February 13, 2015

Creating a Cool Employee Handbook That Staff Will Actually Read

GlassesFew would disagree that the typical employee handbook is perhaps the dullest document in the corporate library, even less interesting than the company accident book.

But perhaps we being too hard on the humble handbook. It’s just a reference manual, after all, and with its faithful index and numbered pages it does that job perfectly well, doesn’t it?

Maybe not: a study from GuideSpark found that 43 percent of millennials and 30 percent of non-millennials do not read most of their handbooks, which means a lot of employees simply aren’t referring to it, which means it’s not even performing its most basic function as a reference book. In fact, the survey revealed that 11 percent of millennials hadn’t even opened their handbooks, and 36 percent of non-millennials don’t even know where their handbook is.

I sense an opportunity for innovation, a chance to create an engaging handbook with personality, character, a distinct editorial tone, and a narrative that reflects and promotes an employer’s brand. In other words: a handbook that employees actually want to read.

Can an employee handbook be both engaging and informative, humorous and factual? I have no doubt that some would disagree — some may even dismiss the suggestion outright — but the employee handbook is broken. We need an alternative.

A quick Google search for “coolest employee handbooks” shows two companies that have addressed the problem of the unreadable and unread employee handbook by creating funny, engaging, highly readable employee handbooks.

The first handbook, from Michigan-based deli Zingerman’s, has been hailed as the “world’s best employee manual” by Inc. This handbook performs the basic functions of communicating vision, culture, and expectations by using an entertaining combination of words, anecdotes, graphics, and games.

Another example of a modern, innovative, and entertaining employee handbook belongs to game developer Valve. From the look of it, it seems that Valve may have drawn inspiration from Zingerman’s.

I believe that handbooks like those of Valve and Zingerman’s promise to be more engaging for employees, leading more people to actually read their handbooks. Also, well-made handbooks can be used as branding documents to communicate to candidates what working for the company is really like. Of course, companies should be clear not to obscure or omit any legal messages in their handbooks, and they should make sure that employees remain clear on what is required of them, but these hurdles are easily surmounted.

Read more in Organizational Culture

Kazim Ladimeji is a Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, and has been a practicing HR professional for 14 years. Kazim is the Director of The Career Cafe: a resource for start-ups, small business and job seekers.