How to Assemble an HR Manual, Part 1: Preparation

Congratulations! You’ve just been handed the assignment of putting together a new or revised HR manual or employee handbook for your organization. If you’re feeling like you’d rather have food poisoning than put together an HR manual, you’re not alone. Most people think of this project as a royal pain in the you-know-what – usually because they’re looking at what a mess the document currently is, which makes an overhaul feel overwhelming. Fear not! All you need is a clear, logical method with an end vision in mind and you’ll be fine.

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What to Aim For

If your current HR manual is a mess – hundreds of pages, full of duplicate and/or conflicting policies, extremely outdated, impossible to use, etc. – take a deep breath and let it go. What you’ll end up with after the process I outline is a surprisingly thin loose-leaf binder that’s extremely well organized, along with a digital version your employees and colleagues can easily access online whenever needed.

Assemble a Team

Pull together a team from various departments of your company who will have some amount of input into making the new manual a reality. This doesn’t have to be a huge assignment for them, just dole out some fairly easy tasks for them to complete. Their involvement is more about getting buy-in to the new manual ahead of time so you’re not blind-sided by resistance when it’s all done and being handed out.

Your Numbering System

Most HR manuals or employee handbooks are useless because they’re cumbersome and not clearly organized. The cure to that is a sensible numbering system. Number major sections like this: 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, etc. so that each major section can have subsections (1.1, 1.2, 1.3, etc.). Within the subsections, each paragraph will be numbered on the left margin as a clause or sub-clause. In your word processing document, make either the header or footer refer to the section and subsection as your page numbers rather than traditional page numbers. If it helps, subsections that are multiple pages can have their own page numbers (1.3 page 2 of 4), but only if it helps. You can also opt for traditional pages numbers if your people like that better while still using the numbering system as your content organization system and table of contents outline, but this negates the whole ide of easy updates down the road. The beauty of this system is that you can replace subsections without affecting page numbers throughout the manual. Each section will be labeled with its Effective Date and subsequent revisions can be noted underneath that as they are made down the road (meaning post-launch revisions).

Setup Physical and Virtual Versions

As you create the physical loose-leaf binder, create two different versions of it on your computer as well. The virtual version, consists of separate folders by section with individual word processing files for each subsection, all of which will come in handy when you go to produce the digital version of your manual for online access. I’ll cover that in the second article of this series.

Collect Your Documents

If you’re producing a new version of a legacy HR manual, have it along with any other policy documents that have come out since it was last published. If you’re starting from scratch, collect any relevant policy documents along with several example manuals from similar companies to serve as models (except yours is going to be simpler and shorter, right?). Be open to organizing yours differently from what you see if it makes sense. Determine what you think your major sections will be, but be open to revising along the way. You’re aiming for pulling out the best of the best and rejecting the rest. And even the best is going to be carefully edited to see if you can reduce it down to a simpler, shorter version.

In Part 2 of this series, I’ll get you started with the actual writing process and putting everything together for launching your new HR manual.

January 28, 2016   Updated :November 16, 2016   HR, HR manual, human resources   

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