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No one reads your employee handbook. Here’s what to do instead.

No one reads your employee handbook. Here’s what to do instead.

no one reads your employee handbook

When an HR team writes up an employee handbook, they’re starting with the best intentions. They want to give employees all the information needed to be successful at the company. It’s a great opportunity to tell the organization’s story, hone an internal brand, illustrate the mission, and emotionalize HR processes.

At least, that’s what it’s great for in theory.

What people do instead of reading your employee handbook

Rather than internalizing everything from your carefully created document, employees will likely come to the HR team to ask the same old questions, over and over again.

Or, worse yet, they’ll simply ignore what’s in the handbook, leading to disasters large and small.

Many HR leaders are so certain employee handbooks don’t get read that they’ll recommend running an experiment to prove it. Kris Dunn, author of The HR Capitalist blog, suggested testing the attention spans of employees by sneaking strange or even outrageous expectations into the handbook disclaimers. 

For example, one of Dunn’s more creative ideas includes this clause: “If the employee quits within 3 months of hire, he has to wash the HR Director’s car weekly for a six-month period after leaving your company.”

HR managers could give the person who spots the strange clause a prize; however, the likely low number of employees who will notice goes to show that the handbook isn’t being read in detail.

Why no one reads your employee handbook

It’s not that surprising that few people actually read employee handbooks.

If new hires are handed a wall of text telling the whole story of the company’s mission, values, policies, procedures, and more, they’ll either 1) forget most of what they read, or 2) not read it at all.

This is a poor, overwhelming experience that doesn’t effectively relay the messages an HR team wants to get across. 

Our brain can only process so much information at once. As a result, we tend to filter out anything that’s not directly relevant to our current situation. This means that those same employees will likely go on to ask about topics that are covered in that handbook – whether they read it or not.

Will an interactive wiki fix it?

In short, no.

An interactive wiki or knowledge base on Confluence, Notion, Google Sites, etc. is already better than a static employee handbook. But it’s not enough. Because most employees spend the majority of their working hours in messaging apps (e.g. Slack, Microsoft Teams) and role-specific tools, they will still have to go out of their way to find the information they need. 

A few reasons a wiki won’t do the job:

  • Too much extra effort for employees
  • Too many employee-facing apps already
  • Most wikis are nice and tidy to start, but eventually become a mess

Time and time again, our team hears from HR leaders who complain about employees asking questions they could answer themselves. We understand this frustration, but as Albert Einstein said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”

Rather than trying to change employees’ behavior by developing a separate knowledge base system, figure out where they’re already spending time – like on Slack or Microsoft Teams – and make the information available directly in those channels.

What to do instead

As a first step, consider things from the employee perspective. Ask questions such as:

  • What information do they care about? When do they care about it?
  • How much information can they process at once?
  • What’s their intent or need at different points in the employee journey?

Next, think about when the HR team should “push” information vs. when the employee should “pull” information.

  • “Push” – information is proactively sent to the employee
  • “Pull” – the employee finds information when they need it

Rethink the onboarding process as well. Best practices include:

  • Share essential company information in a compact, succinct form and focus on the employee’s individual team and/or role.
  • Use engaging formats like video or interactive learning experiences to convey the essential information.
  • Spread out all other important information across the following weeks and months.

Remember: Prioritization is key. The employees don’t need everything at once.

Think of it as a pyramid of information.

  1. At the top, you have must-have information every employee has to fully internalize, such as you’re company’s values.
  2. In the middle, you have other universally important topics. Ideally, every employee should know about them. But it’s not the end of the world if they occasionally get lost in the shuffle. Ideally, this is what your employee handbook is made up of.
  3. At the bottom, you have a long tail of situation-specific topics. Employees usually only care about them once they’re in that situation, not during their first week in a new job.

How to give self-service access to information

The best thing HR leaders can do is empower employees to find information themselves when they need it via a knowledge automation platform like Back. 

Back makes it easy to get automated answers to FAQs (e.g. about policies, benefits, etc.). If necessary, employees can also get personal support from an internal expert – like an HR, finance, or IT staff member. 

The platform integrates with other systems, enabling employees to find information directly from Slack, Microsoft Teams, or Google Chat. If your internal wiki lives in Confluence, Back can pull articles from there, too.

If you’d like to offer world-class employee service at scale and go beyond the employee handbook, we’re happy to show you around Back.

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