7 Common Mistakes to Avoid with Employee Handbooks

Davor
Davor
Davor is a content marketing expert who loves writing about project management, productivity, and remote work.

In this article, we're looking at common employee handbook mistakes that might negatively impact your employees' experience with your company.

📚 Table of contents

Every successful company you can think of right now probably has a good employee handbook in place, and it’s not difficult to see why.

These roadmaps for your business represent clear instructions on different aspects of your company, including its objectives, standard procedures, employee conduct policies, and brand values.

When you bring all this information together and make it accessible to your team, you’ve got yourself a good handbook. You can use it throughout the employee’s career, starting with onboarding and training, all the way through promotions.

Therefore, your employee guide must be comprehensive if it’s to be of help to your employees. In this article, we’re bringing you some common pitfalls and mistakes to avoid when creating your company’s handbook, so you can really get the most out of it.

Choosing a One-Size-Fits-All Approach

You might be eager to implement a company handbook as soon as possible, and in this desire, simply copy and paste one you find interesting.

Doing this will help you get a handbook ASAP, but the handbook will lack originality, and it won’t capture the essence of your company or convey the details about your procedures.

You’ll have a guide, but it won’t be captivating or even informative. So, what’s the point?

If you’re already looking for model handbooks, go through examples from your niche. Are you a startup or a well-established company? These two types of businesses can’t use the same guide.

Source: Archbee.io

Then, you need to take into account the state laws and regulations. These tend to differ from one another, so take care not to misinform your employees. Of course, don’t forget the company size and everything that makes your company unique, like internal procedures and organization.

Maybe most importantly, a company handbook needs to be representative of your company goals and values.

Your company culture should come across in every part of this document. If it doesn’t, what makes this handbook yours?

New and old employees alike should be able to tell what your company stands for and what you expect of them after going through the handbook. If they can’t, you need to make some changes.

Since you share handbooks with employees during onboarding, they’re that much more vital. Research shows that 69% of hires who are happy with the onboarding process stay with the company for at least three years.

Source: Archbee.io

Therefore, your handbook can impact an employee’s engagement and willingness to work for you, meaning you should do your best to capture the essence of your company’s culture in the handbook, making it completely unique.

Ensure that it encapsulates values your employees relate to and identify with on top of offering them all necessary procedures and details that make their work life better.

Leaving Out Vital Policies

Another huge mistake that can bring down the quality of your handbook is leaving out company policies.

We know you have a lot of different protocols to follow and that it’s probably a hassle to write them all down. This task becomes even more time-consuming when you have to update the information periodically.

However, failing to include a specific disclaimer can leave you open to lawsuits and grievances, which is not something you need, especially not if you caused it yourself by sharing an incomplete handbook.

If you want to create a quality handbook, you have to cover all the basic policies, like the following:

Source: Archbee.io

Your employees will definitely need information about each of these at some point in their time with you.

After all, these policies explain in what circumstances employees can be terminated, what conditions you provide, how employees should behave, and what your hires will get out of your company. Omitting any of these can cause disagreements and frustration later down the line.

The most important disclaimer you need to mention is the one about the handbook itself not addressing every possible situation that can arise.

That’s not its primary goal. Moreover, you need to have leeway because you never know what can happen, and a disclaimer gives you precisely that.

While new policies should immediately be reflected in the handbook, be aware that’s not all there is to it. You should also communicate all the changes through training or a meeting instead of relying on emails and handbooks to explain the new elements.

However, don’t let all this policy talk steer you away from the true goal of your handbook, which is to share knowledge and promote your company culture.

Complicating the Handbook Language

Companies afraid of leaving too much information out of their guide risk leaving too much of it in, which just confuses the employees and makes them less likely to read the entire thing.

The handbook should contain the necessary information for your team to do their job or find out more about their position, expectations, and conditions.

However, this document doesn’t have to mirror the language of your employee contracts. Legal or vague language isn’t necessary to convey your company’s goals or employees’ obligations.

If you opt for language that’s too complicated, most people won’t bother reading your handbook from cover to cover.

Let’s take millennials, already the largest generation in the workplace, as an example. The thing you should know about this generation is that they’re used to getting their information fast.

Source: Archbee.io

Millennials know how to use the internet and find the information they need, with 95% of them admitting they turn to Google before looking something up in specialized databases or the library.

So, make things easier for them by presenting the information they need about working at your company in a handbook. Make the handbook easily understandable to everyone.

Some good examples of companies making complicated procedures sound simple are Trello’s and Netflix’s employee handbook. Here’s how Trello tackles their health benefits in a fun and engaging way that is simple to read and understand.

Source: Trello

Through short paragraphs, the company has shown that they care about their employees in different ways.

Firstly, by simplifying the language, thus ensuring that employees read the instruction. Then, they made the whole segment seem fun with their description of panic after receiving a large health bill.

On top of that, the company has made it clear their employees can count on them (and Brian!).

Making the Handbook Too Prescriptive

Your handbook isn’t a rulebook. It may contain some rules and instructions, but that’s not its primary purpose.

If you forget this, you may end up going off in the wrong direction.

Instead of having an employee handbook that helps make the employee become a part of the company culture and internalize its goals, while providing guidance in case of need, you might end up with just a bland document that provides no value.

