Writing or at the very least, updating your company’s employee handbook can seem unimportant when you have a small team or if you just do not have the time. However, an employee handbook is a company’s most important communication tool for employees. It sets the tone for your company’s culture and sets expectations for working there. And although you are not required by law to have one, it can provide protection for your company in the event of legal trouble.

Now, for your employee handbook to work as said communication tool, the name of the game is to get employees to actually read it! I have written, reviewed and edited countless handbooks just in my career—and if you want employees to read the document you have spent hours and hours writing (or hundreds of dollars to have written for you), here are a few tips that have found to have worked for me:

1. Make Sure Your Policies Are Specific to Your Business

Only include policies that are appropriate for your business, in your industry, in your location. This is probably the most common issue I see when I am reviewing a new client’s employee handbook. Usually, they’ve downloaded a template that includes every policy that a company could ever need and haven’t gone through to remove what doesn’t belong. Here’s an example: verbiage specific to laws that apply to a larger business, like the Family Medical Leave Act, which only applies to employers with 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius or including a policy on company-owned vehicles when your company doesn’t own vehicles.

Your handbook is only as good as the policies that are in it. If you have policies in there that you aren’t following or don’t apply to your business, how can your employees understand what is truly expected of them?

2. Keep it Short and Sweet

Employees do not want to read a novel; a good rule of thumb is 30-35 pages. Make sure that the policies you include apply to all employees, it can be confusing to try and decipher what applies specifically to which employees and what does not. For example, I once had a client with an 8-page dress code policy. They were a sports bar with multiple locations, and each position’s uniform was outlined in detail in the company’s very long (about 65 pages) handbook – host/hostess, waitstaff, kitchen staff, bussers, bar staff and management. A new busser would have had to read through about 3 pages before he or she came to the information specific to them.

While setting clear expectations is key, keep in mind what belongs in the training or procedures manual does not belong in the employee handbook. In the above example, we pared down the dress code to half a page and created a one page “uniform guide” for each position’s training manual.

3. Lose the Legalese and Use Everyday Language.

Your handbook is going to be chock full of useful information that you want your employees to have. And in order for employees to receive this information, they have to read the entire thing. And nobody wants to read something that sounds like a legal contract. You also don’t want employees to feel like they need an attorney to review it before they sign the acknowledgement page.

Be sure to use clear, everyday conversational language. Remember, you are setting the tone for your organization. You want your employee handbook to reflect your company’s culture.

4. Make It Easy to Reference

I once reviewed a handbook that looked like multiple people had written it in various fonts and lettering, with redundant policies and even some policies that contradicted each other. There was no table of contents and no page numbers. Now how on earth would an employee go back to find your PTO policy or dress code if they had a question?

Occasionally, employees will go back to your handbook to review a policy. You must keep this in mind and make it easy for them to go back and refence policies. Make sure you include a table of contents and page numbers. Group like policies together to create sections and use bullet points or tables when possible.

5. Make It Legal

There are over 180 federal employment laws. Add to that the numerous state and local laws (we see you, California and New York), and it is completely feasible that you could unintentionally put a policy or two in your handbook that aren’t compliant. So once you have written or updated our employee handbook, it is highly recommended that you get it reviewed by an employment attorney or certified HR professional.

No matter your company’s size, having a compliant handbook that is specific to your business, easy to read and reference is an effective communication tool and will reduce liability for your company in the event something goes wrong. If you need help writing your company’s employee handbook or just need someone to review what you have already put together, please contact us today!

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