How to Create an Effective Employee Staff Handbook, the Ultimate Guide To Creating Yours

Published:

Oct 24, 2022

In this guide to creating your organisation's staff handbook, we will cover what a staff handbook actually is and how it should contain the key policies and procedures that are either required by law in the UK, EU, and other jurisdictions or which elements are highly desirable from an HR and legal perspective. 

Top Features of a Staff Handbook

☑ It sets out clear expectations for your employees' behaviours and procedures, which in turn helps to prevent misunderstandings and disputes. 

☑ The handbook can serve as a legal safeguard for both you, the employer, and your employees by showing and documenting that employees have been informed of company policies and legal obligations.

☑ A handbook ensures that your policies are applied consistently across the organisation. 

☑ For new employees, the handbook is a resource for them to understand the company culture and policies, reducing their training burden on managers and helping them integrate more quickly.

☑ Having a comprehensive and well-designed staff handbook projects a very professional image and demonstrates that the organisation is well-managed, which can be beneficial for employee retention and recruitment.

Table of Contents

  • What is a Staff Handbook?

  • What are the Goals of a Staff Handbook?

  • When Should You Use a Staff Handbook?

  • Also Known As

  • What Should a Staff Handbook Include?

  • Why is a Staff Handbook Important, and why should you use a Staff Handbook?

  • What are the common pitfalls of a Staff Handbook?

  • Some Key Elements of an Employee Staff Handbook Template

  • Design Elements to Consider When Designing Your Staff Hand Book

  • Ready to Get Started?



What is a Staff Handbook?

A Staff handbook is a document that your employees get that explains the company's processes, culture and policies.

This document is suitable for many businesses, from start-ups or small companies at a relatively early stage in their growth to larger organisations and non-profits as well.

As a guide, a shorter handbook is normally suitable for a company with up to 25 employees. 

However, as a company grows or if you are already a larger organisation, the handbook will need to be reviewed and possibly expanded upon substantively to ensure it accounts for all policies and procedures.

What are the Goals of a Staff Handbook?

As you can see, the primary goal of a staff handbook is to provide your employees with a definitive, accessible repository of your company’s policies and expectations.

This then serves more as a manual for how things should be done within the organisation. 

Which as a result, provides clarity to both your employees and your management team alike. 

As a result, this should also cover:

Being Legal Compliant

A staff handbook plays a crucial role in your legal compliance by outlining the legal obligations of both you and your employees. 

For instance, it includes detailed sections on regulatory adherence, such as equal employment opportunities, anti-discrimination policies, and workplace safety to name only a few which are also legal requirements in many jurisdictions around the world.

The handbook also helps to ensure that all your employees are aware of these laws, and the company’s procedures for upholding them - which is essential for your organisation to minimise your legal risks and remain compliant as a result. 

It also serves as a record that your employees have been informed of their legal rights and responsibilities, which can be pivotal during audits or any legal proceedings that arise as a result.

Onboarding and Improving Staff Training

A staff handbook also significantly enhances your onboarding and training by serving as a comprehensive resource for all your new hires. 

For instance, it introduces them to the company's procedures, culture, and operational standards, allowing them to transition smoothly into their roles. 

Conflict Resolution

The staff handbook is also instrumental in conflict resolution, clearly outlining the procedures for addressing disputes within the organisation.

For instance, it can specify whom your employees should contact in case of various issues and the steps to follow to resolve these conflicts - ensuring that all parties know how to proceed fairly and consistently. 

This pre-defined structure then prevents conflicts from escalating by providing a clear pathway for resolving the issues, which can, in turn, help maintain a positive work environment.

Communicate Your Culture and Values

Another goal of the handbook should be to communicate your organisation's culture and values.

This, in turn, helps your employees align their behaviour with these standards. As explicitly stating the company's mission, vision, and values, the handbook helps to create a more unified understanding of what the organisation stands for.

When Should You Use a Staff Handbook?

A staff handbook is designed for employers to set out all of their policies, procedures, and rules for their staff.

Consequently, it guides your employees in what they should do in a particular situation and sets out what is expected of both them and you.


Also Known As

It is also sometimes referred to as an employee handbook or employee manual as well.


What Should a Staff Handbook Include?

The staff handbook should be clear and concise and it should be easily accessible to all your employees. 

Furthermore, it should also be regularly reviewed and updated to reflect any changes in the law and your practices, as well as changes to the overall employer’s requirements and experience as well.

Policies to Consider Including

A good staff handbook should cover the key policies and procedures that are required by law, which generally include:

To name but a few.

It should also cover those that are highly desirable from a legal perspective because of the additional protection they provide to you as an employer; for example, these could be around:

Why is a Staff Handbook Important, and why should you use a Staff Handbook?

As explained above, some policies and procedures (like the disciplinary and grievance procedures) are legally required, and others are highly desirable from a legal perspective. 

