How to Create an Employee Handbook:
Templates & Examples

Learn how to put together a genuinely helpful handbook for your team.

Employee handbook

Let’s face it – the average employee handbook is not exactly a page-turner.

Often, it's a long and dreary document written entirely in dry legalese and designed to safeguard against potential workplace problems. Making your new hires read pages and pages of labor law guidelines and anti-discrimination notices is a sure way to dampen their enthusiasm on their first day.

At best, it's considered a necessary evil by both employees and employers. And some companies don't even have an employee handbook at all, leaving their new colleagues to fend for themselves and hunt for tribal knowledge on Slack.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Let's dive deeper into how you can put together a genuinely helpful employee handbook.

What is an employee handbook?

An employee handbook is a document that outlines the company policies, procedures, and working conditions, and introduces the new employee to the company culture and values. It is also referred to as a staff handbook or a staff manual. Simply put, an employee handbook introduces your new employees to your company and the way you work. It is usually shared with the new team members during the new employee onboarding process.

Here's an example of an employee handbook created in Nuclino, a knowledge sharing tool for teams:

Employee handbook example in Nuclino

Employee handbook example in Nuclino

While every employee handbook is different, they typically include the following:

Why every company needs an employee handbook

The first thing to know is that there is no law requiring you to have an employee handbook. But here's why you should have one anyway:

How to create your own staff handbook

Traditional employee handbooks are obsolete. A study by GuideSpark revealed that most employees don't fully read them. Millenials in particular don't find handbooks useful: according to the survey, 50% of them didn’t read most of their employee handbook and 36% don’t know where it is anymore.

It's not surprising. Most employee handbooks are dry and boring. They are printed out, given to the new hire, and promptly end up in their desk drawer, gathering dust.

That doesn't mean that we should do away with handbooks altogether. Instead, the handbooks need to be written in a way that makes them genuinely useful.

Don't print it out

There are certainly upsides to printing the employee handbook – Valve, Shopify, and Zendesk are known for their impeccably designed, printed, and bound handbooks that any employee would be excited to receive as their welcome present. But if you want it to continuously serve as a source of reference for your team, it needs to be:

This would not be possible with a printed staff manual, no matter how shiny the cover is or how crisp the pages feel. An ideal place to store your employee handbook is an internal wiki or a knowledge base. If your company doesn't have a wiki yet, you can easily create one for free in Nuclino.

Employee handbook example benefits

Keep it short

The employee handbook doesn't need to be a literal book – it doesn't even need to be a long document. As long as it gets the message across, it can be as short and succinct or as detailed and thorough as you want.

Use internal links to organize related content and let your employees browse the handbook like Wikipedia.

Internal links in a staff handbook

Use personal, colloquial language

Since this is primarily an employee-facing document, keep the language as conversational as you can, instead of the legal jargon native to contracts. Write in a way you talk to your favorite colleague and make sure your tone of voice matches your company’s culture.

Crowdsource it

The best employee manual is not written by your legal department – it's written by the employees themselves. Valve CEO Gabe Newell puts it best: “The culture at Valve is pretty much crowdsourced. The handbook is a wiki. One of the first things we say to new hires is, “You have to change something in the handbook.” They say, “No, it’s sacred. It’s this text of received wisdom.” Then the people who’ve been there for a long time all laugh hysterically and say, “Yeah, well, it’s your job to move it forward.”

What to include in your handbook

While every employee handbook is different, most include the following content:

Company culture, mission, and values

If your new hire made it through the selection process, you likely expect them to already know your company mission and values – but remind them anyway. After all, it's the reason they will be getting out of bed and coming to your workplace every morning.

Policies & work dynamic

Try to explain your company policies and the reasons behind them. Communicate the unspoken rules as well – what are the implicit workflows and expectations? In most companies, answers to questions like that exist only in the form of tribal knowledge, leaving newcomers to sink or swim and taking it longer for them to get up to speed and become productive team members.

Perks

If you're investing in employee perks – and you should – include them in your handbook. And don’t bury them deep in the table of contents as if afraid they would exploit them – put them front and center and make the newcomers feel appreciated!

The legal stuff

An employee handbook is a good place to outline your employees' legal rights and obligations related to employment. Besides establishing full transparency, it also helps protect your business in the unlikely worst-case scenario – getting sued.

Employee handbook template

No two employee handbooks will be the same. In fact, the entire point is for them to communicate your company culture in a unique and personal way.

However, writing one from scratch can certainly be a daunting task, and an employee handbook template may be a good starting point. Your first iteration can be a simple one-page overview:

Employee handbook template

Employee handbook template (created in Nuclino)

Real-life employee handbook examples

It also helps to have examples to guide your way – here are some real-life employee handbook examples we love and continue to draw inspiration from:

Employee handbook example from Valve

Employee handbook example from Valve

Nuclino: Your team's single source of truth

Nuclino

Nuclino is a unified workspace that helps you organize all of your team's work in one place. Instead of digging through the chaos of files and folders and drowning in endless meetings and notifications, Nuclino allows your team to break out of silos and collaborate more thoughtfully.

Try it for free

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