Three common employee handbook mistakes

By Mary Anne Aadnesen, SPHR-SCP, HR Services Sr. Partner at ConnectHR
ConnectHR is a subsidiary of The Wilson Agency

As an experienced HR professional, I’ve seen my fair share of employee handbooks. An employee handbook provides guidelines for you and your employees to follow. Operating a company without a handbook is akin to playing baseball without a rulebook or chalk lines. You can still play the game, but it might be a little chaotic. Due to the overwhelming amount of policies that can be addressed in an employee handbook, putting one together can be a daunting task. Many employers often wonder what they need to include vs what is better off in a procedures manual vs what can be left out entirely. This often leads to handbooks that are too long and too generic. Here are some of the common mistakes I see employers make with their handbooks and some tips to avoid them.

1. Too much information 

One of the most common mistakes employers make is to inundate their employee handbook with unnecessary information. This most commonly means that they will include specific processes and procedures. An employee handbook should serve as guidelines to how the company operates as well as address important areas of employment law. Common topics in an employee handbook include social media, dress, discrimination, leaves of absence, workplace safety, etc. Although these areas are often addressed in an employee handbook, they need not delve into specifics of how to do things. For example, a section on PTO may discuss paid time off eligibility, accrual rates, carryover rules and perhaps a clause about giving advance notice when requesting PTO. However, a handbook should not go into the exact steps needed to obtain approval for PTO. An employee handbook should also not go into the specific steps required for someone to complete their job duties. When considering whether or not you should add something to your employee handbook ask yourself, “Is this a policy or a procedure?”

2. Too specific

The information in an employee handbook needs to apply to all employees. Information that applies to only certain employees, such as a certain department, then those are better left for a procedural manual and not your company handbook. An example of this could be guidelines that apply to how your sales or client services team interacts with customers. An employee handbook should also not refer to any individual by name (other than the President & CEO – who hopefully has an introductory and closing statement.) If the handbook needs to apply to a certain position, such as HR Manager, just use that person’s title and not the name of the current incumbent. When putting together an employee handbook, remember to ask yourself, “Will this policy apply to all employees?”

3. Too generic

I’m sure you’re wondering how a handbook can be too specific and too generic at the same time. An employee handbook should in essence be a reflection of who you are as a company. It can be easy to cut and paste sample text from other employee handbooks but in doing so you can easily miss the opportunity to tailor the handbook to the needs of your company and/or employees. You can also be inserting policies that don’t match your company culture. It’s important to take the time to thoroughly review each policy to ensure that it reflects who you want to be as a company. As mentioned earlier, including a statement from the President & CEO is a great way to incorporate a sense of who you are. You can also achieve this by including your company Mission Statement and Core Values. If you haven’t developed these yet, I highly suggest you do.

If you need help determining whether your employee handbook has too much information, is too specific, or is too generic, give us a call at 907-777-0290 or email us at and we can help you put it together.


Mary Anne Aadnesen is HR Services Sr. Partner at ConnectHR. ConnectHR is The Wilson Agency’s human resource services division. We provide full-service consulting, supplemental support, and specialized project expertise for local employers.