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Are You Making These 6 Employee Handbook Mistakes?

Contributor: Tabitha Aliano, PHR, HR Consultant

March 18th, 2024 | 5 min. read

By Tony Calavitta

Are You Making These 6 Employee Handbook Mistakes?

Let's face it – wading through a dry, outdated rulebook isn't exactly how employees want to kick off a new job. And, given that over 60% of all employees haven’t read their company’s employee handbook, it becomes pretty clear that handbooks are the underwhelming workplace rulebook in question here.

But, when crafted well, your employee handbook can defy this stereotype – it can operate as a tool to increase employee knowledge, engagement, and productivity.

The key phrase, though, is crafted well.

And, because only 37% of employers spend adequate time in the handbook development phase, employee handbooks are often riddled with unfortunate mistakes, turning potential page-turners into corporate paperweights.

In this article, we are going to explore the most notable mistakes that employers make when creating an employee handbook for their business.

By reading to the end, you’ll be prepared with the insights you need to avoid these common pitfalls and armed with actionable strategies to put together the perfect employee handbook for your company.

Let’s get started!

Employee handbook hacks: 6 common mistakes & how to fix them

Creating an effective employee handbook is more than just a routine task – it's an opportunity to communicate your company's culture, expectations, policies, and more. However, it's easy to fall into common traps that can render your handbook less effective or, worse, ignored altogether.

In this section, we are going to look at the most common of these traps and how you can make sure your employee handbook is free of them.

Here are 6 frequently made employee handbook errors with easily applicable solutions.

1. Ignoring customization

As tempting as it may be to grab a generic employee handbook template, resist the urge!

A one-size-fits-all handbook is bland and forgettable. It won't resonate with your team or successfully convey your company's values, objectives, or the distinctive operational practices that define your workplace.

Tailoring your handbook to reflect your organization's specific values, goals, and practices may require more effort, but it will also reinforce your company culture and help maintain compliance with local laws. However, going this extra mile to customize your handbook will do more than just amp up its relevance – it will ensure that it becomes a living document made to grow with your company, keep pace with all laws and regulations, and foster staff engagement.

Instead of being a forgotten file in the depths of a digital drawer, a personalized, well-constructed employee handbook will be a go-to guide that both new hires and seasoned veterans value.

2. Omitting essential policies and procedures

Your handbook is like a workplace map for your employees. It should equip them with the knowledge they need to navigate everyday situations at your company, helping them to understand what’s expected and what’s off-limits.

But, when information is missing, it can do the opposite, creating confusion and uncertainty. This can lead to disagreements, misunderstandings, and even potential legal issues.

It's crucial, therefore, to craft your handbook as a comprehensive and detailed guide to your company's policies and procedures.

Here are some fundamental policies and procedures to include:

  • Code of conduct
  • Acceptable attire
  • Required work hours
  • Compensation schedule
  • Benefits program administration
  • Antidiscrimination and harassment policy

By integrating clear, defined policies and procedures into your handbook, you can lay the groundwork for a respectful, inclusive, and legally sound workplace.

To do this, it’s critical to both state your company policies and outline the steps for:

  • Following them
  • Reporting violations
  • The investigation process
  • Consequences for infractions

In doing so, you can create a culture of transparency and reinforce a system for accountability, safeguarding your organization and its members against potential conflicts and legal pitfalls.

3. Not keeping content current

Now, imagine relying on an outdated map in a rapidly changing city; you'd likely end up lost, frustrated, and possibly even in trouble.

Well, that’s exactly what can happen when your employee handbook doesn't keep pace with the evolving landscape of employment, laws, and your own company's growth. Without current content, your employee handbook becomes ineffective.

To ensure your handbook remains a relevant and trusted resource, it’s important to establish a routine for its maintenance. This could mean calendaring regular audits, designating a go-to person or team for updates, and developing a system to monitor shifts in the organizational and legal landscape that might necessitate revisions.

Communication is also key in rolling out handbook updates. Whether it's through emails, meetings, or an internal platform, make sure the message is received company-wide.

Remember, your handbook is an ever-evolving tool that grows with your company; updating it to reflect essential changes is part of making sure that every team member is equipped, informed, and ready to contribute to a dynamic, supportive work environment.

4. Skipping legal reviews

As the definitive map for your team's conduct, responsibilities, and rights, ensuring your handbook is built on accurate, up-to-date legal standards is critical. With this in mind, overlooking a legal review for your employee handbook is a risk that businesses simply should not take.

Engaging professionals for periodic handbook reviews can help you identify any inconsistencies in the content of your handbook. In doing so, it can prevent your business from facing damaging legal repercussions.

With this proactive approach to maintaining compliance, you also solidify your commitment to fostering an informed and equitable work environment for all of your employees.

5. Complicating language unnecessarily

Have you ever gotten lost trying to navigate with confusing directions? That is NOT what reading your employee handbook should seem like.

Yet, that's exactly how your team might feel if your employee handbook is crammed with jargon or sounds like it was written by a lawyer for other lawyers. This kind of ‘legal speak’ can make your handbook seem more like a puzzle than a guide, pushing employees away rather than pulling them in.

If you want your employees to read your handbook, simplicity is key. 

Your handbook should resonate with everyone on your team. And, with clear, straightforward content, it will. By dialing down the complexity and opting for straightforward language, you're not dumbing it down; you're opening it up as a resource, allowing your team to understand and really get behind your core company values and guidelines.  

6. Failing to ensure accessibility

In today's digital age, an employee handbook buried in a filing cabinet or lost in a complex network of company files is virtually invisible.

Accessibility is paramount! Why? Because, if your team can't easily find or engage with the handbook, its value diminishes significantly.

One of the best ways to enhance accessibility: By transforming your handbook into a digital, easily-to-use resource.

This guarantees that every employee, regardless of their role or location, can access this critical guide when and where they need it. It also amplifies the relevance and value your employee handbook holds as a tool to effectively support your workforce and inform company-wide operations.

Any of these employee handbook mistakes sound familiar? We can help!

If you’re here, you understand that the process involved in creating an employee handbook that effectively communicates your company's policies, culture, and expectations is crucial for fostering a positive work environment and ensuring operational success.

However, as we've explored, there are common pitfalls that can undermine your handbook's effectiveness. These mistakes can turn what should be a valuable resource into a neglected document.

But the good news is, each of these challenges comes with a straightforward solution.

And, here at Combined, we're ready to help you create the perfect handbook for your business.

Our team of HR experts is equipped with the knowledge and experience to help you navigate common handbook hurdles. Whether you're looking to revamp your existing handbook or start from scratch, we can provide the guidance you need to create a handbook that not only avoids these common mistakes but also becomes a cornerstone of your company culture.

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This article is not intended to be exhaustive nor should any discussion or opinions be construed as legal advice. Readers should contact legal counsel for legal advice.