If rules and expectations are not clearly set out with your employees, HR issues and disputes in the future are more likely to occur - which is where this handbook comes into play in helping to make sure everybody is on the same page and up to speed.


What are the common pitfalls of a Staff Handbook?

There are many common pitfalls to a Staff Handbook. Some of these can be based on the following:

Not having a staff handbook

Without a staff handbook, the company's expectations will not be certain and clear.

In addition, the company may not be complying with Section 1 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 for employees based in the UK, which could lead to financial penalties in an Employment Tribunal.

Having a contractual staff handbook

The employment contract contains the terms and conditions that govern an employee’s employment. As generally, changes cannot be made to a contract without the consent of both parties. 

Consequently, an employer will want to regularly change its policies and procedures and, in certain situations, may want to avoid following them to the letter.

For these reasons, it is usually advisable for the staff handbook to be non-contractual so that it does not form part of the employment contract and can be changed. 

Otherwise, it will need to obtain staff agreement to any changes, however small.

Even with a non-contractual staff handbook, staff are still required to comply with it because, by law, there is an implied duty to follow the employer's lawful and reasonable instructions (and this is usually underlined by a specific obligation in the employment contract to comply with the policies and procedures in the staff handbook). 

Therefore, the staff handbook should clearly state that it is not contractual, i.e., that it does not form part of the employment contract.

Including too much legalese and detail

The best staff handbooks are clear, concise and easy to navigate and understand. 

On the other hand, staff handbooks that are long, unwieldy and full of jargon are unlikely to be used or understood by your employees.

Inconsistencies between the employment contract and staff handbook

The staff handbook and your employment contract must be consistent with each other. In particular, there are normally sections in both documents covering holiday and sickness absence, and these should align.

This then, in turn, avoids the potential for disputes between you - the employer - and your employee at a later date as to what the relevant HR requirements were.

Not giving employees a copy of the staff handbook

The staff handbook should ideally be given to the employee on the first day of employment, and it should be stored in a readily accessible location (e.g. the company intranet). 

Employees should also be informed when the staff handbook has been updated so that they can familiarise themselves with any changes to the policies and procedures as well.

Not keeping the staff handbook up to date

Employment law in the UK, US and EU changes frequently. 

Some Key Elements of an Employee Staff Handbook Template

Your Employee Staff Handbook can be made up in a number of ways, but there are some key areas to consider, including can fall around:

Company Overview

The company overview section of an employee staff handbook introduces your organisation to your employees. It provides essential information such as its business nature, market presence, and organisational structure.

This section serves more as a concise guide to help your employees understand the company's scope and operational focus. It aims to give a clear picture of how the company is positioned within its industry and outline its primary activities.

History

The history section of the handbook details the company's founding, significant milestones, and evolution over time. 

This section helps your employees appreciate the organisation's journey, highlighting your past challenges and successes that have shaped its current identity and strategies. 

As a result, by understanding the company's origins and development, your employees can better appreciate their role in continuing and contributing to its future growth, as a result.

Mission and Values

The mission and values section of the Handbook outlines the company's core purpose and the principles that guide your business practices and employee interactions.

This part of the handbook is vital for aligning your employees with the organisation's strategic goals and establishing a common cultural foundation.

Organisational Structure and Leadership

A section on organisational structure and leadership in the staff handbook can be beneficial, as it outlines the hierarchy and reporting relationships within your company. 

This section, for example, could provide a detailed chart or description of how different departments and units are structured and how they interact with one another to help new employees understand the processes.

This information then helps your employees understand their place in the larger context of the company, the flow of company authority, and their direct and indirect leadership as well.

Employment Basics

An Employment Basics section serves as the foundation of the staff handbook, detailing the fundamental employment policies and procedural norms.

This includes descriptions of the employment relationship, terms of employment, and initial probation periods, if applicable.

It also helps to set the stage for employee expectations and the company's obligations and provides your employees with a straightforward guide on their beginning stages.

This section is crucial for ensuring your employees are well-informed about the basic operational frameworks of their jobs from day one.

Job Classifications

A job classifications section in your staff handbook can help you define the various categories of employment within your company - such as full-time, part-time, temporary, and internship roles. 

Each classification is described with specifics regarding their eligibility for different company benefits, job security, and other employment conditions, for example.

This section would then help your employees understand the specifics of their job status and its implications for benefits, duties, and company expectations, ensuring all staff are accurately informed about where they stand in your company's structure.

Work Hours, Pay Period, and Salary Information

This section could provide some detail about the standard working hours, including the start and end times of a typical workday and any flexible scheduling options available. 

It could also detail the frequency of pay (e.g., bi-weekly, monthly) and the method of payment.

This section also clearly needs to include clear guidelines on overtime policies and pay scales for different roles or job classifications.

Company Policies

However, the "Company Policies" section of the staff handbook is critical as it outlines the general administrative policies and day-to-day operational standards expected of your employees. 

This section also clarifies the rules and procedures your employees must follow, including details on office administration, data protection policies, and employee privacy.

