What to Include in an Employee Handbook
If you have a supervisory role in a firm, chances are you have handed your employees a staff handbook when they first joined. Have you ever wondered what is in it or why you even have to deliver it to employees? Employee handbook, employee manual, staff handbook – they go by many names, but they are all the same thing.
It is the very first document a new recruit will receive from their employer on their first day of the job. It contains information of the company policies and procedures and conveys the company culture. It effectively communicates everything that is great about your company and the processes and procedures that occur in your firm.
The handbook details the company history, current operations, working hours of your position, medical and annual paid leave policies, list of benefits, and a slew of other things we will address in this guide. When employees know what is happening behind the scenes, then they never feel overwhelmed by working at any organization.
Poor employee handbooks are usually written in a complex style that is too formal and deceptively difficult to understand with too much jargon. On the other hand, a well-written employee handbook has a more casual tone that is user-friendly and with no ambiguity, making it easier to understand.
While this particular guide will not focus so much on the style and manner of the writing rather than the actual content of the handbook, we will address the writing style when we provide examples for each of the sections. Therefore, this guide will primarily encompass the actual content of an employee handbook and highlight how to write them.
We have compiled a long list of sections a good employee handbook should mention in order to cover all bases and bring an employee up to speed on everything. This is a general structure of an employee handbook that can be used across all industries, since they must abide by certain rules and regulations and guarantee certain things.
Anything specific to an industry will need to be considered separately. The order in which they have been listed here should also be followed when writing your own employee manual.
Often overlooked by many smaller firms, every employee handbook must include a disclaimer at the very beginning. While it may not be the very first thing most people think of when reading a staff handbook, this is a quintessential segment to ensure complications do not arise in the future.
By including a disclaimer, you are protecting yourself from litigation in the case an employee decides to bring it up for reference later on if an employment problem arises. It is always placed in the introduction of the manual. You may forget to incorporate the other topics mentioned in this guide, but you should never omit the disclaimer.
The disclaimer should clearly state that the employee manual is by no means a legal, binding job contract. They are two entirely different entities and should be treated as such. An employee manual does not guarantee continuous employment and it should clearly express the “at-will employment” nature.
The following points are examples of disclaimers to include that protect the company.
“This handbook only contains general information and guidelines. It is not a binding, legal contract and does not act as a contractual right to remain employed at the company.”
“Your employment may be terminated at any time at the discretion of the company. Likewise, you are able to resign at any time.”
By stating these disclaimers, you are preventing terminated employees from suing you in the future for a breach of contract. Since you have stated that the employee manual is NOT a job contract, there are no legal grounds for litigation based on the manual.
This is the first big section of an employee handbook. We would argue that it is in fact the longest and most detailed section of the handbook. It is composed of several sub-sections, like the company’s mission and vision, history, culture, and current state of affairs.
Some of these things may be perceived as a refresher for new recruits who have already read about the company during their application process.
However, these must be restated to instill the company’s ideals and beliefs into their minds to get them onboard and in harmony from day one.
Company Mission and Vision Statements
Why do we do what we do? What are our goals?
These are some questions that every organization has to answer in order to successfully achieve what it sets out to do. Otherwise, the company will crumble from a lack of aim and purpose.
Every company has a mission statement that states the firm’s goals, agendas, and philosophies. Likewise, every company also has a vision statement that says where the company intends to head in the future.
By informing your employees of the organization’s mission and vision, you are showing and teaching them what they need to do to become successful in your company – a sense of direction and purpose.
A brief and succinct statement that expresses what the company does and why it exists. It communicates the purpose of the firm. Why are we in this business? A good mission statement should answer three key questions:
- Who is your target customer? (Key Markets)
- What products or services do we provide to customers? (Contribution)
- What makes our products or services unique? (Distinction)
A mission statement describes an organization’s function, markets, and competitive advantage. It plays a major role in a firm’s strategic planning. Studies have shown that when employees know precisely what their product or service is, who it is for, and what makes it special, then they are able to perform at their highest level. It should not be complex, rather very direct and accurate.
Ever wondered why so many mission statements are totally non-sense. Here’s why.
We have provided a couple of examples of good mission statements.
“To inspire and nurture the human spirit one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time” – Starbucks
“To refresh the world, to inspire moments of optimism and happiness, to create value and make a difference” – Coca-Cola Corporation
“We will market the most appealing and widely worn casual clothing in the world. We will clothe the world.” – Levi’s Strauss and Co.
A statement outlining the company’s roadmap. It expresses where the firm sees itself in the future and what it hopes and intends to accomplish by then. Where do we see ourselves in the future?
