Every institution, no matter how small, requires a clearly defined and effective structure for it to thrive. At the very foundation lies the quality of its manpower, the drivers of the organisation’s operations/activities towards growth. The sourcing of manpower/labour from different background and spheres of life to work together can spiral out of control if structures are not put in place preferably early.

To ensure a safe, empowering and non-discriminatory workplace, the employee handbook becomes a veritable tool that articulates the policies and procedures to guide the conduct, operations, engagements and interactions within and outside the organisation at various levels.

An employee handbook is a valuable communication resource for the employer and the employee. It sets forth the expectations for the employer and employees as well as provides guidance and information related to the company’s history, mission, values, policies, procedures and benefits in a well-written format. It is also viewed as a means of protecting the company against discrimination or unfair treatment claims.  It is an easily accessible guide or reference to an organisation’s policies and practices.

When does a start-up need to create an Employee Handbook?

How many employees should a startup have before it needs to draft an employee handbook? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer but it’s a safe bet that a startup’s policies should be documented sooner rather than later.   At least one employment law expert believes start-ups and small businesses should have an employee handbook before the employee headcount hits double digits. “I would say when a startup has more than five employees it’s time to create a handbook.

Drafting an employee handbook during the early stages of a startup forces founders to think about how they want to run the business; it makes them take a look at their employment practices.  Until they begin to document their policies, founders may not have given any thought to issues such as reimbursing employees for certain expenses like their cell phones or parking.

So here’s an idea: Write an employee handbook your employees will want to read. The handbook is, after all, often the first document a new hire receives, sometimes the only document all employees are required to read and acknowledge, and a document that gets reviewed, revised, and re-circulated every year.

In developing an employee handbook, certain factors must be considered to present a wholistically concise handbook that will assist employees easily navigate the policies and procedures of the organizations. It should be borne in mind however, that the handbook is not to be too fluid that it creates an atmosphere of favouritism and unfair treatment or be too rigid that it becomes a tool to provide for every contingency, leaving very little latitude for management/supervisors to address individual employee needs.

Below are some basic 8-step approaches to consider while developing an employee handbook:

Step 1. Create an Outline of What to Include in the Employee Handbook   

The topics to consider for inclusion should cover; background information about the company, employer’s vision,  mission statement, core values, purpose of the employee handbook, employment conditions, contractual disclaimers, benefits, reprisals and consequence management procedures. Other important factors to be mindful of are the legal provisions in Federal and State laws that affect employees. An understanding of the provisions of Nigerian Labour Law will be of huge value while drafting the handbook to ensure compliance.

Step 2. Summarise each Policy and Procedure

Each policy and procedure should have a summary statement that is crafted in an easy to read and understand format. The summary statement explains the essence and describes the policy or procedure to be addressed. The policy or procedure here refers to a collection of similar issues categorised under a topic which forms a policy. A good place to start will be to gather information about items to include in your employee handbook especially from companies in the similar sector and build on your findings based on the peculiarities of your company.

Step 3. Develop and Write the Policy

With goals and samples at hand, write the policy using simple words and concepts. Speak directly to the people who will be reading, enforcing, and living by the policy. After each paragraph, ask yourself “what if” questions to make certain the policy is covering the basics and the normal exceptions and questions. Do not lay too much emphasis on providing for every possible contingency. The world is dynamic and changes occur very rapidly and as such employee handbook can always be reviewed in accordance with the times and attached as an addendum.

Step 4. Review the Handbook

The review process ensures that the information is accurate and easy to comprehend. The handbook may be reviewed by HR, a project team or both. It is also critical to get the buy-in or support of all key stakeholders especially the management team to ensure its proper implementation when concluded.

Step 5. Obtain Legal Counsel Review

An employee handbook is typically viewed as a communication between employer and employees. The provisions describing the employees’ rights and duties, as well as the employer’s obligations, once implemented has legal implication(s) and as such having a legal counsel review it for compliance with the labour laws will be wise.

Step 6. Select Means of Publication

The means of publication, whether it be printed hardcopy or electronic will be influenced by certain factors such as; sector of operation, capacity, level of employees (Are majority of the workforce in the unskilled or skilled category?) and accessibility to either the hardcopy or electroniccopy. Organisations are at liberty to choose which format of publication best suits their operation and mode of communication. While most may prefer a more modern approach to publishing via electronic mediums, some may wish to publish printed copies for distribution and yet some a mixture of the two depending on the demography of the level of staff engaged in the company. The bottom line is to ensure the handbook is presented to all staff.

Step 7. Implementation of the Employee Handbook

Whichever means selected for publication, a physically signed acknowledgement of having read and understood the provisions of the employee handbook by every employee will be required. The signed acknowledgement is to file in their individual personnel files. The implementation can be done at a staff retreat for already existing staff or during induction/orientation exercise for new employees.   

Step 8. Periodic Review of Employee Handbook

As interactions and activities of people evolve, what may not be a concern today may suddenly become an issue requiring attention. A point person can be identified within the organisation to be charged with updating the employee handbook as necessary when employment laws or internal policies change. It is also important to conduct a full handbook review periodically, such as every one to two years, to ensure that no laws or policy changes have been overlooked and that all policies are still relevant and upheld consistently within the organization.