Communications 9/23/2020

Does Your Handbook Need an “Unprecedented” Refresh?

Sure, it has been unprecedented. If there’s a simple word to sum up 2020 so far, it’s “change” — both the noun and the verb form.

Whether your employees are masked and back on the floor, socially distanced in their cubicles, or still at their dining room table, the last several months have changed the workplace (and employees’ lives) forever.

The pandemic turned the business world upside down, and HR professionals rose to meet a challenge none had faced before. Then the calls for diversity and inclusion revealed unintended shortcomings in many companies’ policies and workplaces.

It’s time to dust off that employee handbook and update it with fresh, timely, and helpful information. Time to change it up.

What Changes Should You Think About?

Right up front, start with a section that talks about the company’s culture and values. We’ve all learned a lot lately about what companies value most — their employees. Tell them why, and let the rest of the handbook show them how. Here’s some advice on how to create an HR communication that’s Not Your Grandfather’s Employee Handbook.

Updates around the pandemic.

Whether it’s a brand-new policy or topics that need to be updated, there’s plenty of new information employees need to know in this key corporate communication:

  • Epidemic policy, or communicable disease policy — protective equipment, furloughs, preventing spread, communications, etc.
  • Remote work guidelines — equipment, technology, work hours, expenses, etc.
  • Workplace safety — capacity limits, social distancing, sanitizing, communal spaces, etc.
  • Leave and attendance policies — updates to sick leave, FMLA, state-specific regulations, etc.
  • So much more — this blog from Gusto has a detailed explanation of COVID-19-related updates for your handbook.

Updates around equality.

From U.S. Supreme Court rulings to the “me too” movement, and protests against racial inequality, your handbook should address today’s concerns with current information. These ideas should spur some thoughts:

  • Diversity — aside from a separate policy statement on its own, this should be woven into most company policies, such as recruitment, compensation, training, performance management, etc.
  • Inclusion — consider a holiday policy that offers floating holidays to allow all religions time off to celebrate important days, a dress code that lets people express their authentic selves, and an overarching policy that outright encourages open and honest conversations about how the company can better include everyone.
  • Gender equality — reexamine the benefits section in your handbook, and push more to even the playing field for women (backup and onsite childcare, parental leave, etc.).
  • Gender inclusion — it’s surprising to learn that approximately half of LGBTQ employees are still closeted at work. This article in Harvard Business Review lays out the diversity and inclusion policies all employees really want to see in the workplace.

As a communications company, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the importance of language and tone in every employee communication…especially the employee handbook. Write it for humans, not lawyers. Done right, it can be a valuable tool for everyone, including humans thinking of becoming an employee.

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