How to write an Employee Handbook

An employee handbook, as the name suggests, is a handy communication tool that informs and creates awareness about an organization’s guidelines and policies and gives insight into the company’s vision and culture. Since Indian labor and employment laws are considered to be one of the most complex ones in the world, most companies use an employee handbook as a convenient measure to ensure compliance with these laws. While most organizations opt for the tried-and-tested-route when it comes to drafting an employee handbook, some companies breathe inspiration and creativity into theirs. A poorly drafted employee handbook is also said to be an effective sedative in the treatment for insomnia (right alongside my 9th-grade history textbook)! So, let us focus on how not to create such a potent draught and instead try and make it an effective and beneficial communication tool!

8 steps to create a detailed employee handbook -

1. The disclaimer

A disclaimer is what defines the nature of the employee handbook and should at the very outset state that the employee handbook is not a contract of employment. Not including this critical point in the handbook could leave your organization vulnerable to lawsuits by terminated employees.

2. Introduction and welcome note

Most employee handbooks start with the customary “introduction and welcome note” that introduces employees to the company’s principles, goals, and core values. An important point to remember while drafting this is to avoid figurative language, for instance, referring to the organization as a family, as it could imply indefinite employment! Instead, provide them with a general overview of the work environment and hierarchy. Another critical point to include is regarding the at-will employment relationship which states that the employee can be terminated at will anytime with or without notice by the employer or employee.

Valve, a gaming software company’s employee handbook is an excellent example of one that communicates its work culture, a brief description of how it started and its lack of hierarchy in an upbeat, empathetic yet effective manner. This ensures an effective communication of what the employee can expect from the company and its management and what is expected of them.

3. Company’s mission statement

A successful business is one where all its employees are aligned with the company’s vision and goals and work toward bringing the same to fruition. The first step toward this is to state in lucid terms what these goals are so that it imparts a sense of purpose and duty to the employee.

Brimming with personality and written in a conversational style is the much talked about handbook of Disqus, an online blog comment hosting service company. The Disqus handbook covers everything from the mission statement, product overview, and milestones to their favorite phrases and life at Disqus, and all done in an engaging and lighthearted manner.

4. Sexual harassment and anti-discrimination policies

It is important to expressly state in your handbook your company’s zero-tolerance policy toward harassment or discrimination of any kind. It is advisable to take professional legal advice while drafting this section since it requires you to define harassment and how to identify it at the workplace. The employee must also be made aware of the contact details of the person to whom such an incident can be reported. The Infosys employee handbook has a detailed section dedicated to its harassment and discriminatory policies where they appeal to everyone to respect each other to create a safe workplace.

5. Leave policies

Most companies these days are quite accommodating of their employees’ leave requirements. Whether you have a strict policy regarding it or are more relaxed when it comes to your employees taking time off, clearly mention the kinds of leave permissible such as vacations, sick days, maternity leave, etc. Do not neglect to disclose any restrictions on leaves of absence such as termination of employment or revoking of employee benefits due to excessive time off. It is important to mention a timeframe within which employees can apply for vacation or other leaves.

Motley Fool’s has a rather straightforward “take what you need” attitude with regard to its vacation policy as clearly mentioned in their handbook.

6. Disciplinary policies

A company’s employee handbook is a valuable document not only when it comes to introducing the employee to the organization’s work culture and important policies, but also as a deterrent to inappropriate and unprofessional behavior. Clearly define what constitutes employee misconduct while explaining the consequences of such actions. It has to be made clear, however, that inappropriate actions/behavior would be judged on a case-by-case basis by the organization. The language used in explaining such sensitive topics must never be threatening as that would lead the employees to be in a constant state of fear of being disproportionately punished. An important point to be included under this section is a disclaimer that states “or any other behavior proven to be detrimental and harmful to the company” so that the misconduct mentioned are not limited to only the ones listed.

7. Social networking and blogging

With social media pervading our everyday lives, it is crucial to specify what the organization’s policies are regarding accessing social media account while at work. If this is strictly prohibited, then mention that in the handbook along with the disciplinary action that accompanies such insubordination. There should be strict rules regarding posting of confidential or proprietary company information and photos of colleagues taken at the workplace.

8. Employee benefits

Most organizations go on to give descriptions of employee benefits that they offer and this could include information related to health insurance, company retirement plans, compensation, disability coverage to name a few. It is not recommended, however, to give a detailed account of the benefits, since most companies typically have a separate benefits plans that explain these in greater detail. All that is needed here is a brief description of the benefits offered and eligibility criteria along with contact information. Some companies offer stock options as a way to motivate their employees and it is proven to be quite an effective way to cultivate a sense of ownership toward the company’s success. Motley Fools’ handbook states it thus, “Every Fool is an owner of The Motley Fool. Shortly after joining the Fool, you’ll be granted shares in the company. There are also periodic opportunities for Fools to buy more shares or sell what they own.” It is crucial to include a disclaimer in this section in the event of any inconsistencies between the handbook and any oral or written document describing plans and benefits offered by the company. It is advisable to ensure that the handbook’s description of benefit plans aligns with the company’s formal plan documents.

9. Termination policies

This section pertains to policies regarding voluntary termination of employment. Depending on your organization’s policies, clearly, state the period of advance notice that the employee is expected to provide before terminating his employment. Provide information, although brief regarding your company’s termination policies including final paychecks, what employees need to do, whether there would be an exit interview etc. While some organizations include this under the companies policy section, others draft this as a separate section in their handbook.

A few tips to consider

An employee handbook is a living document and not something that is to be written and then forgotten soon after. It needs to be updated frequently, reviewed and personalized per your company’s policies and values. Avoid making your handbook bulky and unmanageable. With most companies going digital with their handbook, it is even more of a necessity to make it a light yet effective read. Most handbooks come with a signed acknowledgment form which the employee is expected to sign. Failing to do so will not provide any ‘legal protection benefits’ in the event of a lawsuit by the employee.

The above-mentioned points should help guide you in the right direction while drafting your own employee handbook. Whether you choose to take the more conservative approach to drafting it or allow creativity to guide you down that path, keep in mind that a handbook is essentially a document that communicates to a new employee what you expect from him/her and what he/she can expect in return from you. Your language and design should reflect this in as clear a way as possible. It is also advisable to seek legal counsel to ensure there are no legal loopholes that can be exploited before publishing it in print or online.

While your team works toward creating a great employee handbook, it is important to ensure that you hire the right candidate for your company. With growing technology, sourcing candidate is not a major issue. For every opening, you receive thousands of application. What is important is to assess these candidates based on their skills, without being biased. Using Talent Assessment software like HackerEarth not only helps you scale your hiring process by evaluating thousands of candidate with a single click, it also shares a detailed comparison report of candidates. Giving a detailed report, before you interview a candidate.

So make sure only the right candidate reads your Employee Handbook, while you put so much effort into it. Use a Talent Assessment Software.



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