Are Employee Handbooks Dead? How to Get Employee Sign-off on Policies

Jan 26, 2024

Employee handbooks have been a staple for organizations for as long as everyone can remember, but they aren’t the best method for employee sign-offs. And maybe never were.

In theory, employee handbooks give teams, old and new, a way to quickly see what policies, protocols, and guidelines exist within their organization. That is—they do if they’re used the way the handbook intends to be used. Let’s be honest though, they’re prone to be loaded with inaccessible language and just ultimately don’t bring much daily usefulness to employees past the occasional glance. They are also not ideal for employee policy sign-offs.

Many will leaf through it on day one and then stow it away for who knows how long. This is mostly because the employee handbook isn’t an effective means to make teams engage with and understand policies.

The death of the employee handbook

The employee handbook as you know it is becoming more obsolete by the second!

Okay—that’s a bit dramatic. But, the point still stands. Going paperless is the way ahead for 2022, so things that are rooted in paper-based processes like employee handbooks are being swept under the rug by digital approaches.

And, even without this push for digital transformation, handbooks, and paper sign-offs have some concerning issues associated with them, too, that impact efficiency, engagement, and compliance.

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So while employee handbooks are dead, the move to digital work means it is more important than ever for organizations to be sure that their policies are communicated clearly, are accessible to teams, and that employees are logging their understanding and acknowledgment. Paper-based processes and the traditional ways of tracking compliance aren’t as effective because of these changes.

So, how do you communicate compliance documents and facilitate employee sign-offs in 2022? Here’s how.

Challenges with employee handbooks and paper signoffs

Physical sign-offs aren’t as much of a sure-fire, reliable method for gathering signatures as they once were. It’s more common now to not have the option of getting a paper signature from employees, as they’re distributed across the office, work-at-home setups, and different locations.

Location issues aside, this process burns valuable time. There’s emailing, printing, signing, scanning, and then chasing down recipients: You can imagine how this would bite a chunk out of your workday.

In addition to these issues, there’s the degree of risk that comes with paper-based sign-offs. It’s difficult to track the process and see who is signing what, and if they understand it at all, too. Digital signatures address these challenges and more.

Do all policies need employee acknowledgment?

Policies are put into place to stay compliant and reinforce rules and standards. When well drafted, policies are a clear guideline for employee behavior.

We’re not legal experts, and you shouldn’t consider this legal advice but it is important to understand how employee contracts differ from policies. To ensure your policies do not create any legal loopholes and maximize workforce performance, it’s a good idea to consult your legal team and HR professionals before issuing new policies.

Ultimately, there will be policies that clearly need employee acknowledgment. Policies that are adhering to standards need to be reinforced by a signature of understanding. Anything that is part of the compliance process should have this extra layer of traceability, too.

How to get employees to acknowledge a new policy and sign-off digitally

It’s one thing to have new hires sign their employee handbook during the onboarding phase, but it’s another to get their acknowledgment for every update thereafter —especially if sign-off documents are all set on paper.

The workplace is digital and online now, so important processes like acknowledgment signoffs should be, too. Using digital forms brings automation, compliance tracking and accessibility to the process.

And they make it easier to prompt employees to acknowledge policies. Whether it’s an automated onboarding workflow that sends policies one-by-one to new hires, or just one targeted task that teams can complete on their phone, it’s simply a faster, easier way to get employees to acknowledge policies versus paper and the employee handbook.

Signing off in bite-sized pieces is more bearable, and much more likely to keep employees compliant.

Select the right policies for employee sign-off

Communicating policies through digital forms is a great call, as we’ve mentioned. But there are some policies that need to be sent off for signature, whereas others aren’t as crucial or simply don’t need acknowledgment to adhere to regulations and standards.

Conduct policies

An organization’s code of conduct is the way to form an agreement between employees and the business itself.

Digital forms are a way to guarantee that leaders can see each step being completed, track acknowledgment and store forms for later use.

Compliance policies

Compliance policies are how employers and their employees stay compliant to existing standards and laws in their industry. These are closely monitored and highly regulated, so it’s best to communicate them to teams with automated forms.

They keep everyone safe, skilled and aware of how their work should be done. Build them into a compliance program workflow, and employees can sign off form by form.

Security policies (and training)

We’ve all signed an IT Security Policy at a new job. These policies are updated frequently and, like compliance forms, need to be acknowledged and understood.

Consider adding the sign-off to a knowledge program or workflow so that training reinforces the information being shared. Digital forms can be attached right to the document, and be followed up by a quiz to ensure that any knowledge communicated by the new policy is being retained.

