“Badges? We ain’t got no badges. We don’t need no badges! I don’t have to show you any stinkin’ badges!” – from The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
As a small business owner, you may wonder why one would need to get organized from a policy and procedure standpoint. After all, you may only have a handful of employees; it is not like you are a large company and warrant a need to issue “badges” in the form of structure. Without structure on how employees should conduct themselves at work, though, it creates the possibility of inequality as well as abuse by employees.
Policy and procedure handbooks are designed to serve as guidelines for management and to create a “set of rules” that will be applied fairly to all employees. They are not intended to create any contracts or binding agreements between the company and any employee or contractor but rather, serve as guiding principles of how the company philosophically operates.
The policy and procedure handbook helps to set the stage for both existing and new employees. That being said, the company should still reserve the right, at any time and in its sole discretion, to change, modify, delete or deviate from any guideline in the handbook at any time without notice. Remove the ambiguity from the team by aligning the policies and procedures of the company by articulating them through an organized handbook.
Here are some of the items to address when developing a policy and procedure handbook:
Set Team At Ease: The goal of the handbook is to set the bar for how employees should act within and on behalf of the company. Included in the handbook should be a detailed code of conduct policy that sets the standard for employees. In addition, educational training on harassment—both physical and sexual—should be addressed. In states where “employment at will” provisions are in place, outlining that “the employer is free to discharge individuals—for good cause, or bad cause or no cause at all — and the employee is equally free to quit, strike or otherwise cease work” should be included.
Align Expectations: The handbook should address consistency and standards for employees. Details should include guidelines regarding email and telephone use; social media and other forms of communication. The handbook should set the dress code for the company as well as establishing guidelines for the office and field. In addition, all of the travel policies of the company should be clearly outlined, or the owner will see widely variant employee use.
Communicate Non-Negiotables: As an employer, the handbook should communicate key information—many of which are required by law. These may include that the company is an Equal Employment Employer. In addition, communicating the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) as well as the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) should be included. Lastly, the handbook should include the company workplace drug policy.
Manage Time: Managing the expectations of the employees is extremely beneficial when it comes to their free time. Outlining the holiday schedule as well as the policies surrounding vacations, days off and sick days delivers answers to questions in a consistent fashion. Use the handbook to set the expectations regarding business hours in advance or you will begin to see “time creep” —employees showing up later and leaving earlier.
Help Employees: Employees want to feel wanted and appreciated. The handbook should include a section on how new opportunities within the company are communicated as well as how they can apply for new job postings. Outlines on how the employees are protected from injury and other safety issues should be addressed. In the event, that an employee requires a leave of absence, guidelines should be spelled out for them.
Articulate The Carrot: Outlining the company benefits program not only helps existing employees know their coverage, but can also be an attractive perk for new employees. If you align your team with a common goal for the overall company performance, the handbook can communicate the financial compensation for employees in the form of raises and bonuses. Use the handbook as an incentive for employees in a clear, concise manner.
Keep It Confidential: Lastly, every employee (and employer) should find comfort that their personal information remains intact. Guidelines on how reference checks are conducted as well as the management of the employee personnel file should be outlined. Maintaining and preserving the integrity of the organization as well as the employees is critical.
Creating and maintaining a policy and procedure handbook helps both the employer and employee know the “playing field” at the company. Most issues arise due to the fact that the policies of the organization are vague at best. Taking the time, in advance, to appropriately inform employees of the expectations of them, will prove to be the path to greater prosperity.
John Matthews is the founder and president of Gray Cat Enterprises Inc., a strategic planning and marketing services firm that specializes in helping businesses grow in the restaurant, convenience and general retail industries. With more than 20 years of senior-level experience in retail and a speaker at retail-group events throughout the U.S., Matthews has recently written two step-by-step manuals, Local Store Marketing Manual for Retailers and Grand Opening Manual for Retailers, which are available at www.graycatenterprises.com.