B Corp Journey: Employee Handbook

Written By Liz Hunt

Published August 30, 2021

a teal circle containing the text “employee handbook” overlays a photo of a wooden workbench covered in tools

As I mentioned in a previous post about working towards B Corp certification, we’ve been putting together an employee handbook. Smith Assembly is only a year and half old and currently has only two full-time employees. Sometimes it feels way too early to be figuring out and documenting policies and benefit programs. It isn’t though. A lot of what’s in our employee handbook is the foundation of a healthy workplace culture.

Healthy cultures are all about people. They do everything they can to foster mutually respectful and meaningful relationships. That focus on respect and meaning includes the relationships between individuals and teams as well as between the company and its workers, clients, community, society, and environment. Workers are embraced for being themselves and empowered to shape their jobs. People are inspired by the company’s mission and fulfilled by their contributions to it. It’s important to establish culture as soon as a group or organization forms. Actions matter more than words — it’s critical for everyone to embody and enforce the culture, consistently, every day, from the very beginning.

It’s hard to describe how good it has felt to formalize some of these tenets of our workplace culture.

In our company, I hope nobody will ever experience the traumas I’ve been subjected to at past jobs (or any others). I’ve benefited from an enormous amount of privilege. However, I’ve also: suffered in almost every job from career-limiting gender and/or age discrimination; repeatedly been sexually harassed by customers, colleagues, and/or managers (including one assault by a customer in front of coworkers and management); twice been systematically bullied by groups of coworkers; and at least twice had my professional reputation publicly maligned by a manager in unethical retaliation for a perceived slight. In all of those innumerable instances over thirty plus years, only twice did someone in a position of power actually do something to rectify the situation.

To be clear, an employee handbook cannot prevent inappropriate behavior or wrongdoing. And, no offense to any of my friends who are human resources professionals, neither can HR. All of us make mistakes. Inappropriate behavior and wrongdoing can, and most likely occasionally will, happen. In a healthy culture, however, each of us takes accountability for our behaviors, words, and actions. And when someone in our organization doesn't, we (their peers and leaders) hold them accountable. Each and every one of us is responsible for maintaining the health and wellness of our workplace cultures, and we should do so for ourselves as well as all our colleagues.

The policies and benefit programs we’ve crafted not only address past workplace betrayals, they also carry forward a lot of the best characteristics and perks former employers had to offer. We may not have gourmet catering, cleverly-designed nap rooms, or full-featured recreational facilities but we do work remotely from our homes or virtual offices, have flexible schedules, and offer support for wellness and education. Smith Assembly also models the world we want to live in by guaranteeing a living wage, capping executive pay, and giving our team members paid time off to volunteer.

As this series of posts is published over the next few weeks, we’ll take a closer look at some of the policies and benefit programs from our employee handbook that we find most meaningful.

Are you interested in becoming certified as a B Corp? Learn more about the requirements and process at B Lab.