How to Create a Team Handbook

Andy Cook
December 13, 2018
How to Create a Team Handbook

Anyone who’s ever run a company or managed a team knows the value of clarity and consistency. If people understand the how and why behind what you do, they can better align their actions with the team’s goals.

Many teams use a company handbook to foster this alignment. 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.

What makes matters more confusing when you’re trying to create your employee handbook is that there are actually two distinct types of handbooks that rarely get recognized as such: the Culture Guide and the Policies & Procedures Documentation.

In this guide, we’ll talk about the differences between the two types of employee handbooks, explain what each one contains, and give you all the tools and templates to create your own.

Examples of Employee Handbooks

We searched the internet for some of the best employee handbook examples to get you inspired. Collectively, these handbooks are used at companies that employ over 100,000 people worldwide.

  • MeetEdgar logo


    Founded: 2014
    Location: Distributed
    Employees: ~25


    We succeed by helping small businesses succeed.

    Core values

    Choose Kindness: Our relationships with our customers and with each other are built on trust, respect, and the occasional cute animal gif. We leave our egos out of the equation, we give people the benefit of the doubt, and we help one another to be our best selves. Take Ownership: Everyone on our team has the opportunity to make a significant, long-lasting impact – and not just by turning in a memorable karaoke night performance. We grow by being profitable, not by relying on investors, and that means we’re all directly responsible for our own successes. Value for Value: Edgar’s users and his team are what keep this whole thing working – well, that, and a not-insignificant amount of caffeine. We make sure that the people responsible for our success are treated the way they deserve.

    More details:



    Opening Up Our Internal Handbook

    Inside the Culture at MeetEdgar

    Culture Code Interview: Creating Team Unity Through Your Remote Culture

  • McDonald's logo


    Founded: 1955
    Location: Oak Brook, IL
    Employees: ~116,000


    We aspire to be our customers’ favorite place and way to eat.

    Core values

    * We place the customer experience at the core of all we do
    * We are committed to our people
    * We believe in the McDonald’s System
    * We operate our business ethically
    * We give back to our communities
    * We grow our business profitably
    * We strive continually to improve

    More details:

    Diversity & Inclusion at McDonald's

  • Big Spaceship logo

    Big Spaceship

    Founded: 2000
    Location: Brooklyn, NY
    Employees: ~150


    We help organizations connect with audiences through a deep understanding of culture and behavior.

    Core values

    Work with Humans, not Robots!
    1. Take care of each other
    2. Collaborate
    3. Produce amazing work
    4. Speak up
    Four values define the Big Spaceship experience and institutionalize our culture of shared ownership, which consistently produces outstanding, effective work. They foster a relaxed environment where all employees feel comfortable punching above their weight. As an organization with minimal hierarchy, you can feel confident suggesting the outlandish—we’ve got your back.

  • Basecamp logo


    Founded: 1999
    Location: Chicago, IL
    Employees: ~50


    Help small businesses deal with growth

    Core values

    Be Straightforward - Whenever we speak - internally or externally - we should speak plainly and clearly. Watch out for lingo, assumptions, exaggeration, or other things that get in the way of a straightforward explanation. This doesn't mean we strip the poetry and personal expression from our language, but it's got to make sense. With the exception of deep technical discussions, anyone who reads what we collectively write should simply get it without further explanation required. Don't use seven words when five will do. Be fair and do the right thing - What's fair? What's the right thing? We all have to use our best judgment, and everyone's judgment varies, but a good rule of thumb is ""what would you do for a friend or a neighbor if they asked for help?"" An example might be providing a refund even if it's a little outside the refund window. Or being someone who says 'Sure we can do that for you' when a customer expected you to say 'sorry, we can't.' If the request is reasonable, grant it. At the same time, saying no is sometimes the right thing! If that’s the case, don’t feel badly about it. Levelheadedness - We should be calm, considered, and thoughtful in our dealings with each other and the world at large. We don't act out of spite, we don't rush to judgment, we don't jump to conclusions. If someone disagrees with us or attacks us we listen, we think, and we respond calmly and clearly - directly addressing the idea or the situation, not the personality or the pressure. Generosity - Generosity is a wonderful virtue. Being generous is surprising someone on the other end with goodwill and asking for nothing in return. It could be time, attention, or treasure - we give what we're expected to, and then some. Independence - This one's a bit of a contradiction. After speaking about shared values, here's one that breaks away: Independence. We encourage independent thought and original thinking. Since day one, we've always done things our way. We don't look to the industry or our competitors for the way forward. We see things with our own eyes, make our own calls, and offer thoughts, perspectives, ideas, and products that we think are right, not that they think are right.
  • Genius logo


