An employee handbook teaches team members about a company’s policies, purpose, and values. In addition to including important legal information, employee handbooks are also an opportunity for your company to add a personal flair that makes the document come alive. Read on and learn to create an employee handbook you can be proud of.
Many people think of employee handbooks as boilerplate content listing the same old legal information. And while companies do use employee handbooks to deliver various policies and regulations to new hires, the employee handbook has evolved to also be a grounding point for company culture. Modern companies use employee handbooks to showcase who they are and how they operate, and also create a sense of unity for their organization.
When you take a new perspective on employee handbooks, you can use them to inform and inspire team members, new and old. In this piece, we’ll explain how to create an employee handbook you can be proud of. Not only can you use this document to share your values, but you can also demonstrate how those values come alive through company policies.
An employee handbook teaches new team members about a company’s purpose, goals, processes, and policies. It also gives team members a reference for crucial company information and sets out standards for expected behaviors, legally and culturally.
Whether you’re creating an employee handbook for the first time or want to upgrade the one you already have, there are many benefits to having a thorough document with your company information inside.
Your employee handbook can:
Give team members access to applicable legal documents and standards
Streamline team communication
Expedite onboarding for new team members
Provide transparency about company operations
New team members are usually the primary audience of employee handbooks, but current team members should also be considered. Think of the document as a training manual, a welcome packet, and a reference. While there’s not a strict format to follow when writing your employee handbook, many companies include a combination of the sections below.
This guide is an overview of common employee handbook sections, not a full list of required components. Before publishing your employee handbook, check with your legal team to make sure you’re including all relevant information based on local and federal laws.
Company overview and values: Display your company’s mission statement, explain your values, and state your purpose.
History and future of the company: Provide a general timeline of how the company started and the vision you have for the future.
Joining the company:
First day of work guide: While every team member’s first day of work will look slightly different based on their job role, the employee handbook can provide a first day of work guide for all new hires that focuses on the work environment and culture.
What to expect in the first month: Elaborate on the first day of work guide by explaining what every new hire should expect to experience within their first month of employment.
Team member relations:
Team management and structure: The employee handbook is a great place to explain team structures to ensure team members clearly understand the org chart.
General code of conduct: A code of conduct sets behavioral standards and keeps team members accountable. You can include rules in this section regarding cell phone or social media use during work hours, dress code, respecting one another, or being on time for work and meetings. The code of conduct should be written and reviewed by your internal legal team.
Remote and hybrid work policies: Many companies are adopting remote and hybrid work as the new normal. If your team has gone fully remote, you can gear your entire handbook toward a remote work environment. These policies may focus on technology requirements, video call etiquette, and communicating through remote work tools.
Compensation and development: In this section, you can answer questions about how often your company will pay team members and explain any steps they need to take to get paid. In terms of development, outline potential growth tracks for team members and discuss the performance review process. Make sure the compensation and development information is written and reviewed by your internal legal team.
Working hours, PTO, and vacation policy: Use this section to explain how team members receive vacation time and the sick leave policy. If team members with part-time work schedules have different time off eligibility than full-time team members, make those differences clear. Refer to your internal legal team’s guidelines on applicable local and federal laws that might impact team member eligibility.
Benefits and perks: Benefit plans may include health insurance, dental and vision insurance, vacation time, a 401(k) plan, charity donation reimbursement, gym membership discounts, and more. Whatever benefits and perks your company offers to team members, list them here with enthusiasm.
Employee resignation and termination: You don’t want to put a downer on the warm welcome you’re trying to give new hires, but this section is here to explain possible reasons you might need to end employment. It also reminds team members that they may end their employment at any time. This section should be written and reviewed by your internal legal team.
Any other general disclaimers (or legal requirements): You can also include other disclaimers or legal requirements in your employee handbook. Work with your internal legal team to make sure you’re including any relevant legal information you need to disclose. That being said, there may be other places—like in the new hire paperwork—to deliver these legal documents, so work with your legal team for alternative placements if your employee handbook feels overly legal.
