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Employee Handbook Examples to Learn From

Growing up as a kid, you learned by example. You watched what others did, maybe your parents or friends, and you mimicked what worked. The same goes for creating an Employee Handbook. Writing one from scratch can seem daunting. After all, you’re writing the book that employees years from now could be reading to get acquainted with the company and learn the best way to succeed in the organization. It helps to have an arsenal of Employee Handbook examples to guide your way and inspire you to come up with new ideas that make your company’s handbook unique and helpful.

Quick Take!

What We Learned from All These Employee Handbook Examples

As we reviewed a variety of employee handbook examples, a few tips, principles, and best practices emerged.

  • Keep it readable, digestible, and entertaining.
  • Include information about your existing employees.
  • Talk about your company’s mission and leadership, but keep it simple, brief, and authentic.
  • Create slightly targeted versions for different teams.
  • Tell employees about their benefits.
  • Keep it inspirational to remind employees why they should be excited to work at your company.
  • Outline expectations for your employees.
  • Explain how you like to work.
  • Include an introduction that tells employees why they should read the handbook.

Employee Handbook Examples: The Deep Dive

Employee handbook examples - a deep dive

When we started our research on employee handbooks, we asked: What kind of companies would have exemplary handbooks we could really learn from?

We decided the best companies to work for would be a good place to start.

Note: Most, but not all, of the handbooks featured come from companies on Glassdoor’s 2019 Best Places to Work (Employees’ Choice) list.

Education First

Industry: Education/Policy

Size: 1 – 50 employees

Preview the handbook here.

What we learned from this employee handbook example:

Fast Company’s reported quote from Bill Fisher, CEO of Education First China and president of Education First Digital Learning Labs, sums up all the key lessons we got from previewing the company’s employee handbook:
“We have employees from all around the world consuming this book, so we wanted to make it something that wasn’t beating them over the head with a piece of corporate speak, but was something readable, digestible, and entertaining.”

Let’s break down each of these core employee handbook qualities:

  • Make your employee handbook entertaining. Education First opted for copy and designs that tell a simple story and call to mind a classic children’s book. This strategy might not make sense for your company, but you can still remember to tell a story. An employee handbook should tell the story of the company, and do it in a way that helps new hires understand what pieces of the story they’ll have a chance to write. 
  • Additional Resource: 8 Essential Elements Of A Successful eLearning Content Marketing Campaign 

Make your employee handbook readable

  • Make your employee handbook readable. Making a handbook readable does not mean packing tons of words into three pages because three pages is a reasonable amount of pages to read. Make the text readable by keeping sentences short, limiting content to one or two main points a page, and including plenty of white space. 
  • Make your employee handbook digestible. Employees will likely just skim the handbook, especially when they first receive it. Add headings and textual/graphical call-outs for key points you want employees to remember.

Southwest Airlines

Industry: Transportation

Size: 10000+ employees

Preview the handbook here

What we learned from this employee handbook example:

  • Focus on the people—the employees—instead of just including information about the company. While it’s logical and important to include some information about the company history, mission, and values, be sure to spend a little time talking about what new employees really want to hear about—other employees!

 

Happy employees

This employee handbook example dedicates several pages to explaining who their people are, what they value, what benefits they get, and also what they think. This helps employees understand exactly what kind of big, happy work family they joined!

Company: Bain and Company

Industry: Consulting

Company Size: 5001 to 10000 employees

Preview the handbook, or in this case the Administrative Employee Informational Brochure, here.

What we learned from this employee handbook example:

  • Include a mission statement in your handbook. The Bain brochure includes a mission statement within the first few pages. Clearly conveying your mission early gives new employees  a frame of reference to keep in mind as they process everything they hear about the company throughout orientation and training.

When they learn details about what the company does, they’ll know why they company does it.  

When they learn about the company’s future goals, they’ll know what core values drive those goals.

A mission statement lets new employees know why they should show up to work every day. (Because just “getting paid” doesn’t lead to long-term happiness.)

