By Mason Nichols
First impressions often have a tremendous impact on establishing a bond.
This is especially true in business, where a company’s success hinges not only on cultivating existing connections with clients but also fostering new relationships.
This strategy is just as important internally as it is externally. A workforce needs clear direction and expectations to function properly. As precast concrete manufacturers across the United States and Canada work diligently to attract new team members in the post-pandemic world, one vitally important tool can help pave the way to forging a strong, cohesive team: the employee handbook.
Along with setting baseline expectations for behavior, attendance and benefits, an employee handbook offers current and prospective team members an initial glance into company culture and operation. A legally compliant and thoroughly written employee handbook is not just helpful. It is necessary to function at maximum levels and nurture a high-performing team.
Cover the basics
An employee handbook is more than a few pages thumbtacked to the bulletin board. It is a robust document.
According to Jamie Hasty, vice president at SESCO Management Consultants, the average handbook runs between 60 and 100 pages, sometimes even more.
“An employee handbook is the crux of every organization,” she said. “What I find typically is that smaller organizations don’t always have a formal employee handbook. And if they do, it’s either very old and out of compliance or has been borrowed from someone else within the industry and may not apply to their respective state.”
Avoid copying another company’s handbook and instead look to develop your own. Start with some basic information that every handbook should contain. This includes sections covering a wide range of topics, such as:
- At-will employment (if this applies to your state).
- Equal employment opportunity (EEO).
- Work hours.
- Leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
- Accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
- Workplace violence.
- Trade secrets and confidentiality of company information.
- Work rules and the consequences for violating them.
A handbook’s specific legal requirements will vary depending on the state or states in which you operate. Because state and federal laws fluctuate, and because an employee handbook is a multi-layered, legally binding document, Hasty advises partnering with an employment attorney or a human resources consulting firm on the initial creation.
Ellen Bassett, vice president of human resources at South Carolina-based Tindall Corporation, must consider the company’s multiple locations throughout the Southeast in the development and refinement of Tindall’s handbook. This means specific policies for the company’s Georgia location may not necessarily apply in Texas or South Carolina.
“We develop companywide programs here at the corporate headquarters that are passed to each of our business units,” she said. “In some cases, we are able to establish policies that are universal, while in others, we may enact policies that are different based on state laws.”
Because of the ever-evolving nature of employment law, a handbook should be reviewed annually for compliance – sometimes more often if a new law is enacted in your state, county or municipality.
The benefits of a well-crafted handbook
Taking the time to develop a compliant handbook is essential. However, providing an initial look at your organization’s culture also is important.
With the average turnover rate for hourly workers in the U.S. precast industry at 54%, it is imperative that businesses deploy all the tools within their arsenal to help attract and retain employees.
At Tindall, Bassett’s team publishes its handbook as part of a wider document that also includes the Tindall Operating Standards – or “TOPS.” This all-encompassing piece includes the human resource policies that typically are found in a traditional employee handbook along with the company’s values and a complete list of processes and procedures.
“Everything that’s present within our handbook is meant to operate together,” Bassett said. “We like to think by organizing it in this way, we have our whole group of values, policies and procedures that make us Tindall together in one place. They should all be considered collectively as a part of who we are.”
The Tindall handbook is not a printed document. Rather, it is a digital piece that employees can access across any of the company’s locations.
“The electronic interface provides quick access for our team members and helps create clarity and simplicity in how our policies are communicated,” Bassett said. “It also makes things easier on us. We can ensure version control and know that whatever changes we make become immediately available to our team.”
Just as employment law fluctuates from state-to-state, so too can the right approach to deploying an employee handbook.
At Gainey’s Concrete Products in Holden, La., Human Resources Manager Debbie McDonald offers a paper copy of the handbook to employees on their first day. New team members also read through the entire handbook during their onboarding process.
Despite the difference in how the handbook is disseminated, the Gainey’s approach shares one important thing in common with Tindall: communicating the company’s values. This helps workforce members at both companies begin their careers with a deeper understanding of what to expect out of each day, ultimately leading to a more engaged, higher-performing group.
“Most of all, we want our new and current team members to always be reminded of our vision and purpose,” McDonald said. “We want them to walk in the door being proud to join our team. And we want them to grow with us.”
Tips for success
Precast concrete facilities create many of the same products, but the processes they use vary. Similarly, every employee handbook should follow the same basic roadmap but might take different routes to get there.
Along with engaging an employment attorney who possesses a deep knowledge of the policies required within your state, ask: “What do we value as a business?” and “What do we want our employees to know and understand about us?”
It is for these reasons that Hasty discourages the common practice of starting with an off-the-shelf handbook.
“What I find quite often is that people will have a handbook that they’ve pulled from Google,” she said. “This is not the correct approach. Having a poorly written piece – or one that’s out of date, as many that are pulled from the internet can be – actually can do you more harm than good.”
In addition to the overall annual review, consider examining sections for updates and enhancements at various points throughout the year. McDonald said Gainey’s assembles a focus group to tackle this effort.
“The focus group typically consists of our leadership team,” she said. “We’ll pick the handbook apart to determine what needs to be revised and what can stand as is. After we tweak what we feel needs to be changed, we’ll then send it over to our labor attorney for approval.”
To help employees invest early on in the handbook, Bassett suggests strongly written verbiage with key pieces of communication listed toward the top of each section. She has found that this inspires team members to read with a more engaging eye and helps them better retain the information.
Paired with NPCA’s new Onboarding Program, which includes a comprehensive resource manual along with access to an expansive video library, a handbook gives new employees and existing team members the best foot forward toward sustained success.
The big payoff
The work done now toward a comprehensive employee handbook pays dividends down the road. It may seem an overwhelming task at first, but this important piece of company policy is worth its weight in gold when it is needed.
“What we find is, when there are solid policies and procedures along with a good orientation, structure and an empowered culture, you have a better outcome,” Hasty said. “There’s longer retention and recruitment along with more engaged and motivated employees.”
Mason Nichols is a Grand Rapids, Mich.-based writer and editor who has covered the precast concrete industry for nearly a decade.