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The Dreaded Employee Handbook -

A Necessary Evil in Company Culture

The mere mention of an Employee Handbook often evokes a collective groan from company leadership and employees alike. Why? Because creating and maintaining this document can be a frustrating, thankless task. For companies, the handbook represents a time-consuming endeavor that requires constant updates to keep pace with ever-changing laws and internal policies. It's akin to a high-maintenance garden that needs regular weeding and replanting, demanding resources that could be allocated elsewhere.

For employees, the handbook often appears as an impenetrable tome, dense with legalese and rules that seem to serve more as a leash than as guidance. It's a document that's simultaneously critical and ignored, glanced at during onboarding and then relegated to the depths of a desk drawer, only to be consulted when confusion or conflict arises. This mutual disdain underscores a fundamental disconnect: the handbook, intended to clarify and unify, often becomes a source of frustration and detachment.

Redefining the Employee Handbook: The Culture Cake Approach

Yet, what if we could transform this maligned document into something more engaging and reflective of a company's unique identity? Imagine your company’s culture as a cake, with the Employee Handbook as the all-important recipe card. Every recipe allows for customization and creativity, right? The basic ingredients might be the same but the flavor - your company's culture - is ours to define.

Essentials like flour, eggs, and milk are non-negotiable in any cake, much like the At-Will Disclaimer, FMLA Policy or a Code of Conduct in your handbook. These foundational elements ensure the cake holds together, just as these key policies keep your organization legally sound and ethically grounded.

With the basics in place, it's time to infuse your cake with flavor by adding elements that make your company stand out. This is where policies tailored to our organization come into play, like mental health support, flexible work schedules, or education assistance. Each addition or tweak to these policies alters the "taste" of our company culture, making it unique.

As we’ve crafted our new handbook, we ponder the following three questions for each policy.

  1. Are we legally compliant on a state and federal level?  
  1. How does this align with our mission?
  1. How is this lived out in day-to-day operations?

Take the concept of Unlimited PTO as a hypothetical example. If our company's mission revolves around creating unforgettable family experiences, this policy, in theory, fits perfectly. However, the reality is that Unlimited PTO policies result in employees taking less time than accrued policies. So yes, we are compliant, but it’s not aligning with the mission. From there we can start brainstorming creative solutions.  

Every policy decision is an opportunity to add or subtract from our company's cultural ethos. Viewing our Employee Handbook as a recipe for our unique cultural cake can transform it from a begrudged necessity to a celebrated cornerstone of your organizational identity. Embrace this mindset and watch as your handbook becomes a tool not just of compliance, but of culture.

Sidney Bruce

July 3, 2024