If you think that employee handbooks are unnecessary documents full of superfluous information - think again. An employee handbook can be an incredibly valuable communication resource for employees and employers alike. Crucial in building a positive workplace culture and employee loyalty, an employee handbook can also provide guidance and information related to the organization's history, mission, values, policies, procedures, and benefits much needed by the new hire as well as people who have been with you longer. The Employee Handbook is also a means of protecting the employer against discrimination or unfair treatment claims. Despite the above, many organizations fail to recognize the importance of executing a thoughtful and strategic employee handbook. Keep reading to find out how to write an employee handbook that’s perfect for your organization, its culture, and its people - and why it matters.
What Your Employee Handbook Should Be
Your employee handbook should be the road map for how to operate within your company - clearly outlining your company culture as well as your company’s vision, policies, and procedures. It should also be a document that your employees and new hires actually want to read. Instead of a long-winded manual full of corporate jargon and lengthy procedures, make sure that your handbook is somewhat enjoyable to read. Although reading an employee handbook may not seem like the most exciting thing to do, you can make it a considerably more enjoyable read by injecting some personality into it. How exactly can this be done? Well, think about your company’s culture, vision, and mission statement. Think about the passion and dedication that went into crafting and executing them - and the ‘’why’’ behind the vision. Allow the excitement and enthusiasm which grew the company to be fully communicated throughout the handbook. Let’s take Hubspot’s employee handbook as an example. Hubspot starts with a bold statement:
‘’This document is part manifesto and part employee handbook. It’s part who we are and part who we aspire to be.’’
By positioning the handbook as part reality and part aspirational, it allows the employee or new hire to become excited about what's to come within the organization.
Valve, an American video game developer, also communicates in future-tense in their widely-praised handbook:
‘’Valve will be a different company a few years from now because you are going to change it for the better. We can’t wait to see where you take us.’’
The next example, from Abzu’s employee handbook, is also interesting. Abzu is an entirely self-managed organization, who have successfully crafted this way of working into their handbook which starts with a clear definition of self-management:
‘’Self-management means trusting each employee to autonomously exercise responsibility, accountability, and transparency for tasks in their domain. This description of self-management mirrors our views on artificial intelligence and characterizes what we believe to be the foundation for complex systems.’’
After making this statement, Abzu continues to clarify what exactly self-management means within the context of their organization:
‘’To Abzu, self-management means:
- Making a concerted effort to take on responsibility.
- Specific roles can be broadened in time, and likewise, broad roles can become more specific.
- Complete transparency. In order for self-management to work, you need to have all information available to you. We share all information in Abzu, which basically means: if you need something, ask.
- Knowing the level of your contribution and setting your own wage.’’
If your organization is self-organized/self-managed, make sure to clearly communicate this information throughout your handbook. Remember, just because something may be clear to you, does not mean it is obvious to new hires. Always communicate your organization’s management style to ensure transparency and clarity throughout your handbook.
Last but not least, let’s take a quick look at our internal employee handbook here at Session. In our handbook, we outline our company vision as follows:
The vision of Session is to democratize high-quality business coaching and remove financial and location-based barriers to business education. Session is passionate about taking the elitism out of business coaching. We want to offer business coaching to all - not just top executives in the c-suite. It’s traditionally been a privilege to access business coaching, and we don’t think that this is fair - we truly believe that everyone deserves a great coach. Session also removes geographic barriers to coaching entry by providing a platform that can be accessed globally.
In this way, we are setting the tone about the why behind our mission at Session - ensuring that all employees understand the organization from a values-driven perspective.
Practical Information: What To Include
Okay…we will admit, this part can be a little bit monotonous - but only if you let it be. Outlining your company’s practical information pertaining to policies around sick leave, vacation, parental leave provides new hires with transparency around company policies and ensures that there is a mutual understanding of behavior and expectations - from both the employee and the organization. Below is a useful list of handy resources that you can use to craft your employee handbook:
Company History and Mission:
A brief section discussing the company's history and its mission can help set the tone for an employee handbook. This section can include a company mission statement, its raison d'être, information about its customers, and its projected trajectory moving forward. To paint a picture of the company’s history, consider adding a section about how the company was founded, who its founders are, and some more information about its leadership team.
