Nine Tips for Writing an Employee Handbook

Dec 24, 2020
Nine Tips for Writing an Employee Handbook

All companies should have employee handbooks. Unfortunately, even at companies that do use them, some employees do not read employee handbooks. According to Careercafe, based on GuideSpark data, 43% of millennials do not read the entire handbook. Worse, 11% don’t open the handbook at all. 

So how do you avoid this situation and get all your employees to read? By writing the employee handbook the right way. In this article, let’s look at nine useful tips. But first, let’s answer this question: why does your company need an employee handbook in the first place?

The Importance of Writing An Employee Handbook

The employee handbook contains everything an employee needs to know about working in the organization. It doesn’t only explain the company’s rules and regulations. It also reflects the latest labor laws and social norms all employees and the company need to abide by.  

According to Paycor, there are eight reasons a company should have an employee handbook:

  • It introduces employees to culture, mission, and values.

  • It communicates to employees what is expected of them.

  • It educates employees about what they can expect from management.

  • It communicates company policies clearly. 

  • It showcases the benefits the company offers.

  • It ensures compliance with federal and state laws.

  • It helps defend against employee claims.

  • It is where employees can turn to for help.

In other words, without an employee handbook, companies can expect a lack of organization and clarity in the workplace. 

9 Tips That’ll Make Your Employee Handbook Effective

So you’ve decided to write an employee handbook. In this section, let’s look at nine tips you need to follow to get your employees to read it. 

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1. Keep It Simple & Engaging

Let’s face it. Employee handbooks can be very dull. There’s nothing particularly exciting about most companies’ mission or vision. Unless you have a legal background, chances are you wouldn’t get past the first few lines in the section on federal and state employment law.

Then, to boost readability, shake things up a bit. Present your employee handbook in a fun and innovative way. Your employee handbook doesn’t have to sound serious or use legalese. Use engaging and straightforward language so your employees will understand even the most complex concepts.

2. Use Your Handbook As a Communication Tool

You should use your handbook to communicate with your employees. In other words, don’t just fill it with legal terms and parrot your company’s mission and vision. Use it to reach out and explain what you expect from your employees - and what they can expect from you, too.

Don’t make your employee handbook sound authoritarian. Instead, treat your employees like adults who are partners in your company’s success. Let your employees feel that management is there for them but that they need to do their part, too.

Make it clear as well that while the handbook is there to guide them, employees can always approach you for any questions or clarifications. Management is there to listen. If you reflect that in your employee handbook, your employees won’t ever feel alienated. Remember, effective communication improves employee trust and engagement.

3. Pay Attention to Format and Visuals

Employee handbooks don’t have to contain just chunks of texts. You can include pictures and illustrations inside to help illustrate concepts, too. You can also put them on the cover to instantly grab your employees’ attention. Do this, and you will boost your employee handbook’s readability. According to Forbes, 91% of people prefer visual content to text-based. 

Images aren’t the only things you can use to make your employee handbook readable. Use plenty of headings, sub-headings, bullet points, and paragraph breaks, too. They will make your handbook skimmable and easy-to-read. When employees are looking for a specific section in the handbook, they won’t have difficulty finding it.

Valve uses all these elements to get its employees to read the company handbook. Apart from numerical lists, the company uses illustrations to inject humor into its pages:

Source: I-sight

The language throughout the handbook is conversational, too.

4. Clearly Mention Work Hours, Compensations, and Benefits

A company’s employee handbook should be for employees. That means you should include in that handbook everything they need to know to be productive in the organization. That includes compensation and benefits, work hours, and leave allowance.

You have to be as clear as possible. For example, if employees are paid by the hour, and an employee time clock app determines their work hours, say so. On the other hand, if they are salaried and expected to work certain core hours each day, explain that, too. 

The more specific you are about these things in your employee handbook, the better for your employees. This will ensure the company is protected in the unlikely event that suits are filed since nothing is subjected to misinterpretation.

5. Mention Your Company Culture & How Employees Can Maintain The Same

Builtin defined company culture as the “set of shared values, goals, attitudes, and practices that characterize an organization.” In other words, it is your company’s shared ethos.

Don’t make your employees guess what the company culture is. You have to explicitly explain in your employee handbook the company’s core values that drive all workplace actions.

