PoliciesA Guide to Help you Write an Employee Handbook

A Guide to Help you Write an Employee Handbook

What are some of the key criteria when creating an employee handbook for your company?

What is an employee handbook?

An employee handbook (otherwise known as company manual, employee manual or staff handbook) is literature given to an employee. The handbook is an amalgamation of information bringing together employment and job-related information that an employee needs to know.

What should be in an employee handbook?

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The information in an employee handbook typically falls into three categories:

1. Culture

Usually containing a welcome statement, the company’s mission statement and company values.

2. Company Information

Usually information relating to holiday, company policy and company perks as well as on- and off- boarding procedures.

3. Company Policies

This category contains more detailed company policies, disciplinary and grievance procedures as well as specific information modelled around employment laws.

A more detailed look at these categories reveals a plethora of information in the typical employee handbook such as:

  • Employee pay and benefits
  • Potential non-disclosure agreements
  • Holiday entitlement and condition of annual leave
  • Sick leave and injury condition
  • Dress code
  • Safety and emergency procedures
  • Disciplinary rules and condition
  • Grievance procedure
  • Harassment policies
  • Alcohol and drug policies
  • Absence policies
  • Appeal procedures
  • Job termination, redundancy, retirement and resignation procedures.

What is the purpose of an employee handbook?

The employee handbook is a perfect tool, providing a compact overall guide to employment at a given company. It is great at providing new and existing employees with knowledge concerning the company’s mission, values and norms. Further, it provides employees with a reference point to a range of policies and procedures which they may need throughout their career at the company.

What makes a great employee handbook?

In principle, an employee handbook sounds like a relatively easy document to write. Yet many companies struggle to produce an effective handbook. Creating a great employee handbook requires understanding of the company, but it also means being able to produce ‘engageable’ content for the employee which can be used effectively.

According to research by GuideSpark, 43% of Generation Y are not reading the majority of the employee handbook, while 33% of other generations are not properly reading the handbook. Pertinently, 11% of Generation Y haven’t even touched their employee handbook while 36% of other generations don’t even know where to find their employee handbook.

So, with this in mind, how can you make your employee handbook a more ‘engageable’ piece of content?

Below we outline several criteria which you may wish to use when developing your employee handbook. Some of these metrics may overlap and some definitely don’t. It is very difficult to fulfil all of the criteria, but choose those that fit your company ethos and the type of handbook you want to create. Combined with these criteria we have added a few examples to make your life easier!

5 KEY elements for creating a great employee handbook (1)

1. Easy to read

Making the content of your employee handbook easy to read and understand will make it easier for your employees actively engage with it. If you follow this criterion, you will want to limit the length of sentences, avoid unnecessarily complex language and keep the document light.

An example of Netflix’s Freedom & Responsibility Culture guide delineates Netflix’s cultures and values, making them actionable concepts.

2. Detailed

This is not to be confused with dense (not a good idea!). Detailed doesn’t mean that it is jam packed with information (both necessary and unnecessary). Instead it refers to having all the correct and important information available in a succinct manner.

Just because your handbook is detailed and comprehensive, it does not mean that you have to sacrifice other useful elements like humour and intelligible. Just check out Zaarly’s Employee Handbook – it is bursting with colour and is not overly text heavy yet at the same time is very detailed!

3. Fun!

Particularly innovative and very easy to engage with, developing an employee handbook which is fun to read makes it super easy to read and enjoy reading! Across the spectrum of handbooks there have been plenty of different takes on making them fun.

Zingerman’s employee handbook is jam packed of anecdotes, satirical cartoons and humour running throughout.

Valve’s employee handbook was leaked in 2012 and has since then been subject to great praise in the HR industry. Their employee handbook uses a clever, witty and heavily illustrated staff handbook which makes it particularly engaging.

4. Alternative Approach

The stereotypical employee handbook is endless, standard, dull text on far too many pages. However, some companies have veered far from the stereotypical design, instead choosing something completely different. The good news… it works! It retains the necessary elements of an employee handbook while presenting it in a fresh, innovative and interesting way.

Zappos creates a new employee handbook every year. One of their most popular and certainly most alternative handbook was created in the design of a comic book. Creating a handbook which their employees would enjoy reading. The comic book has a superhero narrative as well as ad sections which explain different company departments.

5. Approachable Material

Quite simply: making the design and layout of the employee handbook approachable will make people want to read it. Either via, ease of read or enjoyment, making your handbook with an eye on approachable design is important.

Facebook’s beautifully sleek handbook provides a reference as to what an approachable handbook should look like.

A final handbook that I would advise looking at is Sterling’s. This handbook encapsulates a number of these criteria, it is easy to understand, it takes an alternative approach, it’s fun, but does not skimp on the detail. This highlights how it is possible to use different elements to make a great employee handbook!


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