HomeOpinion & AnalysisEmployee handbook: If it’s not written down, it doesn’t exist

Employee handbook: If it’s not written down, it doesn’t exist


Emmanuel Zvada

WELL-WRITTEN employee handbooks are vital tools for companies in protecting their business and promoting a fair and successful working environment. If you are an employer and still dithering about having an employee handbook, think again. It is an essential tool for helping you to stay compliant and reminding of the company’s vision and purpose. Creating a quality employee handbook from scratch can seem to be a daunting task, but having one is essential for transparency and consistency across your organisation.

What is an employee handbook?

An employee handbook, sometimes also known as an employee manual, staff handbook, or company policy manual, is a document provided to employees by the employer which communicates the company’s mission, policy, and expectations.

It is an important communication resource for both the employer and employee as it outlines the organisation’s values.

The handbook is also a go-to guide for employees on any company-related information, hence it must include an overview of all the essential information on what is expected of an employee.

From the other end, it protects employers from claims and litigation over unfair treatment.

A complete employee handbook must ensure both parties are clear on detail and not caught off guard.

Why have an employee handbook?

Having a comprehensive employee handbook is an obligation in today’s business environment.

Handbooks exist so employers can effectively manage the workplace.

The handbook is also a crucial introduction to your business for new employees, by providing insights for new hires to understand your mission and values.

Employee handbooks help maintain a professional environment by documenting what is expected of the entire workforce.

It also helps an organisation to run more smoothly by outlining the dos and don’ts of the workplace.

Employee handbooks also explain disciplinary procedures, which helps make performance management easy.

Familiarising with culture, mission and values

The most important aspect of your employee handbook is the introduction to new employees of your corporate culture and how they will fit in. This helps to foster a sense of pride and belonging. In almost all cases, the introduction section of an employee handbook will let employees know what sets the organisation apart from the rest, how the organisation was established and what the organisation is passionate about.

The introduction section sets the standard for the employment relationship in general, and provides a signpost for the policies communicated in the handbook.

Uniformity and consistency

Employees like to know what is expected of them and that they are being treated the same as other employees.

The perception of unfair treatment can lead to disgruntled employees and, ultimately to lawsuits. For example, if all employees know how many vacation days they receive, they won’t be wondering if other employees are getting more days.

Having the same rules for all employees makes running the business easier. There is no need to think about what to do in a specific situation.

Sure, there are times when there is no written policy on an issue, but having some general guidelines can help deal with specific situations.

Without clear direction, employees usually have varying personal standards, so having an employee handbook will result in a form of standardisation.

A well-written and concise handbook that is applied to all employees can help to minimise complaints and claims.

This ensures that all your employees are accorded equal treatment. An employee handbook guarantees uniformity. It makes your people not worry about unjust punishment just because they made a mistake when you were in a bad mood.

Handbooks should include the requisite penalties in writing in order to be consistent.

Employees have to know what they should and should not do as well as penalties for those doing things that they are told not to do. This also saves you the hassle of coming up with penalties when the need arises.

Communicates to employees what is expected of them

A well-written handbook provides employees with a clear understanding of their responsibilities. The handbook also serves as a compass for the organisation’s policies and procedures. For example, it advises employees what the procedures are for requesting time off or vacation.

It advises employees whom they should contact in the event of an impromptu absence. More so it also tells employees whom to go to if they have questions about any of the policies in the handbook. The handbook also outlines an employee’s general responsibilities. By providing clear, accessible information, handbooks ensure companies continue moving in the right direction.

What to include in your company handbook

Employers must provide employees with a statement on various contractual terms. If the employer prefers, some of these can be included in the handbook — sick pay policy/entitlement, the right to any paid leave other than annual leave and the right to any training provided by the employer.

Therefore, if the employer is using the handbook for this information, they must provide it on the first day of employment so that the new employee is fully aware of their obligations.

The size of the employee handbook is dependent on what you want to include in it, but it’s important to include all relevant details to enhance its usefulness for everyone within the company.

Clearly explain working parameters

Another section that would be beneficial to employees is general information about what’s expected of them.

This would outline details such as working hours, use of company equipment, processes and programmes, designated times for lunch and breaks, and the policy.

Considerations regarding health and safety, such as first aid procedure in the workplace and the location of fire escapes and fire extinguishers, should also be contained or could be included in a separate health and safety handbook.

When should a company create an employee handbook?

The first thing to know is that there is no law requiring you to have a handbook. Though there are many laws requiring employers to notify employees of certain workplace rights, it is very crucial to have one.

Many companies choose to have handbooks because they can be useful in mitigating conflict among employees or between employer and employee. In actual fact if you think your small business is reaching a size where conflicts might start to crop up, it’s probably a good idea to have an employee handbook.

If you are a human resources professional in need of an employee handbook to replace an outdated version or to create one from scratch, chances are you need a guide from recognised  consultants on how to write an effective, legally compliant handbook.

Emmanuel Zvada is an award-winning Most Fabulous Global HR practitioner 2020, HR disrupter and trusted coach. He writes here in his personal capacity.

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