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Are Employee Handbooks still Necessary in 2018?

If you oversee employees as part of your work, whether you’re a small business owner or a manager in a large corporation, one of the most challenging aspects of your job is undoubtedly training new employees.

The high turnover rate of trainees, the need to condense years of experience and knowledge into a brief period, and simply communicating abstract ideas in a concrete and understandable way are all difficult tasks made only more difficult by the fact that the recipient of this training is often inexperienced and sometimes nervous about starting a new job.

For this reason, some companies have taken it upon themselves to create employee handbooks—reference materials that employees can read, take home, study, and reference as needed. But are employee handbooks still relevant in 2018, or are they an outdated concept that’s given way to websites, testing, email, and direct messaging for assistance?

Are handbooks useful in the digital age?

When the subject of an employee handbook comes up in meetings or other managerial situations, more often than not the thought seems to be that they seem stuffy, cold, unnecessary, and in a lot cases simply old-fashioned and unnecessary. When employees can text their managers, or send a quick email to H.R. with questions they have about work policies, it seems almost unnecessary to have a printed handbook available to reference.

But think about it: every time someone stops to read and respond to an email, that is time lost that could be better spent on any other number of work-related tasks.

Additionally, not all employees are comfortable communicating about some subjects, whether due to anxiety, fear that they will look lazy or unprofessional, or any other number of reasons.

For this reason, having a “permanent” resource available for anyone to reference for your policies—whether related to breaks, time off, meals, safety, or any other number of topics you deem important.

But why printed handbooks?

As discussed earlier, to some an employee handbook may seem like an anachronism—something from the past that can be more easily accessible as a website, PDF, or in another digital format. But don’t give up on the idea of printed handbooks just yet…

Firstly, having a printed handbook available simply feels more official, for lack of a better term. The fact that time was taken to write, design, and print a hard copy of text gives off a feeling of strength and permanence—digital text, on the other hand, often feels ephemeral or even insincere; something that was written up by someone as “content,” rather than a real resource.

Additionally, with nearly all other aspects of most office work being digital these days, a printed copy of your employee handbook can be a great way to show off the personality and culture of your workplace. It can be as fun or serious as your work needs to be, and can really help set the tone for your company in a way that reference materials on a website, convenient as they may be, often do not.

Other things to consider

Of course, depending on the size or location of your company, another thing to consider is translating your employee handbook.

If you’re in an area with a high immigrant population, for example, or if you employ freelancers or remote workers from abroad, employee handbook translation would be a huge benefit not only to your employees who may not speak the same language natively, but to yourself as well. Imagine the time and money saved not needing to field policy questions on policy, time off, benefits, and so on if you are able to refer employees to specific and detailed text in a handbook that they can read and comprehend in their own first language.


So, all things considered, are employee handbooks still relevant in 2018? All things considered, the answer for most situations is probably “yes!” Of course, you know your employees and their needs better than anyone, so it can vary from business to business or even industry to industry. But if you’ve never utilized employee handbooks in the past, why not give it a try—all you have to lose is the cost of printing, and the potential gains in time, revenue, efficiency, and morale could make up for it exponentially!

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