An employee handbook is a convenient resource that employees can use to verify specific policies, look up important information, and generally make sure they’re working in alignment with the company’s vision and goals. But an employee handbook is only effective if employees can use it reliably.
What steps can you take to make a better, more engaging employee handbook?
The Elements of a Successful Employee Handbook
Start by covering the elements of a hypothetically successful employee handbook. What does it take to make your handbook effective?
- Organization. Ideally, your employee handbook should be extremely well organized. If an employee consults it with a specific question in mind, you should be able to flip to an appropriate section very quickly and find an answer. If an employee is reading the handbook from start to finish, the sections should be organized logically and in a way that promotes a flow between one point and the next. Each section should only contain ideas relevant for that section, and there should be an index for easy referencing.
- Writing. The writing of the employee handbook also needs to be as fluid and readable as possible. After all, this is where employees will go to get information. If the information is presented in a smooth, comprehensible manner, employees will be able to digest it quicker and more easily.
- Design. While design is secondary to writing, you also need to consider the design of your employee handbook. There should be plenty of white space to encourage easy reading, there should be visuals in place to make certain subjects more comprehensible, and there should be consistent formatting throughout to ensure continuity.
- Printing. You also need to pay attention to how you print your employee handbook. Professional binding, like spiral binding, can make your employee handbook easier to navigate and less likely to degrade over time. Higher quality paper stock can make employees treat the handbook with more interest and respect. Accordingly, you should choose a printing company that commits to quality.
- Distribution. Finally, you’ll need to think about distribution. How you distribute your employee handbooks to employees, and how you talk about those employee handbooks plays a huge role in whether employees actually read and use them.
Strategies for Improving Your Employee Handbook
These are some of the best strategies for improving your employee handbook according to the criteria in the preceding section:
- Study multiple templates. Before making your own employee handbook, you should take a look at multiple different employee handbook templates. In most situations, it’s a bad idea to merely copy a template you already found, as this can limit your thinking and artificially restrict your project. However, it’s often useful to study multiple templates so you can get a feel for the types of formats that other people use. With this understanding, you’ll be able to create a perfect format of your own.
- Aim for comprehensiveness. An employee handbook is only as good as it is comprehensive. If employees consistently fail to get the answers to their questions, they’re going to stop using the handbook altogether. Accordingly, you should aim from the outset to provide employees with all the details they could possibly need to work in this position.
- Remain clear and concise. When writing the body of the handbook, focus on remaining as clear and concise as possible. Eliminate ambiguities with more specific language, then trim down what you’re saying to the fewest number of words. This is going to greatly increase reading comprehension and improve the overall reading experience.
- Inject some lightness. Reading an employee handbook can be a dull affair, especially on the first read through. You can make the experience much more palatable by injecting some lightness or humor. Show your human side and win some people over.
- Keep the tone consistent. That said, it’s also important to keep the tone consistent. Don’t shoehorn a corny joke into a section about disciplinary action for egregiously bad behaviors – and don’t write different sections in different “voices.”
- Optimize for readability. There are a few different dimensions of readability to consider. Your wording needs to be clear, utilizing simple vocabulary and simple sentence structures. Your organization needs to be coherent, lending itself to logical following. And you need to implement design elements, like bolding, bullet points, and white space to make the text physically more readable.
- Get feedback. Finally, it’s important to get feedback on your work. Have your employees read the handbook and identify anything they think could use some improvement.
With a better employee handbook in place, your employees will have more information, fewer questions, and more confidence about their place in the business. It’s an iterative process, so don’t be shy about returning to the handbook for future updates.