5 Mistakes Every Employee Handbook Makes & How To Avoid Them


Do you want your employee handbook to be a single source of truth that your workers turn to for support and guidance?

For many, this is just a hopeful fantasy that’s never fulfilled because your handbook just isn’t relatable. It isn’t personable. And it doesn’t promote your culture, beliefs or ethos. In fact, 60% of staff avoid reading their employee handbook altogether! That’s a pretty big number, considering it’s probably one of the most important things they’ll need to read throughout the onboarding process. To make sure your employee handbooks avoid common mistakes, consider hiring a professional HR consultant or employment lawyer to review your handbook before distributing it to employees. They may be able to point out areas that could be misinterpreted or may contain outdated information. There is a sad truth that many employers make common mistakes when creating their employee handbooks – mistakes that are actually pretty easy to avoid.


Mistake No. 1: Text, text and more text

For some strange reason, when many teams sit down to build their handbook, it seems that all sense of creativity goes out of the window. They forget about the rules of engagement and send out a plain text document, often in the hundreds of pages, thinking that their employees will read it. Simply put, this is a huge oversight. As with most internal communications, you have to make them enticing and captivating to ensure your employees actually read them. If you don t, expect your employees to give it a quick skim read or even worse to not read it at all.


To avoid this mistake, break your text down by using headers, extra paragraphs, bullet points and numbered lists. We also recommend adding images and videos to dismantle your wall of text and further support what you’re trying to say.    


Mistake No. 2: Creating a huge handbook for everyone to read

Too many companies create one giant employee handbook with multiple policies and procedures included. This means your employees end up trawling through a huge file, reading information that oftentimes isn’t even that relevant to them. The result? They give up halfway through because they assume most of the document doesn’t apply to them and their role.


To avoid this common mistake, break your handbook down by department or position. Pick out the policies and procedures which apply to certain roles and include them in a separate handbook. Create multiple handbooks if you must, to make sure that the experience is an exciting, moreover relevant one from beginning to end (better yet, talk to AirMason about their auto-grouping and distribution features which do exactly this!). For example, consider what a separate handbook for onboarding new marketing hires would look like and could include;

    1. A welcome message from your head of marketing – the employee’s leader in a direct or indirect capacity.
    2. An intro video giving your new starters a tour of the marketing department.
    3. A meet the team page introducing them to their new marketing teammates – headshots and fun facts included!
    4. All policies and procedures which are related to marketing and marketing only.
    5. Marketing best practices and tips.
    6. A goodbye message wishing them luck in their new position on the team

Now imagine emulating this personalized, highly relevant experience across all departments, and watch employee engagement shoot up.  


Mistake No.3: Not updating your employee handbook regularly

This mistake sounds pretty obvious, but it happens a surprising amount. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that only about one in four small businesses have an up-to-date handbook. This is usually because it’s something which is often signed on the first day, then hidden away and largely forgotten about. Further to this, from an employer’s point of view, it’s tricky to update a handbook once it has been printed out. Even creating clunky PDFs from the content can present its own challenges. This means you’re left with a document that is filled with out-of-date policies and procedures. And let’s be real here for a second – what use is that to anyone? Not only is this a veritable nightmare for legal reasons, but it also loses your handbook credibility and can leave employees without the sense of importance it should carry. Can you find answers to the top 5 questions about employee handbooks? Can you blame your employees for not reading it if the information isn’t even correct?


To avoid this mistake, simply set a date in your company calendar to go through the employee handbook and update anything which is out of date. If it’s not an ongoing priority for HR teams to be doing, it should be. You could also consider moving your employee handbook online, to a platform like AirMason, where you can easily make edits and changes then communicate them to the team, without having to reprint a single page everything is updated in real-time and made accessible to your employees immediately. Having an online handbook also makes it easier for your employees to read as they can access it from their mobile, tablet or desktop device, wherever they are.  


Mistake No.4: Too much legalese in your employee handbook

There’s very little point in asking your employees to read through your handbook if they can’t understand what half of it is saying. They are qualified to do a job in your company, not professionally trained to read through legal jargon (apart from the legal team, of course!). A large number of companies take policies and procedures directly from their attorneys and paste them straight into their handbooks. This leaves little time to think about how it reads, the tone of voice versus your brand and how you want to come across, or simply how easy it is to understand. All of the above can prove to be pretty big mistakes.


To avoid this common pitfall, try rewriting your policies and procedures to plain, simple, relatable language. Make them easier to understand and more in line with your company’s tone of voice. Make them about more than the legal aspect, more about how they work for your employees. Do this by reading through the text and pulling out the key points of what the policy or procedure is trying to say. Now condense that information down into a much easier-to-read description, and let the employee know where they can find the expanded or full version elsewhere. This way, they can reference it when they need it but aren’t forced to struggle through a lengthy, unpalatable book of policies.  


Mistake No.5: It’s just too boring

A massive mistake that employers make is sending something out which is just plain boring. Their handbook is pages of black and white text, corporate stuffy language, with no visuals. It’s totally unenjoyable to read and even more unenjoyable to look at. Your employee handbook should be made with the same level of marketing expertise that you use for your company website. It needs to be carefully designed to ensure it is as engaging as it can possibly be.


When creating your employee handbook it’s vital you think about;

    1. Design – How do you want it laid out, what will the front page look like, what colors and font will you use? Does it fit with your brand guidelines? Is it eye-catching and engaging from the very first page?
    2. Imagery – Which images and videos best support what you are trying to say? Where should you place them for maximum impact?
    3. Language – What is your company tone of voice? How do you communicate with staff? Should the tone be friendly, professional, warm, humorous? Perhaps you’re going for a short, sharp, impactful stance. How will you convey this in the language that you use throughout?
    4. Story – What story are you trying to tell? Does your handbook follow a consistent theme the whole way through? Do the sections logically link together?

By implementing our advice above, you’ll be able to transform your employee handbook in no time and ensure that it’s read again and again by your employees. The mistakes we’ve outlined may sound obvious, but we see them time and time again. It’s our aim here at AirMason to eradicate boring employee handbooks for good and help HR teams around the world improve employee engagement. If you need help enhancing your handbook, get in touch with one of our experts who’ll be happy to offer guidance and advice.


It’s time to create a handbook you can be proud of.


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