First steps toward writing an employee handbook

Stack of DocumentsI am creating documentation for a company that is transitioning from a sole-proprietor to an incorporated entity. While this is an exciting time for this business (it means it’s growing and fast), it is also an overwhelming time filled with mixed emotions. And it’s understandable. You go from having 1-5 employees, to suddenly working with 10-50 and even more employees. You have contractors and subcontractors too. And you realize you just cannot be everywhere at the same time. Nor can you do five tasks in five different places at the same time. You need structure and policies in place so your team know what they are doing when you’re not around.

This is a great time to create an employee handbook. Or as we called it in this particular case: a Team Guidebook. Before you even start drafting one, you need to think of the big picture – what does your company represent, what is the direction it is going, what are your goals, what is your company’s culture. In other words, you need to create a company profile. It doesn’t have to be long and final. It can be just one paragraph but it is necessary as it will determine the purpose of your employee handbook too. Usually, an employee handbook documents rules, expectations, and processes and it is the first thing your new employees will read as part of their orientation and training. It is also the resource document your team will refer to for answers when they have questions or uncertainties.

Writing an employee handbook is not an easy task. The following questions will help you outline your handbook’s content:

Is there one common message I would like to communicate to all team members? What is it?

Try to write your common message in one paragraph. Remember, this paragraph is for your eyes only. So don’t worry about writing rules, sequence, etc. Just write the first thing that comes to your mind. It may sound something like this:

I would like all team members to know that quality of service comes first. Everyone may try to accommodate clients’ preferences and requests, but under no circumstances a team member would compromise the quality of service this company commits to. This may mean politely refusing to serve a picky customer, but our integrity and promise must remain intact. Customers will be informed of this policy at the beginning of a contract.

Now while this message might sound harsh, imagine you own an aesthetics studio and a customer (with no allergies towards gloves) asks you not to wear gloves during a delicate procedure. You wouldn’t want to compromise your and your client’s health and safety. In this case, the above message is right on the spot.

What legal aspects of my business that apply to all team members do I want/need to put in writing?

Legal aspects may include the signing of contracts, hours of work, overtime, code of conduct, harassment issues, discrimination at the workplace, disciplinary action, employment termination, etc. Write a list of items that might pose a legal problem if not adhered to.

What are my expectations for my team?

Expectations towards your team members can include everything from being on time for their shift to dress code to behaviour during meetings and presentations.

When writing this list, write everything that comes to your mind without thinking about the details of your expectations. Just make a long list of everything you would like to see from your team. It may look like this:

  • No smoking anywhere any time
  • No blue shirts during events (e.g. if your competitor’s shirts are blue)
  • No swearing
  • Honesty – if there is an issue or concern, please speak up immediately
  • Open door policy – all team members must be approachable for consultation at any time unless otherwise requested
  • Arrive for your shift 10 min early – it will be included in your compensation
  • Be respectful toward other team members
  • No phone conversations during shifts (e.g. if you are addressing the teachers in your day care facility)
  • Do not use company vehicles for personal matters
  • Smile and be friendly
  • Company will provide uniform, please wear it during your shift
  • Always come to a presentation prepared

The list can go on. The above are just examples of expectations you may have for your team. Once you have compiled your huge list, it is time to prioritize – which ones are of absolute importance and which ones sound a bit far fetched, or redundant, or too specific, or too general. Try to keep your finished list clear and easy to follow.

An important thing to remember is that you are part of the team. So all rules, exclusions, recommendations, and expectations, also apply to you.

8 Tips on How to Write Your First Employee Handbook