Why should SMEs have a staff handbook?

taff handbookIt is important for employees, and management, to know exactly what is expected of them by way of appropriate behaviour, legally-imposed regulations and any specific company policies.

Businesses are required to oversee compliance by staff of all manner of regulations such as Health and Safety, manual handling, smoking, noise, abuse and discrimination to name just a few.

However, new laws and regulations are constantly being imposed on businesses and others are subject to change. While in the past such policies might have been incorporated into each employee’s contract of employment, the constant changes make updating them almost impossible. Instead contracts of employment can be quite short by referring to a staff handbook that can be kept up to date.

Businesses vary greatly in what they include in the employee handbook, but some can run to some 60 pages.

The essentials that should be in a staff handbook

Essentially, the handbook is combination of quality, management and reference manual. They are particularly useful when inducting new employees or as a reference manual when dealing with grievances and disciplinary matters, or sickness and absence.

Therefore, it makes sense for every business to have a well-structured staff manual, no matter whether it is an SME or a larger company.

Ideally, a staff handbook should be clear with an easy to search index so that it can be used for training purposes and referred to when dealing with problems that may arise.

It should contain company policies on dress codes and behaviour, information about claiming expenses, health & safety, security, personal safety, use of vehicles and driving while on company time, and lots of statutory policies.  It might include instructions for using technology and telephones, while most companies now forbid staff from using phones while driving and some forbid their staff from taking calls on business phones outside working hours.

Others have instructions for operating specific equipment or machinery as might relate to departments, while these can be incorporated into the staff handbook they might instead be appended in working instructions that apply to the relevant department. Either way such instructions should be referred to in contracts of employment and the staff handbook as observing them will be a condition of employment.

Staff handbooks should include reference to policies on equal opportunities, Disciplinary Rules and Procedures, Grievance Procedure and Health and Safety Policy.

While there is no need to include the details of the legislation they should point to where both staff and management can find more information.

There are many other policies, these days, that businesses may also have, such as on drug and alcohol consumption, especially where they expect employees to drive motor vehicles. Email security is also a major area where employee compliance is key including internet security, protecting company systems from unauthorised access and viruses, accessing inappropriate or non-work-related websites, personal use of company computers and telephones or social media. Sickness and absence, parental leave, data protection and whistleblowing are also normally covered.

Again, staff and management need to be familiar with the policies and procedures and know that they exist, and where to go for detailed information.

An up to date staff handbook should be available on staff noticeboards with notice of any changes that might be relevant. These should also be covered during a periodic staff review and every now and then an updated staff handbook should be issued to all staff.

It might need to be longer than 60 pages but, however long, every company that employs staff needs a staff handbook.

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