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HR Mistake of the Week by Jason Carney

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Jason Carney’s advice on how to provide the perfect handbook for your employees and provides best HR strategies. Check out his interview with TheGrindstone.com below.

 

HR Mistake Of The Week: Your Company Handbook Is Too Long

By: Ruth Graham

March 22, 2012

Warning! If you’re an HR employee who has been trained to dot every “i” and cross every “t”, the following piece of advice may disturb you: The perfect company handbook may not cover every contingency. In fact, it may be short, simple, and leave a lot up to discretion. That’s according to Jason Carney, HR Director at WorkSmart, an Indianapolis-based firm that provides HR services to small and mid-size companies. Forget the thousand-page policy that covers every possible situation. (Should a sick leave policy cover dependents who are over 18? What about a niece or nephew who lives in the family home?) Carney says he favors policies that are simple and flexible. “There’s been a trend, and I like it, to make handbooks thinner,” Carney told me a few days ago. “I’m a policy geek and I like policy, but HR people have a tendency to make this complicated.” It doesn’t have to be that way.

WorkSmart is a professional employer organization, which means it goes into “co-employment relationships” with small and midsize companies to provide HR support to their employees; when a company partners with WorkSmart, WorkSmart becomes the employees’ official employer, while the original company continues to manage day-to-day operations. They have about 300 clients with 4,000-odd “co-employees.”

All that means that Carney deals with multiple company policies in the course of doing his job. He has seen his share of fat handbooks intended to cover every possible HR scenario. But he told me he wishes that more people in HR and management understood that flexibility is one of the most powerful tools in their arsenal.

“Employers have an inherent ability to be flexible with employees as long as they’re not being discriminatory,” he explained. “There’s a classic feeling among HR people that if you do something for one person, then you have to do it for everyone. That’s just not true. as long as you’re not being discriminatory, there’s a lot of flexibility. I advocate making handbooks thinner.”

He gave an example of an employee whose 19-year-old daughter had become pregnant, and the employee was taking sick leave to deal with it. An “airtight” thousand-page handbook might have addressed this exact situation. But it’s better to have a broader framework for sick-leave policy in place, and then use judgment to address specific tricky situations as they arise. And just because you give that employee leeway in taking sick leave doesn’t mean you have to open the floodgates in the future.

That requires employees put a lot of trust in HR and management, I told Carney. He agreed. “But you gain a lot of trust that way, too,” he said. “The classic HR person is stiff and controlling. That turns people off. But the more flexible employers can be – even in rough times – and the more open they can be about new policies, [the better]. If you can say, “This new policy has been put in place because not having it will do X to our business, you build trust.”

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