Employee handbooks are formal documents that set expectations for employees and employers alike. These guides are typically issued to new hires before their first day of work.
The handbooks provide a wide range of information about the company, including its history, mission statement, core values, procedures, benefits, policies, and much more. Some employee handbooks also include legal information, non-discrimination policies, and employee rights related to employment.
Most businesses require employees to provide a signed acknowledgment that they received the handbook. This helps protect employers from any misunderstandings, policy violations, or labor compliance issues.
Regardless of the company size or industry, any organization with employees can benefit from having an official employee handbook. They help streamline the onboarding process by providing your staff with informative resources from day one while helping to build and maintain the company culture.
Whether you’re drafting your first employee handbook or revising an existing copy, this guide will explain everything you need to know about the topic.
Why Do Employee Handbooks Matter?
While employee handbooks are not a requirement, these resources can serve as a valuable communication tool for employees and employers. Handbooks ensure that everyone in the organization is on the same page and can prevent and mitigate potential employee-related conflicts in the company.
You can also use employee handbooks to set the tone of your company culture immediately after someone gets hired.
What Does Success Look Like?
Not every employee handbook is effective. These resources have changed dramatically over the years, and modern organizations emphasize creating employee handbooks that have a big impact.
Employees expect employee handbooks to be informative, engaging, easy to read, and accessible. The days of writing a 100-page rule book printed and distributed by hand are long behind us.
Today, it’s common for employee handbooks to be distributed digitally during the onboarding process. You’ll know that the handbook is having an impact if your staff quickly adopts the company culture you’re trying to establish.
Every organization will have a different agenda when it comes to the primary and even secondary purposes of the handbook. But the results should be fairly easy to see.
For example, if a new hire asks tons of questions in their first few weeks on the job that are answered in the handbook, it’s a clear sign that they either didn’t read it or didn’t absorb the content. But if those types of questions are limited and the new hires abide by the policies and procedures in the handbook, it’s a big win for the organization.
Improving the onboarding process is a common goal for most employee handbooks.
Recruiting, hiring, and training new hires is expensive. But if you can get new workers acclimated to the company and feeling like part of the team sooner rather than later, it sets everyone up for long-term success.
Great employee handbooks can help your business attract and retain top-level talent. Some companies make their handbooks public, and others use them during the recruiting process to get prospective hires eager about joining the organization.
You can use your handbook to showcase different aspects of what makes your company unique. You can include everything from equal employment opportunity to employee benefits, dress codes, and more. The handbooks can also paint a picture of the company’s work environment.
Another common goal of employee handbooks is meeting regulatory requirements. Employment law and compliance need to be a top priority for every business.
For example, you can include information about FMLA (the Family and Medical Leave Act) and explain how your company handles sick leave for employees.
Facebook is an excellent example of a company with an employee handbook that provides a significant impact. The tech giant really tries to appeal to the right audience—their new hires.
Facebook’s employee handbook focuses on inspiration rather than overwhelming new workers with tons of information, rules, and policies. The handbook inspires creativity and innovation for new employees. Information related to company rules and regulations is provided separately.
As a result, Facebook maintains its status as an industry leader in the technology space and beyond. In terms of market capitalization, it’s one of the largest companies in the world and still growing.
One Secret Weapon For Employee Handbooks
To truly have an effective employee handbook, you need to be using onboarding software. Tools like Gusto streamline the onboarding process. You can easily share important documents, including the employee handbook, and collect signatures from new hires.
Not only is this a simple way to distribute employee handbooks and collect signed acknowledgments, but it also improves the way your staff can access the handbook. The employee handbook will always be available from Gusto’s employee self-service portal.
Gusto starts at $39 per month plus $6 per employee. In addition to onboarding, the software includes full-service payroll, benefits administration, and more.
4 Essential Strategies For Employee Handbooks
You need to implement some specific strategies if you want to achieve the kind of success we discussed earlier. Below you’ll learn more about the tips and best practices for creating an employee handbook.
Strategy #1: Establish a Clear Purpose For Your Employee Handbook
Many businesses drop the ball with employee handbooks because they don’t have any sense of direction. They create one just for the sake of doing it, without a clear understanding of the outcome they want to achieve.
Remember, you’re distributing these handbooks to your employees on their first day of work. The content here can mold and shape these new hires for the duration of their employment.
By establishing a clear purpose, you’ll know where to focus the majority of your efforts. This can set you up for long-term success as it gives your employees a sense of direction.
Think back to the real-life example we discussed earlier—Facebook. The organization’s primary purpose for the employee handbook was inspiration. So they omitted uninspiring details like company rules and policies.
The content within your employee handbook should reflect the goal. For example, let’s say you’re using the handbook as a recruitment tool. These will be a bit more “sales-y” than a handbook designed to meet specific legal requirements. If your goal is compliance and company culture, you’ll focus more on policies and procedures in your handbook.
