What Not To Include in Your Employee Handbook
The employee handbook serves several purposes. It should educate employees about the company’s mission and vision, explain workplace policies and procedures, lay out expectations and strategic goals, and include information about culture and leadership. That’s a tall order for one document! Keeping your employee handbook concise, well-organized, and updated can be a headache.
The list of items that should be included in your handbook seems to be growing every day, but some items are better left out.
For a more effective and helpful employee handbook, don’t include these four items:
Every Possible Situation That Might Arise
When you list every single situation that might arise and meticulously lay out how you’ll handle those situations, you’re basically guaranteeing your employees won’t read what you’ve written or remember it. It’s simply too much information.
Sadly 43% of generation Y is not reading the majority of the employee handbook even when they have access to a digital copy. Worse yet, of those who have read the employee handbook, only 1 in 3 said it was helpful. Including too many details only makes it more likely that employees will ignore the information you really do need them to know.
Gobs of Organizational Jargon
Most employees see the handbook on their very first day with your organization, and they likely don’t have a deep understanding of your workplace culture or slang. Be sure you aren’t using acronyms and confusing organizational jargon.
Including jargon makes your handbook less effective. Employees reading it for the first time may not understand what they’re reading, and they may be hesitant to ask for clarification. As a result, they might unintentionally violate policies or fail to follow your practices. Jargon also separates those who are new and those who’ve been with the company for a longer period of time. In some ways, jargon can unite an organization, but in other ways, it can create a clique that’s difficult to break into. Leave this type of language out of your handbook.
Pro Tip: Create a dictionary with all organizational-specific terms, and create a link to this resource in the handbook.
Language That Boxes You In
Don’t commit to policies and practices on paper if you can’t commit to them in action. You may need to make exceptions and accommodations, treating people differently in unique situations. For example, it’s fine to mention that you typically follow a progressive disciplinary process, but you don’t want to guarantee or give the impression that you’ll always follow each progressive step in every case. Sometimes, an employee may need to be terminated immediately because they did something egregious. If your handbook says or implies that discipline will always start with a verbal or written warning, employees may try to hold you to that.
Your handbook should also not imply that it creates a contractual employment relationship. If you want to maintain an at-will relationship with employees, it’s a good idea to say in the handbook that nothing in it alters the at-will relationship.
Pro Tip: Many employers call a new employee’s first 90 days a “probationary period.” This is somewhat outdated and risky because it undermines the concept of at-will employment. Consider calling a new employee’s first 90 days an “introductory period.”
Overly Restrictive Social Media Policies
Every employer knows that the behavior of employees, while they’re off the clock, can affect the company’s reputation — especially their social media activity. However, employers take a big risk when they try to define what personal social media activity is acceptable and what is not. Here’s why:
Employees have certain rights under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act, and those rights extend to their personal social media accounts. Section 7 defines and protects concerted activity by employees. Generally, this concerted activity occurs when employees act as a group (i.e., in concert) for their mutual aid or protection. That said, it’s easy for an individual employee to gain protection under the Act if they are discussing the terms and conditions of their employment either physically around co-workers or in the same virtual space (e.g., Facebook). The terms and conditions of employment include pay, benefits, treatment by management, dress codes, workplace policies, scheduling, and much more. An overly restrictive social media policy could put you at risk of violating these employee rights.
As an employer, however, you have certain rights as well. This can be a murky topic, and staying up to date on legislation is tricky. Lucky for you, staying up to date on legislation is our bread and butter at ThinkHR. Get the information you need to protect your employees and your organization all while complying with the many employment laws that affect your organization. See exactly how we can help your organization by connecting with your insurance broker or payroll provider or by booking a custom and free consultation.