    Founded: 2009
    Location: Brooklyn, NY
    Employees: ~200


    Annotate the World

    Core values

    It’s Not Not Your Job The Chaos will Not be Minimized It Should Be Fun Only Hire A Players Don't Fill Up on Bread Worse is Better Run Into The Spike Take the Roast out of the Oven Being Busy ≠ Making Progress “What is Right?”, not “Who is Right?” Feel it to my Face “What do you Propose?” Be Skeptical of Experts Pitch Like You Mean It Write Like a Human Go to a Gym-esque Place We’ll Figure it Out

    More details:

    Genius uses their own annotation tool for their public culture guide, The Genius ISMs.

    About "The Genius ISMs"

    "As Dan Gilbert once put it, when you first start in business you think “company culture” is total BS—I’m just here to do good work and make some money, what’s all this touchy feely stuff?

    But as things start to get bigger and more complicated and change faster it gets harder and harder for everyone to stay on the same page. So instead of constantly explaining the same stuff to everyone, we’re writing it down..

    Welcome to the Genius ISMs! (Called “ISMs” (pronounced “IZ-UMMMS”) in homage to Dan)" - Tom Lehman (Co-founder & CEO at Genius)


  • 18F logo


    Founded: 1949
    Location: Washington, DC
    Employees: ~9,500


    18F is a civic consultancy for the Government, inside the Government, enabling agencies to rapidly deploy tools and services that are easy to use, cost efficient, and reusable. We are transforming government from the inside out, creating cultural change by working with teams inside agencies who want to create great services for the public. We are a trusted partner for agencies working to transform how they manage and deliver services to the public. We will accomplish our mission by: putting the needs of the public first; being design-centric, agile, open, and data-driven; deploying tools and services early and often.

    Core values

    Making Government Work Better Transparency Integrity Shared Responsibility Shipping Autonomy

    More details:

    18F uses a custom built webpage to host their handbook. It includes all their relevant procedures and policies along with links to other resources like vendors, documents, and anything else the team would need to know.


  • Zaarly logo


    Founded: 2011
    Location: San Francisco, CA
    Employees: ~15


    Help people who take pride in their homes hire people who take pride in their work.

    Core values

    Customer voice: There are lots of ways to hear our customers voice, in rank order of importance we value 1) data, 2) direct customer feedback and 3) our gut. Prioritization: Doing one thing extremely well will beat doing five things with mediocrity every day of the week. A sense of urgency: Priorities are great. The right priorities are really great. None of it matters if things don’t move off the list. Attitude: We want to work with people that we genuinely like to be around. That starts with attitude.

    More details:

  • Trello logo


    Founded: 2011
    Location: New York, NY
    Employees: ~75

    More details:

    Trello uses a Trello board as their employee manual.

  • Clef logo


    Founded: 2012
    Location: San Francisco, CA
    Employees: ~50


    Empower everyone to own their identity online.

    Core values

    - Be better today than yesterday. - Treat others the way they'd like to be treated. - Fight the default of exclusion. - We succeed together when we trust each other.

    More details:

  • GitLab logo


    Founded: 2014
    Location: Remote
    Employees: ~100


    Change all creative work from read-only to read-write so that everyone can contribute.

    Core values

    1. Results 2. Transparency 3. Efficiency 4. Frugality 5. Collaboration 6. Directness 7. Kindness 8. Kindness 9. Boring Solutions 10. Quirkiness

    More details:

  • Thoughtbot logo


    Founded: 2003
    Location: Boston, MA
    Employees: ~100


    Create better software.