Critical documents

Employment contracts, contact information documents, standard operating procedures and confidentiality agreements are all documents that are necessary to keep work moving smoothly and safely.

Employee signoffs have to be obtained for these and are well worth building into digital forms and eSignature solutions. Ideally, your digital workforce platform will store these documents in a searchable file related to each employee.

How to ask for employee sign-off

Requesting employee sign-off is one of the most important steps of the policies and procedures process.

The copy of their signature becomes proof of compliance and legitimacy for the organization—so it’s key to communicate the policy and expectations clearly and properly, and make the task as accessible as possible.

How to communicate company policies to employees

Before signing something that’s legally binding or official, you want to know what it’s about—right?

Employees want (and need) the same thing. So, first off, it’s crucial for employers to give their teams as much relevant information as possible about the document they’re acknowledging.

They need to know where the organization stands, why it’s implementing or updating the policy, and then be given the opportunity to understand the document or ask questions before signing off.

The channel for communicating tasks for sign-off should be accessible: Email is widely-used but is difficult to track, and not every employee has an email address. Using paper comes with risks, and pages can be easily skimmed or disregarded unlike a targeted, official digital form.

Ultimately, any communication about a policy or its sign-off should be clearly different from the other messages, emails or paper memos that end up in front of an employee.

Employee Acknowledgment statement example

This example is a great place to start when looking for what an employee acknowledgment statement should look like, whether it’s in a digital form or a paper memo.

Policy Acknowledgement Template

Use Digital eSignatures

Digital sign-offs are a key component of digitizing policy acknowledgement with forms, automation, and workflows. We’ve spoken at length about the benefits of eSignatures, but they’re one of the digital workplace’s most powerful tools.

Timing and online policy distribution

Communicating policies isn’t just about the presentation, wording and format. It’s about when they’re sent off, when employees receive them and when they’re expected back, too.

Digital platforms enable the policy process to be targeted and timed. Build it into a workflow and the right people will receive the right acknowledgment form at the right time.

Record-keeping and reminders

Sign-offs mean nothing if they’re lost or not properly documented. Going the digital route with human resources processes to get employee signatures means that everything is stored in an accessible, always-on library. Acknowledgment receipts need to be searchable and securely stored.

Similar to showing up at an employee’s desk every morning to remind them that they have to pass in their signed handbook, push notifications and reminders keep employees aware of what they have up next—just more efficiently.

What to do when employees refuse to sign-off on policies

Typically, policies still cover an employee, regardless if they’ve signed off their acknowledgment or not.

It’s important to communicate this clearly. Adding a read receipt to the message, signed or not, still demonstrates that they’ve received the policy—especially with automatic read receipts and targeting.

Beyond read receipts, managers should have a discussion with the employee who refuses to sign the policy. Their feedback can be used for future revisions or immediate action. Or, you can easily give them a custom field in the form to sign off their refusal or get a direct report to sign the process.

Why electronic sign-offs for policies are key in 2022

Electronic signatures bring a laundry list of benefits, but above all else, they fit in with the digital workplace.

They make processes more efficient, improve compliance and more importantly for policy acknowledgment, eSignatures make it easy for the recipient to do their part and for the team facilitating to do theirs in turn.

Esignatures are more than just signatures, after all: They’re data that can be pulled up at any time later on and provide a stamp of legitimacy to so many processes.

Ignorance isn’t bliss when it comes to policy acknowledgment

Simple as this: There isn’t much room to mess around with when you’re handling compliance policies. Employee safety is directly affected by the policy process.

Paper can be lost, stolen, smudged by rain, illegible—all risks that aren’t worth taking. Consistency, reliability and security are what the policy acknowledgment process needs.

It needs the document to be sent—guaranteed—and signed. Digital signatures are tracked by analytics and receipts, and it’s clear when something has been received and completed.

With employees working in new locations and the way work is done being redefined, it’s important to have consistency where you can. And, policies are more valuable than ever: The hybrid workplace has introduced a new need for the clarity official policies bring.

The benefits of digitizing policy acknowledgment

Still unsure about the benefits of digitizing policy acknowledgment? We’ve put together a comprehensive guide that’ll cover everything you need to know about digital policy acknowledgment in 2022.


Automating employee sign-off of policies in the digital workplace

It doesn’t stop with deciding that you need digital sign-offs. Automation and workflows can power each step of policy acknowledgment and make efforts more efficient and engaging than ever before.

Sean Eidt
Sean Eidt
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