What Is an Employee Handbook?
An employee handbook is an essential tool for any type of company to function properly.
Why? Handbooks get your entire organization on the same page. They help new employees get up to speed quickly on many aspects of your operations and systems. And they foster a healthy culture by engaging everyone in the company’s goals, virtues, and strategy.
A great company handbook is a North Star that everyone can use to stay on course.
What Makes Gitlab's Handbook So Effective?
Gitlab's handbook is a well-known example for being comprehensive and transparent, with a strong focus on company values and culture. One of the unique features of Gitlab's handbook is that it is open source and available for anyone to view and contribute to. This transparent approach to sharing company information is a key part of Gitlab's culture and helps to foster a sense of inclusivity and collaboration within the company.
In addition to being open source, Gitlab's handbook is also highly detailed and covers a wide range of topics, including company values and culture, benefits and perks, policies and procedures, communication and collaboration, and legal information. The handbook is regularly updated and serves as a living document that evolves along with the company.
Another aspect that sets Gitlab's handbook apart is its focus on empowering employees and promoting a sense of ownership within the company. The handbook includes information on how team members can make decisions and contribute to the company's direction, as well as how to get involved in company projects and initiatives.
Overall, Gitlab's handbook is known for being a comprehensive and transparent resource that helps to establish clear guidelines and policies for the team, as well as foster a sense of inclusivity and collaboration within the organization.
Why Should You Create Employee Handbooks?
Creating a company handbook like Gitlab's can be a great way to establish clear guidelines and policies for your team, as well as foster transparency within your organization.
First, let's talk about why you might want to create a company handbook. A handbook can be an important tool for onboarding new employees, as it provides a clear and concise overview of your company's values, culture, and policies. It can also be a helpful reference for all team members, as it provides information on resources available to them: everything from vacation policies and sick leave to how to request time off or report a problem.
In addition to being a useful resource for your team, a company handbook can also help establish trust and transparency within your organization. By clearly outlining your policies and procedures, you can help all employees know what to expect ensure that all team members are treated fairly and consistently. Sharing this information also demonstrates your commitment to being open and transparent, which can help build trust with your employees.
What Should You Include in Your Company Handbook?
So, what should you include in your company handbook? Here are some ideas:
- Company values and culture: This is a good place to include your company's mission statement, as well as any core values that are important to your organization. You might also want to include information on your company culture, such as how you work, what you value in your team members, and how you handle conflicts or problems.
- Benefits and programs: Your handbook should include information on any benefits or programs that your team members are eligible for, such as healthcare, retirement plans, vacation time, and professional development opportunities.
- Policies and procedures: This is where you'll want to outline any policies or procedures that are specific to your company, such as your employee sick leave policy, how to request time off, and how to report a problem or concern.
- Code of conduct: It's a good idea to include an employee code of conduct in your handbook, outlining the behavior and conduct you expect within your organization. This can include things like being respectful and professional towards coworkers, maintaining confidentiality, and following company policies.
- Communication and collaboration: Your handbook should also include information on how you expect team members to best communicate and collaborate with one another. This might include information on how to use company tools and platforms, how to share updates or ask for help, and how to participate in team meetings or events.
- Legal information: Depending on your company and industry, you may also want to include legal information in your handbook to keep both you as an employer and your team members in compliance with all local laws and rules. This could include guidance on intellectual property, data privacy, and workplace safety, among other things.
In addition to these main areas, you may also want to include information on specific departments or teams within your organization, as well as any other important policies or procedures that are specific to your company.
Creating employee handbooks like Gitlab's can be a helpful way to establish clear guidelines for your team, ensure compliance with applicable regulations, as well as foster transparency within your organization. By outlining your values, culture, and policies in a clear and concise way, you can help ensure that all employees are treated fairly and consistently, and demonstrate your commitment to being open and transparent.
By including information on benefits and perks, policies and procedures, code of conduct, communication and collaboration, and legal information, you can create a comprehensive resource that will be useful for all team members. So, it is always a good idea to have a company handbook in place to ensure the smooth functioning of the organization.
How Can You Get Get Started with an Employee Handbook?
The prospect of creating an employee handbook can be daunting. You might be wondering:
- What details do you include?
- What belongs in the company handbook vs. a team handbook?
- Where should you fill the team in on your industry and current strategy?
These and a million other questions about employee handbooks can be overwhelming. Don’t worry. If you're starting a handbook from scratch, we've got the guidance you need.
💡 Read More: How to Create a Company Employee Handbook
How Should You Structure Your Employee Handbook?
