How to Write an Employee Handbook [Examples + Tips]

By Victoria Clarke, Sep 25, 2019

Employee handbook templates blog header

Starting a new position in a new company can often seem overwhelming, with lots of new faces, information, and policies to learn.

But providing your new hires with an employee handbook early on in their employment (think: first day) is a great way to make sure that the employee has all of the necessary information and also has a resource to constantly refer back to if they have any questions.

Employee Handbook example booklet

An employee handbook is the Holy Grail of your company. It contains everything about everything that anybody might need to know about working within your organization. It’s basically your company’s “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”.

While you might not include an entire section about towels, your employee handbook is one hundred percent your “Don’t Panic” document.

If you’re creating your very first employee handbook, or updating your existing one, read on. I’ll explain what you should include in your handbook, along with some employee handbook best practices and design tips. I’ve also included premade employee handbook templates and lots of employee handbook examples.

Everything you need to know about employee handbooks (click to jump ahead to each section):

 

What is an employee handbook?

An employee handbook is a document created by an employer (often the Human Resources team) to communicate employment and job-related information that employees must know. Sometimes known as an “employee manual”, “staff handbook”, “company policy manual” or even a “culture code”, employee handbooks are given to new hires after their acceptance of an offer letter.

Employee handbooks are a human resources essential, alongside HR reports, performance reviews, and incident reports, so it’s important to get right.

Grammar well employee handbook template


 

What is the difference between an employee handbook and a policy manual?

Employee handbooks and policy manuals can seem similar, but they are two very different things. An employee handbook tells your employees what to expect, and should be written in easy to understand language. A policy manual, on the other hand, is a document that tells your employees how to do things, and may include more technical information.

For example, in your employee handbook you will tell your employees that they can work remotely for one month each (one of the perks at Venngage!), but you don’t need to outline the nitty gritty details in your handbook. You should save the practical information such as how to request for your remote month, and what the working remotely expectations are, in the policy manual.

The information in your employee handbook should match the information in your policy manual, but it should be a taster rather than the complete policy. Think of your policy manual as your terms and conditions document.

Do I need an employee handbook?

If you haven’t devoted the time to writing and designing an employee handbook yet–you’re likely not the only one. New and small businesses in particular often neglect to produce an employee handbook. But as your company grows, it’s helpful to create a central space for all of your processes and policies to live early on.

Employee handbooks are incredibly effective in maintaining a positive workplace culture and integrating newcomers into the team. An employee handbook sets clear expectations for all employees to ensure everyone within the organization can remain on the same page. In doing so, employee handbooks help to establish a culture where issues can be dealt with fairly and consistently.

y media co blue block employee handbook template


 

An employee handbook not only serves your new staff, but your old staff as well. At all levels and stages within your company, employee handbooks can be beneficial. As mentioned, handbooks can provide newcomers with an introduction to your company and its internal structure.

Employee handbooks can paint a clear understanding of what their supervisors expect of them. They can ensure that policies, procedures and working practices are enforced fairly and rigorously, thus eliminating confusion and misalignment within your team.

Handbooks can be a handy tool for your company to show how important your employees are to you–this is displayed through the information you deem as important in your manual (think support initiatives and inclusivity efforts).

Lastly, handbooks operate as an information communication vehicle to facilitate the integration of employees within the company while committing to fostering a feeling of belonging across teams.

muted grey modern employee handbook template


 

What is included in an employee handbook?

Employee handbooks typically include three categories of content:.

  1. General information including items such as your company’s mission statement, core values, policy summaries and more.
  2. Cultural information including items such as the vacation time, company perks, holiday schedules dress code, etc.
  3. Case-specific information including items such as company policies, disciplinary and grievance procedures, etc.

Every company will have different needs, but here is an overview of what you should include in a standard employee handbook:

  • Welcome Message From the Company
  • Company History
  • Company Vision and mission
  • Company policies
  • Office information and main office contact details
  • Employee benefits information

icon employee handbook template
 

What should be included in an employee handbook will vary by company depending on the company size and industry. If you are a large organization with hundreds of employees, your employee handbook will likely be much larger and thorough than the employee handbook distributed within smaller and/or less bureaucratic companies.

That being said, writing a great employee handbook relies on a thorough understanding of the company and its culture.

