The 3 Types of Employee Handbook Content

Since we launched Blissbook, we’ve done a lot of talking with customers about the content that goes into one. We classify this information into three categories: culture, onboarding / general information, and case-specific. Although no Blissbook is the same, they will all contain one or more of these types of information.

Culture

Bubble Hockey ≠ Culture

Bubble Hockey ≠ Culture

Defining company culture is hard. Is it chemistry? Fun things people like to do together? How employees or customers are treated? It could be all of those things, but we agree with Rand Fishkin in that company culture can be boiled down to the following:

  • What you believe in and why your company exists (your mission and guiding principles).
  • Who you collectively are deep down inside (your core values).
  • Whether or not you respect these things (how you hire, reward and release people).

These are not shallow questions and they require deep thought. There should also be collaboration with all employees within a company so that everyone is bought in and the culture reflects everyone’s belief of what the company is, not just leadership’s view of it.

Every employee should know and demonstrate your culture every day. Making this a reality is exponentially easier if you attract people who already believe what you believe. Recruit these people with engaging, publicly available culture content and your days of trust fall exercises will be long gone.

Onboarding / General Information

Not everyone survives being thrown in the deep end.

Not everyone likes being thrown in the deep end.

Companies do things in different ways, no matter how similar they may seem on the surface. This is your chance to let new employees know “how things work around here” and remind current employees of the same in case they forget. You can write about the way meetings are run, how people should communicate, where the game room is, or what unique rituals you do to reinforce the values that define your culture.

For a more readable, engaging handbook, write simple, to-the-point summaries using a conversational and human tone. For most items, these summaries are sufficient. If not, you may need to add content that is…

Case-Specific

Case-specific content is information that employees need to access on a case-by-case basis, usually because a specific event has occurred in the employee’s life. When they first start and for the other 98% of their working tenure, they could care less. But at some time or another, something goes down where it’s important for them to have access to it. Occasions like:

  • They feel like they’ve been discriminated against or harassed.
  • They’ve been diagnosed with a serious illness and need information about disability benefits.
  • They worked overtime and wonder if they’ve been compensated properly.
  • They’re about to have a child and need information about parental leave.

A lot of case-specific content is based on federal or state laws and is added to a handbook to protect both employer and employees from lawsuits and to protect employees’ rights. In these cases, you should have a lawyer help craft this content so you can be sure you’re complying with the law.

What Should My Handbook Have?

There’s no single right answer. We think a good handbook has all three, but it depends on your company. The most important part of recording content is consistency. If your onboarding dress code says “use your best judgment,” don’t have a case-specific policy that forbids hats. This opens up a world of interpretation and if a court is ever doing that interpretation, they will always side with the employee.

Another risk with recording an employee handbook is that now you have to live up to it. Most of the time, that’s easy. Doing it when it’s hard is what separates the good companies from the great ones. Dare to be great!

Tom O'Dea

Tom is the CEO of Blissbook and is honored to lead our effort to accelerate the movement towards employment based on purpose. He receives tweets at @tom_odea and wishes he could spend a few years eating his way around the world.

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