There are three ways to think about an employee manual:
- Required boilerplate that sits in a dusty binder on a high shelf
- HR stuff that only the back office needs to deal with
- A management tool that makes everyday life easier for bosses and supervisors
The first way will get you into trouble sooner or later and is to be avoided. If that is all you will do with it, skip the manual entirely. Better to have no manual than one you don’t follow, especially if you ever end up in court for wrongful discharge.
Treating an employee manual as a back-office document is the most common way to deal with one. Leave it to whoever is in charge of personnel files and hope they warn you before you violate one of your policies. Also hope that they can document what you are doing on the floor in case you need to let someone go. In a small business where the HR person is married to the boss, this might work, assuming they talk about work at home (which they usually do). In a large corporation, the HR department does lots of training to make the employee manual effective.
But for smallish companies, there is a better way: treating your employee manual as a management tool. The trick to this is thinking through all your difficult decisions and then writing them down as policies, so that you don’t have to re-think them when there is a crisis at 4:55 on Friday afternoon. Think through what you expect from your employees in terms of customer service, punctuality, safety, or quality. How do you want to handle leave, time off, or early pay checks? Who can use what equipment? (These should be management issues, not work instructions.)
If you do this thoroughly, then answering many employee questions, the kind that give managers ulcers, is easy: you turn to the appropriate page and read the answer. (Or you direct the employee to the page.) It won’t answer all the questions, but it will make you life a lot simpler. And the questions it doesn’t answer may be good candidates for the next version of your manual.
For more tips on making use of your employee manual see Using Your Employee Manual (pdf).