Employee Handbook Lessons from the Lord of the Rings

Nolan Gray Blog

Lord of the Rings fans span the globe for good reason. It’s a great story that interests and informs. The underlying theme of course is the ring of power – the ring that controls all other rings – the one that everyone wants to master. Last week we talked about employee handbooks and today we’re going to take that a step further and apply some of the wisdom of The Lord of the Rings to that very subject. Enjoy!

We’re not looking for ultimate power over our employees, but we are looking for a roster of the basic rules and procedures to keep employees safe, work flowing and the workplace appropriate. The foundation of this system is your employee handbook but its mere existence will be meaningless if there’s not follow through to make sure staff get it, understand it and agree to abide by it.

Gandalf's HR rules

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If Gandalf was running your human resources department, I like to think he’d say it like this:

One handbook to rule them all,
One employee roster to find them,
One acknowledgment they all must sign that will legally bind them…

You can create the best employee handbook ever written. It can be a masterpiece that’s the corporate rule book equivalent of Tolkien’s epic, but if no one reads it or agrees to abide by it, it may as well be written on a roll of tissue in the employee restroom. So what should you do to make sure your handbook serves its function and you don’t end up in the fires of Mount Doom (a.k.a. a lawsuit that could have been prevented)?

Frodo and the book

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You need the ultimate ring – the one that will legally bind them… In the books and movies, Frodo the Hobbit held the ring of power. In your HR department, you hold the document of power: the employee handbook acknowledgment form. You create your handbook, you take your staff roster in hand and you take your scroll (ahem – I mean your acknowledgment form) and you get one signed by each and every staffer.

And any time you make a change to that handbook – you repeat the process. Sound like a hassle? It’s better than hunting for a new job after you lost yours because you didn’t follow procedure and your company got sued! And if a scruffy band of Hobbits can trek across Mordor, you can certainly make it around to a few cubicles.

Disagreeable Gollum

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And like the Hobbits, you’ll likely encounter a few trolls and Gollum-like staffers along the way who want to be difficult about signing the acknowledgment, but you’ve got to be resolute and get them signed. They should know it’s a condition of employment and that it’s simply not optional.

But if an employee persists with refusing to sign the form and you don’t want to terminate the reluctant staffer, get a witness (from HR or management) and write on their form “Employee refused to sign acknowledgment, but was provided the handbook and told they are expected to abide by policies.” Sign and date it and have the witness do the same. This will substantiate that the employee was provided the handbook and that they were aware they were expected to abide by its contents.

Frodo reads the roster

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You’ll want to consult your employment practices counsel for the exact phrasing of your form. A caveat: you don’t want to hand over an acknowledgment form that’s as long as Tolkien’s literary work. The form should be brief and to the point (as should your employee handbook).

Below is some sample acknowledgment form language, but yours should be custom created for your company. And while I took artistic license to align with today’s theme, there’s no need to break out the parchment and create customized scrolls for your staff – unless you’re into that kind of thing. And if you are, enjoy our recent blog on HR lessons from Game of Thrones!

Employee handbook acknowledgment

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One of the nice things Gandalf has going for him is the ability to call on magic to help him deal with tough situations. But you’ve got something close – the internet and technology – that businesses even a decade ago would envy and consider the work of wizards. You can cobble up plenty of tools to help you create a great employee handbook and acknowledgment form.

But if you’re concerned about legal liabilities associated with the drafting of your employee handbook or language in your acknowledgment form, you may want to consider outsourcing this project to an employment law practice to limit your legal exposure. And if you’re looking for ways to streamline other human resources processes, Jobscience offers a wide array of apps and services to help with HR tracking, data, recruiting, social networking and productivity.