The Employee Handbook: What Does It Say About Your Organization?


Unknown-6 Employee manuals are most often the bane of good management.

While they hope to support good leadership and properly let new employees know about the place they have just come to work and the rules which apply to them, they often fall far short of their intention.

In short, your employee manual should put your organization’s best foot forward and help new employees become successful. During the Quality Improvement movement years ago there were two things we disdained: onerous employee manuals (often preferring “Rule One and Rule Two” below) and “after the fact” performance evaluations (see tomorrow’s post about that issue!)



Shawn Miller, Human Relations Director for the City of Boise, Idaho recently blogged about HR manuals and employee handbooks on his LinkedIn site. You can read the full post HERE. Miller, trained as a lawyer, writes:



“The first step to overcoming a problem is acknowledging that you have a problem. Here is mine – I am a recovering attorney… As you already know, lawyers love written rules…

“Ten years ago when I took the HR Director job at the City of Boise our employee handbook was horrible…  It was disorganized; it was out of date; and it was inconsumable/unreadable by anyone but the hardiest of souls. Like any good attorney I burrowed in with a small team and we completely rewrote it. I thought the final product was superb. Thumping my chest I believed that the new and improved version would adequately hold up under legal scrutiny; it covered every issue and every employee misdeed known to humankind; and, we regularly added to it when employees thought up new misdeeds to commit at work. Our handbook eventually grew to 550 pages. Yes, that is a three digit number.

“Recently one of our leadership team came to me and in an honest confession said, ‘Shawn, many of us are afraid to make a personnel decision without calling HR because we are worried that we may violate something in the employee policy handbook.’ That was a polite way of saying, ‘Our handbook rivals the IRS code.’ Ouch… The new handbook had none of the attributes of the old handbook, except in one important way – it was still inconsumable/unreadable by anyone but the hardiest of souls. Our organization, maybe like yours, asks all new employees to familiarize themselves with the handbook upon hire. Nothing says ‘welcome’ like 550 pages of policy.

“If you have read my other posts you know that over the past year our organization has been going through a cultural realignment… there were many employees wondering if our new mission and values were just words on paper… To show we were not just giving lip service to cultural change we started with our [employee] handbook. Why the handbook? Well, it is something that most organizations give to all employees, and it is the written embodiment of what is supposed to be important to an organization (my emphasis).

“But, where do you start? We got lucky when one of our team members sent the rest of us a link to the Valve Company Handbook. It blew our minds, and showed us there is a better way to do things. What is so impressive about the handbook is that it is genuine to that company – what they stand for, what their culture is, and what is important to them.

“After seeing the Valve Handbook, and with one of our new values ringing in our ears, ‘There’s Nothing We Can’t Do Better,’ one of our team holed up in her office and re-wrote the content for the handbook. The handbook went from 550 pages to 51 pages… By writing it in-house we made it genuine to us.  A full copy of our new handbook is at the end of the post, but here are a few examples you may enjoy:


Old Handbook

Dating in the Workplace

The City of Boise adopted this policy in recognition of its responsibility to provide guidelines on romantic and sexual relationships between employees and to caution employees about the potential problems posed by such relationships.

The City strictly prohibits a supervisor from dating or engaging in a romantic or sexual relationship with an employee that he or she supervises. If this occurs, the supervisor shall disclose the relationship to the Department Director or to the next highest individual in the supervisory chain of command if the supervisor is a Department Director. The Department Director or higher official shall assess the situation and resolve any actual or potential conflict of interest or impropriety created by the relationship and to ensure that the supervisor is prohibited from having any involvement in professional decision-making affecting the non-supervisory employee. The resolution can require one of the involved employees to transfer to an open position, or if a transfer is not consistent with the City’s interests, the involved parties shall decide which individual will resign.

New Handbook

Dating, Romance & Other Encounters

It’s Risky Business

Having a romantic or sexual relationship or encounter with a coworker or other work-related colleague is risky business and highly discouraged. However, if you are bold enough to do it anyway and it doesn’t end well, don’t blame us; we told you so. If the mood suddenly changes and your love is now claiming you sexually harassed him, don’t blame us; we told you so. And if you lose your job because all the dirty details of your encounter or break-up played out on Facebook, creating a daytime drama in your department and disrupting business, don’t blame us; we told you so.

Now, if you are a supervisor, you are not only discouraged from engaging in these relationships or encounters with people you supervise (directly or indirectly), you are absolutely, positively, and without a doubt forbidden from doing so. However, if you are bold enough to do it anyway, we won’t say we told you so. We will simply ask you if that goodnight kiss was worth kissing your job goodbye. 



Old Handbook


While it is the intent of the City of Boise that all employees dress for their own comfort during work hours, the professional image of the City is maintained, in part, by the professional appearance that our employees present to customers, vendors, and other visitors.  All employees should practice common sense rules of neatness, cleanliness, and comfort.  Professional appearance also means that the City expects employees to maintain good hygiene and grooming while working.  The decision of whether dress or grooming is appropriate to the City’s business operations shall be left to the reasonable discretion of the Department Director or designee. Certain positions require specific clothing requirements, which will be explained to employees upon placement into those positions.

New Handbook

How to Dress

One Size Does Not Fit All

Positions and duties across departments vary greatly, so a one-size-fits-all dress code doesn’t work. However, there are some basic standards everyone is expected to meet. First, clothes are required at all times. Clothes should be clean and stain free; tear and wrinkle free; not too baggy; not too snug; and must completely cover everything the people you work with should never see.

Second, in regard to cleanliness, we believe that it’s important for you to be seen and heard, but not smelled. So please keep yourself clean and free of body odor (BO).

 Third, if you are fortunate enough to have hair, please keep it clean and combed. If you are the free-spirited type and choose to sport an unusual hair color, we recommend a shade that compliments your skin tone, uniform, and body art.


Miniaturized Standards of Conduct Policy

Even our Standards of Conduct policy, which listed every known prohibition, went from three single spaced pages to this:

How to Act

No drama please.

No, we don’t plan to send you to Hollywood; we are referring to your behavior. Whether you work in the City Attorney’s Office, Code Enforcement, DFA, or one of our wastewater treatment plants, our expectation regarding your behavior is the same: We expect you to be professional, courteous, and respectful at all times. Can you believe how mainstream we are?

The Punch Line

“The response to the handbook has been fun to experience. As employees thumb through the [new handbook] they go back to the beginning and actually read it all… Wow, what a novel idea. Only took us ten years to figure it out!



  • What does your employee handbook say about your organization? Is it what you want new employees to know about your organization?
  • How would you go about reviewing and renewing your present employee handbook so that it is more “user-friendly” and accurately describes who you are?
  • When finished, will it help your employees understand your driving work values and culture?
  • When are you going to begin this important project?


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