What is it about rules that just rub many of us the wrong way? The idea of someone or some institution telling me what to do is akin to sandpaper on skin. It’s not good. As a young, obedient boy, I spent most days doing what I was supposed to do. I followed the rules. I didn’t like the idea of being outside of the lines. Once high school hit, I pushed those lines in more reasonable ways, but still not way out of the park. And then there was college…I pushed hard against rules and rule-makers. I was sick of it. In The Perks of Being a Wallflower, pushing against the status quo is a core movie plotline. Seniors in high school breaking rules, trying to corrupt younger students and taking risks beyond their ability to rebound make up a large part of the drama. The consequences are realized with plenty of fights, heartbreak and depression throughout. And while our workforce is not a teen drama, we may have some of those rebellious, angst-ridden new hires who want to buck up against those rules, i.e., the handbook. You know, the handbook. That dreaded document that our attorneys and liability insurance carriers require us to have (some of you are also those rebellious employees who won’t do the handbook because those entities are telling you to do it).
It’s necessary. There, I said it. It’s necessary. However, the premise for its existence needs to be shared better with the teams receiving it. It’s a both/and document. How so? It’s both a compliance/employee guideline document as well as a deliberate view of the organization’s hustle and flow.
For any organization, there are federal, state and local laws that have to be shared with our employees. Our teams need to know what rights they have and what access to resources are available. They need to know where to go when things are great, terrible or awkward. They need to know how to activate the benefits that are part of their employment. They need to know about the employee experience at your organization.
And while there are components of the handbook where the language is prescribed by law (not leaving much room for creative writing), there are other opportunities for an organization to give insight into their vibe. Are you including a welcome to the company? How about including the mission, vision and values of the organization? Are there messages from leadership throughout? Think creatively as to how you can offer employees a context into what the organization is like.
Handbooks may not be the most appealing part of HR, but it is a guidebook for the team. Because of that, the team has another resource at its fingertips. Should they really have to call one, two or five people to find out how the PTO policy works? Should they have to wait until business hours if they want to see the policy on taking leave? Let your team have the resources needed to find out the answers to their questions whenever they’d like.
An employee handbook is a way to offer corporate perspective and a respect of the rights of employees. Even your most rebellious employee will appreciate a level of self-sufficiency and independent access to this guidebook. If staff think it’s just a book of rules, start to change that dialogue. Share the heartbeat of the handbook in orientation,
touch on points of it in weekly meetings and refer to its resourcefulness through other company outlets and platforms. Keep it updated and relevant to your team. After all, “Things change. And friends leave. Life doesn't stop for anybody.”