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AI Meets the Employee Handbook:  How to Re-Think Compliance to Match Your Employer Brand 

Mindy Honcoop
on May 23, 2024

The concept of the employee handbook has come a long way since the Ford Motor Company introduced “The Little Green Book” in the 1920s. Originally designed to outline the company’s Code of Conduct, it served as a guide for employees, detailing ethical standards and behavior expectations, tied to Ford’s core values.  

In the 1970’s, with the growing emphasis on employee rights, the legal landscape began to change. This period saw an increase in the complexity of employee rights within the workplace. It became the responsibility of the company to explain these laws to their employees.  
Employee handbooks covered topics ranging from anti-discrimination policies to detailed pay and benefits programs. Employee culture and company values soon became overshadowed by operational procedures and country/federal, state/province, and local laws and regulations. 

The Nightmare of Today’s Employee Handbook  

Today’s employee handbooks are often seen as cumbersome, compliance-focused documents that are challenging for employees to navigate. They take hours to sift through, and let us face it, very few people read them cover-to-cover. They are hard to find when you need them most, and even when you do, the information can feel generic and not tailored to your specific needs.  

While these handbooks help reduce business risks (that can lead to costly legal action in the future), they often fall short of supporting employees’ needs to understand their company policies and procedures.  

Evolution of Employee Handbooks: From Compliance to Culture 

Over time, organizations began to realize that these manuals needed to do more than just enforce rules or spell out laws, they needed to reflect the company’s culture and values.  

The next evolution saw handbooks that put culture first. These handbooks told a story, explained the ‘why’ behind company policies, and aligned with the organization’s mission and values. This approach made the handbook more relatable and engaging, turning it into a tool for building a cohesive and motivated workforce.  

The Digital Revolution

With the advent of digital technology, employee handbooks began to transition from paper to digital formats. Platforms like Google Docs, Notion, SharePoint, and specialized services like AirMason and Waybook made it easier to create, update, and distribute handbooks.  

“One of the biggest advantages of leveraging technology in the context of employee handbooks is the ability to make regular updates and revisions and disseminate those revisions to the workforce, even minor ones. Years ago, many employers simply gathered ideas and issues and then made a comprehensive revised version in large gaps—annually or even every couple of years. It was always a hassle to make changes and disseminate the old-fashioned way. Now, the digital handbook is a live document. It can be revised as needed, and the employer can obtain digital signatures for newer or updated versions easily and track that data. Look at the handbook as a resource that can be both used and improved.” 

Employment lawyer Kevin Duddlesten, Principal at Duddleston Law Group PPLC

Digitizing handbooks offered several benefits:  

  • Accessibility: Employees can access the handbook anytime, anywhere, on any device.  
  • Ease of Updates: Real-time updates provide employees with access to the most current information.  
  • Interactive Features: Digital handbooks could include hyperlinks, search functions, and multimedia elements to enhance readability and engagement.  
  • Compliance and Signatures: Collecting digital signatures for updated versions streamlined the process of maintaining compliance.  

The Future of the Employee Handbook with Artificial Intelligence (AI)  

Looking ahead, the integration of AI promises to revolutionize how information and company content is managed and shared with employees. Imagine a handbook that acts as a coach rather than a rule enforcer, guiding employees through situations and important moments. AI can help by providing answers based on the company’s specific culture and incorporate legal requirements. It can also gather feedback and suggest updates, creating a dynamic, interactive resource for employees. 

AI-Driven Features  

  • Personalized Assistance / Consumer Search Interface: AI can tailor information based on an employee’s role, location, and unique needs. For instance, an employee in San Francisco could quickly access relevant overtime pay policies without sifting through irrelevant details.  
  • Interactive Dialogue: Instead of one-way communication, AI-powered handbooks can engage in meaningful dialogues with employees, offering guidance and support in real-time.  
  • Continuous Improvement: AI can gather insights on what matters most to employees and suggest improvements, making sure that the handbook evolves with the organization.  
  • Real-Time Compliance: With laws constantly evolving, AI can help maintain compliance by automatically updating policies and notifying HR staff of necessary changes.  

AI must be utilized with caution when it comes to sharing policies, procedures, and even employee benefits. With the emergence of Generative AI, many employers may believe that they can allow employees to query their employee handbooks, to get their questions answered. However, the AI may provide an answer that is not legally compliant. It may omit important aspects about a law, a company policy, or even an employee benefit (like medical care coverage).  

For example, if an employee is pregnant and they are looking for information regarding the company’s maternity leave or parental leave policy, if they ask a question in a general way, they may be provided an answer that omits specific details regarding their local or state laws.  

The solution to mitigating risks in using Generative AI is to partner with a solution provider that builds “guardrails” into their AI models. Guardrails are a set of rules, limitations, and protocols that govern or control the behavior of the large or small language models.  

Additionally, AI solutions that incorporate the “human in the loop” verification of the AI generated answers (and allows for employee feedback) reduce risks of “misinformation” and really become a source of information that employees can trust.  

Transforming The Employee Handbook Into An Employee Guided Coach 

The employee handbook can evolve from a digital, static, compliance-focused document to a dynamic, employee-guided coach. By embracing digital solutions and looking towards AI integration, organizations can transform their handbooks into living documents that not only meet compliance standards but also support and empower their teams. 

Crafting an effective employee handbook requires thoughtful consideration and customization. By aligning the content and tone with your organization’s objectives and culture, and using technology for updates, you can create a living document that fosters engagement, supports your employees, and drives your company forward into the future. 

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Mindy Honcoop

Mindy Honcoop is an experienced People Leader now serving as MeBeBot’s VP of Customer Strategy and Operations. Previous HR advisor to, Spiceworks Ziff Davis,, Blackbaud, and Expedia.