Tearing Up the Employee Handbook


January 18, 2011

Flip through any organization’s policy manual and my guess is you’ll find no less than twenty.  After all, some poor “Personnel” department thirty or forty years ago toiled over creating all the boundaries and lines that should not be crossed.  And, like many other things, they grow and multiply over the years.  All the companies I’ve worked at have had more policies than one HR pro can possibly remember and if it’s hard for HR to remember them all and we use them daily, just imagine how employees feel.  They usually have no idea what is really written in there unless they look it up.

I admire companies like Nordstrom for cutting down on all the distraction of over-orchestrating an employees every move.  For many years, employees received the following:

Nordstrom Employee Manual

We’re glad to have you with our Company. Our number one goal is to provide outstanding customer service. Set both your personal and professional goals high. We have great confidence in your ability to achieve them.

Nordstrom Rules: Rule #1: Use best judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.

Please feel free to ask your department manager, store manager, or division general manager any question at any time.

I’ve heard new Norstrom employees now receive a little more direction in order to comply with some legal regulations.  And, I realize we can’t all get to the point of having a one page employee handbook.   But if you had to look at your own organization, what is one policy you’d throw out today?  Share it in the comments.  In the end, we’ll have the list of “Worst Policies of All Time”.


  • Amen Trish! In the age of online policies, why in the world does a handbook even exist? “Because we’ve always done it that way, and legal told us to have one.” That’s crazy! My team and I have been laboring over policy updates and revisions, all focused on “staying out of trouble.” I think it may be time to take our policy perspective to a new level. HRPolicy-evolution!

    • @Jay- I think “HRPolicy-evolution” sounds like a great conference session!

  • I always find long, cumbersome handbooks to be a sort of slap in the face to intelligent workers. You hired me for a reason…you must believe I have good rational thinking skills and the ability to follow directions and stay out of trouble. Is it really necessary to give me lists of rules to follow? I can’t wear raggedy jeans to work…okay…wasn’t planning on it!

    I do think for manufacturing environments a handbook may be necessary for items related to safety, i.e. not allowing high heeled/open toed shoes on the manufacturing floor. But, this can easily be a one page document!

    • @Emily- You said it better than I did. Glad you weighed in! Thanks

  • Love the Nordstrom concept but knew that lawyers would muck it up. Also, at least in Illinois, for unemployment insurance, you have to show that any reason you may have discharged an employee must be documented and the employee knew it so that adds to the handbook. I do agree it needs to be looked at and made as simple as possible but many feel the need to fill it up with mission/vision statements, company history, and other stuff that can be shared in a much better manner.

  • At my last employer we had a “Photo Usage” policy. The policy stated that if we took your picture for any reason, we could use it for any reason. I have no idea where it came from or why it was originally written, but for a long time everyone wanted to keep it even though we NEVER took pictures. Pure insanity.

    • @Sabrina- I love it! I’m like you….who really takes pictures at work?

  • I’d throw them all out and start over. We acquire companies like I acquire shoes. Each acquisition leads to an amendment to the handbook to accommodate grandfathered status’, state reqs and so forth. And to top if off, each location has it’s own set of amendments to cover center specific policies on attire, attendance, parking, etc. It’s nuts.

    • @April- That’s totally frustrating! Maybe you just need a good policy on shoe buying and call it a day. 🙂

  • We have a policy that we only reimburse employee expenses (mileage, meals, phone, etc.) for the previous month. E.g., I could now submit expenses for December and January, but expenses from November and earlier wouldn’t be paid.

    I’m not a fan of this policy.

    • @Krista- Wow, I would not be a fan of that one either. Especially since I tend to hold my expense receipts for several months!

  • I am all for getting rid of handbooks, but 1 pagers will not work. Not every employee is smart, not every employee is white collar, not every employee is honest. You have federal and state governments that require communication of policies and handbooks provide that evidence of communication. Should they be written better, absolutely! what is needed is better policies. That is what we need to improve. You don’t need 44 page dress codes.

  • I had the good fortune to work on a start-up, and we had a clear “minimal policy” approach. We used an advisory team from across the facility, and always asked “How does current policy answer the question that people THINK we need a specific policy for”. As noted earlier, the lawyers were not always happy, but it is clearly popular with those employees who feel that they come to work to deliver for the business.

Comments are closed.

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About Trish

A former HR executive and HCM product leader with over 20 years of experience.


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