How to create an employee handbook fit for a modern workforce
Cast your mind back to those first days at work in previous roles, those you held before entering HR or management. You’ve probably been handed some pretty dull and drab looking documents throughout your past, outlining what each company wanted from you, so you didn’t rock their legal boat.
A company handbook has, far too often, been a way to navigate disputes and legal situations by delivering an inclusive rulebook to steer new and old staff alike away from the types of situations that end up creating headaches and problems—or worse still—in court.
Yet, in the styles and systems of business operation, driven by what our Gen X and Millennial staff really want and expect from us, our employee handbook needs to be far more than that ugly wall of text of old, full of the dos and don’ts, designed to protect both parties from disruptions, that neither need.
So our golden rule for employee handbooks for the 2020s?
Please don’t do it as it’s always been done. Create something your employees want to read.
Of course, this isn’t anything ground-breaking or new. We’re certainly not reinventing the wheel here. Some of the bigger and more creative players have been delivering truly informative and entertaining books, booklets, presentations, and PDFs for years. But for the many of us that haven’t—it’s time that we did.
Here’s what you should be doing.
Your employee handbook should be far more than minimizing risk. It’s an opportunity to build culture and create value from your new working relationships—from the very first day of your new hire’s service.
Creating something so vastly different from how you’ve always provided this information might look like an unnecessary waste of time and resources, but it can save you far more than it costs over the long-term.
If you deliver something your new hires will want to read, instead of stuffing it to the back of the bottom drawer of their desk after a quick skim and an untimely yawn, it will, at long last, be doing the job it was built for.
What is an employee handbook?
Your company employee handbook is a map of how to behave in your company. It contains the rules, regulations, expectations, and demands you need your teams to comply with. A good place to start considering what the ideal employee handbook should include could be:
Visions, values, policies, and procedures
It’s standard practice for businesses to have their new hires read their employee handbook and acknowledge they’ve done so by signing an official document. This gives managers, HR, and employers a little protection when disputes arise, covered by its content.
You’ve been given all the information you need to be a happy and healthy member of the team, and you’ll be expected to tow the company line now you know exactly what that line looks like.
This isn’t a contract—the details specific to your position will be covered by your employment contract. Consider the handbook as a backup of what’s expected and an all-in guide to behavior, performance. You can consult with a reference whenever you’re not a hundred percent sure in any new situation.
It's also a guide to communication culture
Given its inclusion of everything a company expects from its employees and what to do if there’s a problem, the handbook should also outline how each company communicates with its staff.
Open and honest communication is one of the most valued company qualities by new hires, and this guide delivers an opportunity to show how that works for you from the outset.
It can be a first step into who and where to go when there is a problem. Communication is key to all relationships—what a fabulous opportunity your handbook can provide.
This multi-purpose tool will help integrate employees quicker and understand their roles, performance expectations, and responsibilities. It will ensure consistency, equality, and fairness, throughout individuals, teams, and operations, inside and outside the business premises.
How to create an employee handbook?
- Be transparent
- Be human
- Play to your strengths—and your employees'
- Take advantage of design and production
- Share the love in every format
- Be fair and practice what you preach
Your company culture doesn't include being deceptive and playing the system to your advantage, so neither should your handbook. Being open and honest is going to benefit everyone, so stick with it.
It's time to get creative
If you want your employee handbook to get read, then make it readable. If you can, make it impossible to put down. You know how that feels. We’ve all read a book that drives you to keep turning the pages—that’s what you’re aiming for.
It’s a tall order from a volume of pretty standard and not necessarily exciting content, but it’s your job to make it so. You’re allowed to reinvent the wheel here, so do it. In this instance, we believe that collaboration is your best ally.
Collaborate, communicate, and create
You need to include plenty of legal information, so your legal department and HR representatives should advise precisely what needs to be included.
Your marketing and branding teams will have the best ideas into how to present it to ‘sell it’ to your new hires, and your designers will deliver the most exciting ways to make it mirror the tone and excitement its content will deliver.
If you don’t have those people at your disposal, then see who you do have to build as creative a job as possible or try finding a suitable template that mirrors your business brand and voice.
- Brand it according to your business style and culture.
- Make it something new hires will be drawn to read.
- Personalize your staid old policies into something more accessible.
- Make it a two-way street: what you need from your employees and what they can expect from you.
From the front cover on, talk to your staff in their voice. Traditionally, these books, presentations, or guides have been known under various names: employee manual, staff handbook, or company policy manual—although that could be a far more technical document that works hand-in-hand with your employee handbook.
Could you mix it up within your brand? Why not consider something far more suitable for the 2020s? ‘A Guide to being employee of the month every month,’ ‘Walk Our Walk and Talk Our Talk,’ or ‘Winning At Work With [brand name here]‘ could be the alternative titles your employees would connect with instead of the stuffier alternatives.
Whatever you choose—your content, however you write it, should include the following:
- A welcome with open arms
- Clear policy and procedure
- The seal of approval from the top
- Bang-up-to-date information at every opportunity
What should be included in an employee handbook?
The following list is a fairly standard guideline of the most typical inclusions. You might want to veer further from the traditional and closer to culture, leaving your policy and procedure to a more defined policy document, but either way, it's all food for your handbook thought.
- Welcome from the CEO, HR, or management
- Company history, vision, mission, and operating values
- Pay policy, benefits, and perks
- Promotion and pay rise policy
- Schedule, operating hours, and paid time off
- Pension plans
- Human resource and legal information; rights and obligations related to employment
- Code of conduct
- Complaint and grievance procedure
- Disciplinary procedure
- Discrimination and equal opportunity policy
- Family and medical leave policy
- Workplace safety and security
- Digital conduct and social media policy
- Non-disclosure, non-compete, confidentiality, and conflicts of interest
- Necessary disclaimers
Employee handbook examples
We’ve talked about how to excite and empower your employees. It’s up to you how your creative looks, how far you’re willing to go, and how you decide to present your information.
You’ll know what’s right for you; hopefully, it will be far from the traditional brutal-looking wall of text you’ll find in most sample resources. We suggest you take the lead from some of the following:
Trello has an online option as their employee handbook, one that’s available wherever you are. Simple, bursting with everything their employees need to know, and delivered in an ‘on-the-go format’ that can be sampled anywhere.
Netflix has an ‘all-kinds-of-inclusive’ culture guide that has been converted into an easier to swallow slideshow using SlideShare.net. It offers a great example of forward-thinking momentum, transparency, and how to deliver expectations.
Another modern take on the employee handbook is HubSpot’s culture code. It’s another option available on SlideShare for you to glean from their fine example. They explain everything they believe you need to know about their company culture in an effortless to digest format.
Finally, if you’re looking for an example of how to deliver a beautifully creative format, Valve’s employee handbook went viral with how they do things. It’s still a wonderful way to get the message across, despite being created almost 10 years ago. It sat completely within their brand voice and company culture expectations, it’s human, funky, and like any good book, it makes you want to read more and more from the very first page.
We hope that we’ve inspired you to take a side-step from how things are traditionally done and towards a method that engages your new hires into your company culture, helping them feel a part of the partnership from the first day in their new role.
Understanding what’s expected of them will deliver a speedier transition into your organization. It should also ensure they know precisely what’s expected from them to become the team players responsible for taking your brand into the future.