You can’t dispute the fact that a business is only as good as its employees. Whether you’re running retail or home service, the people responsible for your day-to-day operations will make or break your bottomline.
That’s why I’m surprised more businesses don’t have employee manuals. They’re often passed off as unnecessary documents that few people ever really study, but in the truth is they can be more useful than most might think. It’s an undervalued device, and I’ve found it to be a big help in solving three big pain points: motivating my employees, promoting great habits, and growing better relationships between my staff and management.
I’m going to use this article to explain how an employee manual can set your business up for its next big win. More precisely, we’ll go through why any given business needs an employee manual, and then some important pointers on how you can create and implement a great manual.
Why Do I Need An Employee Manual?
Good employee manuals assist in solving common workplace problems, and are great for catching them before they can do any damage in the first place. They’re effective ways of setting expectations, creating positive workplace cultures, and dealing with bad employee habits.
Clear job descriptions and workplace guidelines make for more motivated employees. People work best when they have a comprehensive idea of what’s expected of them. This is because comprehensive expectations leave little room for interpretation: your workers won’t have to deal with the frustrating task of figuring out who’s responsible for what, and how thorough their respective sets of duties have to be.
You’ve assigned tasks to each of your employees for a reason, and each of those tasks will need doing. Don’t bank on their ability to remember the full scope of their responsibilities without a reference, and don’t expect your managers to be able to track all of your employees’ activities (including their own).
Employee manuals are designed to be a one-stop shop containing everything an employee might want or need to know about their jobs. If you have to feed a program with instructions detailing the what’s, how’s, and when’s of everything that goes on around the office or in the field, you needn’t look any further than an employee manual.
Encouraging good work habits is another must for businesses that want to thrive. Positive attitudes and practices like punctuality, follow-through, and initiative are of the utmost importance across all levels of your organization. Your business isn’t going anywhere if the people responsible for sustaining it are dragging their feet.
You’ll need a great system for steering employees towards the best habits, and that system will need a foundation that everyone can agree upon. Psychologists have found that people are more likely to comply with requests or instructions when the rationales (that is, the why’s) behind them are explained –the same rule holds for motivating employees. You need to show them the greater purpose behind their tasks to keep them truly motivated.
In this sense, an employee manual is an excellent opportunity to put your company’s mission and vision to good use. Whether you’re aiming to improve your community or simply prove that there are better and more reliable ways to create a product or render a service, your company’s goals should be clear to the people working for you.
At the same time, you might find it useful to “season” your manual with statistics and numbers that prove that each task has a function. Maybe every minute past clock-in time means that your home service business misses the chance to fix another house. These metrics are a good way of explaining why work policies look the way they do.
Reducing friction between employees and managers is a goal that many businesses struggle to achieve. The idea of a boss or a manager in our culture is largely negative, and associated with nagging, unreasonable demands, and micromanagement –not a great starting point when you want your workplace to work seamlessly.
Reasonable and well-crafted employee manuals can help you as much as your employees. When they’re designed to capture the interest and loyalty of your workforce, they can be valuable tools for getting instructions across more reasonably. If you think referring to the manual when suggesting changes to an employee’s behavior is a cop-out, then you’ve probably never seen a quality manual.
What Makes for a Good Manual?
When I bring up the idea of an employee manual to my friends and acquaintances, they tend to chuckle and dismiss it as a gimmick that nobody ever reads.
I can’t blame them, since few businesses ever manage to craft manuals worth reading. But it doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to think of ways to make a manual useful. You’ll find more elaborate guides online, but the three rules of thumb are simple:
- Have a clear rationale.
I already talked about the many ways you can use a mission/vision statement to your advantage, so the first point shouldn’t need much elaboration. Push the broader reason behind why you do business in your manual so you can use it when making changes.
- Keep your wording plain and unambiguous.
Many businesses treat their manuals like legal documents. They use complicated words, and the final product is stale and boring. Good manuals are the opposite: they’re written so people will want to read them. They don’t mince words, they get straight to the point, and they’re fun to read.
- Treat it like it matters.
Finally, many businesses waste the effort that goes into creating and reproducing an employee manual by handing it to employees on their first day and forgetting about it until it’s used to ruin someone’s day. Work it into your orientation or training process, and use its contents when pushing for any major changes to company policy. You know it’s a document that matters, so go ahead and treat it like it does.
There’s a lot more to be said about how to create, design, and push an employee manual. But for now, it’s enough to know that it’s a management strategy well worth considering. Directing a team of employees is difficult; don’t make things harder on yourself by missing out on the chance to simplify the process.