How to Create a Team & Employee Handbook

Stephanie Trovato
Stephanie Trovato
April 23, 2023
How to Create a Team & Employee Handbook

The current workforce is facing more showdowns than the Wild West, forcing companies to find a new approach to how employees find clarity and consistency. 

New employees deserve to feel valued and heard from the beginning, with clear outlined expectations of how they’ll work. Enter: an employee handbook.

People want to understand the how and why behind what you do, they can better align their actions with the team’s goals. They want to have a purpose at their company, and 82% of them want to be seen as a person, not just an employee.

Companies can use an employee handbook to foster this alignment and bring clarity to both sides of the relationship. By aggregating important info in one place, it’s easier for new employees to learn the ropes, and it gives existing employees guidance when questions arise.

The tricky thing about employee handbooks is that no two are alike. Each handbook is (and should be) as unique as the company culture it reflects. So what should you include in your employee handbook?

In this guide, we’ll talk about the components of a solid employee handbook with examples of how companies use them out in the wild so you can create an effective handbook for your team.

What is an employee handbook?

An employee handbook is an essential guide provided by employers to their employees, detailing company policies, procedures, expectations, and benefits. It helps create a consistent work environment, establish clear expectations, and safeguard both the employer and employees from potential legal issues.

The handbook typically covers topics like:

  • Company culture and values
  • Workplace conduct
  • Attendance policies
  • Dress codes
  • Health and safety guidelines
  • Compensation and benefits
  • Performance evaluation processes
  • Reporting procedures for grievances or concerns
  • How the company views and handles remote work

What are the best practices that companies should consider when developing employee handbooks?

When creating an employee handbook, companies should consider these best practices to ensure it’s effective, user-friendly, and legally compliant:

  1. Keep it clear and concise: Write in plain language, avoiding jargon or complex terms. Make sure it’s easy for employees to understand and follow the guidelines provided.
  2. Stay up-to-date with laws and regulations: Regularly review and update your handbook to ensure it complies with local, state, and federal labor laws and regulations. Consult with legal counsel to verify compliance.
  3. Cover essential topics: Include information on company policies, procedures, and expectations, such as company culture and values, workplace conduct, attendance, dress code, health and safety, compensation and benefits, performance evaluations, and grievance reporting.
  4. Make it accessible: Provide the handbook in both digital and print formats, ensuring that employees can easily access it whenever they need to. Consider creating an online version that can be updated regularly and is easy to search.
  5. Use consistent language and tone: Maintain a consistent voice and style throughout the handbook to make it easy for employees to read and understand the content.
  6. Include a disclaimer and acknowledgment: Include a legal disclaimer stating that the handbook is not a contract and that policies may change at the company’s discretion. Also, have employees sign an acknowledgment form indicating they have received, read, and understood the handbook.
  7. Address specific workplace scenarios: Use real-life examples or hypothetical situations to illustrate how policies and procedures apply in different circumstances.
  8. Involve different stakeholders: Seek input from various departments, including HR, legal, and management, to ensure the handbook covers all necessary areas and is accurate.
  9. Use visuals when appropriate: Include charts, tables, or diagrams to help explain complex concepts or processes more effectively.
  10. Regularly review and update: Periodically review the handbook to ensure it remains relevant, accurate, and up-to-date. Encourage employee feedback and make revisions as necessary.

Why create an employee handbook?

The employee handbook is more than just a bunch of rules and regulations—it’s a key resource that serves multiple purposes in an organization. It helps new employees feel welcomed, sets the stage for a positive work environment, and fosters a culture of trust and accountability. And it gives human resources a reference to help guide the onboarding experience and nurturing of employee relationships.

Let’s dive into the key reasons why creating an employee handbook is essential:

While there’s no law mandating employee handbooks, many federal and state laws do require employers to inform their staff about their rights in the workplace and employment laws. Crafting an employee handbook is an effective way to share this crucial information with your team. Be sure to review the U.S. Department of Labor website for up-to-date information about federal and state workplace policies so you remain compliant.

Outline codes of conduct

An employee handbook sets the standard for acceptable behavior in the workplace by outlining the company’s codes of conduct. These guidelines help maintain a professional and respectful environment, address potential conflicts, and provide clear instructions on how to handle various situations.

Conflict mitigation

An employee handbook sets the stage for your company’s code of conduct, letting everyone know what behaviors are cool and what’s definitely not. By spelling out the consequences of not-so-great behavior, you can help steer your team away from toxic vibes and encourage healthier attitudes.