    Core values

    Principle Zero: We regularly eliminate and simplify policies. Our most important policy is "use your best judgement". We call this Principle Zero.
    Minimize Hierarchy: We strive for few job titles, few departments, and few hierarchies. We prefer composition of roles necessary for projects and company objectives over inheritance of bosses and direct reports. We are at thoughtbot primarily for our design and development skill, and want to apply it, rather than creating company overhead.
    Transparency: We avoid having private conversations about each other or clients. Instead, we talk in person, and use tools such as Slack, Basecamp, and GitHub to communicate openly within a project, within thoughtbot, and publicly.
    Honesty: While we should be cognizant of people's feelings, and seek to work with each other constructively, we cannot let those concerns get in the way of our happiness and the success of our work. We'd rather be too honest than too polite.
    Trust: Our standards are very high, and bringing on a new team member requires a "yes" from everyone who participated in the interview process. Therefore, we expect the best from each other, give each other the benefit of the doubt, and encourage each other to take initiative to improve ourselves and the company.
    Continuous Improvement: We recognize that we can always be better. Therefore, we have strong opinions, loosely held, and take initiative to improve ourselves, the company, and our community.

The Two Types of Employee Handbooks: Which One to Choose

Culture Guides and Policy Documentation can both be useful, depending on the kind of organization you have. You’ll make your life (and the lives of your employees) easier by deciding where to focus. By clarifying what kind of info lives where, critical knowledge becomes easier to find. From our experience, working with thousands of teams on their documentation, we’ve seen how different companies leverage these two types of handbooks:

  • The Policies & Procedures Guidebook seeks to lay out all the rules employees need to know and observe. This type of handbook tends to be more traditional and serious in tone and more strict in its instructions, though it is not a legal document.
  • The Culture Guide aims at communicating a company’s values and philosophies on a high level without necessarily regulating each specific action or behavior. This handbook reflects a more modern approach to company operations and employs a more casual tone.

Neither type of handbook is better than the other. Which one you choose to create largely depends on the kind of organization you have, the policies you want to communicate, and the culture you want to foster. Many teams develop both, since they each serve a different purpose.


As a rule of thumb, more traditionally “corporate” organizations find that the Policies & Procedures Guidebook best fits their needs. These types of businesses need to communicate many rules and complex processes to a large body of employees, both incoming and current, with accuracy and clarity. When communication lines extend through a long line of assistants, managers, directors, and executives, the Policies & Procedures Guidebook offers a central point of reference that everyone can consult.

Furthermore, in this age of litigation, a Policy Guide helps ensure that employees aren’t breaking any employment laws or putting the team in jeopardy. In a worst-case scenario, the Policy Guide can even help protect the company, should an employee behave inappropriately. Building and sharing a Policy Guidebook draws a clear line between what the company does and does not tolerate.

Younger, leaner, startup-type companies tend to prefer the friendlier and more lightweight Culture Guide. For these types of businesses, work culture plays a central role in employee happiness and retention, and communicating the values and philosophies that drive the company’s purpose becomes central to their handbook. Although companies that choose to create Culture Guides will often have additional policies around important matters outlined in an internal wiki (see below), they generally prefer to function on the trust-and-judgement model: trusting employees to demonstrate good judgement, based on the cultural values.

Company size doesn’t play as significant a role in the selection of the type of employee handbook to develop as the style of the company’s organizational structure. For example, Netflix, a company with over 5,000 employees, helped popularize the Culture Guide in the form of a slide deck as the company’s official employee handbook, while Sunrise Company, by contrast, a more corporate-type organization, has a more traditional employee handbook for its couple hundred employees.

Once you decide which type of employee handbook best fits your company’s culture and organizational structure, the next thing to consider before you start putting together your content is your handbook’s publication format: print or digital.

Your Employee Handbook Format: Print or Digital?

