Have someone describe a typical employee manual and you will likely hear words like “dry”, “stiff” and “boring”. Face it, most textbooks aren’t exactly page turners. They are documents designed to play defense or, worse yet, a catalog of past problems in the workplace.
But it doesn’t have to be. Your employee handbook should be the road map for how to operate in your business – an introduction to your culture and a guide that your employees interact with on a regular basis. If you believe in your company’s vision, policies, and procedures, you should want every employee to read and use them.
So here’s an idea: write an employee manual that your employees will want to read. After all, the manual is often the first document a new employee receives, sometimes the only document all employees are required to read and recognize, and a document that is reviewed, revised and released annually. Take the chance.
Here are five strategies for creating an employee handbook that can excite employees and strengthen your culture:
Imagine if I had titled this article: “Reader’s Article”. Would you have clicked on it? Probably not. Names like “employee manual” and “personnel manual” signal to your employees that the document is going to be long, laborious, and catchy. So find a new name that engages employees, piques their curiosity and conveys your company culture from the start. Examples can range from conventional (eg “Team Guide”) to unconventional (“The Way Things Work” or “Our Practical Book”).
Every business should have a mission: why your employees come to your workplace every day, rather than the millions of other workplaces. Your mission must involve your employees both emotionally and intellectually, creating an exciting challenge close to their hearts.
Start your manual by explaining your company’s mission and values to your employees. This will set the stage for the rest of your policies and procedures, not only for the reader, but also for you, the writer.
Building and maintaining a vibrant, engaging and compelling corporate culture can be a competitive advantage in any industry. So use your manual as a platform to help your employees understand and spread your culture and values.
Rather than copying and pasting generic policies into your manual, customize them for your business. Explain your policies and the reasons behind them, and do it in a tone that matches how you usually talk to your employees.
For example, your dress code policy can articulate the image your company seeks to present internally and to customers. Your job posting or performance review policy can explain your company’s commitment to developing employees and promoting internally. And your benefits policy can describe your company’s perspective on work-life balance.
Employers, especially small businesses, are becoming more and more creative with the perks and perks they offer. From sabbaticals to employee appreciation to public service and lifelong learning, employers are finding ways to do more work than just paycheck.
If you’ve invested in creating employee programs or benefits, include them in your manual. And don’t bury them deep in your table of contents – put them forward.
The rest of the manual is filled with the expectations you have for your employees and how they are supposed to invest in your business. Turn your manual into a dialogue by telling your employees what they can expect from you and how you plan to invest in them.
Be creative in the way you present your textbook. Skip the PDF. Instead, make it readable and attractive. Print it in color, tie it up, or even wrap it with a knot. Plan an annual corporate event around the presentation of your textbook for the coming year. Or bring it to life with an interactive survey, fun quiz, or reward in the middle, like a coffee gift card to congratulate employees on their progress.
These techniques are light, but they do not compromise the value and seriousness of your manual. Rather, they show how important it is to you and how your policies and practices are embedded in your culture and mission. Your notebook is the entry ticket for your employees in an exclusive club: your company. Present it like this.
Employment policies are serious business. But for employees to take them seriously and incorporate them into their day-to-day work, these policies need to be an extension of your culture, not a waiver.
Even companies that are committed to investing in and building a vibrant culture often only use their manual as a backstop to minimize risk rather than a tool to build culture and create value. Take the opportunity to set your business apart from the crowd with an engaging and authentic employee manual.
–Nathan Christensen is the CEO of HRAnswerLink, Inc., a Portland, Ore., HR consulting and technology company that provides HR compliance solutions to more than 70,000 small businesses nationwide. Follow him on @chrispdx.