How to create an employee handbook

Do you really need an employee handbook?

Yes. And yes, again.

Even if you are a small business of under ten employees, some form of employee handbook, however small, can be a fantastic tool for establishing the right workplace culture for your business. This then helps you retain the right type of staff for your business, saving money in the long run!

What to include in your employee handbook

Deciding what to put in your employee handbook can be as daunting as reading an employee handbook. The best way to approach the process is by understanding that this is one of the first impressions a new employee will have of your business, so it is a valuable tool for shaping the culture of your business and its long-term growth.

Employee handbooks/manuals are often very dry, cumbersome objects, and as such as missed opportunities for a business to spruik itself to new employees. Here are a few small approaches you can adopt to modernise your employee manual:

1. Market it differently

Invest in presenting your handbook professionally, which means marketing it to your new employees. This includes naming it in a novel or light-hearted way (avoid “Employee Manual” as a title, use language such as “What you need to know about *Company Name* etc.). This doesn’t mean you don’t take the handbook seriously, but instead shows that you place importance on creating a document worth reading.

Your marketing should include the design of the handbook and the use of language (avoiding static corporate words).

A man works in an office

2. Create a mission statement like no other

Mission statements can often be a place where eyelids start to droop. Avoid just pasting in a boilerplate mission statement, but really spend time developing a statement that reflects your business, your goals, your culture and your expectations of yourself and your staff. The mission statement is one of the most powerful pieces of messaging in your employee handbook, and is exported to other areas of the marketing of your business.

3. Promote your business

What are the perks of your business? These can include leave entitlements and culture-related activities and perks. Make sure these are promoted in your employee handbook, promoting the idea of work-life balance within your business.

4. Tailor your policies

Develop policies that are specific to your workplace and the products/services that you offer. An employee could be working for any one of your competitors. What makes yours different? Why should they be excited to work within the policies you have set as a company?

5. Write like the web

An employee manual is a lot like a website. New employees rarely sit down with a glass of wine and a cheeseboard by the fire to really get stuck into your employee manual. They skim it. For this reason, you need to write and design it in a similar way to how content is presented online. Readers online usually read in an F shaped pattern, giving most of their time to the top of the website, looking for clear sections and headings, while giving less time to a page as it continues down. Design your employee manual as much as you can to cater to a skimming reader. This includes using pull quotes to highlight the information you most want to communicate, using headings, stacking the most important information at the top etc.

The benefits of an employee handbook

Code of conduct. One of the greatest benefits to creating an employee handbook, no matter the size of your company, is that you can establish a code of conduct that is representative of how you want your business to function and grow. While it is equally important that your management style (and that of other managers within the business) needs to be consistent rather than filling your handbook with one thousand rules, setting out a simple guide to conduct within your workplace can help new employees fit in more quickly.

Legal coverage. Ensure your employee manual/handbook is read by a legal expert. This can help you in the future in case you need to refer to it in case an employee makes a claim that they weren’t made aware of a specific issue relevant to their dismissal.

Creating the company you want to own. An employee handbook can be a vital tool in shaping the company you want to grow. Employees have a reference for ethical considerations during their tenure with your company, while you have a reference for maintaining the culture within your company.

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