No matter the organization, most employee handbooks should cover these topics:

  1. Company culture
  2. Values and the mission statement
  3. Human resource and legal information
  4. Processes and procedures
  5. Company policies including vacation time, sick days, bullying and harassment, etc.

An employee handbook is primarily an employee facing document, so this is the ideal place to outline your employees rights and obligations related to employment but in plain English instead of the legal-jargon native to contracts.

employee handbook example wooden background

How do I write an employee handbook?

Click to skip ahead to each section:
Step 1: Write the outline of your employee handbook
Step 2: Design your employee handbook using a template
Step 3: Compile all of the information you have gathered into your employee handbook
Step 4: Share your finished employee handbook

If you’re creating an employee handbook for the first time, it can be beneficial to speak to members of senior management. Ask them what they think the most important thing to communicate to new hires would be. Making sure everybody is on the same page about expectations, policies, and culture from the beginning is a great way to kickstart the onboarding process.

modern employee handbook template


 

Step 1: Write the outline of your employee handbook

Every great employee handbook starts with a great outline. Make sure you take the time to preplan to contents of your employee handbook before diving in. This will ensure you include all necessary materials to make your handbook effective.

Employee handbook template mock up
 

Employee handbooks are truly a choose your own adventure–no one size fits all scenario. Though the information included in every employee handbook fit into a set of common categories, the depth that companies will go into within each category is dependent on various factors such as company size, company industry, company location(s), company culture, etc.

See below for examples on what to include in your employee handbook. Feel free to pick and choose which topics are most relevant to your business, or go all the way and include the whole package.

General Information
  • Introduction and Purpose of the Handbook
  • Welcome Message From the Company
  • Company History
  • Company Vision
  • Company Mission
  • Company Values
  • Company Goals
  • Company Commitment to Employees
  • Code of Conduct
  • Non-solicitation Policy
  • Confidentiality Agreement
  • Non-compete Agreement
  • Employee Handbook Disclaimer
  • Employee Signoff Signifying Receipt and Acknowledgement that he/she understands and will abide by the contents included
Cultural Information
  • Dress Code
  • Working Hours and Overtime
  • Break and Lunch Periods
  • Attendance Expectations and Policy
  • Smoke-Free Workplace
  • Parking
  • Workplace Visitors
  • Payroll Information
  • Health Insurance
  • Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
  • Education Assistance
  • Expense Reimbursement
  • Stock Options
  • Employee Discounts
  • Holiday Schedule (Paid Holidays)
  • Company Social Events
  • Pets in the Workplace Policy
  • Vacation Time
  • Sick Days
  • Personal Days
  • Work from Home Policy
  • Flexible Work Hours Policy
  • Use of Company Equipment and Electronics
  • Performance Expectations and Evaluation
  • Retirement Plans
  • Bonuses 
Case-Specific Information
  • Equal Employment Opportunity Policy
  • Accommodation For People with Disabilities
  • Internal Employee Application Process
  • Promotions
  • Open Door Policy
  • Access to Personnel Records
  • Harassment and Discrimination Policy
  • Harassment and Discrimination Reporting Procedure
  • Harassment Investigation Process
  • Health and Safety Policy
  • Joint Health and Safety Committee Information
  • Office Romances: Fraternization Policy
  • Severe Weather and Emergency Closings
  • Telecommuting Policy
  • Drugs and Alcohol Policy
  • Workplace Violence
  • Weapons at Work
  • Conflicts of Interest
  • Accepting and Giving Entertainment of Gifts
  • Travel for Business Policy
  • Mileage Reimbursement
  • Maternity/Parental Leave Polic
  • Bereavement Leave
  • Jury Duty
  • Family and Medical Leave
  • Sick Leave
  • Monitoring in the Workplace
  • Employee Conduct and Performance Disciplinary Process
  • Complaint Procedure
  • Employment Termination
  • Emergency Procedures
  • First Aid Kit 

Employee handbook example content infographic

Once you have selected what to include, you can lay out a table of contents. This will help guide the rest of your employee handbook, and make sure that you don’t miss anything. A table of contents is also a great way for your employees to quickly skip to a section.

Step 2: Design your employee handbook using a template

Next you need to pick a design style for your employee handbook. Some larger organizations will have an in house design team, but if you’re faced with designing the company employee handbook by yourself a premade template can be a great place to start.

