People Management
9 min.

The Collaborative Employee Handbook: Why and How

Andrée-Anne Blais-Auclair
Last updated on 28 Jun. 2023
Published on 19 Jun. 2023
manuel de l'employé avec deux personnes qui amènent des pages à ajouter dedans
manuel de l'employé avec deux personnes qui amènent des pages à ajouter dedans

Employee handbooks serve several different purposes. They foster a sense of belonging, bring together all the information staff members need on a day-to-day basis, and are key to onboarding new employees.

Table of contents

A lack of structure can be disconcerting for employees, who need a clear framework in which to perform their duties and reach their full potential.

The employee handbook provides this structure and framework, setting out in writing everything that employees need to know in order to operate effectively at the organization—from the dress code to useful tools and resources for carrying out their tasks.

In this post you’ll learn:

  • What is a good employee handbook
  • The purpose of an employee handbook
  • What an employee handbook should contain
  • What a collaborative employee handbook is
  • How to develop a collaborative employee handbook

What are the ingredients of a good employee handbook?

An employee handbook is a print or digital document describing a company’s rules, policies and expectations pertaining to employees. But a good handbook goes much further than just rules and policies. 😉 It upholds the organization’s brand image, conveys its values, and sets its tone and communication methods.

What’s the purpose of an employee handbook?

At a new job, I was once greeted with a warm welcome, a computer and… no further instructions. So, what did I do on my first day, you ask? I browsed the company website to figure things out, asked my new co-workers questions and tried to be independent, all the while smiling as confidently as I could given the circumstances. 🤯

An employee handbook avoids these kinds of situations that can be so discouraging for new employees. Concretely, an employee handbook:

  • Promotes employees’ commitment to the organization’s mission and values
  • Helps onboard and integrate new employees
  • Establishes clear, consistent guidelines for everyone
  • Diminishes uncertainty

What should an employee handbook contain?

An employee handbook is NOT a legal requirement, so the contents are up to you. However, considering that it should be used to welcome and integrate your new employees and support your team members on a daily basis, it’s best to include as many different sections and elements as possible. Here are a few suggested sections to include.

1. Company presentation: mission, values, vision, corporate culture

This is the perfect place to clarify your mission and values, and to present them in a compelling way. This initial and more intimate contact with your company and what it values can deepen employees’ sense of belonging… or leave them cold.

2. Work and employee status information

This is where you can share work-related information in order to avoid questions or ambiguity. Include:

  • Business hours
  • Weekly working hours

3. Employee benefits

Although often mentioned during recruitment, benefits are sometimes overlooked during onboarding. Here you can clarify what is offered, under what conditions (for example, do employees have to undergo a probation period first?), and to whom. Some benefits may only be available to permanent employees, while others may also be within reach for interns and contract employees.

  • Vacations
  • Insurance
  • Time off
  • Any other benefits

4. Rules, code of conduct and enforcement

It’s much easier to head off a potential incident than to have to deal with it after the fact, all because of a lack of clarity. For example, if you don’t have a method for responding to workplace harassment, and an incident occurs, how do you justify your reaction or any disciplinary action? The employee handbook is the perfect opportunity to get the entire team on the same page.

5. In-house tools

This is the ideal place to add a brief explanation of the various internal tools that help things run smoothly. Do you use software to manage scheduling and work hours? In a few lines, tell employees how to download or use it.

6. Communication methods

Do you communicate via Facebook Messenger, text messages, or even a dedicated work communications app, out of a concern for privacy? Say so in your employee handbook and explain the guidelines governing your internal communications, for example, no texting after X o’clock or no work-related communications on Facebook.

7. Dress code

The dress code fulfils the same purpose as the employee handbook, but regarding clothing. At Agendrix, we actually enjoyed devising our own dress code, and added a touch of humour. Here’s an excerpt:

“Flip-flops, Birkenstocks or high heels are all fine. But you might consider leaving your pole dancing heels at home, to avoid any health and safety hazard, of course. 🦺

Whether your tank top’s straps look like spaghetti, linguini, or lasagna, it’s all good. But if it looks more like a bathing suit than a shirt, this is great news as you already have your outfit for our next summer party! 👙”

8. Internal procedures

In this section, include any procedures that could (should!) be standardized. For example:

  • Procedure for reporting a shortage of a product that needs to be reordered
  • Inventory procedure
  • Customer complaint procedure
  • Salary increase procedure
  • Employee welcoming and onboarding procedure

9. Administration and HR

This section is paramount, since it can save you many unnecessary emails, especially for employees who are just starting out. You can even go a step further and include an explainer video or brief text on how to read a pay stub. Here are a few examples of useful information to include in this section:

  • How does payroll work?
  • Where and how do I keep track of my work hours?
  • How do I request a day off?
  • Who do I notify in case of an unexpected absence due to illness or other reasons?

10. Team, hierarchy, etc.

It’s worthwhile to introduce your team members, including roles and positions, seniority, departments and their employees, etc. This can save your employees headaches when they need to contact payroll or HR, for example.

What is the best format for an employee handbook?

A hard copy format, such as a booklet, can be presented in an original way (sort of like your company Bible!).

At Agendrix, we’ve opted for a digital format, first to minimize printing, and second because an online version is easier to update and collaborate on. To be up to date and representative of the company’s realities, an employee handbook must be a living, evolving tool.

The collaborative employee handbook: working better together

An employee handbook should evolve over time. Make sure to review and improve it at least once a year so it will remain relevant and aligned with your evolving organization, changing values, team growth and more.
What better way to regularly improve your employee handbook than with the input of your employees—the people who actually work at your company?

👉With that in mind, I’d like to propose a bold approach that has proven its worth in our organization: the collaborative online employee handbook.

What is a collaborative employee handbook?

The basics of our employee handbook were initially written by members of our management, and since then, team members have pitched in as well. In fact, all employees are formally (strongly🤭) encouraged to take part in this project, which reflects our realities and our employee experience.
As a result, our employee handbook is always changing and evolving.

💡Given that the manual contains a history of all modifications, users can always go back or consult a team member to discuss a previous change. This way, irreversible errors are literally impossible.

The benefits of an online collaborative employee handbook

A collaborative employee handbook has many benefits:

  • It genuinely reflects the employee experience
  • It’s more authentic
  • It’s readily accessible, since it’s available online
  • It’s evolving
  • It boosts engagement, as employees feel concerned and involved

Opt for a tone and approach consistent with your image

Although the idea of an employee handbook sounds rather serious and conventional, it doesn’t have to be boring or monotonous.

As a general rule, the communications at any given company should be relatively uniform.

So if you’re used to being more friendly and approachable, keep things that way, even in your handbook! That’s what we’ve done. 😀

A great employee handbook in one work: authentic

Our two cents: make your manual lively and fun to read.
You are free to add any section that will reflect your organization’s true colors. So don’t hold back!

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