A good vision statement is able to tell employees what the objectives and goals of the corporation are. It must clearly and concisely declare where the company will reach after a certain number of years.
By using foresight and statistical data, it is certainly possible to roughly estimate where you see yourself as a company in the future. Unlike a mission statement that talks about the operations and uniqueness of the company, a vision statement describes where the organization will be in the future.
Every company has hopes and dreams. All of them start small, yet they aspire to accomplish big things. If you are successfully able to convey this message to your employees, then they will acquire a sense of purpose and meaning in their work.
We have listed a few good examples of vision statements.
“Our vision is to be the most customer-centric company on the planet; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they want to buy online” – Amazon
“Empower people through great software anytime, anywhere, on any device” – Microsoft
“We envision a world where everybody leads better lives because of us.” – IKEA
When discussing the company’s mission and vision statements, it must always be in the context of the organization’s early beginnings. The history of the company should be described to new employees to put the mission and vision into context. It provides a reference point for everybody in the company, to remind them what the company was in the past in relation to what it is now and how that shapes what and where it wants to be in the future.
Organizations, especially large corporations, once had humble beginnings. Businesses like Toyota, Apple, Walmart, and Sony are household names now and raking in billions of dollars in revenue annually, but there was a time when they were not even a blip on the radar.
Your company was in such a situation, too, but you are now in a place that you can be proud of. That is a story worth telling, a story of success. New recruits, especially the younger ones, may lack a certain amount of confidence to achieve their goals. Describing how a small firm can grow and accomplish many things will spark genuine interest in all employees at the firm and show them that in fact anything is possible with hard work and perseverance.
Talking about the founders and how they toiled day in and day out will give employees a sense of the company’s culture and work ethic. Mentioning all of their little accomplishments along the way to present day will put things into perspective for employees.
This will convince new recruits that they can also achieve their ambitious goals if they reach their milestones. There is no need to go into extensive detail, but telling a short story will inspire employees to come to work.
Corporate culture, or working culture, is the collection of shared values, attitudes, standards, and beliefs that characterize the members of a company and define its structure.
Different companies in various industries across the globe operate in different ways. In some companies, the communication channels are very flat and horizontal, promoting equality amongst the ranks. In other companies, there is a clearly defined hierarchy and vertical structure, with individuals in higher-ranking positions always making the decisions.
Communication is the most important part of working at a company with other professionals, so stating clearly how communication is conducted between individuals will help employees fit in and adapt. Many new recruits are uncertain how to interact with their colleagues without overstepping any boundaries and presenting themselves as disrespectful.
Clearly defining your organization’s working culture in terms of communication, teamwork, and leadership styles will aid them in learning to quickly fit in.
We have compiled a couple of some well-written culture statements.
“We work together within a team environment of mutual respect, honesty, and integrity.”
“We approach our craft with a proactive, positive, and enthusiastic attitude and maintain an open environment where creativity and curiosity are encouraged.”
Learn from Hubspot why your company culture is super important for business success.
Current Operations and Statistics
All employees should know what the company is currently doing and how it fairing in its respective sector. If your company happens to be a tech firm, figures such as annual revenue and number of patents issued play a key role in determining success. Market share of the products in various sectors should also be stated.
For other industries, relevant and important figures should be stated in the handbook. Employees should be informed of such statistics so that they know the company’s current success levels.
An organizational chart depicting the entire structure of the company will help employees understand how the company operates between the various departments. This will make even a very large and complex organization very easy to navigate. Your job as an employer in a supervisory role is to make the employees feel at home. Describing everything about the company will help them get acquainted with their corporate family.
Typical figures to include in an employee handbook are:
- the number of employees working at the firm
- the number of locations around the world
- a detailed list of the products and services being offered
An employee handbook should explicitly detail the general working hours for all employees at the company. You want to describe the provisions for both part-time and full-time working hours to your employees. Clearly defining them will help the employees understand and structure their workweek accordingly.
The employee handbook should explicitly state that while there is a consensus for the typical working hours of employees, your job contract will specifically state your working hours for your given position. This will help clear any confusion for those employees who are not in either the part-time or full-time categories, but rather working on a contractual basis or as a consultant.
If your company promotes flexible working hours to allow staff to balance their work and home life, then this should definitely be incorporated in the employee manual. It will give your employees a peace of mind that their work-life balance is being taken into consideration by their employer.
Here are some statements that can be made in this regard.
“A full-time position in this company is defined as a 40-hour workweek and a part-time position is defined as a 20-hour workweek (excluding time for meals).”
“This company wants its employees to be able to deliver maximum output in any way they feel comfortable, so we provide flexible working hours and telecommuting options for those who thrive more in non-traditional working hours.”
