Leadership & Team Management

How To Write An Employee Handbook In 5 Steps

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So, you’ve finally gotten around to hiring a much needed new team member—now it’s time to get them up to speed on their role, and a great way to do that is with an employee handbook.

Why is an employee handbook important, you ask?

Well. Let’s say you’re super excited about this future employee, who crushed their answers to your carefully crafted DPM interview questions.

Unfortunately, their first day comes, and you remember that mind reading is not (yet) a reasonable expectation for staff (even though your clients seem to think it is!) Speaking of your clients, they have been calling you all morning, and your poor new hire is twiddling their thumbs while you mouth I’m sorry’s at them from across the room.

Sorry gif

If only you had a document you could hand your new employee to read in between phone calls!

That’s why an employee handbook is important: it’ll make sure your new hire feels welcome and gets the information they need to get started, even on the most hectic of days.

Read on to learn more about how to make an employee handbook, with examples, a sample outline, and steps for putting yours together.

Employee Handbook - Featured Image

Other Names For Employee Handbook

If the name “employee handbook” doesn’t ring a bell, this document may also be known as:

  • Standard operating procedures
  • Onboarding guide
  • User manual
  • Resource guide
  • Employee training manual or employee manual
  • Company handbook

So, chances are you’ve encountered an employee handbook in some way, shape, or form during your career.

What To Include In An Employee Handbook

The best employee handbooks benefit the entire team, not just new employees. Your team’s employee handbook should:

  • Seamlessly onboard new staff
  • Codify agreed upon procedures that help everyone do their best work
  • Clarify expectations for project success

Creating an employee handbook is useful whether you work at a tiny startup or a large conglomerate. Bigger companies will likely already have policies in place on topics ranging from time reporting to human resources to ethics and compliance. A team-level employee hand book directs staff to company-wide resources but focuses primarily on the standard operating procedures that set your team up for success.

Points To Include In An Employee Handbook

When it comes to writing an employee handbook, no magic formula exists—you should do what works for your team! But, as a starting point, consider including the following information:

  • Onboarding procedures. What should new hires do on their first day? In their first week? Within their first 90 days? Include guidance on topics ranging from IT needs to training requirements to professional development objectives.
  • A reference to company-wide policies or resources. Rather than regurgitating information that may already exist elsewhere, reference existing company policies for topics pertinent to your team. This may include telework, time reporting, or dress code policies, for example. If you don’t have company-wide policies that you can reference, engage an HR expert to help you write them!
  • Project initiation document. Create a 1-2 page overview of the project(s) your team works on. If your projects change frequently, you might want to include profiles on your clients instead. You can always supplement these snapshot documents with additional background materials, but I find that keeping things short and sweet makes it more likely that staff will: a) read the document and b) retain the information.
  • Information on tools that the team likes to use. If there is something specific that everyone uses, document it! Examples of tools might include a communication platform, or a file sharing repository.
  • Quality assurance/style guide. Be loud and proud about where your team stands on the oxford comma debate! A QA guide provides a one-stop shop for employees to reference ahead of deliverable submission.
  • Offboarding procedures. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve scrambled to figure out something as mundane as how to transfer an employee’s files on their last day. Do yourself a favor, and put the onus on the employee to figure out what to offload. On their last day, you can run through the checklist without feeling like you’ve forgotten anything.

I've got a lot of things on my mind gif

  • Team capabilities. Profiles on each of your team members, including information about their background, role(s) on the team, and what they like to do outside of work
  • A “user’s manual” for managers. To help new employees understand how to work with their managers, include information on managers’ personality type (e.g., MBTI, Clifton StrengthsFinder) and preferred working style. For flat organizations, you could consider taking this one step further by asking each of your team members to develop a “user’s manual” as part of their capability profile.

What Else To Include?

When deciding what additional content to include in an employee handbook, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What information would you have found helpful on your first day?
  • If you left the organization tomorrow, what knowledge would leave with you?
  • What would make you want to read this document? Maybe it’s a creative title, glossy cover, or personalized stories.
  • In addition to providing administrative information, a useful employee handbook should also promote team cohesion and enhance performance. What makes your team successful now, and what information would help your team be successful in the future?

Employee Handbook Examples

Here’s some creative employee handbook examples to give you ideas for building yours.

1. Trello’s Employee Handbook

Trello conveniently uses its own Kanban task management system to host its employee handbook. In this example, different parts of the company’s policies are organized into columns, including a column for employees to get started called “On Your First Day”.

Trello board employee handbook screenshot

Trello conveniently uses its own Kanban task management system to host its employee handbook.

2. Netflix’s Cultural Reference Guide

Netflix provides their employees with slides that detail the important aspects of the company’s culture and the behavior they look for in each employee.

It’s over 100 slides long, but it benefits from a very simple design and reads quickly.

Netflix employee handbook presentation screenshot

Netflix provides their employees with slides that detail the important aspects of the company’s culture and the behavior they look for in each employee.