Tip: This employee handbook example elaborates on a standard mission statement by also explaining what the mission demands. This helps put the mission statement into context up front, so employees don’t have time to wonder what exactly the abstract “mission” might look like in terms of day-to-day actions.

  • Make (slightly) different versions for different teams. This handbook example includes a section that briefly explains the key initiative of one specific team and also lists qualities that the company admires and looks for in members of that team. We don’t know if Bain actually creates different versions of their handbook for different teams, but the more we thought about it, the more we liked the idea.

Most employee handbooks cover sweeping information about the entire company. If your company is huge, then it might be helpful to add an insert or section to the employee handbook that can be customized according to team. This way, new employees get a sense of the overall company and also their specific team’s place in the grand scheme.

  • Add a straight-talk overview. This employee handbook example has a simple overview of the company, which it covers in just three short paragraphs. Here’s what to include in your straight-talk overview:
    • What the company does
    • How the company does what it does. (Bain says, “We
      try to put ourselves in our clients’ shoes and focus on practical actions.” It doesn’t get much more straightforward than that.)
    • What benefit the company offers
    • Who the company serves
  • Provide detailed benefits information. Toward the end of the packet, Bain explains all the employee benefits. Even if you go over these in detail during orientation sessions, it’s still good to have everything written somewhere so employees can read about their benefits when they have questions.
  • Include leadership biographies. Let employees know who they’re working for by adding leadership biographies and pictures. This makes the handbook a touch more personal.

Company: Facebook  

Industry: Technology

Size: 10000+ employees

Preview the handbook here.

What we learned from this employee handbook example:

  • Separate your inspirational content from strictly informational content. Facebook offers a well-designed, inspiration handbook. (They likely provide detailed, “rules-and-regulations” type information separately.)

This strategy works by playing to the audience.

Who is the audience for your employee handbook? New hires.

What do you not want to do to your new hires? Bore them and flood them with more information than any human could possibly process.

Employee handbooks should never bore employees

If you want to inspire employees, then you absolutely cannot bore them. But if you have a lot of information that is crucial to deliver, such as reams of legalese all employees need to know, then break up the information. Focus your handbook on getting new employees excited to be part of the team, and then offer a variety of other reading materials they can reference or browse as needed.

Twilight Pizza Bistro

Industry: Food Service

Company Size: Unknown

Preview the handbook here.

What we learned from this employee handbook example:

  • Give readers a brief overview of what they’re going to read and why. While reading about the company mission, history, and founding leaders, some people might forget that the handbook probably also includes some items that are, in fact, immediately relevant to them. Add a few sentences to the beginning of your handbook to explain (in paragraph or bulleted format) what the handbook conveys and why it’s important for the reader to keep reading.
  • Explain how you do things at your company. Work processes, culture, and expectations vary from company to company. Understanding these abstract facets of a company can often be the most challenging and time-consuming aspects of a new job. Your values, standards of conduct, expectations, and overall culture are not concepts anyone can just “pick up” in a few weeks. By explaining how you like to work and how you like employees to act, you’ll save new hires a few headaches and tons of time that would have been wasted on guessing games.

 

Add a signable component to your employee handbook

  • Add a “sign and return” section. If for any reason you want to hold people accountable for actually reading the employee handbook, then add a page or form employees will need to sign and return to verify they’ve read the entire handbook. (This offers no guarantees of course, but it’s better than nothing!) This might also help for record keeping.
  • Add explicit direction about abstract expectations. Just as your company culture may be too abstract for employees to simply understand within their first week, some expectations might be equally confusing for new employees. For example, simply saying that you hold employees accountable for “thorough communication” does not provide employees with enough direction to actually uphold thorough communication. This employee handbook example provides details on the kind of communication expected from employees, and it even clarifies where and when the communication is likely to take place.

*We’ve made some general assumptions about the operations of specific companies. Any statement about a company’s processes are based solely on anecdotal evidence and should not be taken literally.