Does Your Employee Manual Threaten and Instill Fear?

As I read through the Employee Manual of a potential client a couple years ago as part of their organizational review, I most instantly recognized that one of the reasons for their lack of success and poor employee motivation was because their manual threatened employees and instilled fear into them. Not a great way to start a relationship with a new employee!

I’m sure we can all agree that when we engage in any sort of relationship, we want to put forth our best efforts. This means sharing as much about ourselves as possible so that our new relationship can understand what makes us tick and why. It’s a way of finding out if we are indeed, simpatico and if not, the relationship’s days are numbered.

Consider how this may also be true in the business world. When you hire the right employee, you are in essence entering into a relationship with them, one that should be kind, respectful, encouraging, and one that offers clear communication and appreciation for each other. Anything contrary to that is dictatorial.

So let me tell you all the ways that this Employee Manual failed in my books, but before I do, please let me tell you that I never did win that business and the reason was because they never wanted to change the manual, but insisted on results that I knew were impossible to achieve without it. I guess they realized that changing the manual also meant having to change the culture of the organization, and how they operated and communicated. Instead, they remained as is and have been losing market share ever since.

7 Reasons Why This Employee Manual Failed

1 – Only two paragraphs describing the history of the company

An organization’s story of how they got started and why they exist is the very first opportunity they have to get an emotional buy-in from their employees. It’s the place that describes the history of the company and the passionate reason for why they do what they do. This area of the manual should be written in a way that inspires the readers to also take action and “jump on the bandwagon” so to speak. It’s the place where new employees learn the stories that they too can share with the customer.

2 – No mission, vision, and values

With this area being non-existent in their Employee Manual, the employees have absolutely no idea what the organization is setting out to do, what difference they want to make, how they will make that difference or understand the organizational culture through which they will do this.

3 – Seventy-two pages of rules

What??? Who have seventy-two pages of rules anyway? I know who does…those organizations that do not lead by example, who are afraid of being taken advantage of somehow, and those that are not interested in the least in building authentic and respectful relationships with their employees.

4 – No training of how to execute the rules

How is one to follow the rules, unless they are told how to? Naturally, some rules are self-explanatory, but some are not. In either case when an organization can illustrate the importance of a rule by showing an example of how to follow it and the consequences to the customer, when rules are not followed, the likelihood of those rules being followed is much greater.

5 – Seventy-two pages of consequences for not following rules

Although there should be consequences for negative behavior, this “…or else” attitude of the manual was threatening in nature and instilled fear into the employees. Instead, the organization should have also added how negative behavior ultimately affects the customer in the end, as well as suggestion on how to improve their behavior (#4)

6 – No mention of employee appreciation or reward system

So far we understand that this manual is not helpful, inspiring or educational, as a manual should be. Instead it is punitive in nature, causing employees to reject and negatively react causing damage to an organization’s brand and ultimately to the customer’s experience. This would have been the perfect opportunity to encourage employees to do their best through kind words, education, example and appreciation for their service. In fact, a reward or incentive system should even come before the “rules” section, so that they are inspired from the beginning to do their best.

7 – Only two pages dedicated to customer experience training

Clearly this organization has missed the entire reason for being in business in the first place. If the customer is everything, then they should be doing everything to attract, service and retain those customers. Instead, this organization has been more focused on profits rather than purpose and people.

 What kind of message does your Employee Manual give?


A. Taddei

Little Fish Big Pond Inc.