I have a hunch that your to-do list is growing by the hour as we head into 2017, and I have an even stronger hunch that reviewing and updating the employee handbook hasn’t made it to the list. As much as I hate to say it, you’d be well-advised to add it.
I drew that conclusion after a recent interview with Rob Wilson, president of Employco USA, a human resources outsourcing firm in Westmont, Illinois. Wilson makes a compelling argument around the importance of the executive team — including the CIO — taking the time to ensure that the employee handbook is everything it needs to be. Wilson highlighted the areas that IT execs need to focus on as they carry out this exercise:
For the CIOs, one of the bigger areas for them would be electronic use — what your policy is on social media usage, as well as computer technology usage in the workplace. All of that has to be spelled out: Is it okay for people to be streaming movies at their desks? What’s your cell phone usage policy? Are they company phones or are they individual phones, and what’s the protocol for usage of each? In some companies, people use their own cell phones, and in other cases, you’re supplying them. There is a big difference between the two, and how you use them, and what the rules should be.
Social media usage is a particularly hot topic, Wilson said:
You used to hear that people are checking Facebook eight to 10 times a day, but now you’re hearing studies where people are checking it up to 80 times per day, whether they’re at their desk using your computer, or using their own cell phones or iPads. Putting out a policy that governs usage, including what can be posted, is essential. Not everybody is a happy employee, but you need to set some boundaries if someone is posting anything about the business. If they post, “My boss is an asshole,” I think they’re crossing a line. There are a variety of things you want to look at here, like your confidentiality policy.
Wilson went on to highlight how there are some elements related to gender policies that companies tend to overlook:
My uncle is moving into a retirement center, and I found his 1961 handbook from a large national, now international, corporation. It’s like reading something out of “Mad Men.” Every page of the book has something that you can’t do today. It’s not just discrimination of age and race, but now you have transgenders and transsexuals. References to “he” and “she” have to come out of your handbook. Simple things like, “Women’s skirts must be knee-length,” need to be changed to, “If you wear a skirt, it must be knee-length.” And, “Women can’t wear black nail polish” needs to be changed to, something like, “Black nail polish is prohibited.” You have to take the gender out of it.
Substance abuse is another topic that requires a fresh look, Wilson said, regardless of what type of business you’re in:
Whether you’re a newspaper or you have employees who drive a fork lift at a trade show, the use of medical marijuana needs to be addressed. It may be legal, but you need to cover it in your handbook because it’s no different than having a prescription for Vicodin. If you’re on Vicodin, you shouldn’t be operating a forklift, or posting things if you’re in a clerical job.
Finally, Wilson cautioned that it might seem like the employee handbook was recently updated, but that’s typically not the case at all:
We just looked at a municipality and a business association, and both said, “Oh, ours is up to date.” Well, one hadn’t been updated since 2011. You would think the world hasn’t changed that much in five years, but it has. The other one was just a few years old, and we still found pages with issues that needed to be updated. Over the last four years under the current Administration, there have been so many changes with the Department of Labor that you really need to review it every year.
A contributing writer on IT management and career topics with IT Business Edge since 2009, Don Tennant began his technology journalism career in 1990 in Hong Kong, where he served as editor of the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, he became Editor in Chief of the U.S. edition of Computerworld, and later assumed the editorial directorship of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Don was presented with the 2007 Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity by American Business Media, and he is a recipient of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for editorial excellence in news coverage. Follow him on Twitter @dontennant.