Welcome to new employees

A well-crafted employee handbook serves as a warm welcome to new hires, introducing them to the company’s mission, vision, and values. It gives new employees a sense of belonging and helps them understand their role in the bigger picture, ultimately contributing to their job satisfaction and engagement.

Reduces uncertainty

An employee handbook provides employees with an easily accessible, go-to reference for addressing any questions or concerns they might have about their rights, responsibilities, or company procedures. This resource reduces uncertainty, empowers employees to make informed decisions, and ultimately promotes a more efficient and harmonious workplace.

Affirms company values

By outlining and emphasizing the company’s core values, an employee handbook reinforces the organization’s commitment to ethical conduct, social responsibility, and creating a positive work culture. This affirmation helps employees align their actions and attitudes with the company’s values, driving a cohesive and purpose-driven workforce.

Plus, an employee handbook:

  • Helps you put your employment policies and procedures in writing, so everything’s nice and official
  • Makes onboarding a breeze by giving newbies all the info they need in one handy place
  • Keeps everyone on the same page with consistent policies and procedures
  • Lowers the risk of complaints and lawsuits (no one can say you didn’t tell them about their workplace rights!)
  • Acts as a go-to resource for things like dress codes, vacation policies, parking tips, and more

How to write an employee handbook

Companies often tailor their handbooks to fit their specific industry, size, and culture. When putting together an employee handbook, it’s crucial to include the most important elements that will help create a positive and supportive work environment.

These key components not only provide employees with a clear understanding of the company’s expectations but also help them feel connected to the organization’s culture and values. 

Once you’ve taken the initial steps to develop an employee handbook, it’s time to start thinking deeper about the most crucial sections.

Let’s dive into the most important parts of an employee handbook:

Company values

Your employee handbook should start by highlighting your company’s operating principles and core values. This section helps employees understand the company’s purpose, guiding principles, and the desired impact on the industry and community.

Employment Basics

This section covers essential employment information such as job classifications, probationary periods, and performance evaluations. It provides clarity on how the company views and manages various employment aspects, ensuring everyone is on the same page.

Workplace policies

An employee handbook must outline your organization’s workplace policies, including attendance, punctuality, dress code, and remote work guidelines. Clearly defined policies create a fair and consistent work environment for all employees.

New hire and separation policy

Detail the onboarding process for new hires, including orientation, training, and necessary paperwork. Likewise, cover separation policies, such as resignation, termination, and exit interviews, to ensure employees know the proper procedures during the offboarding process.

Code of conduct

A well-defined code of conduct establishes behavioral expectations for employees, including professional etiquette, ethics, and compliance with laws and regulations. This section is crucial to maintain a respectful and productive work environment.

Salary and compensation

Outline your company’s compensation structure, including pay periods, overtime, bonuses, and salary adjustments. This section ensures transparency and fairness regarding employee remuneration.

Employee benefits and perks

An employee handbook should highlight the various benefits and perks your company offers, such as health insurance, retirement plans, and vacation policies. This section helps employees understand and appreciate the full value of their employment package.

How to customize your employee handbook

While there are countless ways to customize an employee handbook, a well-rounded employee handbook often includes two main components, each addressing distinct aspects of the workplace. These components are the Policies & Procedures Guidebook and the Culture Guide. By covering both of these aspects, companies can ensure that employees are well-informed about the organization’s expectations and values.

The Policies & Procedures Guidebook

The Policies & Procedures Guidebook is a comprehensive resource that outlines the essential rules, regulations, and guidelines within the organization. 

Key elements of the Policies & Procedures Guidebook may include:

  • Employment policies: hiring, termination, leave policies, vacation time, and probationary periods
  • Attendance and punctuality expectations
  • Compensation and benefits information
  • Remote work policies
  • Workplace health and safety guidelines
  • Anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies
  • Disciplinary procedures and grievance handling
  • Confidentiality and data protection rules
  • Social media and electronic communication guidelines
  • Workers compensation and sick leave company rules
  • Family leave, FMLA, jury duty, other state and federal laws
  • Details on employment status (non-exempt employees vs part-time employees)
  • Steps for disciplinary action
  • Working conditions expectations
  • Conflicts of interest

*A note about third-party harassment policies. According to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a company might be held responsible for the actions of non-employees concerning its employees in the workplace if the employer (or its representatives or supervisors) is aware or should have been aware of the conduct and doesn’t take immediate and appropriate corrective measures. It’s essential for businesses to carefully review their HR policies to ensure that information related to third-party harassment is clear and comprehensible.