As with deciding which type of employee handbook to create, so too with choosing your employee handbook’s format—there are no right or wrong answers. Each format has its strengths and weaknesses and which one you choose depends on what matters to your company.

Below, we’ll review the advantages and disadvantages of each type to help you choose the right one.


A printed employee handbook brings certain advantages that digital handbooks don’t. For example, a printed employee handbook can be:

  • A gift to new employees. Besides ensuring that each employee owns a handbook, a print handbook also makes for a great item to include in your welcome package for new employees’ first day at work. For digital-heavy roles, studying the handbook can also provide a nice break from screen time.
  • A physical representation of your company’s culture. Whether created as a Policies & Procedures Guidebook or as a Culture Guide, your employee handbook inevitably reflects your company’s culture. Capturing that reflection on paper is a great way to manifest your culture in ways that digital formats can’t quite deliver. For great examples, see the employee handbook from engineering studio Memoria Visual and the very different but equally creative employee handbook from Facebook.
  • Accessible at all times. The great thing about printed handbooks is that anyone can consult them at any time without needing to log into a computer to do so. For digital companies, this may not matter, but for companies with employees who don’t regularly access computers, it’s an important consideration.

Paper handbooks also present certain disadvantages, however. The downsides of printed handbooks include their tendencies to be:

  • Out of date. Any time you change a policy or procedure, your print handbook will automatically be out of date until you print an updated version (usually once a year at most). This tends to be less of a concern for Culture Guides, as the high-level philosophies and values of a company aren’t likely to change all that often, and more of a concern for Policies & Procedures Guidebooks, especially at growing organizations where changes may occur weekly.
  • Heavy and bulky: Though Culture Guides can be short, Policies & Procedures Guidebooks tend to be longer. By the time you cover all the relevant information, you can easily end up with dozens of pages that are cumbersome, heavy, and difficult to search.
  • Costly to maintain. Employee handbooks tend to need updates and revisions at least once a year. Printing updated handbooks for all employees each year (plus more for new hires) can turn into a costly operation, especially if your handbook is of the 100+ pages type.


Many companies are now choosing to create digital employee handbooks either instead of or in addition to their printed ones. The advantages of a digital employee handbook are that it can be:

  • Updated at all times. Digital handbooks can be updated the minute new policies come into effect. It doesn’t matter how often or how much your policies change, employees will always have an updated reference for workplace conduct.
  • Easier and faster to navigate. A digital employee handbook is much more than just your printed handbook in pdf format. Creating your employee handbook within a knowledge base like Tettra means you can organize your handbook in folders and documents for easier navigation and use the search function to find exactly what you’re looking for in a matter of seconds.
  • Rich in format. From high definition color images to entertaining videos and from beautiful graphs and charts to social media links, digital employee handbooks offer varied options for communicating your message and expressing your company’s creativity.

Despite their advantages, digital handbooks come with their own set of challenges. A digital employee handbook can be:

  • Inaccessible without a computer. For employees who work “on the floor” or “in the field” without constant access to a computer, a digital employee handbook can be difficult to access and consult at all times.
  • Lost among other links and information: This is especially important for new employees who have a lot of new information to navigate on their first day. A link to a digital employee handbook can be easily overlooked or forgotten, unless you store it in (or link to it from) a team wiki like Tettra.


Whether you decide to go digital or print, or develop both versions in parallel, the most important thing about choosing the format for your employee handbook is that it reflects your own culture, needs, and budgetary considerations.

If your team spend a lot of time without computers, you may want to consider a printed Culture Guide. If your team is tech-savvy and in front of screens the whole day, a digital format will likely fit their workflow best.

If you’re uncertain which is best, try starting with a digital version. You can easily print copies if and when you need. Plus, the digital version will serve as the source of truth, if and when you update your employee handbook.

Once you’ve made a decision on format, all that’s left to do is gather the material. In the following sections, we guide you through the content of each type of employee handbook to help you put together a handbook that represents your entire team.

Developing a Policies & Procedures Guidebook as Your Employee Handbook

The more traditional type of employee handbook outlines a company’s general policies and procedures, communicates the proper code of conduct for employees, and contains other critical workplace and employment-related information.

