Happy Workplace Culture

Ditching the employee handbook

Is this traditional onboarding method outdated?

3 minute read
Happy Workplace Culture

When you first start working at a company or organisation, you may be given a copy of their employee handbook. 

Typically filled with workplace policies, procedures and performance and behaviour expectations, the resource can be a bit of time. 

Over time the concept has evolved in many businesses to be presented digitally, perhaps as part of an intranet service with dynamic links to information new employees need to know.  

However, regardless of the platform of delivery, expecting employees to read large volumes of information, comprehend it and put it all into practice can be a bit of a tall order.

Kinmarch Consulting business owner Michelle Gilmore believes the old employee handbook has had its time, and if anything has proved this, it’s the recent impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic has meant some have had to start new jobs without even setting foot in the workplace,” she said. “Managers have had to find ways to lead and connect dispersed teams, and many more workers have enjoyed much more flexibility, autonomy and control over their working day.

Positive workplace culture

“Employee wellbeing has become a central consideration for employers and many employees are keen to hold on to the flexibilities they have enjoyed during the pandemic.”

According to Ms Gilmore, many organisations are becoming more creative about how they generate and sustain a positive workplace culture. 

“Rather than having the handbook, or even a ‘culture book’, all people and culture programs such as recruitment, induction, performance management, development and reward and recognition align to support the culture,” she explained.

“Reward programs amplify great examples of employees living the values, and managers are coached to address behaviour that is out of line.  

“Others have a long hard look at whether ‘the way we do things around here’ supports their culture goals – for example, limiting early morning or late afternoon meetings so they don’t undermine their overall goal to be family friendly.”

Over the years, workplace culture has become a critical differentiator in attracting and retaining talent, and this is evident during recruitment periods.

Ms Gilmore said it was quite common for job seekers to talk to recruitment panels about the company’s values and culture. 

“There is no doubt job seekers are attracted to companies with a reputation for strong culture,” she said.

“Sites like glassdoor.com.au are used by employees to comment openly on workplace culture of companies, and jobseekers use that information to filter which companies they want to work for.

“During recruitment periods, jobseekers are interviewing us as much as we are interviewing them.” 

No handbook doesn't mean no values

But ditching the employee handbook doesn’t mean workplace rules and obligations are thrown out the window. 

“Hands down the most effective way of teaching culture in the workplace is by example.” 

“If bad behaviour is tolerated and not corrected, employees learn quickly just how far they can push the boundaries.

“So it is essential that leaders set the example and live the kind of behaviour and culture they want to see.”

According to Ms Gilmore, a great internal communications campaign is essential to constantly reinforce the company values and culture with key messages and stories.

“Some workplaces nominate team members as ‘cultural leaders’ and train them to mentor and coach others to support and model the right behaviour,” she said.

“The culture leaders are often invited into induction programs to set new employees off on the right foot by talking about the culture. 

“Reward and recognition programs can profile and encourage examples of great behaviour from employees.”

A large employer Ms Gilmore believes offers an interesting approach to the employee handbook is Deloitte. 

The DeloitteFlex program includes 12 flexible working options that allow its people to shape their working day and enjoy a range of leave choices. 

“Programs like this communicate volumes about how employees matter, and they set up a virtuous circle of reciprocity – we will do the right thing by you and we trust you to do the right thing by us,” Ms Gilmore said.