Best Practices for a Modern Policy Manual

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Lance Haffner, President of Payroll Solutions

Lance is a business veteran with 20 years of experience in human resources, business management and leadership. He is currently the President of Payroll Solutions at Heartland.

Do you dream of writing up your company’s policy manual on a Saturday night?

Oh, you don’t?! Well, you’re not alone. As an HR professional for over 19 years, I can tell you that operating without a well-written policy manual can put both you and your team members in a tough spot.

Your policy manual, which translates into an employee handbook for your team members, has a variety of benefits for both you and your team. From documenting workplace policies and standards to complying with local, state and federal regulations to establishing team norms, the manual is really a must for any employer.

But for many, creating or updating a policy manual seems like an overwhelming task of monotony. Here are my top seven tips for making your business a modern policy manual:

  1. Start simple and deliberate.

    Using a template will save you valuable time. If you’re a member of a professional association, like the National Restaurant Association or the National Federation of Independent Businesses, see what resources they might have. You can also check with government resources, like your state’s small business association. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has a great small business template safety handbook. Considering joining a professional association like the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM). Or consider Heartland, our HR clients have access to a library of policy and form templates.

    If a template isn’t cutting it, start small! Jot down a few bullet points on the topics most relevant to your business. Remember this very important tip: you don’t need a policy for everything, and you can always add things as they come up. Just because there isn’t a written rule or policy doesn’t mean you don’t have the right to enforce your standards or implement new ones.

  2. Prioritize compliance.

    Since there are laws you likely have to comply with, prioritize compliance as one of your first items. You’ll want to research which laws are applicable to your business, to include local, state and federal. And don’t forget to consider your size and type of business — many laws and regulations are triggered or become applicable based on the number of employees and the industry in which the business operates. Also, it’s always wise to have an attorney review once you have a draft. They’ll advise on all the above and more. But no matter where you are or your size, you’ll likely want to include boilerplate statements on compliance topics such as:

    • Anti-sexual harassment
    • Anti-discrimination
    • Wage and hour (overtime)
    • Workplace Health and Safety Guidelines

  3. Attendance: it will always come up.

    Setting appropriate expectations around attendance keeps employees from being surprised or frustrated. For instance, can they miss a shift as long as they get it covered or do they have to run that past their manager? What documentation do they need to bring for an unexpected sick day? Establishing the minimum expectations when it comes to attendance will save you and your team members a lot of frustrations.

  4. Dress code is not the place to skimp.

    Have you ever gotten a party invitation with a dress code that seems like three random words thrown together, only to find yourself scrolling through Google search results in confusion? What does “Hollywood vintage chic” even mean?

    No one wants to have the awkward conversation about an inappropriate clothing choice. To keep them from being necessary, provide both a category (business casual, professional, etc.) as well as examples that your staff can easily reference.

  5. Tell them what matters most!

    The policy manual can be more than just policies and employment standards. Cultural or team norms (as it relates to the workplace) and company values are most effective when laid out clearly from the very start. For example, if you’re running a restaurant, do you value turning tables the most? Or should servers prioritize customer experience no matter how long that takes? Tell them what’s most important to you.

    We have the Heartland Way, our most important tenants as it relates to our company culture. They’re published and accessible to all of our team members.

  6. Clarify your social media boundaries.

    We’ve all seen the viral video on Twitter where a post intended to be humorous goes awry, resulting in reputational harm to the business and termination of the employee. If you aren’t comfortable with employees publishing anything they want online, a social media policy is a necessity. The goal isn’t to be overly restrictive, but rather to set clear boundaries (i.e. no making Tik Toks behind the counter). This protects your brand from a potential online scandal and reinforces the best practices you want to see from staff..

  7. Don’t call it a policy manual…

    While it’s perfectly fine to call your collection of policies and employment standards a policy manual or employee handbook, consider something a little less...say, bureaucratic? Perhaps it’s the Book of Standards or The (insert your business’ name) Way. Have some fun with it and make the title fit the ethos of your company.

A few final thoughts before you go. Be sure you perform an annual review to keep things up to date. You’ll want to keep a master copy (digital or hard copy) and when you find yourself in need of an adjustment or entirely new policy, note it in the master and work on it when you have time. As mentioned above, certain employment laws are triggered as you meet certain thresholds. So be sure you address those as they come up.

These are examples I’ve found effective over my years of experience. They may or may not be important to you, and that’s okay! What’s most important is that you start thinking through your plan. To quote famous author Simon Sinek, “The hardest part is starting. Once you get that out of the way, you’ll find the rest of the journey much easier.”

If you’re interested in how Heartland HR can help you manage compliance and other challenging business tasks, click here. Wondering how to return to work safely after a COVID-19 closure? Read our blog, Back to Work: How to Prepare During a Pandemic.