This kind of employee handbook is generally used by larger companies that need to communicate policies and regulations at scale. A good Policies & Procedures Guidebook should be useful both to the employer, (as a means to outline expectations and procedures,) and to the employees, (as a reference point for information and guidelines.)


The traditional employee handbook is sometimes seen as a “tool” that employers use to police employee behavior, to the employees’ detriment. Although such uses (or rather, misuses) of the employee handbook do happen, those instances don’t represent the true purpose of a Policies & Procedures Guidebook.

Employee handbooks should strive to be helpful both to the employee and to the employer. They delineate expectations for the employer-employee relationship and provide employees with necessary information for navigating the workplace and building a successful career within the company.

To achieve that, there are three core considerations to take into account. A good Policies & Procedures Guidebook must:

  1. Remain Updated at All Times: In order to be relevant and avoid misunderstandings and confusion, a good Policies & Procedures Handbook must provide the latest information. For a printed handbook, this means auditing its contents at least once or twice a year to ensure that you’re giving employees current guidelines. Since printing handbooks more than once a year may not make financial sense, you’ll probably want to keep a digital version of your handbook available in your internal wiki space. You can include a URL to the digital version in your printed handbook, with a note explaining that the digital version will always supersede the printed one where differences are found. Alternatively, you may want to eschew the printed handbook altogether and go entirely digital.
  2. Manage Expectations, Not Every Action: How detailed should your Policies & Procedures handbook be? It depends on your organization and your industry’s health and safety requirements, as well as the overall culture you want to promote within your team. There are instances of companies going as far as actually monitoring employees’ bathroom breaks, for example, but it’s certainly not recommended, especially when it borders on a violation of privacy. A good rule of thumb is to manage employee expectations, not police every action.
  3. Avoid Legal Jargon: Your employee handbook cannot possibly include all relevant labor laws, nor is it meant to be a substitute for them. In fact, to avoid any misunderstandings, it’s important to include a statement saying that your employee handbook is not a legal document or employment contract. Since the purpose of the handbook is to be useful and informative, you should use simple language to explain policies and avoid jargon that will only confuse employees. Once you compile your handbook, it’s not a bad idea to have it reviewed by a lawyer to make sure you’re not misrepresenting anything pertaining to legalities.


Employee handbooks are known for being lengthy; one team, GitLab, even boasts a 1,000-page handbook. Yours doesn’t have to be that long. There are no specific rules about how long it must be; length depends on what you choose to include.

There are many sections and subsections that could go into your Policies & Procedures Guidebook, and your choices will depend on the policies you have in place and want to communicate to new and current employees.

Below, you can find the sections most commonly included in the traditional employee handbook, with a short description of what each one involves. At the end of this section, you can also download a worksheet that lists the different sections and pertinent subsections. You can use that to mark everything you want to include in your employee handbook and get its structure up and ready to go!