CODE OF PROFESSIONAL CONDUCT
As an employer, you must state the policies and procedures of the company for a variety of issues in order to establish professionalism and maintain your company’s sense of culture and ethics. For some industries, this may include a dress code where employees must wear a particular outfit to represent the firm.
Other aspects to consider are discipline and behavior, especially pertaining to sexual harassment as well as racial and gender discrimination. To establish a safe and fair working environment for all employees, these things should be described in detail. You want to be a progressive company, not a regressive one.
Conflict resolution is another matter that should definitely be addressed because you never know when a bicker between employees escalates and gets out of hand.
It is wise to include a paragraph of general professional conduct that is expected of employees at your company. It may go something like this:
“This company expects its employees to adhere to a standard of professional conduct, integrity, and dignity. This ensures that the work environment is safe, comfortable, and productive to everybody. Employees should be respectful, courteous, and mindful of other’s feelings and needs. Cooperation between coworkers is expected. Individuals who are deemed to act in an unprofessional manner may be subject to disciplinary action.”
The clothes that your employees wear is a reflection of the company’s working ethic and style.
For instance, consider a law firm. They represent clients in a variety of cases and must always be very professional in the way they speak and in the way they present themselves. Lawyers must wear formal business attire, dark-colored suits with a white shirt and a matching tie, to convey their sense of professionalism and seriousness.
On the other hand, an up-and-coming tech startup will have a different approach. They prioritize open-mindedness and creativity above all else, and one of the ways the company creates that working environment is by letting employees wear casual clothing. Business casual is their go-to outfit, even for the founders who happen to be very young.
Depending on your industry and company’s desired image, you will need to set specific requirements on what employees should wear to work. Mentioning what employees can and cannot wear will make it easier for them to decide what their working outfit will be. In an industrial workplace like a manufacturing plant, you must specify what safety equipment they must wear in order to prevent any harm.
This is how you dress up for a job interview.
Anti-Harassment and Anti-Discrimination Policies
You must explicitly state that your organization is an equal opportunity company, allowing people from all sorts of backgrounds to express themselves and work with no reservations.
Being able to create a diverse and open-minded working environment will put everybody at ease and let them know that they never need to feel concerned about being who they are.
A good statement to include in your manual is given below.
“This company is an equal opportunity employer, prohibiting discrimination and harassment against individuals based on their race, color, religion, sexual orientation, gender, nationality, age, and disability. We want everyone to feel welcome and at home while working here. Every individual has the right to work in a professional atmosphere free from such malpractices.”
To be more specific, it would be wise to incorporate definitions of harassment and discrimination, to inform employees of what is deemed as inappropriate behavior at your company.
Exemplifying them will help elucidate the matter. In case any scenario does arise, it is best to give the contact information of someone they can report to.
When working in a large team with numerous people, you are bound to eventually butt heads with someone who has a different view than you. You may work at the same company in the same team, but you are entitled to your own opinions and approaches to business strategies.
Oftentimes, what starts as bickering between employees escalates to something out of control and a conflict ensues. Your company needs to lay down the ground rules of how to approach such scenarios.
Rather than continuing to quarrel and putting everyone in the team under stress and anxiety, it would be much more productive for employees to report to their immediate supervisors who can talk to them to settle things. Communication should always be polite and respectful and personal attacks are not justified in any company.
By resolving the conflict amongst individuals with the help of supervisors, it will be possible to reestablish a positive working environment where people are allowed to express their ideas.
USE OF TECHNOLOGY
We live in an era where everybody is connected at all times and have access to information right in their pockets. While this does sound like a positive thing, studies have shown that it can be a distraction in the workplace and an impediment to productivity and efficiency.
If your employees’ jobs entail a lot of work on the computer, then the company needs to take measures to inhibit internet access. The internet is necessary to get some work done, so it will not be banned but it will be limited. The company’s network needs to ban the use of social media platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, as well as video streaming sites such as YouTube.
It is very normal to monitor online behavior in an office, so even the email should be checked at all times to ensure no private information is being sent to unwanted people. Employees found to have broken this rule and who have found alternative means to bypass these restrictions will receive punishment as per the laws of the organization.
A short discussion on the pros and cons of tracking workers online behavior.
Every employee handbook must outline the attendance regulations. Your company’s manual needs to explain what constitutes as late and absent, too. Although the work schedule and working hours have been stated in a previous section, you need to state what happens to an employee’s salary if they are frequently late or absent for some days. There needs to be a systematic approach and breakdown of the salary deduction in such scenarios.
