When Operations Call for an Employee Handbook

Sometimes you think to yourself: This would be great to have documented somewhere.

When you’re running a small or mid-size business, especially one that’s growing, it can be hard to keep up with structures operationally as you’re bringing work in the door and managing clients and projects.

But you may be noticing that documenting procedures, standards, and information would be useful. It would save you and your team time to explain processes or dig up information.

If you’ve made the decision to work on setting some operational standards – where do you start?

A Handbook

An employee handbook can check many boxes off your list:

  • Outline workplace conduct expectations
  • Streamline procedures
  • Describe how your business will support its employees
  • Help with onboarding and educating newer employees (or retraining others)

A handbook can be useful not only for you and your staff to outline work expectations, but to help address conflict between coworkers or even back up your standards in the event of an employment lawsuit. And it can define more than procedures – you can summarize your company history and culture expectations within its pages.

What Goes Inside

An employee handbook can be the home base for every policy and procedure for your business, as well as a resource for employees to find information and understand expectations. It can include:

  1. Welcome Letter – From you or other company leadership, welcoming new employees to the company.
  2. Standard of Conduct – Cover the dress code, substance policies, anti-discrimination and anti-harassment standards, and any disciplinary action that will be taken if the standard is broken.
  3. Communication policies – Include what tools you use, what practice is expected, and timeliness to respond to clients, vendors, and coworkers. You can also outline a social media policy, both how the company is to be represented and employee use during work hours.
  4. Safety and Security – Outline the security of the physical office or store space, as well as the digital information and accessibility.
  5. Office Expectations – Cover expected work hours, any work-from-home flexibility, lunch or other break periods, and use of company equipment. You can list days the office is closed for holidays here.
  6. Compensation – Give a clear rundown of the payroll schedule, deductions, salary and bonus structures, performance reviews, and promotions. This is also a place to detail travel and expense reimbursements. Timekeeping and overtime sections can also live here.
  7. Company Story – Explain your history, your products and/or services, and your vision. Bring employees into the journey with you.
  8. Benefits – Outline the benefits of working for your company, and how well you’ll take care of employees. You can include highlights at the top of this section, and then cover in-depth the details of health insurance, paid time off, sick leave and family medical leaves, retirement accounts, etc.
  9. Employee Departures – Include the process if an employee leaves, including when they’ll receive a final pay, how they may elect their benefits to continue via COBRA, and if you’ll have an exit interview.

This is a lot of information, but all of it is important. If writing an employee handbook seems overwhelming, take it one step at a time. Set yourself a schedule to tackle a section every two weeks.

Some tips for writing it:

  • Start with organization. Create an outline – a table of contents, if you will – and then work on it from there.
  • Keep the language simple and easy to read. Avoid industry jargon or complex wording.
  • Have a coworker or someone who’s mentored you edit and proofread the copy.
  • Share the draft version with an employment lawyer to make sure it’s legally acceptable.

Once you’ve gone through the work of putting the handbook together and finalizing it, it’s time to make it accessible. Save the version as a PDF so it can’t be accidentally changed and make it available in general workplace documentation or on a company intranet. You can provide hard copies to all staff when you first introduce it as well as when a new employee starts. It’s best to also include a form for signature during employee orientation documenting they’ve read and agree to the standards outlined. Also, be sure to save older versions of your employee handbook as you update it for reference if litigation ever occurs.

An employee handbook can help new or standing employees navigate what you expect, how they are to perform their duties, and answer questions they may have on everything from benefits to computer security or compensation. It can help you streamline operations, show how you value your staff, and help with onboarding. Not to mention being useful documentation if any employment lawsuit ever arises.

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