Two coworkers in an office shaking hands.
Employee handbooks help set the expectations and culture of the company. — Getty Images/ljubaphoto

An employee handbook is a living document an organization shares with employees to communicate expectations of work, answer questions, and explain benefits in one centralized location. New employees typically review the employee handbook as part of their employer's onboarding and training process.

Here are the benefits of creating employee handbooks, as well as must-include policies and templates to get you started.

Why every small business should have an employee handbook

The employee handbook is the first opportunity an organization has to establish a healthy work culture by outlining the organization's history, goals, vision, and values in one place. What could be considered as background information about the organization can ultimately help foster a sense of belonging for employees.

Employers can also establish their expectations from the start through the use of an employee handbook. By outlining necessary codes of conduct, procedures, and responsibilities, the employee can clearly understand their role and what their employer expects of them. If at any time an employee has a question, employees can refer back to the handbook or will be able to quickly identify the next steps in seeking out answers to their questions.

In addition to the many benefits for employees, employee handbooks also help keep managers and those in leadership positions accountable when it comes to following set guidelines regarding disciplinary procedures. The handbook can help with employee engagement, burnout prevention, and motivation outside of the necessary procedural information. The living document can also serve as a reference point for all parties involved, which will help establish consistency throughout the organization.

[Read more: 6 Training Platforms to Facilitate Employee Development]

The employee handbook should also include a section outlining employee benefits, including paid time off (PTO) and family leave, recognized holidays, insurance eligibility, worker’s compensation, and bonuses.

What policies to include in an employee handbook

Must-have policies every organization should include in their employee handbooks are often the same from industry to industry. At-will employment statements should be front and center to reiterate that both the employer and employee can terminate the established work relationship for any reason at any time. Anti-harassment and non-discrimination policies are also essential for inclusion in employee handbooks, as they are often directly related to federal, state, and local laws.

The employee handbook should also include a section outlining employee benefits, including paid time off (PTO) and family leave, recognized holidays, insurance eligibility, worker’s compensation, and bonuses. Timely updates to consider when creating an employee handbook for today’s work landscape may include sections dedicated to COVID-19 guidelines, workplace safety requirements, and newly established remote work policies.

Organizations may also choose to include specific dress codes and grooming policies. Though these policies may relate to safety requirements and mandatory uniforms, employers should ensure their dress code policies are not discriminatory and be willing to make modifications or exemptions related to an employee’s religious accommodation.

[Read more: 10 Legal Requirements for Hiring Employees]

Employee handbook templates

Creating the initial employee handbook may seem like a big undertaking, but employers can benefit from easy-to-use templates to guide their writing, including:

  • Betterteam. After downloading Betterteam’s template and inputting the necessary information where applicable, you can create and distribute your employee handbook.
  • Xtensio. Employers who want a bit more creative freedom with their employee handbooks might consider a full-package template like the one offered by Xtensio. The design aspect of this template allows users to incorporate images, videos, graphs, and charts to best suit the employer’s specific brand and needs.
  • Document360. If the formality of traditional employee handbooks that are printed or digitally saved seems easily forgettable for new employees, employers might prefer a knowledge-base software like Document360 that allows employee handbooks to exist as a website. In addition to the handbook looking more professional, Document360’s software enables users to save multiple versions of essential items that can be reverted to previous versions so important information is never lost.
  • Guru. Customizable templates like this one from Guru are great examples of an employee handbook. In addition to conversational language throughout, the employee handbook template informs the employee what the use of the handbook is, why it matters, and what’s included, and even offers resources for remote and hybrid employees.

[Read more: New Hires: What Is the Required Paperwork Documentation for New Employees?]

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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