Your New Employee Handbook: 5 Examples of What NOT to Do

Whether or not this is your first rodeo, creating or overhauling an employee handbook is a big project. If you know the traps you might encounter along the way, you can devise a plan to avoid them. These five pieces of advice will help you steer clear of common pitfalls during your next handbook project.

1. Don’t: Share Content Ownership
Someone’s got to be in charge of curating your handbook. That person doesn’t need to write everything, but they need to own the product. If nobody specific is in charge, updates become lax (#notmyresponsibility), voice/tone lack cohesion, and policies end up housed and distributed in separate places, making them difficult for employees to find. Although it might sound appealing to have different departments own their respective content, you’ll find that this results in a hodgepodge of conflicting policies that quickly become outdated without a true content manager (*cough* lawsuit waiting to happen *cough*).

Customer quote: “When I became head of the HR unit, I thought from a process point of view it would be easier to have separate policies on the intranet by department, each ‘owned and kept current’ by the various departments. After a number of years, this is not working! Policies remain out of date, they are scattered all over the intranet, and no-one reads them.”

2. Don’t: Fail to Consider How You’ll Distribute the Handbook
As you’re developing your handbook, it’s easy to forget about a biggie: how you’ll share it with employees. Don’t wait until your new handbook is done and say, “Now what?” Instead, research and choose your distribution method early in case it affects what content you’ll include or how you’ll present it. For example, if you’re going digital, you might opt to incorporate videos or other design elements, which often requires greater lead time and coordination with marketing. Or, if you’re using Blissbook, you’ll have the ability to hide policy content behind a “read more” button, which may change how you organize your content. By considering your medium at the start of the project, you can improve your end product and the chances that employees will actually read it. Boom!

3. Don’t: Allot Insufficient Time for Stakeholder Review
At a minimum, your legal team and CEO will want to review and approve your handbook content before it’s distributed to employees. Others may want in on the action, too – like your head of marketing, HR leaders in other locations, and more. If done thoroughly, it will take weeks or months to receive and reconcile feedback from all parties. Give yourself plenty of time to evaluate the feedback and incorporate the requested changes. You’ll be happy you did.

4. Don’t: Leave Out Your Culture and Personality
“I don’t even want to look at it, and, if I don’t, our employees definitely don’t want to. We put a lot of time and energy into it, and I want it to be used.” Does this sound like you? “Fun” probably isn’t the first word that comes to mind when you think about an employee handbook. However, your handbook can become more than simply a means to communicate policies and procedures; it can give a glimpse into your company’s culture. Aim to make your handbook appealing enough that it’s reasonable to ask an employee to actually read through it – maybe not every word, but most of it.

Consider including interesting facts about the company and its leadership, how and why the company was founded, and its driving mission and values. If you can find ways to incorporate some pizzazz, you’re likely to garner more reader attention, which will make the entire project more worthwhile. If you’re ready to make your handbook digital, branding, graphics, video, and interactivity will go a long way in achieving that holy grail: employees who’ve read your handbook.

5. Don’t: Forget the Handbook is a Living Document
Even if you create the most amazing and accurate handbook in the history of handbooks, it will inevitably require updates. While you’re in the midst of creation, it’s important to plan for the unavoidable editing process. If you create a system that enables easy updating, you’ll be thankful down the road. 

For example, if your handbook has multiple versions or is spread across too many files, it can easily become an unorganized mess. Editors won’t know if they’re looking at the latest version, so it can be exceptionally hard to ensure that everyone is updating and accessing the proper content. More importantly, employees will struggle to know if what they’re reading is accurate, which can open employers up to a slew of liability concerns.

It’s also important to consider your chosen medium and how it will affect the editing process. If you use PDFs with design elements and custom layouts (think InDesign), editing can become a beast. Though it’s great to create an aesthetically pleasing product that goes above and beyond the typical 60-page, black-text-on-white-paper approach, you will find yourself in the throes of an unsustainable editing process. If text changes lead to layout and image adjustments, editing will quickly lose its appeal. Simple, five-minute edits turn into five-week ordeals when they require coordination with a third-party file creator, and, eventually, you’ll just stop making edits.

Creating a new handbook or overhauling your existing one is a big undertaking, but it can be simplified by proactively dodging these common handbook hang-ups.

Drew Dotson

Drew Dotson

Drew enjoys eating cheese, cuddling with dogs, doing puzzles, and watching sports. She is passionate about raising awareness (and funds) for cystic fibrosis.


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