The Employee Policy Manual—Shorthand Version

The Employee Policy Manual—Shorthand Version

When I worked for a Fortune 500 public company our corporate policy manual was at least 4 binders thick. I was told everything you needed to know about the company was written down in that book—right down to the furniture brand, model and color that the Sales Manager in our Burlingame, CA office rated. While I was in a position where policy compliance was important (and was part of my job to assure), I do not remember ever opening or using this august 4-binder document as a reference or guide. I did not even know who had a copy. In short, the document was pretty useless to the conduct of business and to the average employee. In today’s world I assume the 300+ pages of the above-mentioned manual would be available to employees online. It may be much more accessible today, but just about as useful as it was 30 years ago.

I have also seen situations where policies are not written by a company and are only available verbally when a question or problem arises. Whether 4-binders thick or unwritten, neither version is much assistance to an employee trying to do their job. Not a good situation in either case.

The reason I bring this up is because I strongly believe that every employee should know the key existing company policies, rules and resources that impact their job and conduct on a daily basis. And, they should be able to lay their hands (or eyes) on a summary of these within no more than 5 minutes. Let me refer to such a summary and document as: The Employee Shorthand Policy Manual. “Shorthand” means that it should be simple and be no more than three-pages in length—electronically or not. In my experience, it should address the following questions:

  • What are the terms of my employment?
  • What does the company expect of me?
  • If I have questions or issues to resolve, what do I do or who do I see?

Let me summarize what definitions, directions or answers might be contained in each.

1. What are my terms of employment?—

    1. What is full and part-time employment? What does that mean to me?
    2. For what actions can I be discharged? [in short, a definition of “cause”]
    3. What are the company’s policies regarding performance and promotion?
    4. How does the company generally compensate employees and how do I determine what benefits are offered for my job?

2. What does the company expect of me?

    1. How can I determine the formal duties and responsibilities of my position?
    2. What are the company’s policies regarding safety and ethical behavior?
    3. What are the hours of business and what constitutes professional dress and presentation in the work place?
    4. How should I conduct myself as an employee regarding other employees, customers and suppliers?
    5. What type of behavior is not allowed on company premises or in the conduct of company business, and what should I do if I observe such behavior? [How will my comments or outreach be handled—i.e.: confidentiality?]

3. If I have questions or issues to resolve, what do I do or whom
    do I see?

    1. Where can I receive information regarding the reporting relationships within the company—my boss, my boss’s boss, etc………?
    2. In the event of a voluntary termination (“I quit”), who do I tell and what should I do?
    3. In the event there is a question regarding my pay or benefits, who should I ask and what should I do?
    4. In the event I observe or believe there is an unsafe condition in the company impacting me or others, who should I tell and what should I do? [How will my comments or outreach be handled—i.e.: confidentiality?]
    5. In the event disagreements with other employees or managers arise affecting my job or the company what actions should I take?

Well, I think I did it. I got all of the salient stuff (I think) an employee might want to know in three pages or less.

Now an attorney might say that we must cover (write) much more to be prudent in such a document. I would respond to their comment by saying: give every employee the shorthand version, and in it, you can reference the more detailed multi-binder document that resides in HR or on-line (if you think it is necessary)—that no one will ever read anyway.

Notice that in the 3rd section (“Whom do I ask or see?”), we provide a series of potential issues or questions and then refer the employee to the appropriate company executive who will answer specific questions or resolve problems. Also note that I have brushed up against the issue of confidentiality in a couple of points. In our experience, this can be a serious issue or employee dilemma. Employees infrequently may need to raise an issue or ask a question that should “land” on the desk of a third party (non-employee) serving the company (perhaps your CPA). It is important to give them a path to do so.

Do you like this approach to policy writing? If you do not already have one, try writing your own Shorthand Policy Manual in the coming week. Can you readily answer the questions I have posed above—or provide a simple path to an answer? If you cannot, where does that leave your employees?

Share this!