Venngage offers a variety of fully customizable employee handbook templates for you to use.

employee handboook template coffee business


 

Here are some employee handbook design top tips:

1. Present information visually whenever you can

Use icons, images, tables, illustrations, graphs and charts in your employee handbook to break up your content to make it engaging and interesting to look at. These elements will keep your readers engaged and enticed by the materials included.

You can use this to emphasize important information that you want your audience to pay special attention to. In this employee handbook example icons have been used to help show new employees what they can expect on their first day at the company.

employee handbook template coffee icons


 

Using visuals also helps retain your readers attention. An employee handbook contains so much information that it can be quite overwhelming, so avoid large blocks of text whenever possible.

New to graphic design and not sure how to effectively use icons? Watch: Everything you need to know about icons (in less than 3 minutes)

2. Use consistent branding in your employee handbook

Consistent design is key for creating professional branded internal comms documents. When creating an employee handbook you’re providing new employees with a taste of the company and its culture – so it’s especially important that you use your company brand guidelines.

With the Venngage My Brand Kit tool, Business users can upload their company fonts, color palettes, and logos and see them instantly applied to their employee handbook template.

Venngage employee handbook screenshot 

3. Pick a color palette that represents your business

Color psychology is something you might not have heard of, but will have certainly experienced. Just as some colors like red and orange feel warm to us, they also feel friendly and welcoming. Blues and greens can feel cool or serene.

It’s important that the colors you use in your employee handbook reflect your organization and your company culture. In this example the color palette is very simple, just whites, greys, and a pop of green, which looks modern and clean.

Modern employee handbook template inside page
 

4. Make use of bold headers in your employee handbook

Your employee handbook should be an evergreen resource within your company, with employees referring back to it regularly. But when your employees check back in with your employee handbook they are likely to be looking for a specific piece of information.

Help your employees locate the information they need quicker by making use of headers and subheaders within your employee handbook.

Some best practice tips for using headers:

  • Make your headers as descriptive as possible
  • Make the header a different color to help it stand out
  • Use a clear, readable font for the header – this doesn’t necessarily need to be the same font that you use for the body text 

5. Use lists, columns, and break out boxes to communicate important information clearly

Avoid creating the dreaded ‘wall of text’ in your employee handbook by breaking up the text into lists, columns or boxes. Columns are a great way to keep readers engaged in your writing. Our brain loves lists for a lot of different reasons (this New Yorker article is a good round up!), so make sure that you break down complicated information into easy to manage chunks.

A break out box is an excellent way to highlight the most important information on a page. In many employee handbook examples, such as this one, the key policy dates or whatever are highlighted in a box that is a different color. This tells your employees that this information is important, but it also makes it easier for employees to find.

Venngage employee handbook example break out box

Step 3: Compile all of the information you have gathered into your employee handbook

employee handbook template gradient


 

Once you have picked a design style and have your outline and information locked down you can start to pull together your employee handbook. Using your table of contents, create a blank page in your document for each section and add the section header (check the employee handbook example below). This will help you visualize the structure of the employee handbook you are making.

Venngage employee handbook example letter blank page

The information should be communicated and displayed in a clear and easy to follow format. The terminology should be familiar to your audience and easy to understand. If there is complex information, consider adding a glossary to define concepts or terms. Make sure your table of contents is also clearly laid out.

Venngage employee handbook example table of contents PM

Go through your blank employee handbook filling out information and adding sections. Some people prefer to work methodically writing pages from start to finish, whereas others prefer to jump about adding information as it enters their brain.

A good way to make sure you don’t miss anything is to use colors to indicate when a section still needs work, like in this employee handbook example:

Employee handbook template in progress handbook example

Once you have an employee handbook first draft you may want to share it with other people within your company for feedback. If you’re a Venngage Business user, other people in your team can leave comments directly on the document using the private share link – making team collaboration so much easier.

Employee handbook template Venngage comment mode

Step 4: Share your finished employee handbook

Post the handbook in various locations. It is important to ensure the employee handbook is easy to find for everyone. Ours is included in all employment offer letters, in the onboarding process and pinned on Slack.

pinned employee handbook example slack

You could also email a copy to your staff and have hard copies around the office, just be sure to keep everyone updated when you update the handbook. To make keeping track of most current copies, you could use a version code for your handbooks.

You could even create your employee handbook as an interactive PDF and interlink between documents and websites, to make it easy for your employees to find all of the specific documents and sites that you reference within the handbook.

