January 8, 2017 Emily Russon

3 Essential Keys to Writing an Effective Employee Handbook

An employee handbook is an important resource for your employees to know what the company expects of them. It’s a handy place to keep company policies collected so that all staff members are on the same page.

In this article, we’ll cover keys to writing a successful employee handbook, as well as sections of a handbook you should include.


employee handbook checklist


 Employee Handbook Checklist: 3 Keys to Keep in Mind


1. Make it readable.

Easy reading isn’t just about the words you use: it’s about how you use the space.

Be sure to use headings, sub-headings, bullet points, and short paragraphs to make the handbook easy to read. It’ll also make it easier for employees to find things later.


2. Don’t be redundant.

People don’t like to read the same things over and over. If you need to quote from onboarding documentation, just summarize it instead.

Refer to other parts of your manual if there are things that need to be repeated. I.e., instead of repeating information from another section verbatim, say “Refer to the Benefits section for more information.”


3. Don’t name it “Employee Handbook.”

Seriously, even a name change can make your employees more likely to read it. Throw a little dash of your company culture in the mix and let your company’s personality shine through.


employee handbook



Must-Have Sections of an Employee Handbook

Here’s a list of important topics that you will want to think about including.

  • Safety and security

    • Call out important aspects of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines that may be important to your employees’ line of work.
    • Review the security aspects of your workplace. If there’s an access code or badge system, review how it works, and who to contact for questions in this area.
  • Expectations and code of conduct

    • Your employee code of conduct, and standard disciplinary protocol should be included in an employee handbook. This makes the information easily accessible to everyone in the case that disciplinary action needs to be taken.
  • Benefits and compensation

    • While some of these items may vary according to each employees position, consider including general guidelines around how pay increases are decided and paths to promotion opportunities.

Related: An Introductory Guide: What are Voluntary Employee Benefits?


writing an employee handbook


  • Work Schedule

    • It’s a good idea to include expected working hours in an employee handbook. Even if schedules are flexible, list days and times that your company is open for business, and any expected number of weekly hours, or times employees should be reachable.
  • Company values

    • There’s no better home for your company values than front and center of your employee handbook. Your values guide your employees’ day-to-day work, as well as your overall business goals, so they should be readily available for employees to read.
  • Ethics

    • Ethics definitions can be vague, so the more specific you can be, the better. In employee handbooks, ethics refers to how your company values, code of conduct, and employee expectations mash together.
    • Even though it may be hard to quantify this and put it into words, it can be invaluable for your employees to know what you mean.
  • Social Media Policy

    • Each company has a different expectation regarding employees’ social media usage at work. There are tons of factors that could affect a company policy on social media usage.
    • For some companies, it could be an issue of privacy — not allowing photos taken of products, for example. Other companies may encourage employees to use social media, such as for marketing or brand identity purposes.
    • Whatever the case, let your employees know your expectations in the employee handbook.


employee handbook checklist


Your Handbook’s Final Review

After you’ve written a draft of your handbook, get feedback before distributing it to your employees. Have someone else read it — someone who isn’t HR — because they can ask you questions about what different things mean. Also have it reviewed by a legal adviser to make sure there’s nothing questionable in your handbook.

Finally, it’s time to distribute it: send it out by email or give everyone a hard copy. Have a digital copy online that’s easy for everyone to access.

Get employee acknowledgement in whatever way works best. If your handbook is short, you might distribute a short, easy quiz on the material. But don’t try that with a long, boring handbook. Instead, a simple signed agreement from employees stating they’ve received a handbook and know how to consult it for information will work.

Make sure employees know who to come to with questions they have about their job descriptions or company policies.


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