Policies and employee handbooks can be the bane of an HR leader’s existence. Navigating a complex document that may be outdated and in need of some updates while trying to make sure that rules are followed and employees are satisfied is really challenging work.
So that companies aren’t falling too behind (and putting too much on the shoulders of HR), it’s recommended that employee handbooks and policies are updated annually.
Why Review Policies Annually?
In addition to legal liability, employee handbooks are killing the businesses they’re trying to protect because, according to hiring software provider Hyrell, “Companies can feel ‘boxed in’ by restrictive, outdated policies. Regular review and revisions can help to keep you on track.”
A2. Companies can feel “boxed in” by restrictive, outdated policies. Regular review and revisions can help to keep you on track #NextChat— Hyrell (@hyrell) June 7, 2017
However, updating those policies can be a lot of work, taking up valuable resources to do the reviewing and decision making. If you’re still not sure why you should put in the effort, here are three reasons:
Laws and regulations change. Stay up to date so that you avoid legal trouble & so that you are more reputable with employees. If you take the time to update the manual, it shows that you're paying attention and that you care.
You know better about what’s working and not working. Some handbooks are so outdated that it’s implied policy not to follow the handbook in specific situations. If you don’t follow your own policies, it’s a good time to think about why & how to make it so that you and your employees are more consistently following the policies.
Technology changes: Social media policies, for example, need to be considered and implemented if not already. New policies regarding recently implemented software also needs to be updated. Timesheet & expense reporting software policies, for example, can be essential systems with specific policies that need to be clarified.
“Keeping your employee manual up to date is essential to the well-being of your company,” says HR-tools provider PEOCompare.com. The company advises that updating employee manuals is essential, especially when avoiding risk of litigation.
What Are The Possible Pitfalls of Writing & Updating Employee Manuals?
SHRM, the Society for Human Resources Management, provided some helpful advice for writing and revising policies in a 2015 blog. According to blog author Jeffrey M. Beemer, “a handbook typically has a long shelf life, and mistakes, misstatements and ambiguity can come back to haunt a company when legal problems arise.”
Here are the tips that SHRM suggests when writing and revising policies:
- Don’t directly copy & paste and put in the effort to make it your own.
- Put all new policies in the handbook (which means avoiding the assumption that just because it’s been announced, it will be followed);
- Make it clear that the handbook cannot possibly address every possible situation (providing flexibility for the company);
- Give flexibility to users concerning social media;
- Simplify the disciplinary policy;
- Keep the language casual and make the handbook organized
- Follow through by enforcing policies consistently;
- Get a review from a legal professional.
What Policies Specifically Should Be Added or Revised?
Looking toward 2018, here’s what you should consider adding or clarifying based on what’s new from the courts in 2017:
- Updates to disability policies: According to PEOCompare.com, “The definition of disability sometimes changes and the laws about accommodations change often as well.” That means paying attention to what’s happening with the FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) and equal opportunity/nondiscrimination policies.
- Complaint procedures made clear: A report from the Vinson & Elkins law firm reported in July 2017 that an employer was recently found not liable following an employee report of discrimination. The employee never filed complaints according to the company’s policies concerning his harassment from co-workers for his stutter and the location of his workspace in a busy section of the office.
According to the firm, “This case presents a valuable reminder for companies that, while sometimes you might feel that every policy you write down is just another opportunity for a dispute, sometimes the policies you choose to put on paper can be used to protect the company from liability.”
- Anti-retaliation policies in place: A recent #NextChat, which is a Twitter chat sponsored by SHRM, about the topic of policies clarified the position of many HR leaders: employee handbooks are falling out of popularity because they are too long, aren’t actually read, and become outdated.
#nextchat We don't have a handbook. Everyone here is here to help you succeed. Want to know how stuff works? Have a conversation.— Simon (@SimonHeath1) February 8, 2017
- Policies announced & distributed in the right way: While it’s obvious that laws will vary by country, what’s not obvious is that the location also matters in how communication of policies is distributed. For example, laws in the United States regarding new policy announcements are different from those in the rest of the world.
“In the United States… a new policy is often distributed to employees electronically and is implicitly considered to be subsumed in a previously existing employment manual that contains an ‘employment-at-will/this-is-not-a contract’ disclaimer…” says a June 2017 post from Vinson & Elklins. “[However,] a foreign court would likely find that employees are not required to comply with a policy distributed or communicated in a way that doesn’t create a contract in that country.”
A2 - A concise handbook is ideal, but for places like California and New York, it may not be plausible. Know your jurisdiction. #nextchat— Michael Jacobson (@HRTerminator) February 8, 2017>
The Most Innovative Ideas For Policies & Handbooks
Several companies are trying new out new endeavors to help their employees better understand the policies and encourage employees to follow them.
First and foremost is attorney & legal editor Michael Jacobson (A.K.A. the “@HRTerminator”)’s advice: “Gather all of your paper copy handbooks and burn them.”
A1 - Gather all of your paper copy handbooks and burn them. #Nextchat— Michael Jacobson (@HRTerminator) February 8, 2017
One major trend in handbooks and policies is to make them public documents, acting as a sort of recruiting tool, as HR professional Kate Bischoff of Thrive Law & Consulting says:
Biggest handbook pet peeve - a copyrighted/confidential handbook. Why is it so secret? Should raise employee eyebrows #Nextchat— Kate Bischoff (@k8bischHRLaw) February 8, 2017
With a more public venture in mind, many companies, like Co-op Food Stores, are turning towards social media to spread the word about changes in their policy:
Others, like Zappos, are changing the medium of the handbook entirely. Zappos invested resources in turning their handbook into a comic strip, as explained here:
The Motley Fool published their employee handbook online in 2014 in a form that was more fun and more aligned with their culture of casual fun. The Motley Fool’s “Fool Rules” is an interactive website that brings readers through pages that don’t sound like policy, even though they actually are policies. It’s worth a read!
Another excellent source of inspiration (and an often-cited example) of the employee handbook made to fit company culture is Valve’s Handbook for New Employees. At first glance, it’s just a stylized document, but diving into its pages provides an intimate look at who Valve is at its core. Plus, it’s just fun to skim through and check out the timelines, drawings, and graphics.
To see all of the great conversations concerning the #NextChat about handbooks, check out the SHRM blog’s recap. We end on this excellent advice from @TraceyJewell:
A6. Maybe its spin - change angle from "what we have to do" to "who do we want to be" then tell the story in a handbook #nextchat— Tracey Jewell (@TraceyJewell) February 8, 2017
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