New Hire Orientation Blog
An Employee Handbook for the 21st Century
Whether you call it an employee handbook, employee manual, or something more creative, most companies have one. It often gets handed out to new hires on their first day of work. They may glance through it to find out what the company’s vacation and sick leave policies are, but after that it will most likely find its way onto a shelf or into a drawer – where it will undoubtedly remain for the rest of the employee’s tenure. Talk about a waste of paper! Of course, you might also distribute it as a PDF to keep it paperless. The problem with the way most companies approach the employee handbook is that it probably qualifies as the driest, most boring document your business will ever produce. The time has come for companies everywhere to bring staff manuals into the 21stcentury. This article will describe the why and how of making that happen.
Why the Employee Handbook Tends to Suck
No business is required by any law to produce or distribute an employee handbook. But most companies do it because it’s important to convey a lot of information to new hires about various company policies and procedures, and might also cover the workplace culture. As various workplace regulations at the state and federal level multiplied over the years, the employee manual came to be seen as a kind of cover-your-butt legal document that companies could point to if they were sued by an employee. If an employee claims they didn’t know they were in violation of a particular company policy, the employer can counter by showing how it was covered in the employee manual. This is why many companies require that a new employee sign off on an acknowledgement form that they have received, read and understand the employee handbook.
When the primary driver for having a staff handbook in the first place is for legal cover against potential employee litigation, you can see why most of these documents suck. They’re written by non-writers in the HR department and reviewed by legal counsel – a surefire way to guarantee they will be snooze-inducing. I think there’s a better way – one that will transform your employee handbook into a vital, living document that helps engage your new hires early on while still conveying important information.
A 21stCentury Employee Handbook Begins with Great Writing
If you already have an employee manual, give it a total re-write. If you don’t have great writers in your company already, outsource it to a professional writer or freelancer with specific instructions to make the writing less formal wherever possible and more engaging – more like a conversation with the new employee. For tips on this kind of writing, check out my article on the eLeaP blog, Make eLearning Scripts More Personable. It’s about writing for eLearning, but everything in it, including the other five articles it references about writing, totally apply to the employee handbook task – even more so since I’m suggesting that your transform your staff manual into a full-blown eLearning experience. Read on to find out more!
A Multimedia Digital Approach for Your Employee Manual
After re-writing your employee handbook to make it a more engaging document, I strongly suggest going paperless by turning it into a PDF. But I also think this is a great opportunity to take the overhaul even further by making it a multimedia digital experience. Let’s say your employee manual opens with a letter from your company’s CEO welcoming new hires to the workplace. Now think about how much more engaging this introduction would be if there was also a link in the PDF to a video of your CEO speaking this introduction directly to the employee. New hires can read the letter, but most will want to see and hear the company’s leader speaking directly to them by clicking on the video.
Now go through each section of your handbook and look for all the difference places where you can incorporate videos, animations, and links to actual documents and forms that are mentioned. If you do this right, what you’ll end up with a full-blown eLearning course that includes a big chunk of the kind of onboarding you need to get employees up-to-speed and ready to perform. There might be a virtual tour of the entire company, an organizational chart that assembles itself in an animation as another executive talks through the big picture of how things fit together – the possibilities are literally endless for how you can transform your new hire manual into an eLearning and onboarding experience that lives up to the expectations of people living in the digital era of the 21stcentury. Your new hires will love this approach. And if you’re looking for help with other aspects of better onboarding, check out my other articles on the New Hire Orientation Blog.
Examples of 21st Century Employee Handbooks
How far you take this overhaul of your company’s employee manual will depend on the time and resources you can commit to the project. My suggestion is to not skimp! Keep in mind that getting this right will turn a boring document into a vital new hire orientation training course, which means better onboarding, retention and performance from new hires, making it well worth the expense.
Let your creativity loose on this task! Check out how Zappos combined their employee manual with the Year of the Comic Book back in 2010 for a super-engaging document. Another interesting example is how Pronto Marketing presents their handbook as a webpage. Although it’s well-designed, I think they didn’t go far enough with better writing or incorporating videos and other multimedia aspects. An example that comes the closes to what I have in mind for employee handbooks in the 21stcentury is the interactive manual of the Motely Fool called The Fool Rules. This is an example worth studying and emulating. Now is the time to take your boring employee handbook and turn it into something that accomplishes a whole lot more than just collecting dust on a shelf!