Paid Time-Off Policy and Sick Leave:
This section outlines the company's vacation policy, such as how vacation time is earned or accrued, and how to schedule a vacation. The paid-time-off policy should also outline which public holidays the company observes, including which holidays the company closes for. It is also important to outline sick leave, as well as other types of leave such as family, compassionate, or mental health leave.
Benefits: In this section, provide employees with a general overview of the benefits your organization offers in terms of health care, dental, vision, life insurance, etc. Of course, this information will vary from country to country, so this section will be different depending on where your company is located. In this section, make sure you clearly state who is eligible to receive company benefits, whether only full-time employees or if part-time employees are offered a pro-rated benefits package, address that, as well. List the criteria for eligibility, when you can enroll in benefits, and what the major life events are during which employees can change benefits - such as a marriage or birth of a child.
Employee Conduct: Under this section, you can discuss the organization’s attendance policy, allocated breaks and rest periods, and general expectations of employee conduct. This can include stating a policy against employee harassment discrimination, how employees may use the Internet or e-mail, and how employees should handle conflict resolution.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Statement: Solidifying an authentic DEI statement and outlining how your organization is taking practical steps to implement DEI policies is a critical component to your organizational culture. SHRM provides some great resources for crafting a relevant DEI statement, such as the following example:
‘’We are committed to fostering, cultivating, and preserving a culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Our human capital is the most valuable asset we have. The collective sum of the individual differences, life experiences, knowledge, inventiveness, innovation, self-expression, unique capabilities, and talent that our employees invest in their work represents a significant part of not only our culture but our reputation and company’s achievement as well. We embrace and encourage our employees’ differences in age, color, disability, ethnicity, family or marital status, gender identity or expression, language, national origin, physical and mental ability, political affiliation, race, religion, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, and other characteristics that make our employees unique.’’
However, remember that no two companies are the same, and your organization will need to work to craft an authentic DEI statement that is true to the company’s mission and values.
Remote Work Policy:
While in the past, companies may have been able to skim through the remote work policy, these days, there’s simply no way of getting around addressing it. Your organization’s remote work policy will differ significantly depending on whether your policy has an office space, offers hybrid working conditions, or is operating completely remotely. If your company has an office, make sure to outline the expectations of in-office and WFH (work-from-home). Perhaps your policy suggests a mixture of WFH three days a week and office work two days a week. Make sure to state if this working arrangement is fixed or subject to change depending on the individual circumstances and preferences. On the other hand, if your company operates entirely remotely, you could include the following conditions, as outlined in Workable’s Remote Policy:
To ensure that employee performance will not suffer in remote work arrangements, we advise our remote employees to:
- Choose a quiet and distraction-free working space.
- Have an internet connection that’s adequate for their job.
- Dedicate their full attention to their job duties during working hours.
- Adhere to break and attendance schedules agreed upon with their manager.
- Ensure their schedules overlap with those of their team members for as long as is necessary to complete their job duties effectively.
If your organization operates entirely remotely, make sure that your handbook’s language outlines this throughout. A great example of this is Remote.com’s employee handbook, which begins with the following statement:
‘’Remote is a global company. We do not have an office anywhere in the world. We are also not a corporate or traditional company whatsoever. We are a modern tech and product tech company with a people-first approach. We have operationalized our Values, and we use these in everything we do day to day. Learn more by viewing all the different areas of this public handbook.’’
Compensation: Spell out your methods of payment and let employees know exactly what their payment schedule will be. In this section, you can also state your overtime policy, define work hours, and discuss your pay grade structure.
We hope that by reading this article, you have been inspired to solidify your strategy for creating a meaningful and authentic employee handbook. Beyond solving employee or culture issues, employee handbooks can also help new employees feel at home in their new environments. Learning about a company’s stories, missions, and core values can increase employee engagement and loyalty, and the policies and procedures that an employee handbook outlines can increase transparency and honesty across the board.