How to create an employee handbook

An employee handbook is an instruction manual for working at your company—here’s how to write one

WeWork 1920 McKinney Ave in Dallas. Photograph by WeWork

The main job of an employee handbook is to give new recruits all of the information they need to settle into their new role. 

Depending on the company, the employee handbook can take on different forms and fulfill different purposes. It could contain practical guidance on how to set up your workstation and where to go when you need support. It might outline the availability of various employee benefits, resources, and perks, as well as how to access them. 

Moreover, most employee handbooks will introduce new employees to the company’s values and mission. They’re a way to welcome new employees into the fold and outline what they can expect and what’s expected of them.

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What is an employee handbook?

An employee handbook is a document given to new hires that contains information about a company’s policies and procedures, as well as expectations for employee behavior. It can also include details about company benefits, compensation, and other topics, as well as an overview of the organizational structure of the business.

Employee handbooks shouldn’t be exhaustive legal documents or overly technical. They’re designed to be read from start to finish, so they should be short and engaging and avoid business jargon and corporate speak. 

An employee handbook should summarize complicated topics—such as how sensitive data is handled, for example—into snappy, bite-size chunks. It should also let the employee know where to find the full policy documents should they need more information.

The purpose of an employee handbook

The purpose of an employee handbook is to help employees understand what is expected of them and what they can expect from the company. A well-written employee handbook can help reduce misunderstandings and conflict, and it can be an invaluable tool for onboarding new employees.

What categories should an employee handbook include?

When it comes to writing an effective employee handbook, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. But while every company is different, most employee handbooks will include information under the following categories:

  • Introduction and welcome message. This section should include a brief overview of the company and its values, as well as a welcome message from the CEO or another senior leader.
  • Policies and conduct. This section should outline the company’s expectations for employee behavior, including any policies on discrimination, harassment, and workplace safety.
  • Procedures. This section should provide an overview of the company’s policies and procedures, including things like attendance, work hours, parental leave, and sick days.
  • Employee benefits. This section should provide an overview of the company’s benefits package, including health insurance, retirement savings plans, and paid time off.
  • Compensation. This section should explain how employees will be paid and how often pay will be reviewed. It might also include details of bonuses, commissions, and other performance-related pay.
  • Employee development and training. This section should provide an overview of the company’s employee development and training programs.

How to properly develop an employee handbook

There are a few key things to keep in mind when developing an employee handbook:

  • Be simple. Your employee handbook shouldn’t be a novel. Keep it short and sweet. New employees should be able to easily find the information they need—as well as advice on where to find out more—without feeling overwhelmed by a sea of text.
  • Be positive. First impressions last, so set the right tone for the relationship between company and employee by using encouraging language. Avoid getting bogged down in negatively phrased rules that start with “don’t,” and focus on what new hires can do.
  • Be consistent. The policies and procedures outlined in the employee handbook should be the same as those actually practiced by the company. They should also match the information and figures given in the employee’s contract or the full policy documents.
  • Be inclusive. As with all organizational communication, the employee handbook should be inclusive of all employees, regardless of their position, gender, or other characteristics.
  • Keep it up to date. The employee handbook should be reviewed and updated regularly to ensure that it remains accurate and relevant.

Employee handbook benefits for employers and employees

A well-designed employee handbook does more than just give recruits the information they need to hit the ground running. Employee handbooks are also a way to ensure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to the company’s culture, values, and expectations.

For employees, the handbook can be a valuable resource that helps them understand the company’s policies and procedures. It can also help them feel more connected to the company and its mission.

For employers, the handbook can help reduce misunderstandings and conflict. It can help to streamline and standardize the onboarding process, reduce the workload of the HR department, and help to ensure that new employees spend more time being productive and less time figuring things out.

Examples and templates of employee handbooks

You can find examples and templates of employee handbooks online to help you get started. For inspiration, it’s worth taking a look at some of the more creative examples out there. These serve to show how employee handbooks don’t have to fit into the same template, and how they can reflect a company’s values and mission both in their design and their content.

If you work in the tech industry, chances are you’ve already heard of Valve’s employee handbook. The handbook is a fun, detailed guide to working within the software company’s flat organizational structure, which the book summarizes as “a fearless adventure in knowing what to do when no one’s there telling you what to do.” An entertaining read even for those not working at Valve, the handbook broadcasts the company’s core values while doubling as a recruitment tool.

Another famous employee handbook example is from the luxury department store Nordstrom. Given to every new hire, the handbook comes in the form of a single card that reads “Our one rule: Use good judgment in all situations. Please feel free to ask your department manager, store manager, or Human Resources any questions at any time.”

(While this is a fun example of an extremely pared-down employee handbook that captures the company’s ethos, there is in fact a much more comprehensive set of guidelines and policies that Nordstrom employees are expected to abide by.)

Facebook’s employee handbook isn’t available to anyone besides new hires at the social media company. Printed in a neatly designed little red book, it explains Facebook’s mission, history, and culture in an honest and human-centric way. For example, one section states that “people don’t use Facebook because they like us. They use it because they like their friends.”

Lastly, Trello’s employee manual cleverly uses its own platform to collate information for new hires and provide access to the resources they might need. It’s not only an effective onboarding tool, with information on everything from travel expenses to IT support, but it sends a clear message that the company believes as much in the well-being of its new employees as it does in its product.

Steve Hogarty is a writer and journalist based in London. He is the travel editor of City AM newspaper and the deputy editor of City AM Magazine, where his work focuses on technology, travel, and entertainment.

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