Of all the explanations for why you do things a certain way, "because we've always done it that way" is probably the least useful. And it's the answer that arises when you don't take your employee handbook seriously enough. Your handbook is likely to be the most important document your company relies on. Ignore it, bypass it, or treat it like it's set in stone, and your organization will eventually suffer the consequences.
For your handbook to really reflect your culture it must be a living thing, something you expect to change in the face of new events. You might add or remove sections, expand your mission statement, even pivot your core business. All of this and more should be captures in a flexible document you keep in a visible, shareable place like Google Docs or an employee intranet.
Don't make the mistake of assuming employee handbooks are only for big companies with dedicated HR departments. Even a partnership of two needs to codify their shared practices, commit their ideals to words, and keep their agreements current.
Your handbook isn't online-only because it's not important, but because it is. So important in fact that at my company, Stride Consulting, we ask new hires to sign a form acknowledging that they have read and understood our handbook, know where we keep it, and know it can be updated any time.
Just because keeping the handbook online makes it easy to change doesn't mean you shouldn't give serious thought to each edit you make. This is where your company culture comes through. What's your mission statement? Do you have a dress code? Do you welcome dogs? How do you feel about working from home?
The tone of your handbook can help determine who you are as a company. A tone that reinforces hierarchies, expectations, and punishments for infractions captures a very different environment than one that emphasizes employee-led teams, collaboration, and flexibility. All kinds of businesses operate in all kinds of cultures; your handbook is where you start to define yours.
Every company's handbook is different, but they should all contain some basics.
From a detailed history of how you came to be, to a simple one-sentence mission statement, your handbook is a place to start setting down in words who you are, what you do, and why it matters.
Everything Required by Law
This includes things like family medical leave, non-discrimination policies, worker's comp, and a solid reporting and responding process for sexual harassment. Some states also require policies regarding disabilities, military leave, breast-feeding accommodation, and others. Check with your lawyers.
Paid and Unpaid Time-off Policies
All policies regarding time off, both paid and unpaid, belong in the handbook, including vacation, company holidays, sick leave, jury duty, and bereavement.
Pay and Promotions
Include whatever you choose to make public; I'm an advocate for as much salary and promotion transparency as possible.
With health insurance companies making updates to policies all the time, the value of a living handbook is clear. Include all the latest perks and benefits.
Your handbook is also a place to tackle issues like social media policy, workplace romances, internal communication, and more. If you have specific rules for specific business units, make that clear in your handbook to avoid confusion down the line.
Remember that even if your handbook is evolving, your policies and any changes must be seen and approved by your lawyers. It's a transparent document, but a serious one.
And if you want a printed copy, just press print.