How to write an employee handbook that employees will actually read

Most employee handbooks are dry, sleep-inducing and unreadable. Here’s how to create one that isn’t terrible.

At some point in my tenure at every organization I’ve ever worked for, I’ve gotten yanked into helping rewrite the employee handbook. I’m sure most communicators have been in the same boat.

There are basically two camps when it comes to employee handbooks:

Camp 1: We’ve had the same employee handbook since the beginning of time. It’s written on stone tablets.

Camp 2: We rewrite our employee handbook each year because it’s the most important document on the planet.

The problem is that both camps usually write an employee handbook that reads like a welcome packet to prison.

If you forced candidates to read your employee handbook before actually accepting a position with your organization, probably 99 percent would decline your offer.

Gusto, an SMB HRIS provider, recently sent me a copy of a 54-page guide they put together to help organizations develop an employee handbook that is actually readable and engaging for your employees. After reading it, I decided to pass along some of my advice on how you can make your employee handbook not suck:

1. Tell your story. If you can write your employee handbook in story fashion, people will actually read it. I know, I know—that takes time and creativity. Find the storytellers within your organization, and have them help you tell your organization’s story. You can fill in all the details to make sure employees get the required information.

2. Give them the “why.” We put some really dumb rules in our handbooks that don’t seem to make any sense, so be sure to tell employee why those rules exist. It might not make the rule any less dumb, but at least will know: “The ‘No red socks’ rule is because our CEO hates them. Yeah, we know it’s weird, but it is what it is.”

3. Engage a graphic designer. Color and pictures matter to your handbook’s readability. Make it look pretty and engaging, and you might cover up some of the boredom of the legalese we are required to put in employee handbooks.

4. Use your handbook to communicate your culture . Share your real culture. Don’t write a funny and engaging handbook if you have a humorless, buttoned-up culture. It sends a mixed message. Similarly, don’t write a boring legal document if you have cocktails every Thursday in your office. It doesn’t fit your culture.

A version of this article originally appeared on The Tim Sackett Project.

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