Regardless of your purpose, here are some typical sections to include in your employee handbook:
- Welcome and Introduction — Often, the welcome letter or intro to the handbook is written in the first person by the company’s founder, CEO, or someone else in leadership. It can even highlight the handbook’s purpose, so employees know what to expect as they continue reading.
- Company Overview — Add some details about the business, including its history, vision, mission statement, core values, and organizational structure. Keep your goal in mind as you’re crafting this content, as you can start to establish your company culture here.
- General Workplace Info — Provide information on the office, team, key contacts, tools, and other resources. Discuss the workplace environment, team events, office pet policies, break rooms, recreational facilities, and other important info.
- Company Policies — Many handbooks include policies related to workplace safety, PTO, remote work, sexual harassment, equality, and more. But lots of companies are shifting away from this and issuing company policies in a separate manual. If your purpose is to improve the onboarding experience and build a company culture, a list of rules doesn’t really get the job done.
- Employee Benefits and Workplace Perks — A lot of companies include any special perks or benefits outside the standard ones in their handbooks. It helps highlight what makes your business special. For example, if you offer flexible work from home policies, subsidized ride share memberships or gym memberships, catered lunches every Wednesday, or bring-your-dog-to-work days every month. This is especially useful if your goal is related to improving recruitment and retention.
Things like personal and career development opportunities might have a place in your employee handbook as well.
Just make sure you establish your purpose from the beginning, as this will greatly impact the sections you decide to include.
Strategy #2: Acknowledgment That Employees Received The Handbook
It’s common practice for businesses to require acknowledgment from employees that the handbook was issued and received. This is to prevent any misunderstandings down the road and avoid the “I didn’t know” or “nobody ever told me” scenarios.
Gusto makes this easy to achieve during the onboarding process. Every new employee can access their files directly from the self-service portal, e-sign documents, and acknowledge receipt of the handbook.
Your HR team can monitor this and even keep signed acknowledgments on file with the employee records.
This process is much more effective than manually distributing handbooks and collecting acknowledgment signatures by hand.
If following specific laws, legal regulations and ensuring compliance is a top priority for your handbook, the e-signature functionality and digital administration will be perfect for you.
Strategy #3: Make Sure The Handbook is Engaging and Organized
Having your employees acknowledge the handbook is just one small step. But your handbook is useless if people aren’t reading it.
The handbook needs to be informative but without being dry and dull. So you need to come up with ways to ensure people are digesting the handbook’s contents.
For digital handbooks, include a table of contents with a clickable index, so your staff can easily find information, especially when referencing it later. If the handbook contains industry or company-specific jargon, add a glossary to help them define words or acronyms.
Add photos, images, and colors to establish the look and feel that you’re going for. Visual content like photos, charts, and infographics also helps break up long walls of text in the handbook, making it easier to read.
Use a conversational tone and a voice that mirrors your company culture. If your organization is young, fun, outgoing, and playful, don’t write a handbook that sounds like a court order. Including some light-hearted jokes and humor can go a long way in helping new hires feel comfortable at their new place of work.
A black-and-white handbook with a bullet-point list of rules doesn’t portray your company culture. But photos of your existing staff smiling around the office or doing a charity 5k can give new hires a better idea of what to expect on the job.
Strategy #4: Update the Employee Handbook Over Time
Don’t expect your employee handbook to be perfect. It’s okay if you need to make changes, and you should prioritize updating the handbook every couple of years.
Actions speak much louder than words. So if your primary goal of the handbook isn’t being achieved as you continue to onboard new employees, you’ll need to adjust accordingly.
Get feedback from your staff to figure out what’s working well and what needs improvement.
For example, let’s say you’re using the handbook to establish a certain company culture and unique office environment. You hire eight new employees over the next six months, but they’re not absorbing the information, and they’re struggling to fit in—what’s the problem?
You might discover that the handbook was simply too difficult to read based on the way it was written and formatted. So making simple formatting changes while keeping the same content could be enough to do the trick.
Employee handbooks are designed to provide both short-term and long-term impacts on a company. So you can’t just set it, forget it, and hope for the best.
While you shouldn’t be editing the handbook on a weekly or monthly basis, it’s worth revisiting every once in a while, especially as your organization scales over time.
Most Common Misconceptions of Employee Handbooks
There are several myths and misconceptions about employee handbooks that cause employers to make mistakes when they’re creating and distributing these resources. Here are the most common misconceptions and some quick tips to help you avoid them:
- Employee handbooks are only for large corporations: Any business with employees will benefit from a handbook. Even if you have a small team of five workers, you’re never too small to create one.
- Employees don’t care if companies have a handbook: Employees want a handbook so they have a clear understanding of expectations. Otherwise, they could unknowingly break the rules or do something that goes against the company culture.
- Employee handbooks are contracts: The vast majority of employee handbooks are not legally enforceable contracts. But you should consider having a lawyer review the handbook to ensure the terminology isn’t misconstrued as an employment agreement.
Overall, employee handbooks are a great way to improve your onboarding process, build company culture, and remain compliant. They can also serve to attract and retain top-level talent.
Use this guide as a resource for getting started as you create an employee handbook for your organization.