Why the answer might not be as straightforward as you think.
Many business owners think that having an employee handbook is a legal requirement. In fact, it isn’t.
Anyone you employ is covered by statutory employment law and their rights and your responsibilities are protected. Provided you have given your employee a written statement of the main terms and conditions (usually in an employment contract) there is no requirement to have a handbook as well.
If you are wondering whether to create a handbook or not, there are some good free templates available on Air which are easy to customize to your own needs. So why have a handbook then? Of course, even if it’s not necessary to be legally compliant, there are a few reasons why a handbook might be right for your business.
1. A statement of your company story and culture
What inspired you to start up the business? What are your ambitions for the business? What are some of the key successes you’ve achieved? What are some of the obstacles you’ve overcome along the way? It’s a way for you to “tell the story” of the company’s origins. Don’t forget that where you’ve come from and what got you there is a powerful source of inspiration for new employees. Simple things like reminding new starters that when the business was just starting out, everyone including the boss had to pitch in and tackle any job that came along, even down to cleaning the loos, sends a strong message of teamwork. Your company culture and beliefs are inside your head as part of your DNA. As you grow, it’s harder to communicate these consistently to new starters who didn’t witness the early grind first hand. Stating them in the handbook is a great place to start. Find out more about building a great company culture here.
2. Additional policies or information about the company
There might be a whole bunch of details that you need people to know and capturing them in a handbook is a simple way of doing it. Things like organisation structure, holiday policies, teams, office locations, how to let people know if you are sick, great lunch spots…..all the way to operating procedures for different teams and departments. We’ve seen some handbooks that are as simple as a one page document. For example, Nordstrom spokesperson, Dan Evans says, “Our employee handbook is a single card that says ‘Use good judgment in all situations’. By contrast, we’ve also seen incredibly detail heavy 100+ page documents. Guess which ones are most likely to be read?
Whatever you choose to do, ensure you make sure that new employees know about your workplace when you onboard them, and that you store all relevant information in a handy area that all your people can access, like Air’s company files area.
There are also some good reasons why some employers choose NOT to have a handbook.
1. Not a good fit with company culture
If your business is trying to avoid traditional top-heavy bureaucratic systems, a huge handbook will in and of itself send precisely the opposite message. We’ve seen businesses where a huge amount of time, effort and money has been spent on a handbook. But when employees were asked if they had read it, the answer was invariably not only “No”, but more often, “I didn’t even know we had one!” We’ve also been asked to update handbooks. When we looked at them they were full of references to employees who had left the business over 10 years ago, and laws that had been changed.
If you do decide to have a handbook, make sure that you keep it updated regularly so it’s relevant and takes account of any changes to employment law. Click here for a free employee handbook template from Air that’s up to date, and that can be customized simply to your organisation.
2. Prefer to document policies individually
This is a really good reason not to have a huge handbook. Often, handbooks are a collection of all the policies that a company has. Particularly if you are giving out hard copies – and you’d be surprised by how many businesses still do this – you will need to update and distribute the whole handbook every time something like the law on maternity leave changes. What a hassle. The alternative is to keep the handbook minimal, but document your individual policies separately. These can be kept within a beautiful and simple tool like Air’s company files area, where everyone can easily access them and you can simply communicate updates at a click of a button. There is a good free selection of free HR policy templates on Air that you can tailor to your needs. When the law changes, you will still need to update each policy individually. Using a resource like Air’s free HR policy templates means you can be sure that everything is up to date.
3. Creative ideas
Some turn the handbook into a “culture book”, video or even a comic book . What about social media and blogs? Yes! Why not? There are no limits so let your imagination go wild. There are some innovative ideas here. You’ll find some of the coolest companies on the planet are ditching paper handbooks, with inspiring results, why not join them? It won’t cost you much.
4. Involve your employees
Some of the most innovative and cool handbooks involve the company’s employees to write, update and constantly evolve these information sources. What a great way to build employee engagement and increase the sense of ownership in the business! And don’t think that just because your business isn’t in the “creative” space you can’t go down this route. Giving your employees a chance to display their creative streak might reveal unknown talents that can be harnessed both for their benefit, and ultimately the business. A win for everyone!
Find out more about creating a company culture where your employees will fall in love with work here.