How to Organize Your Employee Handbook

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Claudiu
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Keep reading if you want to know how to organize an employee handbook into a cohesive unit that your employees will enjoy reading.

📚 Table of contents

If you want to keep your team up to date not just with your official procedures but also the company culture, look no further than the employee handbook. But, since you’re here, you clearly already know that.

What you might not know is how to organize your staff guide correctly, in a logical way that simply makes sense, which is where we can step in and help you.

So, keep reading if you want to know how to take what you have written and organize it into a coherent, intuitive whole!

Start With a Preface

The preface is maybe the most critical part of your employee handbook since it sets the tone for the entire document.

You can show off your sense of humor and company culture perfectly while welcoming the employee, without the obligation to mention any rules and regulations just yet.

A simple “Hi, welcome to the company!” is impersonal and doesn’t really let the reader know who you are and what you stand for as a company. You want your employees to be immersed in your culture and values from the second they join, so personalizing the preface is essential.

Source: HubSpot via SlideShare

In it, you should introduce yourself and explain the purpose of the staff manual. What do you want the new hires to take away from it? That’s what people want to know. So, don’t write an essay on how your company started—make it about the employee instead.

Here’s how ConvertKit did it!

From the very first sentence, they highlight their essential Working in Public value, which stands for being open about their wins and defeats. Then, the reader learns what they can find in the employee guide, with links to each section.

Source: ConvertKit

Notice the final sentence? The company explains the handbook is not a contract or promise of employment. Without such a disclaimer, the law will consider your manual a legally binding document.

Consult with a legal professional regarding this disclaimer because if it’s legally ambiguous, you might meet the same fate as Valley National Bancorp, and have a judge state your disclaimer is too vague.

If you don’t want to start from scratch, here’s a good template you can use as the basis of your preface.

Provide an Overview of Your Company

The next thing your employee manual should do is present more details about your company.

Your new hires will want to know more about how your business came to be, its mission and vision, the goals you have set, and the kind of culture you’re fostering.

All these things are essential if you're trying to engage your employee from the get-go and increase their sense of belonging. After all, if the worker relates to your goals and mission, they will be passionate about their work.

Valve, a US video-game company, does a great job of bringing humor and fun into its employee handbook, which is why it’s so popular. When Valve gives an overview of the company and what they stand for, they explain that they’re a “flatland,” meaning there’s no worker hierarchy.

To support this claim, they’ve included organization charts envisioned by their employees.

Source: Valve via SBNation

The charts show that everyone is valued the same way, meaning there is no hierarchy, which forms the basis of so many old-fashioned companies. So, the first couple of pages of their handbook let the reader know what kind of a company Valve is.

In the same way, when you work on your employee handbook, think about your values. What does your company want to achieve; what does it hold dear?

Some companies include a glossary in this section before they get down to business, to explain the terms that might be confusing or unclear to the average reader. Here’s another example from Valve’s handbook, which has managed to make even the glossary sound fun.

Source: Valve via SBNation

Once again, Valve manages to bring humor into their handbook, making the document a fascinating read. If you don’t want to come across as a company that takes itself too seriously, consider following in Valve’s footsteps and make your handbook as entertaining as possible.

Orientation: Describe the First Day of Work

After giving some general business information, it’s time to explain what the employee can expect from their first day with you.

Think of all the things you wish you knew when you started working. Let employees know how they can get to the office and whether you provide free parking or cover the public transportation fees.

Then, explain what the new hire should bring with them. Is an ID necessary? Should they wear a mask? Let them know if you will be giving them laptops, headphones, notebooks, or anything they might need for their first-day activities.

It is also a good idea to create a mini-schedule for the new hires, listing all the things they will do on their first day.

Source: Bolt via Conscious

Bolt’s list is self-explanatory and detailed, but a schedule like that is not a necessity.

For example, your list can be something simple, like:

  • Meet your manager
  • Get a quick office tour
  • Settle down at your new workstation
  • Fill out the necessary paperwork
  • Have free lunch with the team in our cafeteria

Since the first day is all about making the employee feel comfortable, explain how the rest of the company dresses for work. You don’t want your new hire to feel out of place. The Sterling Mining Company wrote its dress code policy in the form of texts over an image of a casually dressed person.

Source: Sterling via AirMason

Both choices point to the company fostering a relaxed atmosphere, which just proves this section can be infused with your company culture, as well. At the end of the day, you don’t have to complicate your rules or make them look fancy. Simply try to be clear and detailed, so employees know what to expect.

Cover Time and Attendance Policies

After you’ve explained the details of getting to your office and getting around it, it would be wise to define your time and attendance policies.

Some companies are more laissez-faire than others, but even those without a fixed schedule have to clarify this in their staff manual. Otherwise, your employees just won’t be in the know, and that’s not a good thing, especially not during onboarding.

Source: Sterling via AirMason

In this section, you can explain:

  • How scheduling works
  • How many breaks the employees have, and how long they are
  • Working hours
  • Overtimes
  • Sick leave
  • Vacations

To sum it up, give details on timing and scheduling to make your employee expectations clear. However, you don’t have to stick to the same list everyone else uses.

A great example of this is Vanderbilt University, which even included a policy on breastfeeding mothers and the additional breaks provided for them.

Source: Vanderbilt

If you have any similar policies or offer special breaks, don’t forget to mention them in your handbook. After all, an employee guide should give out as many details about your company, the workplace, and the employees’ obligations as possible.

Follow With Conduct Policies

Your code of conduct should reflect your company culture and values.