Think of the handbook as a document meant to guide your employees from the minute they join your company.

Fill it with information your team can use when in doubt or need assistance. This way, you’re empowering your employees to become more independent and find information on their own.

Source: Archbee.io

If you find yourself using words like “shouldn’t,” “must,” “prohibited,” “have to,” and “need” often when creating it, it may be time to edit it.

Something meant to bring your company culture to the spotlight shouldn’t be ridden with prescriptive and strict language. Doesn’t that give off the impression that your company is just as rigid?

To avoid this, steer clear from definitive sentences that leave no room for change or improvisation, as this type of language also nips creativity in the bud.

Source: Archbee.io

Since creativity is something you should be encouraging if you want to get new ideas and grow your business faster, don’t write a handbook that effectively ends all creativity.

Moreover, creative workers reported the highest happiness levels, and you want your employees happy and engaged.

Besides, not many employees will turn to the handbook for help if all it does is tell them what not to do, especially if they’re looking for instructions on what to do.

Skipping a Legal Review

Never share your handbook with your employees without having a legal expert check it first.

Remember that the employee guide can serve as a legally binding document unless you include a clause that says it does not. Do you have that kind of clause in your employee guide?

If you’d let someone with a legal background review your handbook, they would definitely advise you to include this clause.

Certified Logistics, Inc. learned this the hard way after being sued by an employee over the difference between real-life conditions and those listed in the employee guide.

The company lost the lawsuit because they never stated the handbook is not a contract or a legally binding document. Therefore, that’s what it was in the eyes of the law, especially since it promises the worker certain conditions.

Source: Archbee.io

If you want to avoid potential legal issues, ask someone who practices law to read through your handbook. They will focus on finding anything that might get you into legal trouble.

For example, if you state all new employees will receive three months of training but are unable to offer more than two because of, for example, scheduling conflicts, a worker might issue a formal complaint, saying they didn’t receive what you promised in the handbook.

To avoid such a predicament, a legal advisor might suggest using a less binding alternative, like “may” or “up to three-month-long,” that gives you a bit of leeway in case you have to make some changes.

Someone focused on finding loopholes in the handbook will easily spot any lack of clarity, inconsistencies, language that might sound discriminatory, and the like.

The most important thing is that the policies you include in the handbook are clear and concise, not leaving much room for interpretation.

Failing to Share It With Your Employees

One of the worst mistakes you can make is failing to make your handbook easily shareable and accessible.

You need your employees to read and become familiar with everything you’ve written down in the guide. Its entire point is to educate and inform workers while also conveying the company’s culture and goals.

Source: Archbee.io

To achieve this, start with quality training on how to use handbook materials. You can’t rely on your employees’ goodwill to read the whole thing through.

Instead, offer them in-person or online instructions on the topic, thus ensuring that they get the necessary information, even if they choose not to read the guide.

Your team should also have access to the handbook at all times. Many offices still have guides in a printed edition, usually kept at one of the HR or managers’ offices. However, that’s not the way to go in this day and age.

Firstly, most companies allow work from home and even do remote onboarding, which means the employees working from home won’t even get in contact with your handbook.

Furthermore, not many people will decide to stroll to the office to shuffle through a handbook to find a piece of information they need. Didn’t we say millennials like to have everything readily available, especially online?

Source: Archbee.io

That said, it’s clear that the best way forward is to go digital and upload your handbook to your knowledge database or a similar place all your employees can access.

When they need specific data, the team can log in and find it in less than a minute, which is undoubtedly more practical than having a printed handbook that comes without a search option.

Not Keeping the Handbook up to Date

Policies and regulations often change, especially if the state laws have changed, and you don’t want your handbook to be outdated. Your handbook needs to be up-to-date at all times, so don’t think of it as a one-and-done type of deal.

Quite the contrary, you should update the employee guide whenever anything mentioned in it changes, including laws, people leaving the company, departments merging or splitting, procedures, adding or removing steps, and so on.

Sherrie Suski, from the Tricon American Homes HR team, thinks you should automate legal updates because this is a challenging aspect of handbooks.

Source: Archbee.io

Suski recommends doing this “through an attorney firm or legal service,” thus letting professionals update your guide with all the relevant legal changes. This solution gives you a simple way of keeping up with the regulatory aspect of things, which might otherwise pose a problem.

As for the changes that stem from the company, you should have a dedicated person or team who will make sure all handbook information is still relevant and correct.

It would be best to revise the employee handbook regularly, so you are entirely sure someone reviews the information at least once a year.

When you end up changing a detail or two, don’t forget to let your employees know!

If you use a digital version, the updates will happen in real time, but people won’t be aware unless you notify them. Email should be acceptable for minor changes, while meetings or training are necessary for more important information.

Conclusion

Employee handbooks are supposed to convey your company culture through specific instructions and rules.

However, if you focus too much on the rules, you’ll miss out on this document's empowering and engaging potential.

Therefore, find a happy middle between the two and keep the handbook concise and straightforward. Once you’re sure you’ve included all of the policies and that everything is legally okay, you should share the employee handbook with the team.

If it’s not easily accessible, nobody’s going to read this guide you’ve put your heart and soul into.

So, opting for a digital way to share it, such as a knowledge base like the one offered by our own solution, Archbee, will be a timesaver for everyone involved.