Updating Your Small Business Employee Handbook: 7 Tips

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OK, ‘fess up: when was the last time you revisited your small business employee handbook? Did Facebook exist? Did Google? Hey, we know you’re busy juggling ten zillion things, but how about making a commitment RIGHT NOW and updating the darn thing?

Here are seven things to think about as you revise and reissue this important document.

1. Make sure you cover all the important basics. A high-quality employee handbook serves as a solid guideline by outlining what employees can expect from the company and what the company expects from them.

All handbooks, regardless of industry, should cover certain basics. The U.S. Small Business Administration has a great list that outlines these sections, which include anti-discrimination policies, employee benefits, work schedules, safety and security, and disclaimers that the employee handbook is not a binding employee contract (Note: we’re not lawyers, so don’t take this as legal advice. Consult a qualified attorney for guidance.)

2. Provide a thorough section on technology and social media. Even if you’ve issued your employee handbook “recently” (within the last three years), the social media landscape changes so often that you should definitely review this section. If you don’t have a section devoted to social media, you’ll need to create one. Items you’ll want to address include:

  • How to use social media at work—what’s allowed, what’s not
  • Protocol for employees who use the company’s social media accounts
  • Any disclaimers you want employees to put on their own personal profiles and content (e.g. language like, “The comments here are my own and don’t necessarily reflect my employer’s position”)
  • Procedures for protecting company passwords and usernames
  • Expected etiquette and tone on company accounts

You should also address technology concerns:

  • Remind employees that company emails are your property and address any privacy concerns.
  • Address how company-issued devices—such as tablets, phones, and laptops—need to be handled.

3. Review all existing content for clarity an ease of reading. Your employee handbook should be readable and easy to digest. Use short sentences, bulleted lists, accessible fonts, bold and italics to emphasize points, and visual examples to help illustrate points, when appropriate. Avoid legalese and jargon. Remember, everyone on your staff needs to be able to read and understand this document. Anticipate a wide variety of reading and comprehension skills so that you have everyone covered. Think about whether or not a Spanish version should be written.

4. Hire a writer to help you. While you can certainly handle writing the “guts” in-house, definitely consider hiring a writer to revise and proofread for clarity, grammar, punctuation, and spelling. This is a professional document. If you want your employees to take it seriously, you need to take it seriously. Nothing can ruin an important document or diminish the professional feel like a string of typos and grammatical errors.

5. Pay attention to layout. You want the content itself to be readable, of course, but layout also matters. If you’re stuck and don’t know where to start, turn to the numerous employee handbook templates that are available online. Here’s an excellent one from Entrepreneur.com.

6. Have a lawyer review it. This document should protect you, your employees, and your company in general. It shouldn’t be something that’s wielded against you as a weapon by a disgruntled employee. While hiring a lawyer is an investment, it’s a worthwhile one. This post on Business Owner’s Toolkit provides compelling evidence why legal advice is necessary. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

7. Require receipt and acknowledgement. When you issue or re-issue an employee handbook, have employees acknowledge they read it (or the updated sections) by signing a form that indicates as much. Keep all forms on file.

Do you have an employee handbook for your small business? How often do you update it? What other tips/suggestions can you think of? Share in the comments.

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