How big is your employee handbook? 
 
Seriously, if it was printed out, how many pages would it be? 
 
Have you ever asked yourself why you need so many policies? How many you have ever used? What the purpose of such a hefty tome is? 
 
Have you ever read your employee handbook? 
 
I’ve trained hundreds – possibly even thousands of managers over the years, and whenever I ask a group if they have read their employee handbook, or HR policy manual, a glazed expression crosses their faces and some coughing and shuffling of paper tells me all I need to know. In fact, around half of them can't even say where they would find a copy. 
 
I’ve also worked with business owners who have blown the dust off their employee handbooks and realised they haven’t been updated (and probably haven’t been looked at) for years. 
 
Here’s the truth. If it sits on a shelf, or on a computer, and no-one ever reads it, or knows what is in it, then it isn’t fit for purpose. 
 
If managers take action (or don’t take action) in the area of performance or absence management or any other HR matter without bothering to read the policy first, then the manual or handbook isn’t fit for purpose. 
 
And if you don’t understand every word of your HR policy manual or employee handbook, and those documents don’t guide every action you take with your employees, then I’m sorry but your policies aren't fit for purpose. 
 
An employee handbook should help you “sell” your business to new recruits by showing them what it’s like to work for you, and the kind of culture people can expect. It should enable new recruits to hit the ground running, because it answers all the early questions they might have, like: 
 
What kind of company is this – what are its values and how does it work? 
Where do I fit in? 
What are the important rules? 
What do I have to do if I am late or sick? 
Who should I speak to if I have a problem? 
 
Equally, your employee handbook, and HR procedures, should help managers easily understand what their legal responsibilities are, what triggers they should look out for to prompt them to take action, and how to take action lawfully, so that they can protect the business from a potential tribunal claim. 
 
The employee handbook can be part of your contract of employment with your staff. If you don’t understand the handbook, or the contract for that matter, then you are likely to breach the terms of your agreement with an employee, and the first time you become aware of this could be when a tribunal claim is lodged. 
 
Sadly, the most detailed and comprehensive employee handbook in the world won’t save you at an Employment Tribunal if you don’t actually follow your own policies. 
 
For your first 10 employees, you generally need about 6 key HR policies, (unless you are in a particularly regulated industry). Written in plain English, so that everyone understands them. 
 
And perhaps, then, people might even read them! 
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