How to Build an Employee Handbook

How to Build an Employee Handbook


When you own a one-person business, you don’t necessarily have to document everything. But if you hire a team, and it grows so you add further team members, it becomes crucial to put rules, guidelines, values, and procedures on paper.

This is what is known as an employee handbook.

Why Create an Employee Handbook?

In the most basic sense, an employee handbook is a document that’s created and distributed by the Human Resources (HR) department. It’s designed to put employees on the same page with the employer.

“The document is given to all new starters to ensure onboarding best practices are met,” HR pro Tanya Lesiuk writes. “The handbook is provided in either a digital or hard copy, and it should tell new staff everything they need to know about the company. This can include company policies, procedures, codes of conduct, and information relating to compensation and benefits.”

A good employee handbook details what the employees’ rights are, as well as what they can expect from the company management. It’s basically a central document that outlines guidelines and expectations for both parties.

It also delineates the consequences and/or steps to be taken if either party does not meet its respective responsibilities. Some of the specific benefits of having an employee handbook include:

  • It provides a single document that people can reference to get answers to frequently asked questions, concerns, and issues.
  • It helps new staff members feel secure by introducing them to the firm and showing them what the mission and culture are all about.
  • It mitigates conflict by providing an objective resource that explains how disagreements should be handled.
  • It gives the business a certain amount of legal protection by clearly disclosing key pieces of information in an explicit and accessible manner.

Whether it’s a concise handbook for a small business or a massive 300-page handbook for a large corporation, the value of an employee handbook cannot be overstated. If you don’t have one in place, you should begin the process of creating one as soon as possible.

Tips for Developing an Effective Handbook

No two employee handbooks will look alike. But the process of creating yours will be relatively similar to what other businesses have done. Here are a few essential tips to consider.

1. Keep it Organized

People don’t read an employee handbook from cover to cover the way they would a novel. A handbook is a resource; in other words, it’s something people will skim for answers when they want clarification on a particular issue.

Thus, it should be designed in a way that makes it easy to open and reference. The most popular page in an employee handbook is the table of contents (TOC).

Be smart about how you organize the book and format the TOC. The more intuitive it is, the more valuable the handbook will be. (A confusing TOC may create more problems than it solves.)

2. Have it Professionally Printed

In an attempt to save a few bucks, some companies will simply print out a PDF, staple the pages together, and hand it out to their new staff. And though this qualifies as a handbook, it won’t sport a particularly professional look.

If you’re going to go through the effort of developing a comprehensive handbook, you might as well complete the task by having it professionally printed. This will cost only a few extra bucks and it will give you a clean handbook that makes your brand look polished.

3. Clearly Mention Biggest Issues

When you develop the content for your handbook, think about all the issues and conflicts that would commonly arise. What are the four or five contentious issues that your management team is always having to deal with?

Address these in clear, objective, and non-emotional language. Whenever one of these issues crosses your desk, simply direct all the concerned parties to “page 39” of the employee handbook. This removes the guesswork by standardizing conflict resolution.

4. Have Employees Sign Off

Before you finalize the employee handbook for your operation, ask two or three of your top employees to study and sign off on it. Have them critique various aspects of the guide before they provide a stamp of approval.

It’s possible they may have a somewhat different perspective from yours. Getting them to sign off, especially if they have useful suggestions for improvement that you accept, would be a big step in the right direction.

Set Your Employees Up for Success

So much of an organization’s success rests on the culture of the business. If you want your firm to develop and maintain a healthy culture, that starts with transparency, communication, and suitable expectations.

An employee handbook is just one element of the big picture, but it can be a powerful one. By generating a thorough and fair handbook, you set your employees up to succeed, and begin to cultivate long-term relationships that will benefit the organization for years to come.