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For over two decades, Insight HR has been helping leading Irish businesses realise the true value of their human resources. Throughout this time, we have had a unique view of the inner workings of HR departments across the country. Though every HR team is formed of different personalities, many share common traits and face similar issues. The complexity of human psychology means we can never guarantee that a certain approach will work in every case. However, we have noticed that many HR departments are operating under increasing pressure and lack of resources. This means that there are often oversights, inaccuracies and errors of judgement that unfortunately can lead to much bigger problems further down the line.

Our new series looks at some of the most common mistakes being made by HR teams in Ireland today, and aims to help HR professionals proactively identify these and address them. The first blog in our series studies one of the most common sources of misalignment in HR teams – the employee handbook.

What is the problem?

An employee handbook contains all the policies, procedures, rules and regulations that your employee needs to know about working in your business. It provides your employees with written instruction on what is deemed acceptable behaviour in the workplace, what is expected of them, and what they can expect in return. It can also communicate your business’ values, mission statement and culture to future employees.

Another related mistake is when businesses and HR teams fail to treat the handbook as a holistic document, and only update policies on an individual basis. Doing so often causes inconsistencies in other areas of the handbook and may mean you have two policies which contradict each other. Even when the handbook is updated correctly and regularly, an under-resourced HR department may unwittingly let it fall through the cracks, failing to make the updated version available to existing employees as well as new. We have often witnessed confusion in organisations when management may be following one version of the handbook, while their direct reports are following another. This can lead to crossed wires, miscommunication and tension within your business.

Some businesses also confuse employee handbooks with contracts. The handbook, as we have mentioned, should be a fluid document that is adapted as policies change. However, an employee contract is a binding agreement between the employee and employer. Employee handbooks should state that they are subject to change, so lumping contractual agreements in with the handbook can lead to employees claiming their contract is unenforceable.

Aside from the common mistakes listed above, we have also noticed that a lot of employee handbooks don’t allow the culture of the company to shine through. Even companies with the best of working cultures can sometimes be guilty of producing a flat, while technically accurate, document. When organisations fail to communicate their company culture, they are missing out on a vital opportunity to motivate and inspire their employees.

Why it’s important to get it right

Employee handbooks are an easily accessible source of information for employees. They detail how an employee goes about requesting time off, reporting sick leave, making a complaint and much more. Without these items on record, new employees will be constantly asking their managers, the HR department or their colleagues what the process is and how to go about making certain requests. This can be a huge drain on time and energy.  An employee handbook is also an important tool for informing employees of their responsibilities in areas such as health and safety and data security. While additional training may well be required in these areas, the handbook serves as a useful starting point and is documentary evidence that your employee was informed of their responsibilities.

However, aside from holding all the information needed for employees to do their jobs effectively, the employee handbook also offers a huge opportunity for businesses to introduce new employees to their culture and set the tone of what working at the company is actually like. HubSpot even go so far as to call their own version a ‘Culture Code’, a name for the employee handbook that we have seen springing up more and more. When refreshing your business’s employee handbook, you might want to consider some of the following areas:

  • The narrative throughout. A handbook should be exciting for employees to read, so think about how you use language and tone of voice to communicate your company’s culture, values and goals. Develop style principles so that any future amendments to the handbook can easily adhere to the same style.
  • The design. The employee handbook carries certain legal ramifications. While clarity is therefore vitally important, you can still create a design that both fits with your business’ branding and communicates your culture clearly. Disqus is one company that actually splits the two, incorporating a ‘legal’ half and a ‘fun’ half. Think of the use of colour, font, illustrations and images. If you have the resources, a graphic designer will be able to help you create a template that really stands out.
  • The presentation. You might want to think outside the box on this one. Consider how you can present your handbook to your employees in a way that is fun and engaging. Some companies, such as Netflix and HubSpot, display theirs via a slide share. Other companies, such as project management software business, Trello, create their employee handbooks using their own product.

If you’re looking for inspiration, then check out some of the companies listed here.

Enlisting external support

When it comes to creating your employee handbook, the internet can seem like a great first port of call. Many free templates exist, and you may well be able to cobble something together that will resemble an employee handbook. However, given the value that a robust employee handbook can bring to your organisation, we advise steering clear of free and generic out of the box solutions. While many HR teams can do this job competently, they may lack the in-house resources to dedicate their time to it. In these cases, we would recommend engaging the services of a firm that will take the time to thoroughly understand your business and create a soft copy of a document that truly reflects your culture values, one that you can easily amend as policies get updated and added. Make sure that your chosen supplier specialises in employment law and is up to date with current legislation.

If your business already has a staff handbook in place, it is crucial that you keep it up to date. Given the current climate and the huge effect that the recent lockdown has had on working practices, many businesses have been operating under unfamiliar circumstances. Temporary policies regarding remote working, sick pay, annual leave and other areas may have been updated for relevancy.  At the time, such changes may have been considered temporary or makeshift. However, now it is becoming clear that workplaces are likely forever changed. It therefore makes sense to revisit which policies were adapted for relevancy and whether there is sense in permanently changing these in the employee handbook. Again, consulting with a third-party professional is advised.

At Insight HR, our staff handbook development service includes consultation, advice and guidance on your organisation’s level of compliance with current legislation. We will help you to develop a robust document that includes everything relevant to your specific industry. At the end, you will receive a workable soft copy of an employee handbook that you can edit and add to as you see fit.

To find out more about this service, contact us on info@insighthr.ie.

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