Considerations can be made if employees let their employers know in advance that they are running late or not able to report to office. A notice beforehand goes a long way to help the office deal with the operations of the day. No notice whatsoever is very detrimental and unprofessional, and will be noted in performance evaluations.
In addition to late arrivals and absences, your company should also address the issue of an early leave. If it is found out that an employee has left office early without finishing their assigned work, then disciplinary action will be taken. However, there are exceptions that can be made. In case of emergencies or a health related issue, employees are allowed to leave early to tend to their situation.
Here is a statement your employee handbook could include regarding attendance policies:
“This company does not tolerate unauthorized late arrivals, absences, and early leaves. If you are unable to attend work due to sickness or any other personal issue, you must inform your supervisor before the start of the working day to inform them of this. In case of a late arrival, let them know at what time you will be at the office and in case of an absence, notify them on which date you will be back at the office. Employees who need to leave early due to an emergency should notify their supervisor. We are very understanding in the personal matters of our employees. All we ask for is a notification beforehand.”
MEDICAL AND ANNUAL PAID LEAVES
Employers know that people cannot work continuously all year round. Workers need paid leaves to help maintain their health as well provide a means of enjoying their life while working. Your company can provide an excellent work-life balance by giving employees a certain number of days for medical leaves and paid holiday leaves.
Emergencies can strike at any moment and a person’s health can be put at risk at any time. Employees deserve days off in such situations. The company will state the number of medical paid leave days they have to expend throughout the year.
In addition, every employer deserves time away from the office to refresh their minds, recharge their batteries, and pursue their other personal interests. Giving them a number of paid days per year for casual leave shows them that you genuinely care about their work-life balance.
In addition to paid leaves, your company should also list all of the national and public holidays you will earn. This will inform them of all the holidays they will receive and can plan their paid holidays around the public holidays to enjoy a longer time off from work. Your company should very transparent in this regard.
Maternity and Paternity Leaves
Another issue that your company should address is maternity and paternity leaves. Your company should be very accommodating towards would-be mothers and fathers and offer them some time away from work if they decide to become a parent in the future.
When a new employee reads that the company they work for provides facilities and breaks if they become a parent, they will feel encouraged to pursue having children in the future. They know that their personal life is also being taken care of by their organization, which makes it seem more like a close, family relationship rather than a distant, corporate one.
Watch the following documentation and understand why it’s important to provide employees with the possibility of taking maternity and paternity leaves.
Offering paid leaves in such situations shows that you are still willing to take care of employees financially as they rear their child. Every family needs money to raise their child, so providing continual support even when they do not come to office for some time will go a long way in building trust and loyalty for your brand.
Here are some statements that you can incorporate to address different types of leaves.
“Full-time employees at this company are entitled to 4 weeks of paid vacation leave per year. Assuming a 5-day workweek, that comes to 20 working days a year as paid leave for vacations. Part-time employees are entitled to 2 weeks of paid vacation leave per year. Assuming a 5-day workweek, that comes to 10 working days a year as paid leave for vacations. We value our employees and want them to have a good time. You will need to inform your supervisor ahead of time so that we can adjust the work schedule and workload accordingly.”
“The company offers both maternity and paternity leave for employees. For mothers, we provide 30 weeks of paid leave. For fathers, we provide 10 weeks of paid leave. In extenuating circumstances, we provide more time for our employees so that they our employees are not forced to come to work. We want our employees to come to work when they feel ready after experiencing a joyous moment in their lives.”
“The company grants all employees 10 days of paid medical leave. We understand that health is a very important issue and in case of sickness or any other problem, you will be given days off to recover. You will need to inform your supervisor either on the day of being sick or beforehand, so that we are informed that you are not coming to office. In case of extreme circumstances, where the illness lasts for several days, or even several weeks, we will take necessary measures to compensate you.”
KEY PERFORMANCE INDICATORS
All companies expect their employees to successful do the job, but how do you measure success? How do you gauge work performance?
Employees at organizations are periodically being assessed on the job, to determine whether or not they are doing it correctly and on time. Key performance indicators, or KPIs, are metrics used to determine the quality of work performance and every company has a set of KPIs that is applicable to every position in the organization.
By being forthright with your KPIs in your company, employees will always know which factors of their performance are being considered for evaluation. A high-rated evaluation may result in a bonus or extra compensation, or better yet, a quick promotion up the corporate ladder. As a result, there are major incentives for the employees to work hard and work well. All of these things should be stated explicitly to get the best performance out of your company’s workforce.
Performance reviews are typically based on merit and achievement. Here are some key performance indicators that you may want to incorporate in your staff handbook.
