handbooks close at hand.
What you include your employee handbook is ultimately up to you and your company’s needs. If you find that you need a large volume of information, place an emphasis on making the information easy to find. Divide it into logical sections and provide a table of contents to make it easy for employees to navigate. And be sure that your policies are consistently enforced. Doing so will make your handbook a valuable resource for both your employees and your company.