Nordstrom's awesome employee handbook is a myth

Nordstrom's famously has the shortest employee handbook ever. Here is the entire handbook:

Welcome to Nordstrom

We're glad to have you with our Company. Our number one goal is to provide outstanding customer service. Set both your personal and professional goals high. We have great confidence in your ability to achieve them.

Nordstrom Rules: Rule #1: Use best judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.

Please feel free to ask your department manager, store manager, or division general manager any question at any time.

It's totally awesome and I wish it were real. I truly do, because it would be great if we lived in a society where a company could make that their policy and have that be it. If all employees and managers were able to use good judgment, and you could trust your employees and management to make good judgments and stay out of court, that would be awesome. But, we know that isn't the world we live in, at all.

While it is true that Nordstrom hands out these "handbooks" to new employees, it's not complete. Why?

There are tons of employment laws that companies must abide by, or they'll find themselves in court. And sometimes what someone might think is "good judgment" someone else will think is "terrible judgment." If that happens, you end up treating "similarly situated" employees differently. Now, treating two different employees differently isn't a big deal, unless the employee with less rosy treatment claims that you are treating her differently because of her gender, or race, or pregnancy status. Result? Huge problems. So, you know this is not the only Nordstrom policy book.

And, in fact, it's not. A two-second Google search brought up the real Nordstrom policy guide. It's a mere 7,344 words. And this policy guide references other policies that employees are bound by. This, they may find, is a little difficult to put on a card to hand out to each employee, and it doesn't sound quite as good in the press as "Use best judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules."

For instance, Nordstrom's social media policy kind of blows that "no additional rules" out of the water. Here it is:

SOCIAL MEDIA GUIDELINES If you use social media accounts to connect and share about Nordstrom, we ask that you use good judgment and follow these additional guidelines:
  • Follow Nordstrom guidelines and expectations, including the Privacy Policy, Privacy Trainings, the Code of Conduct and other Nordstrom guidelines. Follow terms and conditions for social networking sites.
  • Comply with the Endorsement Guidelines if you are receiving benefits or incentives for posts on social media.
  • Disclose your Nordstrom affiliation on your personal social bios and note that the views expressed are your own.
  • Don't post sensitive, private or confidential company information (i.e., unannounced product launches and promotions, internal sales results, company strategy, pricing information or comparisons).
  • Never give out personal customer or co-worker information (i.e. personal addresses, phone numbers, or credit card information) or add information you receive from social networking to Personal Book or other Nordstrom tools.
  • Respect every customer's privacy; do not share details about their visit.
  • Always ask for permission to post pictures of customers or co-workers.
  • Know that you may be legally responsible for the content you post. Respect brands, trademarks and copyrights.
  • Ensure your posts do not create a real or perceived conflict of interest; for example, do not accept direct advertising or compensation from competitors.
  • Get approval from the Social Media, Legal and Privacy Teams for contests or promotions directed toward Nordstrom customers or employees.

Now, sure, you could sum that up as "use good judgment on social media." In fact, those things are good judgment, but notice the detailed rules.

And unfortunately, this is the world we live in. If you don't have a social media policy, for instance, or a sexual harassment policy, or a racial discrimination policy, then you have no procedure in place should someone be illegally discriminated against, which makes your company open for a lawsuit. Nordstrom does, indeed, have a sexual harassment policy that includes instructions on what to do if you feel you've been sexually harassed.

This is all good. They need this type of policy.

So, perhaps their "handbook" is simply the card, but that's not a real handbook. The real handbook is all the subset of policies which makes it clear that that card is not the be-all-end-all of employee information. There are other guidelines, and documents to which Nordstrom's employees are bound. As well they should be. The legal department would never allow it otherwise.