Policies & Procedures Guidebook template

Use this template to mark all of the sections you want to include in your employee handbook.

Introduction

  • Welcome message for new employees
  • Purpose and use of the handbook
  • Acknowledgement Page (with disclaimer that contents are not a legal contract)

Company Information

  • Company History
  • Company Mission
  • Company Values
  • Company Goals

Employment Types & Employer-Employee Relationship

  • Company Commitment to Employees
  • Summary of Employment Types (not an employment contract)
  • Employee and Employer Confidentiality Agreement
  • Non-Compete Agreement

Employment Information

  • Equal Employment Opportunity Policy
  • Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)
  • Equal Pay Policy
  • Employment Eligibility
  • Employee References
  • Internal Application Process
  • Data Privacy

Code of Conduct

  • Harassment Policy
  • Discrimination Policy
  • Procedure for Reporting Issues
  • Handling of Reported Issues
  • Communication and Conduct Towards Customers
  • Internal Communication Policy
  • Social Media Policy

Workplace Policies

  • Dress Code
  • Smoke-Free Environment
  • Office Hours
  • Breaks
  • Working Remotely
  • Company Equipment & Use
  • Use of Common Spaces
  • Parking
  • Workplace Visitors

Time Off & Benefits

  • Paid Time Off
  • Sick Days
  • Personal Days
  • Unpaid Leave of Absence
  • Request and Approval Process for Time Off
  • Health Insurance
  • COBRA
  • 401K
  • Bonuses
  • Stipends
  • Expenses Reimbursement

Performance Evaluations & Promotions

  • Company Evaluations
  • Performance Expectations
  • Evaluation Schedule & Process
  • Promotions
  • Terminations

Payroll Information

  • Payroll Schedule
  • Tracking & Submitting Timesheets
  • Payment Method

The Culture Guide

While the Policies & Procedures Guidebook covers the practical side of the workplace, the Culture Guide focuses on the company’s mission, vision, values, and overall work environment. The Company Culture Guide is designed to inspire and engage employees, helping them understand the company’s ethos and how they can contribute to its success. 

According to Gartner, people seek purpose in their lives, and that includes work. Outlining the type of culture new employees can expect can give a better sense of belonging and purpose from the beginning.

Important elements of the Culture Guide may encompass:

  • Company mission statement and vision statements
  • Core values and guiding principles
  • Company history and milestones
  • Leadership and organizational structure
  • Commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion
  • Employee development and growth opportunities
  • Social Responsibility and community involvement
  • Team-building and social events

Culture Guide template

This template will help you develop the different pieces of content you’ll include in your employee handbook. 

Company Overview

This is where you introduce the company’s basic aspirations: mission, purpose, and values. Complete each of the following sections with a brief statement:

  • Company mission:
  • Company purpose:
  • Company values:

Org Structure & Teams

What does your organization look like? Is it flat? Is it a pyramid? Is it an inverted pyramid? There are no right or wrong answers, as long as your org structure works for your team. Build (or even whiteboard) a simple chart with your team’s functional groups and basic reporting structure. If you don’t have one yet, this is a good opportunity for creating one! Once you have your chart, we’ll use it in the section below.

Team communication

What are your team’s communication protocol and tools? This section should cover both communication protocol (for example, when to reach out to managers versus someone in people operations) and tools (how and when to use email, Slack, phone, etc.) Outline each in the section below.

  • Protocol: What are the communication lines in your company? Does one group share certain pieces of information with another group on a recurring basis? Draw the lines of communication in the org chart you created in the previous section.

Tip: If your communication lines are too complicated to represent on the chart, it may be a good time to audit and simplify!

  • Tools: List all the communication tools you use (email, Slack, etc.) and the purpose of each.

How we work

Write your “rules” (spoken or unspoken) for the following areas. You don’t have to turn these into policies, but getting a clear picture of your team’s work habits is important. It’s also a great place for things like internal processes and the way your company handles internal documentation to be noted.

  • Work hours:
  • Dress code:
  • Non-discrimination policies:
  • Inclusivity efforts:
  • Workspace areas (physical or virtual) and usage guidelines:
  • Office attendance:
  • Internal documentation:
  • Internal processes:

Perks & Benefits

List out the perks and benefits you extend to your employees and explain how those help you work better together and find more balance in your life.

