How To Update Your Employee Handbook to Reflect Your Business’ Values

If you want to update your employee handbook to demonstrate your company’s commitment to equity and inclusivity, here’s some guidance to help you get started.

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Do’s and don’ts for reevaluating and updating your employee handbook

Recent current affairs has made it clear that addressing inequality, racism, and other systemic issues is everyone’s job. When it comes to your small business, current events provide an opportunity to reevaluate and update your employee handbook. They help demonstrate your business’s commitment to its values and make your company a more desirable place to work.

Are you ready to start adapting your employee handbook but aren’t sure where to start? Here are a few tips and tricks to help.

Do make it more than just lip service

Everyone has been at a job where leadership responds to current events, like the recent Black Lives Matter movement, by issuing a public statement, posting on social media, or sending out a company-wide email about their anti-racism stance while little changes internally. Don’t be that company.

Updating your employee handbook is one small and relatively easy step that translates your words into action — and it matters.

Updating your employee handbook is one small and relatively easy step that translates your words into action — and it matters. A 2019 paper titled, in part, #BlackEmployeeesMatter shows that the way businesses and organizations respond to diversity-related events that receive significant media attention can either positively or negatively affect how safe employees feel at their jobs when it comes to their racial identities.

All of this to say, the worst thing you can do is say that current events matter to you and that you’re taking them seriously without following through. Definitely don’t say you’re going to update your handbook and then let the project fall to the wayside. Don’t make updates to your handbook without making sure they translate into how your company is actually run outside of its pages. Don’t make surface level updates — do the research, get HR consulting help if you need it, and make sure your effort will yield actual improvements and changes.

Do offer opportunities for employees to respond in their way

Many people right now need space to grieve, vent, get angry, cry, and express their emotions. Today’s current events have a significant impact on the lives of your employees of color especially. Be aware and understanding that it will be difficult for many to show up, work, and carry on like usual.

There’s no time like the present to either change your flexible PTO policy to include anything and everything, from mental health days to making protesting a volunteer activity at your company.

Remember: your employees have a right to engage in protected and concerted activities related to working conditions; consult with legal counsel so you don’t violate employees’ protected rights related to protests. If your employees want to engage in political advocacy and it qualifies as a protected activity (or if it doesn’t and you decide to let them use it as PTO), work with them to minimize scheduling conflicts and make it a collaborative process.

Today’s current events have a significant impact on the lives of your employees of color especially. Be aware and understanding that it will be difficult for many to show up, work, and carry on like usual.

Don’t be defensive

Even if you’ve made mistakes in the past and you’re realizing them now, there’s no need to defend past missteps as you move to be better in the future. Of course you can acknowledge what you did wrong in the process of pointing out the changes you’re making in your employee handbook to improve, but you don’t have to defend it.

Something wasn’t as good as it could be and you’re making it better now — that’s all. Defending past behavior can make it hard for your employees to feel like you’re really going to change. You won’t build trust if all they see is you worried about how you or your company comes across in the process rather than actively focusing on providing the best, most equitable working environment possible.

Don’t ask your employees of color to do the work for you

Especially for small business owners who are considering the impacts of racism at their company for the first time, it can be tempting to go to your employees of color and ask them to share their knowledge and experience with you to learn more. Asking them to do extra labor simply isn’t the answer. Of course some people may be happy to help, but do not request it from them.

Rather than asking them to do work for you, this might be an opportunity to have leadership sit and listen. Ask your employees of color if there are changes they’d like to see made. Finally, remember that this won’t be a one-and-done process. Achieving equity and inclusivity are ongoing processes that evolve over time, and there are always opportunities to revisit your handbook to ensure your business is committing to its values.

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