UncategorizedJuly 1, 20240

From Bland to Brand: Employee Handbooks and Culture Crafting

It is no secret that internet memes about the workplace are perfect examples of clickbait that keeps social media platforms rolling in the green. One you may have seen and that has been floating around for a couple of years now is a picture of someone gesturing as if they are explaining something to someone. The person is quoted, “So you’re not really supposed to do this, but this is what we do…” with a caption that says “training a new employee at work.” Does that sound relatable? It is safe to assume that most of us can think of a time in our careers when a policy existed that most people essentially ignored and there a few common reasons for this:

  1. The policy is outdated but nobody has made time to update the policy, communicate this to employees, and provide training on the new approach.
  2. The policy is important but poorly communicated so employees do not see the value in it and/or feel hindered by it.
  3. The culture in the organization is underpinned by inconsistencies, ambiguity, and poor follow-through from leadership.

Understanding these causes, however, is only as helpful as understanding the impact of these dynamics on organizations. People see and notice when an espoused policy is not enacted. Most employees have, at some point, seen the repercussions of managers ignoring infractions such as tardiness. At first, there may only be one person regularly arriving late to work and then, as people perceive apathy about the infraction from leadership, more and more employees begin arriving later until it is a widespread problem. Managers are then in a prickly position when they are faced with addressing the issue at this point, having to explain why it was not a problem before but is now, or more complex, why it was not a problem when certain employees were breaking the rule but it is for others.

When an expectation is frequently ignored or overlooked, it becomes the antithesis of expectation, and employees in an organization begin to apply this logic to other policies as well. To quote one of my favorite Peloton instructors, Jess Sims, “How you do anything is how you do everything!” Let’s assume that the managers in the example from the last paragraph chose to continue to ignore tardiness. A natural progression would be that employees question if management will hold people accountable for other espoused policies as well and take advantage when and where it is convenient. This is a dangerous trajectory for an organization’s culture to be on and can often result in major violations of workplace safety that can lead to physical or psychological injury. This is a great example of “what not to do” and illustrates what can occur if policies exist that are outdated and/or ignored.

Conversely, well-developed and effectively communicated policies can be a catalyst for healthy organizational culture and workplace wellness. Many organizations within the last decade have marketed commitments and initiatives around diversity, gender equality, and healthy boundaries for work-life integration. Companies whose policy manuals memorialize these values and whose leaders consistently enact all the policies espoused therein, have an incredible opportunity to build cohesiveness, inclusivity, civility, and see increased rates of employee retention year after year.

When was the last time your organization reviewed your handbook? Are there policies that no longer apply? If your answer to the first question was prior to this year, more than likely the answer is yes. Updating your handbook to reflect an organizations goals and values does not have to be a lengthy process. It may be as simple as eliminating, adding, or modifying one or two policies or even updating the way parts of your handbook are worded. For example, language used to identify people in the organization can speak volumes about how organizations view employees. Making a minor change such as using inclusive pronouns or referring to people in the organization as “team members” rather than “direct reports” and “supervisors” can have a big impact on the audience.

Want to learn more? We would be happy to take a look at your handbook. Whether you would like a complete handbook audit and overhaul or just want to reinvigorate a couple of dusty old corners, The People Perspective is here to help “brand the bland” in your employee handbook.


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