Many organizations never get around to creating an employee handbook at all. And those that put in the effort to create a great handbook quickly discover that it is not a one-time investment. You need to maintain your employee handbook for it to retain its value.
Whether you have an existing employee handbook, or just getting started, one of the first questions people ask is: How do I organize this?
Three Principles for Organizing Your Information
We use three principles for organizing our company information:
- Regularity of use: We put the documents the team uses daily/weekly — like the agendas for our all-hands meeting — right at the top. We put our policies — documents that need to be accessible, but not referenced every week — lower down the index.
- Importance: We have a section that includes the key things all employees should know about us internally and externally. These company OS docs share who we are as a company.
- Public vs. private access: We group public documents together so external users can learn about Almanac without having to jump between different sections of our handbook.
When deciding on these principles, we found it helpful to clarify the intended audiences of our employee handbook. We defined who this information is for, and what their main objectives are for consuming this information. These insights informed our thinking about our handbook's structure.
Our Employee Handbook Sections
Based on these principles, we organized our handbook into eight sections.
- Weekly Standup: Contains agendas and notes from our weekly all-hands meetings.
- Company OS: Features documents that articulate our vision, virtues, compensation philosophy, and norms for working together.
- Team: Includes our employee org chart, a user guide for our CEO, and information on how we make decisions as a company.
- Strategy & Positioning: Communicates our product positioning, and strategy documents for the current year and quarter.
- Culture: Illustrates the ways we bring our whole selves to work, from company traditions to quarterly co-working weeks held around the world.
- Professional Development: Promotes internal opportunities for learning and growth.
- Team Handbooks: Provides links to handbooks maintained by teams from engineering, to product development, to design, to marketing.
- Policies: Discloses all of our employee policies, including benefits, PTO, parental leave, and more.
📗 Most of Almanac's employee handbook is public. We hope it provides some inspiration as you consider your organization's needs. Take a look here: The Almanac Handbook.
How Should You Maintain Your Employee Handbook?
To keep your employee handbook from falling out of date as your company grows, you need a process for maintaining it.
As we designed our process, we discovered that a small list of key questions informed our decision-making procedure. We needed to define what a good update looked like, how much of our handbook to share publicly, and who should own the process internally.
Your answers to the following questions will shape your process for maintaining your company's handbook over time.
Which documents should be public vs. private?
In the spirit of transparency, we want to make as much of our employee handbook public as possible.
Documents in our company handbook that we share publicly include: Our company OS docs, culture docs, security FAQ, weekly standup agenda template, and any document that can provide value to external users and demonstrate how Almanac operates, without disclosing sensitive information.
Documents in our company handbook that we only share internally include: Our weekly standup agendas, strategy docs, information on our metrics and growth, internal feedback, team handbooks, and any document with sensitive employee or company information.
What is our process for ongoing updates?
We review our company handbook monthly. The internal owner of the handbook does a "once over" of the company handbook to determine if any updates are needed, and requests feedback or approval from other stakeholders as needed.
How often should updates to the employee handbook happen?
It depends on the type of document. We update our team docs like our org chart monthly. Our strategy and positioning documents, collaboration norms, and employee review documents receive quarterly updates. And our company OS, culture documents, and policy documents receive updates every 6-12 months.
Who or what triggers the updates?
We have a series of triggers in place to prompt us to update our employee handbook. Our ongoing triggers include updating the handbook when:
- New hires join the company.
- We receive new internal feedback via our monthly pulse check.
- We revise our company strategy or positioning.
⚡️ Get started quickly with our free template: Guidelines for Maintaining a Company Handbook
Why Your Handbook Is Essential for Success
An employee handbook organizes your decisions.
When you set it up properly and maintain it effectively, it becomes the go-to resource for most of the questions that employees in your organization have.
A company handbook is essential to the success of your business because:
- Handbooks encourage ownership. They allow you to crowdsource your company's knowledge, keeping your documents up-to-date and relevant. Anyone can suggest improvements, so everyone feels a sense of ownership.
- Handbooks build velocity. They eliminate friction and free your team up to create, collaborate, and keep moving toward your most important goals.
- Handbooks inspire a culture of learning. They let your team listen to your customers, and to each other, and share and keep what they discover.
- Handbooks focus your team on results. They make sure everyone knows where you're headed, and how you plan to get there.
- Handbooks foster relationships. A team's strength depends on the strength of its relationships. Handbooks establish communication norms, and encourage openness and intentionality.
Your needs change as your company grows. Your handbook should grow with you.