An employee handbook is like the compass for your people—it’s one of the most critical resources to communicating with your employees. But how does one approach creating a significant guide like this from scratch?
What’s the purpose of an employee handbook?
The purpose of an employee handbook is to showcase what’s important to the company and illustrate the employee experience. They spell out expectations and help employees find their bearings, so they can be at ease. For new hires in particular, these manuals also help set the tone on Day 1 as the first introduction to the organization.
Functionally, an employee handbook also covers employment laws and employee behavior, so it’s an essential internal document to house and lay the policies to everyone in the organization. They outline discriminatory policies and disciplinary outcomes for people violating specific workplace rules and certain procedures.
However, it’s worth noting that an employee handbook is NOT:
An employment contract: The handbook is literally a guide of all things at your company. While it explains and maps out legal boundaries, it’s not a personalized legal document that contains information and clauses about someone’s employment terms.
Something to intimidate your employees: Creating a document covering your legal bases as an employer is meant to serve your employees and offer clarity. If you’re going in thinking this will help discipline them with threats and punishments, you’re in the wrong mindset.
Set in stone: Like many processes that constantly need refinement, an employee handbook is subject to change. Make sure to give yourself some wiggle room to revisit and revise it every few years with leadership or a policy committee.
What to consider: Core components of an employee handbook
You might be thinking, wow, there’s a whole lot to cover. So how does one get started on this massive project? Here’s a great starting point if you’re looking to craft or update your employee handbook, so people get the most value out of it.
1. Choose the written tone of the handbook
As serious (and boring) as policies sound, you’ll want to craft the handbook’s tone to reflect on your company’s culture. Remember, these are general guidelines that help employees achieve success and alignment with the company. You might want to avoid language that’s too rigid or forceful—for example, use “we may” instead of “we will”.
2. A warm welcome and a brief history
Like how you stop to read the origin story of a restaurant before you dive into the actual menu, a sincere introduction from your CEO or founder can help people feel valued and start off the right foot. Employees are likely interested in the company’s evolution and find out why and how it started and the vision it’s working towards.
3. Core information and values
Why does your company exist? Who are its customers? What’s its positioning in the industry? A clear mission statement can rally employees who share a common goal. Outlining the company values is also a great way to guide decision-making and employee interactions on the job.
Sharing your company’s latest executive summary or about statement can also be a valuable reference for employees to sum up what you do when talking to external parties.
4. General company-wide standards of conduct
It’s useful to include company-wide policies related to equipment usage, file storage, and other technical best practices. For example, if you have a timesheet to track working hours, what are those standards?
A code of conduct also sets out the ground rules for the way people work and interact at the organization. It’s also worth explaining employee behavior and disciplinary actions, such as expectations of phone use, equipment, drinking, and smoking on the job.
5. Showcase the benefits and perks offered
Let people know what resources are available to support them. What do you offer in terms of healthcare, dental, and life insurance, and how can employees access them? Direct them to any 3rd party system and make sure to outline who’s eligible, how to enroll in them, and what life events can kickstart a change in benefits.
Provide your baseline policies on vacation and leave from work (sabbaticals, parental leave, etc.) to help employees understand the process and eligibility. If you operate with an unlimited vacation approach, set out what that means.
In terms of perks, you can give information about gym room hours, lifestyle spending accounts, when the beer keg is allowed to be used, casual Fridays, and so on. Suppose you have different criteria for different groups of employees, for example, part-time workers. In that case, you should either state that clearly or provide this information outside of the standardized employee handbook.
6. Key compensation timeframes
When it comes to income, timing is everything. Your employees want to know how often they should expect to be paid and how the compensation will be deposited. If there are vesting periods involved in stock options or regular bonus payouts, cite them.
This is where you should state policies regarding overtime, the standard or core working hours, and any transparent pay structures. Hence, people know where they fit in and any opportunities for advancement. This also relates to pay revisions and annual performance reviews, so both managers and employees are on the same page.
7. Workplace safety and security policies
As leaders committed to providing a diverse work environment that ensures everyone’s emotional and physical safety, anti-discrimination and anti-harassment practices should be available in an employee handbook.
This is an opportunity to present the boundaries of workplace interactions and define what those mean at your company. It’s an integral outline of how investigations will be carried out, reassuring that complaints will be kept confidential.
Are there any formulated contingency plans for crises such as the pandemic that you might want to shed light on? Physical safety, such as building information, location of fire escapes, and emergency protocols, ensures that employees know how to follow specific procedures in sudden situations.
Depending on your unique company traditions, you may also mention extra company holidays, social events guidelines, and annual retreat arrangements. Many companies even attach an internal lingo glossary for new hires to assist them in blending into the culture.
Adjusting your employee handbook for the remote world
In this new working world, what’s your remote working policy? Updating your employee handbook to include telework guidelines and practices is an excellent step to making sure your team adapts to changing circumstances. You should always be prepared to address new situations that pop up.
For your employee handbook’s (perhaps new) remote work section, here are a few guiding questions that you may want to think about:
What are your geographical boundaries for remote work?
Do you have core working hours to maximize overlap of employees?
How do you access company-wide software and databases remotely?
What other modes of online communication are productive for your organization?
And with the boom of the remote work gig economy, how about moonlighting guidelines for employees who wish to earn a little extra cash on the side?
There’s a lot to think about when compiling an employee handbook. Regardless of how much you add to it, remember your handbook needs to be an accurate reflection of who you are and what it’s like to work at your company.
In the process of creating this extensive living document of your business, ask people from all corners of your company to review it, including every department head, a lawyer or your legal department, and plan regular audits to review the handbook. You might also ask a handful of employees to read it and share their reaction to it—after all, they’re the audience for this material.
Once it’s complete, share it with all employees through an org-wide meeting or broadcast to answer any questions, then store it at an accessible location that’s known, like a shared Library on your intranet.
And there you go—you’ve completed and deployed a critical asset to nurture great employees and make sure they have clear and consistent information to help them succeed at work.
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