  • Health plan coverage
  • Equipment: laptops, phones, or stipends for equipment
  • Food: lunches or snacks
  • Stipends: team outings, gym memberships, or something else
  • Learning & development: internal workshops & resources, conferences, professional programs
  • Social & team building: retreats, get-togethers, employee outings

What is the difference between a handbook and a policy?

A handbook and a policy are both important elements of a well-structured organization, but they serve different purposes and have distinct characteristics.

  • Employee handbook: An employee handbook is a comprehensive guide provided by an organization to its employees. It contains essential information about the company’s culture, values, policies, and procedures. The employee handbook serves as a reference manual, helping employees understand their rights, responsibilities, and benefits. It also outlines the company’s expectations, creating a consistent and fair work environment for everyone.
  • Policy: A policy, on the other hand, is a specific set of guidelines or rules established by an organization to govern its operations and decision-making. Policies are designed to achieve specific outcomes, ensure compliance with laws and regulations, and maintain consistency across the organization. Policies can cover a wide range of topics, such as workplace safety, data privacy, and equal employment opportunity.

What should be avoided in an employee handbook?

While crafting an employee handbook, you need to be sure that it is clear, comprehensive, and compliant with laws and regulations. However, there are certain pitfalls that you should avoid in order to create an effective employee handbook:

  1. Vague language: Use clear and concise language to explain your policies, procedures, and expectations. Avoid ambiguity, which can lead to confusion, misinterpretation, and inconsistency.
  2. Over-promising: Be realistic about what the company can provide in terms of benefits, perks, and opportunities. Over-promising can lead to disappointment, mistrust, and potential legal issues.
  3. Ignoring laws and regulations: Ensure that your handbook complies with all applicable federal, state, and local laws and regulations. Consult with legal counsel or HR professionals to verify that your policies and procedures are in line with current legislation.
  4. Lack of updates: Regularly review and update your employee handbook to reflect changes in laws, regulations, and company policies. An outdated handbook can lead to confusion, miscommunication, and legal liability.
  5. Inflexible policies: While consistency is essential, it’s also crucial to allow for some flexibility in certain situations. Make sure your policies have room for exceptions and accommodations when necessary.
  6. One-size-fits-all approach: Different departments and teams may have unique needs and requirements. Consider customizing your handbook to address the specific concerns and expectations of various roles and teams within your organization.
  7. Lengthy and complex content: An employee handbook should be accessible and easy to understand. Avoid using excessive jargon or technical terms, and organize the content logically to make it easy for employees to find the information they need.
  8. Neglecting employee input: Engage with employees when creating or updating the handbook. They can provide valuable insights and feedback on existing policies and potential improvements.
  9. Not promoting the handbook: Ensure that employees are aware of the handbook, its importance, and where to find it. Make it easily accessible, provide training on its contents, and encourage employees to use it as a reference.
  10. Failing to obtain employee acknowledgment: Have employees sign an acknowledgment form stating that they have received, read, and understood the handbook. This step can help protect your company in case of disputes or misunderstandings.

How to get employees to read the handbook

It’s crucial for employees to read and understand the employee handbook, as it serves as a valuable resource for company policies, procedures, and expectations. But how can you encourage employees to actually read it? Here are some effective strategies to make sure your employee handbook is read and utilized by your team:

Make it accessible and remove silos

Ensure that your employee handbook is easily accessible to everyone in your organization. Instead of tucking it away in some obscure folder, place it prominently on your company intranet, shared drive, or knowledge management platform. Make sure all employees know where to find it and how to access it. You can also provide both digital and physical copies, depending on employee preferences and needs.

Incorporate knowledge management

Integrate your employee handbook into your company’s knowledge management system. This will help employees see the handbook as a valuable part of the overall knowledge-sharing culture in your organization. By embedding it within your knowledge base, employees are more likely to refer to it when seeking information or guidance on company policies and procedures. Add your employee handbook directly into your knowledge management software platform so employees can access it at any time. 

Engage employees with interactive content

Consider adding interactive elements to your employee handbook, such as quizzes, scenarios, or even multimedia content like videos and infographics. This can make the handbook more engaging and enjoyable for employees to read and explore.

Use clear, concise language

Write your employee handbook using clear, concise language that is easy to understand. Avoid jargon, legalese, and overly technical terms. Employees are more likely to read and retain information when it is presented in a simple, straightforward manner.

Break it down into manageable sections

Organize your employee handbook into logical sections and use headings, subheadings, and bullet points to break down complex information. This makes it easier for employees to find what they’re looking for and digest the content in smaller, manageable chunks.

