By Erin Golden
All too often, a builder starts to get more work and suddenly realizes it’s time to hire more employees and set up an office. Just as quickly, he or she figures out that running a bigger, more complicated operation means there are all sorts of questions that need to be answered, from when workers can take vacation time to what’s expected of them when they’re on the job.
For Patsy Bourassa, executive officer of the Canadian Home Builders’ Association Central Interior division, it’s a situation she’s seen arise time and again.
"Once you’ve got an employee, you need to know what the rules are," Bourassa says.
In other words, it’s probably time to draft an employee handbook.
Putting together a written record of your company’s policies, expectations and goals might seem like a daunting task, but it’s necessary to keep operations running smoothly. If you’re not sure where to start, Bourassa suggests checking with your local trade associations, which often have templates for human resources and safety manuals.
Before you put anything down in writing, it can be helpful to ask some of your employees for their input, says Sandra Eamor, a business analyst and small business consultant who runs Seamor Consulting in Thornhill, Ont.
"While the employees should not be completely responsible for what is decided upon, having them assist with it will make it more likely that they will accept and adhere to the final document because they were a part of creating it," she says.
The topics you cover in your handbook will vary, depending on the type of business you run and how it operates, Eamor says. But every company should include a few basics. Start by creating a definition of who is an employee and what that role includes.
"The line between an employee and a contractor or subcontractor can sometimes be blurred, especially in the trades," Eamor says. "If you use both employees and contractors, you should clearly state in your handbook what an employee is—or in other words, who the handbook is intended for."
A handbook should also include policies about work hours and break times, as well as safety and quality—these are particularly important categories for businesses in the trades. If your employees need to get specific safety certifications before they can be on the job site or operate equipment, be sure to make that clear.
It’s also a good place to spell out rules about confidentiality, Eamor says. If employees have access to clients’ personal information—or to their homes—the handbook should include specific rules about when and where it’s acceptable to use that access.
Brian Hayashi, a Kamloops, B.C., builder who owns Nexbuild Construction Corporation, says he knows how difficult it can be to set rules and guidelines when you’re busy with the day-to-day realities of running a business and a growing list of projects.
As his company grew and added employees—at its highest point, Nexbuild Construction Corporation had 35 people on its staff— Hayashi says it quickly became clear that he should have put together a solid employee handbook before he got too busy.
"The instant you’re in growth mode, the phone is ringing off the hook and you’ve got hundreds of e-mails," he says. "It’s very easy to get distracted off your path."
Hayashi says not having the guidelines in place—both from an office and job site perspective—proved to be a stumbling block for attracting and keeping good employees during periods of growth.
Workers want to know what their employer expects and that they won’t have any unexpected surprises down the road, Bourassa says. A good employee handbook is a step in the right direction.
"It’s hard to find good help," she says, "and you want to make sure you do what it takes to keep your people."