What you prohibit should be the opposite of what your company stands for, so go over this section carefully and ensure you’ve mentioned everything you find important.

The policies preventing discrimination, mobbing, and sexual harassment are company staples. Your business needs them if you want to ensure everyone’s safety and comfort in the workplace.

In these policies, define what you consider to be discrimination and harassment, provide instructions on how to report instances of it, and explain the steps you will take to conduct an investigation. Don’t forget to mention the repercussions. If you have zero tolerance for any of these, be sure to state that loud and clear in your employee handbook.

Source: GitLab

GitLab’s anti-harassment policy is extensive and detailed, offering information on how and what to report. On top of that, the employee handbook states that employees will get anti-harassment training. If that is something your company offers, don’t forget to mention it!

On the other hand, if you want to encourage certain behaviors, what better way to do that than through your staff guide? Here’s how ConvertKit promotes stepping away from the overly formal language in communication.

Source: ConvertKit

In fact, they are asking their employees to talk to each other in a friendly, honest manner instead of sounding all professional, as that might end up sounding fake.

Any policies that ask your employees to behave a certain way or prohibit them from doing so should find their way to this section of your handbook. You want your employees to know what you’re all about, and that includes the things you will simply not tolerate.

List All of Your Amazing Benefits

After listing what the employee has to do for you, it’s only fitting to uncover everything you have to offer. Culture and benefits are often the selling points, so make them worthwhile!

Of course, smaller companies might not offer as many benefits as some bigger ones, but you can always steal a page from their (hand)book and decide on implementing a new benefit. Other than the standard payroll, health insurance, and retirement plan information, add any bonuses or special incentives you give.

For example, GitLab offers a meal train option for team members going through a rough patch by providing meals to them for free.

Source: GitLab

This policy will make the employees feel cared for and valued. Since that’s what GitLab’s culture is all about, they have done a good job expressing the culture throughout their staff manual. Have you done the same?

If you have different time-off policies, remember to include them here since employees value their private time, which companies should encourage. When you do, you get a more engaged workforce.

When you explain the benefits you offer, be as clear and detailed as possible. You want your employees to get an idea of what they are getting from you from the first read, without contacting HR or someone else for an explanation.

Source: Sterling via AirMason

Sterling’s handbook gives all the necessary information on referral rewards in seven short sentences, making the policy easy to understand. If you give out similar bonuses, be sure to mention them in your employee guide!

Make Performance Policies Clear

The next section of your handbook should touch on performance policies.

What do you expect of your employees in terms of performance? Let them know when you’ll decide on goals for them, how often you will review their progress, and how you’ll help them achieve their full potential.

On the other hand, list all the reasons that can cause contract termination, so the entire team is aware of what behaviors to avoid. In other words, you need to explain some of the most important rules for your employees.

HR policies are vital because they can put an early end to your employee’s career at your company, yet around half of the people that work for companies with 10-200 employees simply aren’t confident in their knowledge of said policies.

Source: Archbee.io

Since most companies have some sort of a handbook, it just means that employees didn’t read it or didn’t understand the policies explained in the manual. However, employees lacking knowledge of HR policies is solely the employer’s responsibility.

Human Made, a WordPress development agency, did an excellent job with its HR policies section. Instead of just listing them all in the same long document, Human Made included a link to each rule, which allows readers to jump to the section of interest in one click.

Source: Human Made

A great thing about this employee handbook, especially the HR policies part, is that the company asks people to tell them if any rules are unclear or should be improved. They even list the people in charge of changing this section, thus making it easier to get in touch with the HR team and fix an issue.

Think of doing the same thing in your HR policy section, seeing as these policies can be complicated, yet remain essential.

Keep Your Handbook Accessible Online

Finally, once your employee guide is perfectly written and organized, it’s time to distribute it.

You can print your handbook and give it to all employees like Zappos does. You have probably heard of the company because of their innovative and fun handbook that resembles a comic book, thus increasing the chances of employees actually reading it.

Source: SmartClick

While it’s nice to think of a staff guide as a cute little comic book you can have on your shelf, the biggest downside to it is that you can’t easily update a printed handbook. However, your employee handbook needs to be accurate and current.

Companies that print out their guides often don’t write down the minute details to avoid constantly updating and redistributing the file. As a result, they’re producing a staff manual without many of the details that matter.

That’s why posting your handbook online using quality documentation software, like Archbee, is a good solution.

Here’s the thing: rules and regulations change with new laws and societal changes. This has become particularly clear during the pandemic. How many times have mask regulations changed in the last year? When your employee guide is digital, you can update it in a couple of clicks.

Through Archbee, updating is easy and available to the entire team, which significantly affects employee engagement. Studies have shown that almost all employees who could give feedback have a better relationship with the company.

Source: Archbee.io

The team can quickly check the latest updates, thus ensuring everyone stays in the loop. On top of that, you can use the search option to jump to the requested data and leave comments for the handbook managers.

Finally, when your handbook is digital, nothing’s stopping you from adding all kinds of additional content that makes it more fun and engaging, such as images, comics, graphics, and even videos. After all, you want people to be interested enough to read the whole document.

Conclusion

Great handbook organization starts with content, as always.

You should think of what you want to convey to your team and decide on different sections based on these topics. Start with a compelling preface, let the employees know what the company represents and values, and explain what they can expect from you, starting from the first day to their last.

Don’t forget to include all the things you offer to your team and what you expect in return, so everyone is on the same page. Finally, keep the handbook accessible and current by making it digital.

Have fun writing your handbook so people can have fun reading it!