An employee handbook, also known as a staff handbook or employee manual, is a document given to and signed by new employees. It is not a legally binding document as such but it sets expectations and lays out procedures. Employee handbooks have been used in employment tribunals to prove whether processes were followed or whether an employee was aware of them. Although employee handbooks may include information regarding rights and policies, you will likely also be required to have some of these included also in the employment contract, which is a legally binding agreement.
Do I Need An Employee Handbook?
If you’re running a business that hires employees then you should strongly consider creating an employee handbook. Whether you have two employees or 200,000, an across-the-board record of policies and procedures is vital for consistency, effective communication and ensuring everyone knows what is expected of them and what to expect of the company.
In addition, a staff handbook can be a professional and warm welcome for new recruits. It also serves as a reference for seasoned employees for company practices they might not have come across or had to implement in some time.
Benefits Of Employee Handbooks
A well-written and well-thought-out staff handbook can provide clear guidelines for employees and is an opportunity to reinforce your brand ethos and values. Setting the right company culture often starts with a staff handbook. Some of the key benefits of employee handbooks include:
- Works as a friendly welcome and helpful guide
- Dictates what employees can expect from the company
- Sets company expectations of employees
- Explains procedures so that employees have a reference, especially for potentially sensitive matters that they may not wish to discuss with other employees
- Demonstrates equality in terms of policies, procedures and expectations from the top down
- Ensures managers are aware of their staff’s rights
- Reduces legal risk to the company
- Shares company values and key missions
- Is more likely to be referred back to than contracts
Things To Include In Your Employee Handbook
Remember, although your staff handbook should be clear and easy to understand, this doesn't mean it should be cold. Ensure you give a warm welcome and set the tone for the employee-employer relationship. Increasingly, this is less dictatorial and more respectful, even friendly. This should be reflected in your handbook. If your management team are down-to-earth, enthusiastic, optimistic and loves to work collaboratively with team members, then it would be confusing if the tone of your employee handbook was very authoritarian.
When we get to policies and procedures there may be a little less time for niceties so make sure you get a big warm welcome in here.
You might consider introducing the CEO or founder(s). You may discuss the company culture you are aiming to grow and preserve and you may also make new recruits aware of the key facilities. On the first day at a new company, employees are likely to be more concerned with where to find the coffee machine than the full and complex history of the company.
Here is where you get to promote your values, brand objectives and your overall mission. Such things are usually most important to company founders and CEOs who don’t always do the hiring. Therefore, it must not be assumed that company and brand values have been discussed during the recruitment process.
Having everyone in your organisation aware of your company ethos is essential if they are to emulate it in all that they do on behalf of the company. Whether you are a traditional profit-focused company or a charitable organisation, your wider goals and values will shape the company and how your brand is regarded, so it’s important to install this within every employee at every level. Your staff handbook is an excellent place to reinforce this.
HR policies are a key element of staff handbooks. With an overload of information often being thrust at recruits, no one can be expected to keep track of all company policies, especially those that may not be of personal interest. Matters such as sick pay and internet usage may be of relevance to everyone. Whereas, maternity leave and flexible working policies may only be of interest for some. It’s also important to consider that priorities and needs change. Therefore, policies in a staff handbook are often used for future reference. Upper management and team leaders also need to be aware of the across-the-board policies because, though they may not all be relevant to them personally, they need to know what they are if they’re managing others.
Having policies set out in a handbook means your HR team will not be routinely answering the same queries. It also means members of staff don’t have to approach HR to check a hypothetical or sensitive subject. For example, if an employee wishes to remind themselves of the maternity leave policy but may not want other members of staff suspecting they are pregnant or are planning a pregnancy. This is also where you might refer to diversity and equality since these should be policies, not, or not only, values.
Policies in an employee handbook usually include:
- Sickness and other absence
- Holiday entitlement
- Maternity, paternity and adoption leave
- Flexible working and home working practices
- Intellectual property and sharing of trade secrets
- Accepting gifts in accordance with the Bribery Act
- Internet usage and data protection
- Equal opportunities, diversity and inclusion policies
Following on from policies, it is also essential that procedures are explained. Knowing something needs raising but not knowing how to raise it can cause many issues for both employer and employee. Although it will not be possible to explain how every potential scenario should play out, you can usually cover most issues with a step-by-step explanation of the process. For example, a disciplinary procedure for lateness might begin with a verbal warning, escalate to a written warning (if the problem persists), then a meeting, and eventually could result in dismissal. A process such as this would likely be the same for any number of workplace issues.
What is often forgotten in explaining procedures is circumstances whereby the employee is not the one on the receiving end of disciplinary action. For example, what should an employee do if they believe another employee has acted inappropriately or broken their employment contract? Such situations can be incredibly challenging to navigate and not having formal procedures in place, or widely known about, may prevent concerns even being raised. At least internally. Make sure employees know who they should go to in the case of concerns, especially in regards to office behaviour, and explain the procedures you have in place to protect them and keep communications confidential.
Don’t forget to make employees aware of those staff benefits. It’s an especially good way to tie up an employee handbook and end on the positives. Include everything from employee discount schemes to company car usage or the ability to bring your dog to work.
Whilst it’s not wise to list other employees in your handbook (apart from anything else you’ll have to update it every time they change), use the opportunity to encourage your new employee to get to know their work colleagues and immerse themselves in the company culture.
Giving Employees A Company Handbook
Your company handbook should be given out to new employees on their starting day and should be signed for. You do not have to give a hardcopy, many sustainable companies choose not to, but you will need a signature, even if it’s electronic. Staff handbooks can be sent as PDFs or be made available on the company intranet.
Your staff handbook should be routinely reviewed and updated. It’s important to note though that each time it is updated you will need all former signatories to sign again.
Anyone can write an employee handbook but it's usually someone in HR who is aware of company policies and procedures. The company founders or marketing team might also contribute to the welcome and company ethos sections.
Furthermore, it is also common for a lawyer to be asked to check over a company or employee handbook. Since these can be used in tribunals and other legal proceedings, a legal professional’s thumbs-up will give you the peace of mind that you and your employees are protected.
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