An employee handbook is an important business document that most companies should have. There are many reasons for having one and at least as many articles on the web that explore those reasons. So, instead of reiterating arguments others have already made, I'd like to discuss how you can use an employee handbook not only to communicate company policies and meet legal requirements, but also to build company culture.
Put the 'employee' back in employee handbook
As others have already established, employee handbooks allow companies to
- explain company policies
- comply with legal requirements
- demonstrate official processes (e.g. how and where to archive files)
While this content certainly also benefits employees and should be part of every employee handbook, it mostly serves the company's needs. Managers have recognized that they need to address their customers' needs if they want to be successful (imagine what IKEA assembly instructions would look like if they hadn't realized that their customers need simple, visual instructions). One could argue that the same principle – concentrating on the reader's needs instead of your own – also applies to internal business documents aimed at your own employees to a document that exclusively addresses your employees. And you will see that if you take some time to implement this approach, your employee handbook has the potential to greatly impact your company's culture.
Introduce and Build Company Culture
A central part of every onboarding process is integrating new employees into their teams – a process that heavily depends on familiarizing new recruits with the company's culture. This is where an employee handbook that focuses on the needs of the employees themselves can provide guidance.
If you devote part of your employee handbook to topics that brief people on
- company and team values
- communication (e.g. etiquette)
- common goals (e.g. the vision of what you are all working towards – for us it's to help others work better together)
then you can easily communicate those aspects of your company's culture to new team members.
One of the very first sentences of the K15t Software employee handbook is "Play as a team." Why? Because it introduces people to one of our most fundamental company values. Just adding one short sentence can help new employees become familiar with, and remind existing employees of, the company's culture.
Of course, actions shape your company culture more than words, but the handbook gives you an opportunity to actually involve people and to motivate them to turn written values into ones that have a real-world impact. How? By describing ways in which employees can benefit from, or take part in, the company's culture. For example: giving back to the community which we live in is one of K15t Software's values. We added a description of the Pledge 1% project to the employee handbook in order to describe how people can take part. This results in our team members actually shaping and experiencing our company culture.
Company culture, just like an employee handbook, isn't a static thing. It evolves as your company grows and changes. This allows you to start small – you could begin by adding one or two cultural aspects to your employee handbook, that's how I started. If you find yourself needing more, you can always add them in the next version. The important thing is to recognize the employee handbook's potential for impacting company culture, and then acting on it.
An employee handbook is a living document that is frequently updated. At K15t Software, we continuously update our employee handbook as we improve they way we work together. But how do you efficiently deal with an ever-changing document that needs to be accessible? Stay tuned for an upcoming post on how our HR specialist meets this challenge.