What To Include In A New Employee Handbook Featured Image

The Case For A New Employee Handbook (And What To Include)

The employee handbook is a crucial tool in your human resources toolbelt.

It should provide direction and guidance for employees in regards to the values of your organization, the mission, company culture, and workplace policies and procedures.

However, not all the information in a complete employee handbook is necessary for new hires. 

Before someone starts, or on day one, they don’t need to go over every single detail that an employee handbook covers—this is a sure-fire way to overwhelm them.

If you want to get new hires off on the right foot, having them read a long, dry document about company policies and procedures is not the approach to take.

In this article, we’ll take a look at:

The Two Types of Employee Handbook

I would suggest that you have two types of employee handbook:

  1.  A document to cover what new hires will need to know as they are starting
  2.  A more comprehensive document that can be referenced throughout an employee’s time at your organization. 

For new employees, I suggest providing a more concise employee handbook prior to them starting. It should give them an overview of your company culture, work environment, company policies, and any info to make their onboarding smoother.

It’s perfect for including as part of your preboarding package—the comms you should be having with every new employee prior to their start date.

But you should also have a handbook that’s much more thorough on the details—things that new hires don’t need to know when they start but should know and be able to reference throughout their time at the organization.

Not only is this useful for employees, but it can also protect you from claims of discrimination or unfair treatment.

What Should Go In Your New Employee Handbook?

While there is no right or wrong approach to this—you need to determine what makes the most sense for your organization—there are best practices that we can look at.

The aim of the new employee handbook is to help alleviate some of those anxieties that we all feel before starting a new job and get them excited for their new role.

Think of it as everything new employees want to know, but might be afraid to ask.

Some points to cover:

  • Dress code—whether you’re remote or in-office, it’s a good idea to let them know what to expect in regards to the dress code. 
  • Employee benefits—this should be more of a quick overview of what they expect, further details can be included later. 
  • An organization chart—this will give them an idea of how the organization works, and what to expect from co-workers. 
  • A glossary of jargon and acronyms—every organization has its fair share of lingo and acronyms that they use. Make those first few days easier by providing something they can refer to and get caught up. 
  • What to expect for the first day, the first week, and beyond. This isn’t a minute-by-minute breakdown, but it gives the new hires an idea of what to expect before they begin. 
  • The mission statement and values of the organization. You can go more in-depth about why these were chosen as opposed to just listing them off. It gives new hires an indication of what to expect of your company culture. 
  • Company history and milestones—you can give a quick overview of important dates in your organization’s history such as the founding date, opening up a new office, reaching a certain level of revenue, or being recognized as one of the best places to work. 
  • Office information—if you’re back in the office, having information about parking, key cards, alarm codes, contact information for the building should be present. 

While ultimately it’s up to you what you include, you can view these as starting points for what should be in your new employee handbook.

So, with that, what are some aspects to cover in this more in-depth employee handbook?

  • An in-depth guide to how employee benefits work. You can go over health insurance, PTO, sick leave, reimbursement and vacation time.
  • Employment policies such as code of conduct, workplace safety, sexual harassment, timekeeping, disciplinary action, performance reviews, employment agreement, equal employment opportunity, and conflict of interest.
  • Social media guidelines – if they’re representing your organization on social media, having clear guidelines helps remove ambiguity and confusion. 

Employee Handbook Examples

If you’re looking for inspiration in regards to your new employee handbook, or employee handbooks in general, here are a few that you can look at to get some inspiration. 

Trello

Trello’s is an interesting employee handbook (they refer to it as an employee manual) because:

  1. It’s a case of Trello “eating their own dog food” by using their own product to create an employee manual. 
  2. The nature of Trello boards makes adjusting the employee handbook on an ongoing basis a much easier task. Revisions on a trello board are much easier to track compared to making revisions in a PDF. 

What’s nice about Trellos’ is that they have a breakdown of what to read on your first day, which mostly covers company policies including sick leave, vacation time policy, and sexual harassment.

