By the book: the value of an employee handbook

This article is part of Boating Industry’s HR-related blog series. If you have a human resources- or management-related topic you’d like to see discussed, email senior editor Tom Kaiser at

What’s the purpose of employee handbooks? If you ask most employees at any given company, the answer would likely be something along the lines of burdening the staff with countless rules or serving as a paper-based sedative.

That opinion on handbooks is much different if you ask the owner, manager or human resources manager, however, as they would extoll the many critical roles a employee handbook can serve when navigating sticky situations.

Whether it’s enforcing uniform dress codes, vacation policies, adhering to specific job descriptions or spreading the team culture to new hires, an employee handbook is a valuable tool, and it should be treated as such with staff input and regular updates.


The Boat Shop’s advice


We were impressed with The Boat Shop’s Top 100 application where it discussed a recent joint effort with staff members to update the company’s outdated employee handbook. Managers interviewed staff members for their feedback, and the process resulted in a comprehensive update that now covers nearly every procedure the company has in place.

Vice President Roy Finney Jr., said it’s “important to have a handbook as a means to keep uniformity throughout the workplace from both employee-to-employee as well as department-to-department.”

He added explicitly stated policies, however mundane, help remove gray areas that tend to accompany things that are typically considered verbal guidelines — like the company’s dress code. If a question is raised, the answer is documented in black and white.

Finney Jr., said the new book has most often come into play with training new employees, or when a staff member needed to be reprimanded for tardiness, failure to follow a job description or other matters.

In the most recent update of its handbook, The Boat Shop added information that uses basic language to walk employees through filling out boat and trailer title applications. This allows any member of the sales team to handle such a request if a dedicated employee is temporarily unavailable for the task.

When asked what the key additional items a marine dealer should include in their own handbook, Finney Jr., noted “your business philosophy, customer service goals/approach, job description and dress code, as these allow your staff to all be on the same page.”

While the company added several items, it also took the opportunity to remove outdated material, including warranty application information and outdated diagrams of the building showing emergency equipment prior to its last renovation.

“It has not been a quick and easy update,” he said. “Instead, it is a continual, constant effort as our business is evolving on almost a daily basis, and when new ideas or policies come into play we work to update it.”

Major updates to company policy are not immediately put into practice, but rather The Boat Shop has chosen to discuss them, test them and adapt any new policies based on employee feedback.

And, because some employees have a tendency to take words on paper as iron-clad laws, they have made an effort to communicate to the staff that there are exceptions to most rules, they should always feel comfortable discussing issues with management, and that the guide is intended to make everyone’s lives easier.

Create your own

When creating a new employee handbook, it’s important to check with your HR department or an employment attorney to include local, state and national labor policies that must be included, like non-discrimination and family medical leave policies.

Here are some resources for creating your own company handbook:




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