Employee handbooks need overhauling in a web based world

Like many growing companies, Receptional last year employed an HR professional to help us formalize all those little things like how to claim expenses, email policies, use of technology in the workplace and many other areas.  It is incredible how much legislation there is… but that’s another story.

My current beef isn’t with the government, it’s with corporate policy makers… HR Directors and Company Secretaries (the ones on the board, not the ones in the front office) especially.  It seems like the employee manuals and company policies are rapidly becoming arcane and I suspect that nobody noticed. When we put together our own policies, we had an immensely knowledgeable expert working from templates and years of experience in other industries.  It was surprising how our own needs had to fundamentally differ from others and I fear it is that other companies really fail to get that modern internet marketing needs to become endemic within an organisation… and with that comes associated risk that needs managing in these documents. For example:

Using Emails for Personal Use

The default “position” in most company manuals seems to be restrictions on using emails for personal use.  In modern businesses, I CAN see how “personal” and “business” use are differentiated, but I am not sure that the differentiation should be forced by policy.  A good company has employees who are proud of the company that they work for, and this pride should overlap into their personal life.  Indeed, many of my crew get together to play football out of hours. They are using the workplace to build up a personal life.  Of course they should be allowed to email each other using the company email address… using personal email addresses just ends up with people cc’ing anyway to both.  Not using a company email address for personal business?  Rubbish policy! Do a time and motion study on a person trying to live by that policy and I’ll show you a person wasting precious time.

Using Social Networks on company time

Most companies ban the use of the internet for personal use at work in some shape or form.  Now I can see personal use being abused… but the way the policies are currently worded also cripple your company’s chances in the new world order.  Social Networks are a great example.  Facebook may seem to be a personal activity to you… but a user’s profile includes (optionally) information about who they work for.  An ADVERT for your business.  You can’t generally stop a person from saying he or she works for you – so why would you stop them from doing so online?  Your company will be talked about on Facebook… so why not embrace it?  Your employees probably already have a Facebook group for your company… are you going to lock all employees from using the system?  I can assure you that I have very real examples of when that backfires… like the catalogue company who couldn’t see the person on Facebook complaining again and again about the inability of the client to stop sending catalogues to their dead mother.

And then there’s LinkedIN… a far more “businesslike” social networking system that is immensely useful in business.  Yet the profiles are centred around the individual… not the company.  You can’t have a policy that prevents personal use and at the same time expects you to use these things in your business life… the two areas have blurred into a single activity.

So what needs to change in these policy documents?

When we put together our handbook, the main change in “tone” was the transfer of the burden of responsibility to the individual.  In the new world order, individuals have more power to influence a brand.  Our handbook sought to ensure that with that power, individuals understood they have new responsibilities.  There was a story about Virgin employees being sacked over Facebook posts and I agree with Virgin’s management (though I am glad I didn’t have to make the call).  Looks like Virgin had their “staff policies” up to scratch… but that the staff themselves hadn’t appreciated their importance.



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