It also ensures that all your staff members are aware of the framework within which they are expected to operate as well.

Code of Conduct

The "Code of Conduct" section details expected behaviours and norms within the company, emphasising professionalism, integrity, and respect in the workplace. 

This part of the handbook should also address various scenarios, including conflict resolution, appropriate use of company property, confidentiality, and ethical behaviour. 

Attendance and Leave - Sick Leave, Vacation, and Holidays

An Attendance and Leave section specifies the company’s policies on attendance, as well as how different types of leave should be scheduled and recorded. 

It explains how leave and holiday entitlement is built up over time and should cover areas such as sick leave, vacation / holiday days, and what public holidays or bank holidays are covered.

The policies should also include procedures for requesting leave, the notice period required, and any documentation needed as well.

Non-Discrimination Policies

A non-discrimination policies section helps to show your company's commitment to creating and maintaining a workplace free of bias and discrimination. 

This section, especially, should include the ways in which discrimination on the basis of race, colour or ethnicity, religion, sex, age, national origin, disability, and any other characteristic protected under applicable law is not tolerated.

The handbook for this section should also provide information on how employees can report discrimination and the procedures that will follow such a report as well.

Safety and Security Policies

Another good section to include is Safety and security policies. This section can be essential to protecting the health and well-being of employees and securing the company’s physical and digital assets, so it is suitable for your employees to know.

Employee Benefits

The "Employee Benefits" section of the staff handbook provides your employees with comprehensive information about the benefits that employees are entitled to as part of their employment. 

This section should ensure that your employees understand the full range of benefits available, how they can qualify for them, and the process to claim them. 

Health Benefits - Such as Insurance and any Wellness or Mindfulness Programs

This part of the handbook will then detail any private health insurance options available to your employees, including coverage details and eligibility criteria.

It also often includes information on premiums, deductibles, and the network of healthcare providers available to them.

Additionally, the section should outline any available wellness or mindfulness programs, such as gym memberships, mental health counselling, and stress management workshops, which aim to promote a healthy work-life balance and overall employee well-being. 

Retirement Plans

The retirement plans section explains the types of savings plans offered, such as 401(k) plans in the US or Workplace pensions in the UK. It includes details about any employer match contributions, vesting periods, and how employees can manage their contributions towards their retirement. 

Other Perks - Commuting Costs and Educational Benefits

This section should cover additional perks that the company offers to enhance your employee satisfaction and help bring a more supportive work environment to bear.

For instance, it could include any commuting benefits, such as subsidies for public transportation or parking, and educational benefits, such as any professional development courses, to name a few.

Use of Company Property

The "Use of Company Property" section of a staff handbook should outline the policies regarding the appropriate use of company assets. 

This section, for instance, should cover the use of physical property, such as office supplies, vehicles, and equipment, as well as intangible assets, such as software and intellectual property. 

Equipment Use Policy

The equipment use policy details the conditions under which your employees may use company equipment, such as computers, printers, telephones, and other technical resources.

This should, for instance, specify what is classed as acceptable use, procedures for checking out equipment for offsite use, responsibilities for maintaining the equipment in good working condition, and the protocol for reporting damages or problems to ensure that usage is tracked and used responsibly.

Internet and Email Use

The handbook outlines acceptable use policies for the internet and email, emphasising more that these tools are for professional use and specifying any prohibited activities (e.g., visiting inappropriate websites or conducting personal business). 

Intellectual Property Rights

This section should clarify the ownership of any Intellectual Property (IP) created by your employees during their employment with you.

Legal Obligations and Compliance

Another section to consider adding should be based around a "Legal Obligations and Compliance" section. 

This section of a staff handbook is good to include as it informs your employees about any regulatory frameworks that the company must adhere to - and their role in maintaining compliance. 

Equal Employment Opportunity

This part of the handbook should detail the company's commitment to equal employment opportunities for all, irrespective of race, ethnicity, colour, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or any other protected characteristic.

Consequently, this section also typically includes information on how your employees can report discrimination - or harassment - and the procedures that will be followed when it is investigated to resolve those complaints as well.

Design Elements to Consider When Designing Your Staff Hand Book

When designing your staff handbook, the language and tone you choose should not be overlooked. 

For instance, you want to make sure you use clear and accessible language. This ensures that all your employees - regardless of their educational background or native language - can understand the policies and procedures set out within it.

Also, consider employing a Positive tone where you can, as this helps reflect your company's culture and values, making the handbook not just a set of rules but a welcoming guide at the same time.

Ready to Get Started?

Create your Employee Staff Handbook in minutes. Pocketlaw offers you a platform with AI-powered drafting support, a clever AI-powered contract management system, as well as access to searchable contract repositories, metadata tagging, document review and redlining,, eSigning and much more.

Disclaimer:
Please note: Pocketlaw is not a substitute for an attorney or law firm. So, should you have any legal questions on the content of this page, please get in touch with a qualified legal professional.

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