For further reading they have other boards that cover employee benefits, health insurance, reimbursement, PTO, etc. Instead of having to flip through pages, it’s all there in front of you.

Trello Employee Handbook Screenshot
A section of Trello’s employee handbook.

Valve

This employee handbook went viral in 2012. Not just for the humor that it conveys, but also gives a look into an organization with a unique structure that, at the time, was very tight-lipped on their process. 

It gives insight into what new hires should expect, the company’s culture, the working conditions at Valve, what to expect in a workweek, their mission statement, performance reviews, a glossary for jargon, and more. 

Now note that due to the fact that Valve is entirely self-funded, retains a small headcount, and has a flat structure, their approach is likely very different than how your company runs, more so than usual. What works for them may not make sense for your organization.

Still, it’s a nice, concise guide that helps convey the company’s missions and vision, how they work. 

Valve Employee Handbook Screenshot
A page from Valve’s employee handbook.

Netflix 

This one popped up in 2009 and is a very matter-of-fact employee handbook. While most well-known employee handbooks tend to have pleasing visuals and humor, Netflix’s handbook is blunt and straight to the point—just like their culture. 

It discusses their values, how they view ‘brilliant jerks’, why they are so insistent on high performance, how their vacation time works, their reasoning behind worker’s compensation, their intense working conditions, and more. 

One thing I really have to commend about this employee handbook is just how no bullshit it is. It’s straight-up on how Netflix works, and how it’s not going to be everyone, and never pretends to be. 

While this employee handbook is from 2009, not much seems to have changed with their company culture since then. 

Netflix Employee Handbook Screenshot
Typical page in Netflix’s employee handbook.

So three very different examples of employee handbooks. 

The Netflix handbook is very barebones, blunt, and straight to the point, but that’s the nature of their culture. It would feel out of place for them if they were to include pleasing visuals and humor. 

Compare that to the Valve employee handbook—it’s full of colorful language, humor, and visuals, and fits with their approach to culture.

So when it comes to the “how” of your new employee handbook, consider your culture

Disclaimers About Employee Handbooks

Now that we’ve taken a look at what an employee handbook can look like (with a few examples), and what should go in it, I do want to cover some things to be aware of in regards to the employee handbook.

As great as they can be for the onboarding process, having a quality employee handbook shouldn’t be at the very top of your list. Having a buddy system or a 30-60-90 day plan will provide a lot more value in getting new hires off on the right foot. 

Another thing to consider is an employee handbook can easily turn into one of those documents that gets buried away in a desk. As helpful as the information can be about company policies in these documents, they may not be the most thrilling to review. 

This is why I suggest when you can (and if it makes sense with the culture of your organization), to go with a more light-hearted, visual-based approach when possible. We’re visual creatures and we process them much quicker than text.

A final point to make in regards to the employee handbook.

A former employee of Valve (the kooky ones) had this to say about their employee handbook:

“All legit self-organizing firms have to ‘leak’ an official unofficial company manual. It’s got to be slickly made and fun to read. Developer marketing gurus create these productions to sway new recruits into the Hiring Funnel. Insiders laugh at these things.”  

Now, this may have just been his experience, but it’s something that’s important to remember. Over the years, these kinds of employee handbooks have gone viral and are admittedly great marketing tools.

But remember to keep it focused so that new employees will get the most value out of it. 

If it happens to go viral and can be used to attract new talent, great! But be conscious of not designing one with only that in mind. 

Next steps

With that, you now have a better understanding of the value of an employee handbook to best welcome new hires.

Again, I want to emphasize that there is no right or wrong way of putting one together—every organization is different, each with its own focus, strengths, and challenges. 

Perhaps you have an old employee handbook that’s just a word document that hasn’t been touched in years, and nobody reads. Perhaps you don’t have one at all. 

Now is a good time to either start one from scratch or work upon what you already have.   

If you have any questions or comments, leave something below or in the People Managing People forum— a supportive community of HR and business leaders passionate about people and culture.