How Do I Create an Employee Handbook?

Employee Handbook Image

The Value of An Employee Handbook

It won’t take very many difficult questions from employees until you start thinking about getting all your policies and employee answers documented for the team. Constantly answering the same questions reduces the perception that your business knows what it’s doing. That’s when an employee handbook becomes a valuable tool. It can:

  • Set common expectations for employees
  • Reinforce the org culture, mission, vision, and values
  • Provide guidance on company policies and procedures
  • Protect the company from legal liability

Tips to Get Started

But, you can’t just download a one-size-fits-all document on the internet or spit out some ChatGPT reply text and expect that it will do the job. Doing that will crater their engagement with it and ensure that you spend an unreasonable amount of time answering redundant handbook questions. If you’re not sure where to start, here are a few tips for creating an employee handbook:

  1. Start with the basics. Your employee handbook should include at bare minimum the following information:
    • Company overview
    • Employee benefits
    • Attendance and leave policies
    • Performance reviews
    • Discipline and termination procedures
    • Harassment and discrimination policies
    • Confidentiality and security policies
  2. Write in plain language. Your employee handbook should be easy to read and understand. Avoid using legal jargon or technical terms. A handbook is NOT a contract!
  3. Get feedback. Once you’ve drafted your employee handbook, get feedback from employees, managers, and HR & People Ops professionals. This will help you to identify any areas that need improvement. Don’t be shy, they will be happy to be included.
  4. Keep it up to date. Your employee handbook should be a living document. As your company grows and changes, so too should your employee handbook.
  5. Develop a design-oriented version of the handbook. You should not be content with a document full of text as your employee handbook. Employees won’t read that. Rather, it will exist as a desktop reference. You should develop a beautified and abridged version that communicates quickly and plainly the main points in the handbook, as an orientation deck, visual guide, wiki, chatbot, or video series.

Developing Employee Handbook Step-by-step

Creating an employee handbook isn’t a skill that’s taught in schools, and the process varies. However, follow these steps and you’ll have a solid starting point.

  1. Organize the employee handbook ideation, development, approval, and release as a project, with time-based deliverables and a completion metric.
  2. Determine what policies you need as a baseline requirement no matter where your company operates.
  3. Determine if you need a separate handbook in each state or country in which you operate, and segment the development so as to not confuse your work.
  4. Determine what policies you need per your state(s).
  5. Determine what policies you need per your industry.
  6. Determine what policies you need based on your current headcount and headcount expectations during the year.
  7. Develop the handbook sequentially, as you would in, let’s say, writing a book.
  8. Leave questions and comments throughout your work, and invite stakeholders across the organization to review the content and respond to comments.
  9. Request approval from key stakeholders who hold the needed information and authority to confirm for inclusion in the release.
  10. Once approved, the handbook should be passed to designers to create a more cohesive and consistent brand experience.
  11. Execute the communication plan to the employees, distributing the document and ensuring that they can access the document at their own leisure.
  12. Ensure that employees sign a handbook acknowledgement. Remember, this doesn’t mean that they agree with the contents of the handbook, it is to confirm that they have received the handbook and understand it.
  13. Develop abridged versions of the handbook for onboarding and employee relations purposes.
  14. Build the handbook into standard operating procedures where it makes sense to do so.

How Do You Keep It Short And Simple?

As you start creating these handbook sections and policies, you’ll notice that it starts getting “wordy.” In those moments, you’ll need to step away briefly, and return with a fresh outsider’s point of view. Follow these tips for a clear and concise handbook, so the intended audience is able to navigate it without getting lost and consumed by word salad.

  1. Use short sentences and paragraphs.
  2. Use active voice instead of passive voice.
  3. Avoid jargon and technical terms.
  4. Use visuals, such as charts and graphs, to illustrate your points.
  5. Use a consistent tone throughout the handbook.
  6. Use a consistent “voice” throughout the handbook.
  7. Link to referenced laws and regulations which justify legally sensitive policies, so you don’t get jammed up in an audit.
  8. Ensure that language is inclusive, and that the document structure is accessible.
  9. Add links to mentioned and referred documents and URLs.
  10. Define any new and unfamiliar terms if you must include them.
  11. Proofread the handbook carefully before you distribute it to employees.

By following these tips, you can create an employee handbook that is easy to read and understand. This will help to ensure that your employees are aware of company policies and procedures, and that they can refer to the handbook for guidance as needed.

Here are some examples of employee handbook policies that you may want to include:

  • Company Mission, Vision, and Values: These set the basis for all activities in the business. Why not make this front and center in your handbook?
  • Statement on Inclusion/Commitment to Diversity: Your employees will want to know how you intend to ensure their identities are accepted at work, and you know how to attract and retain others like them.
  • Employee Code of Conduct: These policies sets the expectation for how to behave in the different capacities of an employee of the company. Sample policies include code of conduct, equipment care, financial responsibility, social media conduct, dress code and appearance guidelines, and what constitutes misconduct.
  • Attendance and Leave Policies: These policies are an extension of conduct and should outline the company’s expectations for employee attendance and leave, including required paid sick leave and parental leave. They should also explain how employees can request time off, and how their pay will be affected if they take time off.
  • Harassment and Discrimination Policies: These policies should prohibit all forms of harassment and discrimination in the workplace. They should also explain how employees can report harassment or discrimination, and how the company will investigate and address complaints.
  • Employee Safety: These policies should address how to maintain a safe work environment, and what role people in the organization have in the safety program. This also covers emergency response, egress, hazardous materials, and requirements such as AED, CPR, and eye wash station protocol.
  • Performance Reviews: These policies should explain the company’s performance review process. They should also explain how employees can prepare for their performance reviews, and how they can appeal their performance ratings.
  • Discipline and Termination Procedures: These policies should outline the company’s procedures for disciplining employees who violate company policies. They should also explain the company’s procedures for terminating employees.
  • Confidentiality and Security Policies: These policies should protect the confidentiality of employee information, as well as the company’s trade secrets and other confidential information. They should also explain how employees can protect the confidentiality of this information.
four new hr policies, typing on laptop

Check out these other policies

Include them in your handbook to showcase and enhance your culture.

Focus on the Employee Experience

Creating an employee handbook doesn’t have to be an overwhelming project. By following these quick and easy steps, you can develop a comprehensive and user-friendly handbook that sets clear expectations, promotes a positive work environment, and protects both your company and your employees. Remember, the key is to keep it simple, incorporate your company culture, and seek input from your employees. With an effective employee handbook in place, you’ll be well-equipped to manage your workforce efficiently and foster a thriving workplace.

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Just don’t have time to create the handbook? Let us take care of it for you. Our HR compliance services allow you to focus on what you do best: growing your business. Contact us today to learn more about our HR compliance services and how we can help your business stay compliant and stress-free.

Cody Bess