Soliciting Employee Input when Writing your Employee Handbook. Is it a Good Idea?

Q:  I am putting together a policy and procedure manual for my office. Recently I wrote a few new policies and introduced them to the staff.   It was a disaster.  I was met with resistance and resentment and they complained about not being involved in the process. I am concerned about the time it will take to involve staff in writing this manual, yet I am also concerned that if I refuse their input I may have mass desertion.  My questions are: Do I have to solicit my staff’s ideas for the content of the practice’s policies and procedures?  If I do, what are the advantages and disadvantages?  How do I go about getting this input without impacting production?

Answer:  As the practice owner you are within your rights to develop and implement new policies and procedures without any input from your staff and generally, that is my recommendation.  However, if your employees are interested in providing input and have expressed a desire to be more involved, it may be beneficial to see what they have to say.  If staff members are able to contribute to the policy, they may be more likely to accept and comply with the policy.

The issue becomes how best to gather their input without negatively impacting production or unnecessarily delaying the implementation of your manual.  Here are some guidelines to keep you (and your staff) on track:

  • Pick and choose a few policies to focus on rather than giving staff cart blanch to edit the entire manual.  The policies you select for input should be ones that staff care about and ones that you are willing to be flexible with.  A good example might be an attendance policy. If you choose all “softball” policies, you may lose credibility and if you choose policies you aren’t willing to change then this becomes an empty exercise.  You want policies that have an impact on the workplace, but will not undermine your leadership.
  • Develop a rough draft of the policy language that you would like and distribute this language to your staff in advance of the meeting. Be sure to include a cover letter or memo that clearly explains that this draft is simply a starting point.
  • Identify the staff members who may help and/or potentially hinder you in this meeting. For example, is there one person who tends to be the ringleader? Is there a person who has positive leadership skills? Do you have an employee who questions everything? Or an employee who feels they are the advocate for others? It is important to identify these personalities and establish a plan to deal with them before you begin soliciting their feedback.

During this meeting you will play the role of facilitator. This means you have to: 1) establish and articulate a concrete goal for the meeting, including an agenda, 2) stay on task, 3) make sure no one individual dominates the discussion and that all employees contribute, 4) actively seek out diverse thoughts, 5) take minutes/document the meeting, 7) stick to your time limit, and 8) use a visual aid if needed – such as a white board or flip chart.  These tips can be useful when leading a brainstorming meeting like this, but also apply to other types of meetings.  In a way, this experience is not only a good exercise for your employees, but also for you to practice your facilitation skills.

Although it is important to consider the ideas you receive as a result of this meeting and reach a compromise when possible, your staff need to understand that you have the final say in what goes into the manual.  You are the owner and you have the right to establish any policy or procedure that does not discriminate.   This is important because it allows you to maintain your management rights and prevents any appearance of collective bargaining.

Finding the balance between staff engagement/buy-in and your right to establish work rules for your practice can be tricky.  However, if you have staff that are eager to participate and you set the expectations up front then you stand to gain more than you lose.