How often should you update your employee handbook?

Employers should not underestimate the value of maintaining the employee handbook. Maintaining that the employee manual is accurate and up-to-date is essential in ensuring your employees are well-informed of policies and procedures and that your business is achieving the cultural benefits of having an employee handbook in the first place.

If your business fails to keep your employee handbook updated to reflect necessary changes, it can place your business at risk of cultural disruption and worse, litigation.

venngage employee handbook example grey

Put simply, you should update your employee handbook every time something within your workplace changes. Companies should review their employee manual annually at the very least to ensure it is reflective of society’s unavoidable changes.

Every year, businesses should schedule a time to sit down and consider how your jurisdiction and industry has changed in the past year to determine if your policies are still current, how they can be updated and what policies need to be added.

Items can change for an overwhelming amount of reasons.

Some common instances that could lead to a necessary update in your employee handbook include:

  • Laws change
  • Technological advances
  • Expansion of your business
  • Company changes
  • Personnel changes

Beyond the importance of protecting your company from litigation, your handbook says a lot about the culture and expectations of your business, for new and old employees alike. Keeping your employee handbook up to date is critical to the well-being of your company.

Browse all of our employee handbook templates.

Employee Handbook Examples

Ready to get started creating your employee handbook? Check out these handbook examples for inspiration:

Pick one design accent when creating an employee handbook

grey triangle employee handbook template


 

Less is always more in design, and your employee handbook should be no different. Pick one or two design elements to incorporate throughout your pages. In this employee handbook example dark grey triangles and green accent elements have been used throughout, creating a modern but eye catching design.

Use your employee handbook to introduce new starters to your company culture

houston employee handbook example

Source

Houston took a comedic approach to their employee handbook with witty text telling their new employees “it will be ok”. This approach might not work for everybody, but if your company prides itself on its wit, sarcasm, and tongue in cheek approach to communications then this could work for you.

Create custom illustrations easily with icons (perfect for non profit employee handbooks, and employee handbooks for small businesses!)

employee handbook template example icon example

 

If your company would like to create a custom illustration but you don’t have budget, a really simple way to do so is to layer icons on top of each other to create a scene. In this employee handbook example various icons have been used to create a living room scene such as an arm chair and a coffee table.

Using icons in this way is great for non profits and small businesses as you can customize the scene in any way you like!

Use a variety of fonts within your employee handbook

starbucks employee handbook example

Source

Mix and match fonts within your employee handbook to create an interesting design, like in this Starbucks employee handbook example. By using one font for the headings, another for the subheadings, and a third for the body (main) text the handbook design is interesting without being overwhelming.

Using fonts like a pro can seem overwhelming but just remember: Most decorative to least decorative = headers to body.

employee handbook template header example

Of course if you have brand fonts it is important to use them. Using consistent fonts across your brand is one of the easiest ways to create professional looking designs.

Learn more about picking and using brand fonts

Be concise when creating an employee handbook

modern tech employee handbook template


 

Your employee handbook is likely one of the longest documents you’ll create and whilst it’s important to include a lot of information, it’s also important to make sure you don’t waffle on. Keep your paragraphs short and concise, use simple language, and write in plain English.

In this employee handbook example the paragraphs are brief and written simply, so that everybody can understand the information being shared.

Keep your employees in mind whilst writing your employee handbook

Blackberry employee handbook example

Source

There is a lot of information that employees need to know when starting a new company. Where to sit, what happens at lunch, illness and vacation policies. But we’ve all been there on the first day of a new job, overwhelmed by new information.

Keep your employees in mind by highlighting the most important information foremost. Ask yourself, what would my new starter find the most helpful right now?

In this employee handbook example an entire page has been dedicated to what to expect on the employees first day. This allows the new starter to know exactly what to expect immediately without being overwhelmed with information.

pastel color employee handbook template

 

Inspired by these employee handbook examples? Browse the Venngage employee handbook templates and get started creating your handbook today.

More Human Resources Design Guides:

140+ New HR Trends & Stats For 2019
17 Essential Human Resources Poster Templates (Updated)
12 Effective Performance Review Examples [+ Tips From an HR Manager]

About Victoria Clarke

Victoria Clarke is the People & Culture Manager at Venngage. Driven by a passion for inclusivity, finding the best talent and creating engaging work environments, Victoria thrives by empowering high-performance teams. Connect with her on LinkedIn!