Encourage managers to promote the handbook

Managers and team leaders should actively promote the employee handbook and encourage their team members to read and refer to it. They can incorporate handbook content in team meetings, training sessions, and one-on-one discussions, emphasizing its importance as a go-to resource for company information.

Provide training and support

Offer training sessions or workshops to help employees familiarize themselves with the handbook and its content. This can help ensure that employees know how to navigate the handbook, understand its importance, and feel comfortable using it as a resource.

6 examples of employee handbooks

We searched the internet for some of the best employee handbook examples to get you inspired. Here are some of the best examples we found.

GitLab

Founded: 2011

Number of employees: 2,100+

What makes this handbook great: The GitLab team has taken their employee handbook game to a whole new level with 13,000+ pages of text. This massive manual is the go-to guide for understanding the ins and outs of how GitLab runs its business. They’ve made it public as a testament to their commitment to transparency.

Link to handbook

Valve

Founded: 1996

Number of employees: 350+

What makes this handbook great: Valve has taken a creative approach with their employee handbook, presenting it as a fun storybook that offers a crystal-clear roadmap for both career and company. This engaging guide accompanies employees through their initial six months, giving them the lowdown on how to bounce back if they ever “screw up.” Plus, it even features a beautifully illustrated company history, making Valve’s handbook an enjoyable read while delivering essential information.

Link to handbook

Trello

Founded: 2011

Number of employees: 80+

What makes this handbook great: Trello, a leading tech company, gained recognition for openly hosting their employee handbook, aptly called an employee manual, on their very own platform. This interactive format uses a visually appealing design and user-friendly navigation, as it’s seamlessly integrated into their signature user experience platform. It’s organized and easy to find information on any and every topic an employee may be curious about.

Link to handbook

Netflix

Founded: 1997

Number of employees: 12,000+

What makes this handbook great: Netflix’s employee handbook stands out for its distinct approach to defining company culture and principles. The handbook goes a step further by making these values actionable, ensuring that employees can effectively apply them in their day-to-day work. By providing clear guidance on putting company culture into practice, Netflix’s handbook fosters a consistent and cohesive work environment.

Link to handbook

Dollar General

Founded: 1955

Number of employees: 158,000+

What makes this handbook great: The Dollar General Employee Handbook earns its place on our list for being one of the most thorough and comprehensive handbooks out there. Covering everything from bereavement leave to minimum working age and 401(k) plans, they’ve made sure to check all the boxes. What sets Dollar General’s handbook apart is its user-friendly online availability and the handy search feature at the top. Employees in search of specific information can find it with ease.

Link to handbook

Zappos

Founded: 1999

Number of employees: 1,600+

What makes this handbook great: Zappos is famous for its strong emphasis on cultural fit (so much so, they offer employees $3,000 to leave after their first week). So when they first released a copy of their Culture Guide to the public, it came as no surprise that it was a fun and immersive way to talk about not-so-fun topics, with a comic book style format. This creative approach serves as a vehicle for communicating all the essential policies and procedures that need to be included, making it far from boring.

Link to handbook

Creating Your Unique Employee Handbook

Employee handbooks are meant to be used and referenced—not to take up space on a bookshelf or in your shared folders. The key to getting the most use out of them is making sure that they’re providing value to your employees.

Think of them as a way to promote employee engagement from the first day on the job. You want the person using the handbook to understand the company’s unique organization and culture while guiding them through the questions that may arise.

When it accurately captures these elements, the employee handbook becomes one of the most indispensable documents for your entire company — becoming a tool for higher retention and better employee experiences. 

Use Tettra to Store Your Company Information

Once you have your employee handbook written, where do you keep it? How do people access it?

You need something more than the scattered mess of Google Docs or a simple productivity tool.

tettra feature image

Tettra is an AI-powered knowledge management system that helps you curate important company information into a knowledge base, use it to answer repetitive questions in Slack and MS Teams and keep it up-to-date, organized, and complete with automation.

Tettra offers a full suite of tools for sharing knowledge. With Tettra, you’ll get:

  • Instant answers from your knowledge base, using AI
  • Q&A workflow to capture questions
  • AI-powered Knowledge base to document answers
  • Knowledge management features to keep content up to date.
  • Integrations with chat tools to make sure your team actually uses Tettra

There’s a lot more an internal knowledge base can do, so check out all of Tettra’s features.