For example, for Facebook, that core value is to “be bold.” That shows in the way they push things to the limit with their innovations on the social media platform - even when some of them backfire. For Uber, it’s “we do the right thing, period.” And that showed when the company parted with its former CEO, Travis Kalanick, after a shareholder revolt.

If you explain the company culture in the handbook, you can facilitate the onboarding process for new hires. There are ways you can hook in new hires with your company culture, too. Your explicit statements about your shared ethos will also serve as a reminder to existing employees as they work. 

Include in your handbook how your employees can maintain that company culture, too, to ensure a positive working environment for everyone. 

6. Mention Legal Issues

Your employee handbook must include any legal content your employees need to know. It should have a section that explains specific laws that may be relevant to them in the future. According to Square Up, these include equal employment and non-discrimination laws, anti-harassment laws, and workers’ compensation laws. Some US states explicitly state the specific legal content you need to have in your handbook. It should include possible real-world scenarios to illustrate the concepts in practice, too.

It’s best not to try to create this section by yourself. Ideally, consult a lawyer during or after writing them. Remember, your employees have a copy of the handbook and use it as a guide. The handbook also reflects the company’s official stand. If you make a mistake there, employees who feel the company has wronged them can always come back and use it against you if they file a legal complaint.

Many companies make mistakes in the handbook and take it very lightly. Employees bookmark the handbook and refer to it on a regular basis. So it is extremely important that you take care of mistakes and inform every employee.

In case of committing such mistakes, immediately schedule and send emails to all the employees at a suitable time. As an HR, you have to make sure every employee should recognize the mistake in the current handbook and receive an updated copy in the email. 

7. Mention Employee Appreciation

The employee handbook should contain the programs the company has for model employees. Employee recognition programs are the cornerstone of great workplace cultures. If you make it clear from the start the company recognizes and rewards its model employees, new hires will be motivated to give it their all at work starting from day 1.

The employee handbook should define what exactly constitutes great performance, too. . For example, suppose the company values efficiency above anything else and considers the employee schedule template as sacred. In that case, it won’t hesitate to recognize an employee who strictly adheres to their work schedule for an entire year. In another company, employees may be permitted to set their own hours and be judged purely on output.

Here’s an example:

The rewards for model employees can come in different forms. They can be monetary or a kind gesture, like an overseas trip, additional leave time, or a gift card. Whatever your rewards are, you have to be clear about how exactly an employee can earn them. Rewarding your employees will bring them up to the next level!

8. Keep Room For Improvement

Your job doesn’t end after you finish writing the employee handbook. This is because as your company grows, the way you conduct business and your corporate policies are likely to change, too. That means you’d have to revise your handbook again so it can reflect those changes.

Schedule a periodic review of your employee handbook so it will always be up-to-date. Once a year is good, but more frequent reviews might be necessary, depending on your company’s rate of change. 

When making revisions, take the opportunity to look at laws that may have changed as well. Laws are not permanent and may be amended or revised. Just make sure you consult a lawyer again when you do this to avoid mistakes.

9. Give To An Employee For Feedback

Once you’ve completed the company employee handbook, it’s always a great idea to give it to a group of your employees for feedback. They are best placed to tell you if the handbook is readable and whether the user experience is excellent or needs improvement.

Employees can also give you feedback on the handbook’s content. Remember, when you wrote the handbook, you did so from the perspective of management. That means some of what you wrote may have been skewed towards management. Some employee concerns may have been left out, even if you didn’t intend to do so. 

If you get feedback from employees, you can adequately determine if a handbook is ready to roll out more widely.

Bottom line

Employee handbooks are vital to any business. They ensure that everyone in the company is on the same page and aiming for the same goals. Employee handbooks also serve as a guide for both managers and employees. They keep processes in the company uniform and organized.

Since employee handbooks are so important, they can’t be written in a hurry. You need to put a lot of thought into what you write. You need to think of your target audience and balance their needs and wants with those of management and the company’s goals, too. 

Follow all the tips I gave you, and you’ll have that employee handbook that’s one for the books.

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About the author: Owen Jones is the Senior Content Marketer at ZoomShift - an online schedule maker app. He is an experienced SaaS marketer, specializing in content marketing, CRO, and FB advertising. He likes to share his knowledge with others to help them increase results.