3. Sterling Mining Co’s Online One-Pager

Sterling Mining Co. proves that an employee handbook doesn’t have to be a handbook—nor does it have to be a document stuffed with words. Have a look at their creative, refreshing onboarding page that’s simply a scrolling one-pager that employees can find online.

It includes images, graphics, and some straightforward answers to common questions that address the things new employees wonder about first, such as, “What do people wear?” and “When do I get paid?”.

Sterling Mining Co employee handbook example

Sterling Mining Co. proves that an employee handbook doesn’t have to be a handbook—nor does it have to be a document stuffed with words.

How To Write An Employee Handbook In 5 Steps

OK, so now that you know what an employee handbook is and what needs to go into it, you’re probably thinking…”Yeah, when am I going to find time to write this thing?”

Let’s face it…greasing the wheels of our internal operations is never a high priority when clients are calling—there are always fires to put out. I’ve simplified the process of putting together an employee handbook—here’s how to write an employee handbook in just 5 steps:

  1. Start with an outline. Decide what you want to include in an employee handbook and create an outline of the relevant sections. Start with a sample outline from your friends at DPM, and you’re practically done. If you’re more of a visual thinker, starting with a blank canvas and using a mind mapping software could help—and it also makes it easy to present your ideas to your team in the next step.
  2. Share the outline with other team members to get feedback. At your next team meeting, allocate 15 minutes to review the outline and collect feedback on what additional content to include.
  3. Fill in the blanks. Now comes the hard part—populating the sections of your outline. But, this doesn’t have to be as hard as you think if you divide and conquer. Your most recent hire can write up the team onboarding procedures. Next time you have a deliverable due, assign a team member to document the QA steps they are following while they are doing it. When you piece it apart and work on it over time, it feels less like extra work (and don’t be afraid to bill this time to your client, who is going to benefit from receiving a better product). Finally, draw upon external content as much as possible. For example, when crafting your team capabilities, it could be as easy as linking to the person’s LinkedIn profile. That way, all employees have to do is list their role, three hobbies outside of work, and their MBTI info. Boom, done.
  4. Remember that done is better than perfect. Set a goal to have version 1 done in a month. Who cares if it’s not the greatest invention since sliced bread? Adopt an agile approach to getting a minimum viable product out the door, and then iterate over time.
  5. Promote the product. Make sure everyone knows where the handbook lives, and identify who is responsible for making sure that new hires receive a copy on their first day. This could be the hiring manager, onboarding buddy, or HR specialist.

What To Avoid When Writing An Employee Handbook

We’ve covered what content should be part of an employee handbook and what steps you need to follow to write one. But, what potential pitfalls should you keep in mind when deciding how to make an employee handbook? The table below lists some common issues that arise when drafting an employee handbook, solutions to addressing these issues, and the benefits:

 

IssueSolutionBenefits
No one finds the handbook useful (except you)Engage the entire team to develop the employee handbook
  • The team feels a sense of ownership over the document and is invested in improving the product
  • If no one finds the handbook helpful after this exercise, then you’ll know you don’t need one!
No one updates the handbook. By the time a new hire starts, the document is no longer useful.
  • Task your new hire to update the handbook as part of their onboarding (include these instructions in the handbook itself, so you don’t forget!)
  • The new hire should also be responsible for getting the team to update their capability profiles
  • The team updates the handbook on a periodic basis with minimal impact to client delivery
  • It gives the new hire something to do when they are first starting!

Employee Handbook Sample Outline

  1. Introduction
    1. Welcome your new employee to your amazing team!
  2. Onboarding procedures
    1. HR requirements (details about the employment relationship, tax information, benefits, workers compensation, family medical leave, vacation time, paid time, working hours, laws and regulations, etc.)
    2. Professional code of conduct and expectations
    3. References to relevant company policies (e.g., telework, dress code, time reporting, expense reporting,  when employees can expect performance reviews)
    4. Required training
    5. IT needs (how to set up laptop, phone, etc.)
  3. Team orientation
    1. Staff capabilities
    2. Overview of project portfolio/project initiation document(s)
    3. User manual for managers/employees
  4. Quality assurance
    1. Overview of team software/tools and expectations for use (e.g., instant messaging platforms and protocols, how to craft an email out of office message)
    2. Team quality assurance best practices
    3. Required deliverable formats/templates
    4. Style guide
  5. Offboarding procedures (Introduce this section positively. Employees may not be leaving the company; they may be transitioning to a new assignment or changing roles)
    1. HR requirements (tax information, benefits, etc.)
    2. IT needs (how, when, and where to turn in company equipment)
    3. File transfer procedures

Any Employee Handbook Tips?

Have you developed or used a company employee handbook that works for you? What content does it include? How has it benefited your team? Let us know in the comments!

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Sarah Hoban

Sarah Hoban

Sarah is a PMP-certified project/program manager and strategy consultant with 10 years of experience directing complex multi-million dollar projects and leading diverse global teams. Passionate about being resilient in the face of uncertainty, her career has focused (sometimes stealthily) on incorporating project management techniques to improve organizational business processes. Sarah is a project management thought leader and author of a weekly blog and podcast, The Stealthy Project Manager, focused on project management and productivity.

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