- Attendance and Punctuality
- Teamwork and Cooperation
- Leadership Qualities
- Compliance with Company Policies
- Accepting Responsibility
- Achieving Milestones
These metrics are quite generic and can be applied to all industries. In some industries, employees are required to achieve certain things so you may want to include some metrics that are very specific to that trade.
For instance, in a sales and marketing job some metrics that are of great importance are revenue, cost, customer acquisition costs, etc. Determine what makes your company successful and evaluate employees based on those influencing factors.
EMPLOYEE HEALTH AND SAFETY
In some industries, employees will be required to work in factories, manufacturing plants, or other environments where it may be deemed unsafe in some conditions.
Working with large machinery and being exposed to dangerous chemicals can have a detrimental effect on health. In such scenarios, a company should provide employees health insurance lest something to them. You need to show your employees that you are concerned of their health and want them to be healthy and safe in case of emergencies.
Apart from health insurance, every company must have a comprehensive procedure to ensure safety and security. In case of emergency, employees can follow a plan that is described in the employee handbook. In case of a fire, there should be a fire escape route that all employees must follow so that they leave the premises safely. Sometimes, a fire needs to be quickly extinguished by employees, so proper training of operating a fire extinguisher must be given.
In case of an emergency, employees should notify their supervisors and get help immediately. Your company must have a specific individual who deals with health and safety issues when they occur, so include their contact information in the manual. Employees can directly contact this person to get immediate aid.
Here are a couple of statements that can be made concerning workplace safety and security.
“The organization takes necessary measures to ensure that all of our employees are working in a safe and secure environment. We have safety rules in place to protect everybody. It is expected that all employees review and completely comprehend every point of our workplace safety policies.”
“In case of any emergency event, employees must inform their supervisor immediately. If you observe any sort of unusual or unsafe behavior in the workplace, inform someone straightaway to resolve the matter.”
“If somebody is badly hurt, experiences a burn, or is subjected to any other form of harm, call the fire department or the paramedics immediately. If you hear the fire alarm or any other emergency siren, follow the fire escape route and safely leave the building. A supervisor will tend to all employees and you will only be allowed back inside when they deem it safe to do so.”
Employees receive more than just a paycheck every month from your organization. Your company has provided extra benefits for its employees to keep them coming back to work. Your employee handbook will provide details of everything you offer them, such as a retirement plan, unemployment money, pension, overtime, and compensation of travel expenses.
A clear definition of each of these things should be listed in the employee handbook to clarify any confusions and accurately inform everyone of what benefits they are actually receiving. Here are some example statements you can use to describe the benefits your company offers its employees.
“The company has a detailed and comprehensive retirement plan installed where employees will contribute a portion of their salary and set it aside for retirement.”
“Our company offers compensation to employees who get laid off for reasons out of their control. Sometimes, a company must restructure itself for future projects and lays off employees who are deemed unnecessary or do not quite fit the mold any longer. We reimburse those employees for 12 months so that they are able to get back on their feet and not become financial insecure.”
“The company offers employees who have worked for us for at least 5 years a pension scheme. After retiring, they will continue to receive a small amount of money to help them continue their lives. We take care of our long-standing employees when they are here and when they have retired.”
“While there is a specific work schedule and number of working hours per week in place, we also value continued contribution beyond the normal conditions. We heavily reward our employees who work extra hours and come in on weekends to get the job done ahead of time. In such scenarios, they will receive a 50% increase on their hourly salary. We want to add incentives for employees who want to push the boundaries and go the extra mile for the goals of the firm.”
EXAMPLES OF EMPLOYEE HANDBOOKS
Following are some examples that you can use for inspiration.
We have covered the most important segments of an employee handbook that will effectively address the most pressing matters for employees to know. We have stated that a disclaimer is a very important part at the introduction of such a manual, to state the fact that an employee handbook should not be mistaken for a job contract. The two are not alike and serve different purposes. Incorporating all of the above mentioned points will result in a handbook that is complete.
We also recommend including two copies of a written acknowledgement or confirmation form that must be signed by both the employer and the employee, confirming that they have delivered and received the handbook, respectively. One copy of this acknowledgement will be kept by the employer in their personnel records while the employee will hold the other copy.
It must be emphasized once again that unlike a job contract, which is permanent for as long as an employee works at a company, an employee manual is considered a temporary document. The employer can and in fact will need to make changes as the business grows and expands its operations. This is a very normal thing to do.
We suggest reevaluating and updating the employee handbook once a year to keep it up-to-date. Asking your older employers what works and what does not is a good way to retain relevant information while omitting unnecessary information in the manual.
Our guide on writing a good employee manual is applicable in almost any industry. For those companies looking to be more creative, you can incorporate some of your own ideas to make it stand out.