Some states require companies to provide team members with information regarding federal, state, local, or union regulations. As you create your employee handbook, review this information with your HR or legal team so you remain compliant.
If you prefer your employee handbook to be more of a cultural and general processes guide, you can include legal information for new hires somewhere else, like in the new hire agreement.
Your employee handbook should be more than just a list of company policies and legal clauses. When you give it character, you’ll make new team members feel welcomed and at ease.
By writing your employee handbook in a digital format, you can also make it interactive and accessible. Use the tips below to create a valuable resource that will excite new team members about their new role.
You’ve likely established a “voice” for your company brand that you use in your messaging with customers. This voice may be formal or cheeky. Whatever you decide, it’s essential to stick with this voice throughout all communications, so people get to know and trust you.
While your internal team will understand that your brand voice is a chosen persona, your employee handbook is a way to welcome new team members and show them who you are as a company. By using your brand voice throughout this document, you can show people whether you’re the type of company who welcomes humor, takes a more serious approach, or uses a recurring theme throughout all your content.
Your employee handbook is, in a lot of ways, the first time your team members will engage with your company values. So instead of listing them outright, use this opportunity to bring them to life in your writing. You can do this by:
Incorporating real-life examples
Bringing the reader into the story
Using punchy verbs and personality
If one of your values is to “respect your team members,” simply writing those words in your employee handbook likely won’t make a new hire think your company is any different than the next. If respect is one of your company values, you might try this instead:
“At Apollo Enterprises, we belt R-E-S-P-E-C-T louder than Aretha herself. Our IT team even dedicates one day a week to team member gratitude. Every Wednesday, they go around the room and tell each other what value they bring to the group.”
Writing your employee handbook in a digital format is crucial to ensure easy accessibility. A digital handbook also has other benefits:
Update it as needed when your values or policies evolve
Make it interactive with infographics or video elements
Link to any relevant additional resources
Provide access to internal teams and other audiences as needed
Updates to the employee handbook will be easier when you can change the document directly without needing to reprint and reshare it with the entire team. Your handbook make require updates in the following circumstances:
When laws change
Modernizing old policies
Creating new job roles
Adding new technologies
Clarifying old policies
Adding hybrid and remote work policies
Improving workplace culture
It would be too overwhelming to have one document cover every piece of information team members might need. If there’s information relevant to the new hire experience that you don’t want to include directly in the employee handbook, you can use links within your content. That way, team members know where to find it without the primary document feeling overcrowded.
Legal clauses and policies are a great example of items to include through links. This will make your employee handbook feel lighter and more fun while still addressing legal issues as needed. As always, make sure to work with your internal legal team to ensure you’re including any relevant documentation.
Below, you’ll see examples of companies with unique—and digital—employee handbooks. What you will see in these handbooks is a clear representation of company culture and values. Take a peek and gain inspiration for your own creative process.
MobileJazz is a software company based in Brooklyn, New York. Their employee handbook—which you can download here—explains right away that it aims to be “part-handbook, part-blueprint, part-guidance manual, part-mission statement.” With 45 pages of digital content, team members have everything they need to get started, navigate projects, understand company operations, and beyond.
PeopleHR is a software company focused on HR applications, and their employee handbook has fun written all over it. Designed in a notebook-like style, this manual is chock full of advice for new team members as they make their way through their first day—and month—on the job. This handbook is briefer than some, but it covers the basics of onboarding in a playful way.
Valve is a video game company, and they designed their employee handbook to look like a storybook—complete with a table of contents, preface, glossary, and illustrations. Through each chapter, team members learn details of their upcoming journey with the company, including what to expect in their first six months, how Valve operates, and how they can advance with the company.
Remember the employee handbooks that companies felt obligated to give new hires even though no one read them? Consider those a thing of the past. When you create a living document that represents who you are and how you operate, new hires will read it and feel proud to work for you.
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