Do Employee Handbooks have a place in Startups and Small Businesses?
Stuart Hartley


The employee handbook. For many, even just the mention of this particular document gives them unpleasant flashbacks to working under overbearing managers and bureaucratic HR reps who wield the handbook like a weapon. Almost anyone who has worked for a large company has a story or two that confirms this; how people higher up in the bureaucratic ladder used it to nail employees on technicalities or hide behind obscure clauses for their own protection Is it any surprise then that an employee handbook is rarely high on the list of documents to write when building a new company? Far from it in fact, but it also suggests that the problem lies in a lack of appreciation for what an employee handbook can offer a startup or small business.

Most of the articles and writings you will find out there on the web about writing employee handbooks for small businesses and startups seem to assume one thing: that your company is burning down around your ears due to some legal problem. In these situations, writing an employee handbook becomes an exercise in damage control and preventing the same catastrophe from happening again. Sure, the imminent implosion of your company is a great reason to focus on policy. However, this scenario should not be the first time writing a handbook becomes a priority.

Sure, the imminent implosion of your company is a great reason to focus on policy, but why wait? A properly written handbook can go a long way to preventing those types of nightmare scenarios in the first place.

I am a strong believer in the school of thought that one of a founder’s first projects after starting a company should be putting together an employee handbook. Sure, it will likely cover most of the same topics as one written after all hell breaks loose, and just having the document written up somewhere isn’t a magic shield that makes founders, their companies, or their employees invincible. However, a properly written handbook can go a long way preventing those types of nightmare scenarios in the first place, and help all sides navigate the storm should one arise. This series will take a look at what goes into an employee handbook, some common excuses and roadblocks that cause small businesses and startups to not prioritize writing one, and why it still makes sense for founders to make a handbook one of the first documents they write.

 

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