  • Company Information: This section should give a quick overview of the company’s history, mission, values, goals, and greater vision. You’ll notice that a lot of these elements form part of the Culture Guide, too, and you can use the worksheet in that section to develop them.
  • Employment Types & Employer-Employee Relationship: What kind of contract(s) do you give employees, and what are the termination policies? Do you have any non-compete or confidentiality agreements with employees? You can summarize these here as a quick reference guide for employees. If you do include such information, make sure to state that this isn’t a legal contract but a reference guide, and that employees should always check their signed contracts for specific details.
  • Employment Information: This section contains information on the company’s policies regarding equal opportunity, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and general employment eligibility. It can also contain information on any policies about employee referrals and internal employee applications for different posts or for promotions, if applicable.
  • Code of Conduct: The code of conduct delineates acceptable behavior at your company. Topics in this section can range from harassment and discrimination policies (and their handling) to customer communication policies, and from internal communication policies to online conduct when representing the company.
  • Workplace Policies: Dress code, working hours, attendance expectations, smoking areas, use of common areas (like a kitchen or conference room), office keys and access, private calls and visitors, and use of company equipment are examples of common workplace policies. This section should cover all of the policies that pertain to your company in particular.
  • Time Off & Benefits: Depending on how much info you need to share in this category, it may be useful to break this down into different subsections. Common information includes paid time off (amount and approval policy), sick days, personal days, unpaid leave, health insurance (coverage and eligibility), 401(k) plans, bonuses, expenses reimbursements, and stipends.
  • Performance Evaluations & Promotions: This is a good place to outline your company structure and how performance evaluations function within that. From weekly reports to 1-on-1s, from official performance reviews to promotion evaluations and processes, and from complaints to terminations, this section can outline all expectations regarding positions and advancements at your company.
  • Payroll Information: In this section, you can explain to employees how often you run payroll, how they will receive payments, and how reimbursements and other expenses will be handed, if applicable. You can also include payroll information pertaining to resignation or termination, such as when and how employees will receive their final salary and any other relevant payments.
  • Receipt Acknowledgement Page: If your employee handbook plays a major role in maintaining your workplace and company safety, you should consider including an Acknowledgement Page for employees to sign. This page certifies that the employee has received the handbook (and therefore cannot claim ignorance of the rules in cases of misconduct or accidents). To avoid any misunderstandings, it’s good to also include a passage that explains that the handbook is not a legal document. Because Acknowledgment pages get signed, you should have your company’s lawyer review them before finalizing.


A Policies & Procedures Handbook can help clarify employer expectations and set the right tone for a happy and productive relationship with employees. Just as each company is unique in the way it functions internally and the way it expects employees to work and behave, so is each employee handbook unique in its content, layout, and degree of details.

To help you get started with creating a good Policies & Procedures Handbook, we’ve gathered some of the more common sections and subsections you’ll want to consider in the worksheet that follows. Simply check off the ones you’d like to include, and your table of contents is ready!

In the worksheet, we’ve also included links to additional resources and templates you can use as guidelines and inspiration for creating each section of your handbook.

One thing to keep in mind throughout the process is that there is no right employee handbook. The most important aspects of a good Policies & Procedures Handbook reflect your company policies and help your employees navigate expectations and conduct.


Use this checklist to mark all of the sections you want to include in your employee handbook. You can also print multiple copies of this list and send it around your company to ask which sections would be most useful to employees and management.

At the end of the checklist, we’ve included additional resources and templates to help you create each section with the information you want to share.


  • 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
  • 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

Further Resources & Samples

Developing a Culture Guide as Your Employee Handbook

A study by Columbia University has shown that strong company culture increases both job satisfaction and employee retention. What’s more, Deloitte’s Millennial Survey highlights that for this rising generation of workers, values, flexibility, and purpose in the workplace are just as important to their career considerations as compensation.

In other words, company culture has become one of the greatest competitive advantages and employee motivators for businesses everywhere. Showcasing your culture through your employee handbook will not only help cultivate unity among your current team but will also help you attract talent that’s the right fit for your growing company.

In this section, we’ll explain how to develop your employee handbook as a guide to your team’s culture and what to include (and not include) in it. We’ll also review some real-world examples of successful employee handbooks built as culture guides and give you fun exercises to share with your team while developing yours.


The tricky part of creating a culture guide is that “culture” is a constantly evolving concept that can be hard to pin down. Culture is not what you say or write down as your desired values; culture exists in the behaviors that your team collectively adopts as its modus operandi.

For your employee handbook to function as a faithful culture guide for your team (as well as for future prospects), it needs to abide by three core principles:

Communicate values, don’t legislate behavior.

As mentioned above, there are two distinct types of employee handbook: the Culture Guide and the Policies & Procedures Guidebook. As its name suggests, the latter usually contains at least some rules and regulations governing employee behavior. Culture guides, however, are different (both in spirit and format) in that their purpose is to communicate the values and philosophies of how a team operates without seeking to legislate every possible action.

Describe what is, don’t prescribe what you wish you were.

