When you REALLY want the people you work with to read something…

On a LinkedIn forum today, a “Global HR Professional” posted the following question;

Employee Handbook Update – Opinions please

We are adding a few lines to our employee handbook which was originally created and distributed in 2012. The changes are not major – only adding one policy and updating two others. Should we have everyone sign a new acknowledgment page or does this statement in the acknowledgement they already signed cover us so we don’t need to have everyone sign again? : “The firm has the right to amend, interpret, modify, or withdraw any of the provisions of the Handbook at any time at its sole discretion, with or without notice.” Thanks for your opinions.

It provoked a LOT of responses, the majority of which focused most on the need for the HR department to ensure that no-one could claim that they hadn’t been told than on the content of the handbook in the first place. In this era of sub-contractors, hourly-paid staff, temps and ‘covers’, the concept of an “employee” handbook is a little dated, but it’s apparent from the responses that many companies still have them. A few of the replies even asked whether social media use was covered and so on – definitely something from the 90s!

I will admit that I was particularly worried by terms like; force, mandatory, duty, be held to, protect the company, backlash and comply. These appeared in far too many of the replies. They say as much about the kinds of environment that these respondents are coming from as it does about the result they were looking for.

I was interested to note that the first three, at least, to use words to the effect of “make the changes, and just let people know” all appeared to come from Asian backgrounds. This feels far more trusting all round. Surely the handbook is a back-up to communication by line managers or peers? If we relied on what people read then the world would grind to a halt (not the least because of the levels of functional illiteracy even among managers).

However, to me IF these changes (indeed, the whole handbook) are/is actually of any benefit to the employees – which many are not – then the question should be not “what is necessary” but “how do we get this read and understood by as many employees as possible”?

Let’s suppose that the cost of producing a printed copy of the manual and distributing them to every employee in say a 1000 person business, with a reply-paid envelope for them to confirm receipt, is going to be close to £7000. If you don’t believe me – try the maths yourself and work out what it would cost you. An admin assistant would still need to go through the staff list and make sure who had returned them and so on.

Instead, post a copy online with a link to a 10 question Survey Monkey poll based on the content – to complete the poll people have to read the document. Everyone who completes the survey, by a deadline, is then sent the numbers from a unique lottery ticket. They have effectively been given £1 to read the document but have the potential to win a million. Make the weekend of the draw a bit more dramatic – with photographs of any winners appearing on the intranet on Monday etc etc.

Net result? Engaged employees, who have actually studied the document (and I’ll wager that more do so under this approach than any punitive compliance-based one), a couple who are better off as a result, a positive buzz for a while, and external publicity – both active by the marketing people and passive by the employees (“You won’t believe what happened last week…”). And, you’ve saved a fortune on the cost too.

Just a thought.

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