Let’s face it. Employee handbooks are notoriously boring with a reputation of being one of the most unread documents at work.
On top of that, if you are an international employer, you’re faced with the additional challenge of making it relevant to your entire staff, world-wide. Do you create a separate document for each office, with a new set of policies each time you open a new branch or change a global process? That would get tiresome really fast! Luckily, there are shortcuts to make life a little easier on that front.
Given that having an employment handbook, no matter your location, is both a requirement as well as a risk management tool, there are ways to make sure it becomes a document that is both easy to manage while also being sure to avoid making it a snooze fest. The core dilemma is that each country has a whole different set of labor laws that must be acknowledged whenever you hire someone locally. At the same time, you want to make them feel like they are part of a larger mission, a global team. So what are some ways to manage this goal?
Have a universal Global Policies section
This portion of the handbook should be the same for all staff and should start with a welcome note from the head of the organization and perhaps also, the head of Human Resources. Use these messages to remind staff of the organization’s mission and hopes while also thanking them for being part of the team. Describe the Core Values of the organization and what sets you apart, what qualities you want to emphasize in your employees as your ambassadors. Add in all the policies that apply to your world-wide staff, regardless of location.
Create a Local Policies section
This section could start with a note from the country office head, followed by the rules and regulations that are specific to the country (or province/state/city). The general layout and table of contents can be similar across all offices but the specifics would, of course, differ based on the location. So, for example, you may have sections for all offices titled Time Off, Parental Leave and Compensation and Benefits, but the details would reflect the compliance requirements of each country. This would allow you to focus edits only on a few sections while leaving the vast majority of the document alone, thereby reducing the amount of time you are spending on writing and re-writing the same content over and over again.
Summarize policies and use Appendices – keep it short!
You may be tempted to create an epic the likes of the Odyssey, all in the name of risk mitigation. Avoid that temptation at all costs! The longer the handbook, the lower the chances it will be read.
No one wants to read page long descriptions of Social Media policies, followed by page long descriptions of the Anti-Harassment Policy. Since these are very important concepts you don’t want employees to just gloss over, the best practice is to have a short, paragraph-long summary in either the Global or the Local section (depending on relevance), while attaching the longer policy in an Appendix. This way, you are making the details available for whoever is interested in a longer read.
Avoid Scolding and Legalese
We have all been given handbooks where the tone of the language has been primarily around ‘what you are not allowed to do’. This makes for a negative vibe around the company’s culture and detracts from reading the document even more. Instead of accusing the reader and assuming guilt or incompetence, change the tenor of the text to reflect the organization’s values and hopes for behavior that is befitting your wonderful company. Remind staff that they are your ambassadors to the outside world! Change ‘If anyone uses social media inappropriately, they will immediately be brought up for disciplinary action’ to ‘Our company has a friendly but detailed policy to help you navigate the social media landscape. To avoid confusion and unnecessary conflict, please reach out to our social media manager to receive guidance before you proceed.’
Labor law can be dense and wading through the legalese and turgid prose can be daunting to even the most committed employee. Use the Local policies section as an opportunity to strike a balance between accuracy, clarity and accessibility of the law. Make sure the language is easy to comprehend. If staff don’t understand what you’re trying to say, they won’t be able to follow your direction.
Use a good online template and make it available digitally
There are many handbook templates available on the internet but buyer beware! When shopping around, make sure you find one that allows you to do all of the above while also leaving you the flexibility to customize the content. And finally, any template you choose should help you stay within the confines of a country’s compliance requirements. If you aren’t certain where to locate a template, consider Global People Strategist as your partner for keeping up to date with local labor laws.
If possible, save some trees and make your handbook available on your intranet or at least as a .pdf file. Have an electronic signature page to record distribution and acceptance from each employee. This will make it a lot easier to keep staff updated on any and all changes you make as a company without creating a whole production around printing and distribution!
As employers become more and more globalized, it becomes increasingly important to seek out ways to balance efficiency, compliance and a unified organizational culture. Luckily there are tools and strategies to help you do just that! Good luck and all the best from our team to yours.