Handing out an employee handbook to new starters is a critical part of the onboarding process for small businesses. A clear and cohesive handbook will allow you to communicate your company culture and policies, helping new employees to feel welcome and well-informed.
What is an employee handbook?
An employee handbook, also known as a staff handbook or employee manual, is a document outlining everything a person needs to know about the company they work for and how it runs.
The handbook will go into detail about your company values, policies and procedures to ensure every employee knows what is expected of them and what support they will receive in return. This will help to create an open, trusting and respectful company culture, which is key in a small business where everyone works closely together.
Our HR expert, Kate explains why they’re so important to get right:
“Employee handbooks can be tricky to get excited about, but they are really useful! It can cause a lot of problems if you don’t have one in place. They principally come into their own for me when things go wrong in the employment relationship. For example, if someone isn’t phoning in correctly when they are off sick, then it is really useful to be able to point to a clear explanation of your expectations.”
Why have an employee handbook?
Save on HR time
We know how difficult it is to have business frequently interrupted by queries about child care, annual leave etc. If employees have access to a complete document that answers all their questions, it will reduce time spent troubleshooting issues. This will leave your team free to get on with doing the more important things.
Be protected if things go wrong
If by any chance an employee decides to make a claim against you (for example, for unfair dismissal), it will make things much easier if you can produce evidence that you laid out all employment procedures from the start.
Set the tone
Although it’s important to explain the processes that employees will need to follow, your staff handbook shouldn’t just be about rules. This is your opportunity to really sell your company to new hires and get them excited to start. A vibrant company culture will boost morale, productivity and performance in your employees.
Follow employment law
Although employee handbooks aren’t a legal requirement, you are legally obliged to make sure your employees are aware of all company policies. Gathering all of this information together in one place is the easiest way to do this.
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Employee handbook contents
No small business is the same, and it’s important that your employee handbook reflects exactly who you are. We’ve put together a list of what we think should be included in an employee handbook:
A welcome statement
This will be a introduction to your organisation, giving an overview of the company history, values and objectives.
The different types of leave are numerous, including paid sick leave, shared parental leave, compassionate leave and annual leave. It’s a good idea to have a separate policy for each, covering areas such as entitlement, pay and expectations.
Travel and expenses
A policy of this nature will detail how an employee can request reimbursement of expenses, and up to what limits. It could also cover use of a company vehicle.
Conduct and discipline policies
These policies refer to how you expect an employee to behave whilst in the workplace. For example, you may have a drugs and alcohol policy to prevent substance misuse, or a bullying and harassment policy to lay out what constitutes bad conduct and the steps your company will take to deal with it.
Health and safety policies
Having a written health and safety policy for businesses with 5 or more employees is a legal requirement. However, it’s always best practice to lay out how employees can stay safe in the workplace, and the procedure for reporting accidents and injuries.
Performance management policy
This will cover how your employees’ performance will be assessed, and what steps will be taken in the case of poor performance. The policy could cover employee appraisals, detailing how and when they will take place.
This can cover password security, misuse of computer equipment and guidelines for using social media. An IT and communications policy should be designed to protect the company’s reputation as well as keeping sensitive data secure.
This policy involves stating how your business is dedicated to providing an equal opportunity to all employees, and how to avoid discriminating against individuals.
Mental health and wellbeing
With mental health at work being more of a focus than ever, it’s a good idea to lay out your company’s policy for supporting employees with mental health problems.
Employee handbook guidelines
Update it regularly
Keep track of any changes in employment law, as they may affect your company policies and guidelines and require changes to your handbook. Staying on top of updates will help to protect your small business and keep employees informed.
For our HR service customers, we keep an eye on employment law changes and update the policies we provide for them, giving them peace of mind that all their documents are compliant at all times.
Ensure your employees read it
Make the staff handbook easily accessible – we advise making it immediately available to new starters and keeping the latest version online for anyone to check when they have queries or questions. Having people sign an acknowledgement form to confirm they’ve read the handbook will protect you if a dispute ever arises, as you will be able to prove the employee was aware of the procedures.
Train your managers
They will be the ones to implement your policies and regulations, so they need to be familiar with the ins and outs of every procedure to ensure everyone is treated fairly. Handling employee issues inconsistently can leave you open to discrimination claims, so it’s essential to have a set way of dealing with problems.
Introduce your company personality
Despite the sometimes-serious subject matter, your staff manual will be more engaging and memorable if you put effort into making it stand out. You don’t have to tell jokes or draw a comic strip (see Zappos), but injecting some character will give new starters an idea of what to expect from your business.
How to create an employee handbook
If you’re thinking about putting together an employee handbook for your small business, our HR Consultants can help.
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