Some new hires receive their employee handbook the moment they show up for their first day on the job. In other cases, it’s provided to them as the last step of a formal onboarding process. Regardless of when they get it, however, the employee handbook should help team members begin the next phase of their career journey with confidence.
Of course, much like a corporate intranet or other staff resource, an employee handbook is only valuable if it is accurate and relevant. It needs to be considered as an ongoing work in progress — something that is not only offered to people when they first join an organization, but re-introduced to longtime team members as policies and other company information changes.
Until the outbreak of COVID-19 in early 2020, many of the updates companies might have made to their employee handbook were pretty minor. As we continue to navigate our way out of the pandemic, though, so much of the way we work has changed.
When many of us had to made a swift transition to hunkering down in offices to sheltering-in-place at home, for instance, there was probably little in the average employee handbook to offer guidance to employees. Even now, it might seem difficult for many HR and business leaders to be sure of what their employee handbook should say.
Here’s one way to approach it: among many other purposes, an employee handbook can be an effective means to lay out expectations. This not only includes what employers expect from their staff, but what the team can expect from the company in terms of support and commitment.
Reflect on how your organization and its everyday practices might have evolved amid the pandemic and look at your existing employee handbook. Is it an accurate depiction of the reality you expect to see? If not, identify the gaps and begin to fill them accordingly.
Walk through the most common sections of an employee handbook and this process might become even easier:
Beyond formally welcoming new hires to the team, the introduction of the employee handbook often offers a capsule history of the company and its growth over time.
The introduction also usually offers a sense of the company’s overall mission. Given that so much has changed in daily life since COVID-19, this might be a good opportunity to get more detailed about the company’s values and purpose as well. No matter what the future holds, what will remain true about your organization and your team’s place in the world?
Codes of conduct have to include the basics, such as clarifying that employees will face discipline for insubordination, making threats or acting in a violent manner. Amid the pandemic, however, we’ve all witnessed a more complex conversation emerging around race, gender and the treatment of other underrepresented groups.
Think about how your employee handbook could address anti-discrimination polices and educate your workforce about microagressions and other forms of bias. This area could also touch on hiring practices and other policies to promote diversity, equity and inclusion.
Remember that these codes of conduct need to speak to the way we now engage in digital channels, including social media, and not simply in-person interactions.
The past two years have proven that many of us can effectively work from anywhere. This has led some companies to either offer policies that allow team members to do their jobs outside the office, or even shift the entire organization to a digital HQ.
That said, working from anywhere could spark questions that could be answered easily within the employee handbook. Should team members feel free to show their working environment on a video call, for example, or is there a standardized filter or background they should put up instead? If there was a dress code at the office, do employees need to maintain it when they’re working elsewhere?
Hybrid work will also change the dynamics of how people collaborate, especially given that some sector, like retail, may still run physical locations. Be specific about any preferred tools or platforms, whether it’s a videoconferencing tool with the requisite security features or Slack channels that are better suited for more ad-hoc conversations.
Most employee handbooks did a good job of mapping out the emergency exits, how fire drills are conducted and other basics. Few of us ever imagined the additional nuances the pandemic would bring.
For those who continue to gather in person, the handbook now needs to provide insight into standards for hygiene, social distancing recommendations and even what’s permissible in terms of capacity for boardroom meetings.
Go through the worst-case scenarios. If everyone had to shelter-in-place again, how should employees pivot while protecting corporate data? How should they check in with their managers and who should give the all-clear before people could gather on site again?
Employees have an obvious interest in the extent to which an employer can help pay for medications or visits to the dentist. Post-pandemic, though, they may be looking for more.
If your company doesn’t have a formal employee assistance program (EAP), for instance, who can team members go to when they are struggling with stress or at risk of burnout? What should be outlined in vacation polices to ensure team members have time to rejuvenate?
What can you offer to support employee wellness, even if it’s links to publicly-available resources about mindfulness practices? If employees need to take a leave of absence, whether to deal with a health issue or to provide care for a loved one, what kind of procedures do they need to follow?
Although the handbook is something an employer gives to an employee, it should really be a catalyst for two-way conversations.
In addition to any forms or other HR documents employees will need to fill out, make sure they are aware of any email addresses, Slack channels or other feedback mechanisms where they can share concerns or ideas about the future of the company.
As many businesses become more decentralized, the employee handbook could be more than a way to help them “get around” — it could be a guide to help everyone think about how to come together and connect.