A good culture guide can only describe your actual culture and values, not prescribe what your culture should be. Employee handbooks that fail to map the reality of the employee experience end up hurting the team in the long run by creating discontent and disillusionment.

Be inclusive, not exclusive.

The great thing about values is they can be expressed in a variety of ways by different people. A culture guide that insists on a single interpretation of a philosophy or value will inevitably make current or future team members feel excluded. When presenting the different aspects of your culture, make sure you explain the values that are driving those aspects without excluding any possibilities of how they may show up. For example, if “have fun” is part of your culture, don’t imply that having fun means playing ping pong. Fun means different things to different people; an inclusive definition of “fun” is a good thing!

These three principles require you to get radically honest about your culture and values with both yourself and your entire team. This may appear hard when you know that your company’s values don’t match those of modern corporate giants like Google and Netflix. There’s no need to copy companies perceived as “cool”. Representing the culture accurately, rather than trying to replicate another team’s culture means you’ll give people an honest feel for what to expect and how to behave.


The fun thing about creating your company’s culture guide is that there are no rules or restrictions on how you lead team members through your story. As a counterpoint to the dense Policies & Procedures Guidebook, the Culture Guide seeks to combine usefulness with entertainment through a company’s brand voice.

The following sections form the core table of contents of all good culture guides, but how you decide to order them and weave them together is entirely up to you!

  • Company Overview: This is where you introduce the company’s basic aspirations: mission, purpose, and values. These three concepts aren’t important just for high-level theoretical discussions but for everyday practical purposes, too. When employees know what mission they’re serving with their work or what values they’re upholding, they’re more likely to feel inspired and stay committed in the long run.
  • 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. Building signposts about structure for new and existing employees gives them a map for navigating the company independently. Employees can manage their work without having to constantly ask who to go to for each thing that comes up.
  • Team Communications: How does your team like to communicate? 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.) Clarity around communication helps teams get the info they need faster (and with fewer headaches!).
  • How We Work: This section gives you the opportunity to illustrate how your values, structure, and communication system play out in daily practice around your workspace. This is a good place, for example, to outline the way people like to function and to give a tour of your workspace—be it physical or virtual.
  • Benefits & Perks: Benefits and perks function on an important emotional level, helping to build team satisfaction. They engender both delight and pride. When you delight employees with things like a good health plan or an exercise stipend, you increase their satisfaction at the workplace in ways that salary alone cannot. Team pride can be cultivated through social events and causes like volunteer opportunities or the company’s larger plan for charity. What’s more, perks and benefits don’t always have to cost money. Things like a flexible work schedule that allows employees to be with their families when it matters most or an all-hands meeting that celebrates each team members’ largest achievement of the month can also help boost employee satisfaction and strengthen team bonds and should be mentioned in your guide.

Once you have the points and content for each section, play around with building a storyline that leads readers through the unique story of your company. In the following section, we give you a few notable Culture Guides from companies large and small to help inspire those creative juices.

At the end of this section, you can find a worksheet with a list of elements to include in your culture guide, along with ideas for developing a narrative for your story, which can be a culture-building activity on its own!


The companies in the list below come from various industries, with distinct backgrounds and histories, and are of widely ranging sizes. It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in or how big your team is. If strong culture is a priority for your team, you can find creative ways to develop it and engaging ways to display it.

