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How to create and use an employee handbook

It’s the most important living document your organisation will have. Here’s how to get it right.

It’s late in the day and the junior employee who normally looks after admin for you has gone home. You have to log-in into a software you haven’t used in a few months and you don’t have the company log-in details. Where is it they keep all the passwords again?

There’s no denying that there are times when everyone in an office will rely on the expertise of others as an extension of their own knowledge. The only way to guarantee that such moments don’t crop up is by having an up-to-date employee handbook.

In the spirit of show don’t tell here’s a really good employee handbook sample. It’s both helpful and comprehensive and comes courtesy of the Dutch news innovator Blendle.

Want to be running a company that has a similar handle on all things handbook? Here’s how you can get there:

An employee handbook...

1. Safe-guards knowledge

As your company grows, the sum of the knowledge acquired by all of your employees will only grow with it. As people move on and responsibilities change, some of that knowledge will inevitably be lost or forgotten.

2. Codifies your policies

Having a document that lays out all of your company policies in one place forces you to codify many processes that would otherwise remain unspoken, in the back of people’s minds or scribbled onto the corners of notebook pages.

3. Serves as an onboarding tool

An employee handbook is also incredibly useful when onboarding a new employee. It is something that they can refer back to time and time again without the anxiety associated with asking obvious questions when they’ve just arrived. It’s a springboard which help them establish themselves comfortably within the organisation.

4. Establishes common language

By being a written document, the handbook codifies and establishes a common language for the company and gives a sense of the formality expected. It also provides a space for any specific terminologies or jargon to be spelled out and explained. There’s nothing more daunting than hearing words you don’t understand being used on a day to day basis (can you remember how you felt the first time someone said leverage in an office?)

5. Gives an overview of operations

Having all of the processes laid out in one place will allow company executives to review the way that the business is operating in one place. It will give a sense of whether there are too many processes or too few. For example, at CharlieHR, there was even briefly a process for who got to control the music playing in the office!

How to build an employee handbook:

1. Make sure that it’s a living document

Company processes will change as your organisation evolves. Your handbook has to be a living document that people can edit (hint: google doc) and that can adapt over time.

2. Review it regularly

On a similar note, ensure that the document gets reviewed and updated every time a new starter begins. Without reviewing it regularly, the handbook risks quickly going out of date. 6 months is too long to wait, the review process has to be organic and regular. If your HR policies change, reflect them in the handbook.

3. Get feedback

Employees should feel comfortable enough giving feedback about how whether or not your process documentation is helpful or not. It’s especially important to get feedback from new starters who will be using the handbook on a daily basis. If something isn’t working for them, change it.

4. Have a designated owner

Someone has to be responsible for updating the employee handbook whenever it needs to be changed. At the same time, the document should have multiple contributors. If your operations manager is responsible for the handbook as a whole, then get a product expert to write the section on product and get the CTO to add in the part on technology. Don’t risk letting such a key document only portraying the view of one person. By making it a collaborative process, you will get a truer representation of the organisation as a whole.

Each company is different and a key asset like the handbook should reflect that. Nonetheless, here are some key items that should allow you to build out an employee handbook template of your own:

  • A welcome with an introduction to the business
  • WIFI passwords, door codes, log-ins for shared softwares
  • Company policies: flexible working, working from home, sick leave, maternity/paternity
  • Who is who: write up short descriptions of key stakeholders around the company, needs to be more detailed than a simple organisation chart.
  • Ways of working: what are the processes that are in place that apply across the company and within each team.
  • Glossary: Include all the acronyms, jargon and words that are regularly inside the office that might not get heard so much outside of it
  • History: Where has the company come from, why was it founded and what has changed since then?
  • Vision: lay out your mission statement and develop it. Where is the company going? What are your goals?

At the very least, your employee handbook should include all of the above. Once you have it typed up and shared across the team, you’ll be sure to have easier onboarding processes and a more empowered, knowledgeable workforce.

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