  • Netflix’ Culture Deck: Though formatted like a (robust) slideshow deck, Netflix’s original culture deck contains all the elements of the employee culture guide. Highly innovative and quite contrarian at the time of its release, Netflix’s culture deck helped revolutionize the employee handbook from the Policies & Procedures Guidebook into the Culture Guide. For more ideas and inspiration on creating your guide in this format, check out our culture deck collection.
  • Zappos’ Comic Book: Zappos broke the mold when it created its employee handbook in comic-book format. The video showcasing the new handbook has been watched thousands of times and has been instrumental in propagating the concept of employee handbooks that are not “dry and boring,” but rather, fun and engaging.
  • Walt Disney’s Casual Handbook: The original rebellious child of the corporate world, the Walt Disney corporation pioneered the idea of a casual company culture and an entertaining employee handbook as early as 1943 when it published The Ropes at Disney.
  • The Motley Fool’s Rules: A finance and investment company with a fun and lively culture? Yup, that’s The Motley Fool, and its employee handbook, called The Fool Rules, reflects precisely that. The fresh design, interactive functionality, and friendly (and foolish!) language make this employee handbook a joy to read, even for those not working at the company.
  • Zaarly’s No-Rules Employee Handbook: “Rules for work: we do not have these.” That’s the opening sentence in the first section of Zaarly’s employee handbook. This no-nonsense, straightforward guide, designed as a simple scrolling website, gets the job done with humor and grace. Few rules, well-laid-out, no misunderstandings later on. Done.
  • Memoria Visual’s Adventure Book: The engineers at Memoria Visual are on a voyage to Pluto! Or so claims its employee handbook. By communicating company info, org structure, values, and goals as a cosmic adventure, this team showcases its flair and creativity through a highly engaging story.
  • Ellevation’s Digital Handbook: More traditional in its culture and values, Ellevation created a useful and interactive online employee handbook that is simple and to the point, but still fun to consume. As Ellevation clearly demonstrates, you don’t need to have a “hip” company culture to create a culture guide that’s useful for your team and speaks to your values.


Culture guides are a great way to communicate your company’s mission and operations while at the same time reflecting your values and team spirit. Employee handbooks created as culture guides showcase (or develop) your employer brand for potential hires, too.

Unlike traditional employee handbooks that everyone feels like they must read but no one really enjoys, culture guides can be easy to consume and fun to create—especially if you get your whole team involved! You can find more resources for developing your content and ideas for getting your team involved with the worksheet below. However you decide to create your culture guide, just remember to have fun with it!


This worksheet will help you develop the different pieces of content you’ll include in your employee handbook. For each section, we’ve included guidelines for gathering the information you need and exercises you can do with your team (called Team Interactive), so you can turn this into a team-wide, collaborative project!

Company Overview

Complete each of the following sections with a brief statement:

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

Team Interactive:

Share the above statements with your team, and ask people to write examples of where they see the company’s mission, purpose, and/or values come into play in their daily work. You can take this one step further if you’d like by having team members present their answers at a company all-hands meeting. This can bring up a lot of new ideas, narrative threads, and opportunities to bond over shared stories!

Org Structure & Teams

What does your org structure look like? 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? 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.

Team Interactive:

Present your communication protocol and rules for tools to your team at a meeting for feedback and further calibration.

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.

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

Team Interactive:

Ask employees to write one sentence about why they love working at your company. It may be the mission, it may be the team lunches, or it may be coming into the office and seeing their colleagues every day! Their answers will help you understand what your team values most and how to prioritize items in your final storyline.

Perks & Benefits

Now for the part that everyone loves! 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

Team Interactive:

Send your complete list of perks and benefits around the office and ask people to send you one story of how a perk or benefit has mattered to them along with a photo of them using one of these perks and benefits (preferably related to the story, but not necessarily). This will provide you with a wealth of storylines and visual material for embellishing your culture guide!

Building Your Storyline

Once you have all the pieces completed, it’s time to start building your storyline. Choose the pieces that your team highlighted as most important through the various exercises as your core narrative elements. Rearrange the order and play around with different presentation scenarios.

Team Interactive:

Want to get your whole team involved? Organize a get-together for interested parties to bounce around some ideas. You can discuss possible storylines and even additional elements you might add to tell your story (like comic-book heroes per Zappos or adventures in outer space inspired by Memoria Visual!). Who knows what imaginative and original story you’ll come up with.

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.

Whether you decide to develop a traditional Policies & Procedures Guidebook or create a more modern Culture Guide, or maybe even both for complementary use, the most important thing is that your employee handbook reflects your company’s unique organization and culture.

When it accurately captures these elements, the employee handbook becomes one of the most indispensable documents for your entire company. The second most important thing, of course, is making sure it’s easily accessible to all in a knowledge base like Tettra. 🙂

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