Drafting The Modern Employee Handbook

Employee Handbook

Once upon a time, the employee handbook was a document that outlined the basics of your work with the company. As an employee, it was your go-to for company questions…and it was typically the driest read ever. But no more! Today’s employee handbooks look very different than they did back then, and they’re no longer just a list of rules and benefits. Today we are joined by HR Dive Reporter Ryan Golden, who will detail how handbooks have changed, and why you (probably) need to update yours! Here, he'll explain:

  • The factors that have led to a shift in the way we approach employee handbooks;
  • The importance of reflecting company culture in these documents; 
  • The benefits and drawbacks of an "unconventional" employee handbook; and 
  • How to go about updating your own company's handbook -- and who should be involved!
employee handbooks

Ryan Golden

   HR Dive Reporter

“When you're looking at examples like Valve and Tesla and so on, I think that they've put a lot of focus on how are they introducing new employees to the workplace and what should newcomers expect when they come into the workplace -- and if you put your focus there, I think that's very much where you need to start when making changes."

If you prefer to read along while you listen, we've done all the hard work for you! We listened back to this episode and took notes below, and access is free! 

The Employee Handbook

  • There is no federal law stating that employers need an employee handbook.
  • The biggest risk in not having an employee handbook is not having a central place to go to when an employee asks about a certain policy or rule.
  • An employee handbook is useful in having a place to lay out your philosophy of what employment should look and feel like at your workplace. 
  • “An employee handbook is exhibit A for your vision of your policies and your workplace. It is the spot where everyone can go to look up everything they may need.”


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The Evolution of Employee Handbooks

  • The recent change in philosophy about employee handbooks can be related to our expectations seeking a better user experience.
  • The rise of electronic devices has prompted the desire for swift answers and a user-friendly experience.
  • As a result of these desires, company intranets have become an increasingly more popular tool for many companies.

Corporate Branding & Corporate Culture

  • Employers incorporate branding into their onboarding documents and handbooks.
  • Culture is being more integrated into policy, and employee handbooks are no exception. 
    • Corporate social responsibility events
    • Onboarding
    • Commercials about what it’s like to work there

A Year of Change

  • In the past year, we have seen a massive shift to remote work, which for many created a whole host of changes in working protocols, protocols which may now need to be addressed in your employee handbook.
  • There has also been a wave of employment law changes, particularly with regard to harassment and other workplace issues. 
  • If you have an employee handbook, you should be updating it at least once a year to stay up to date with legal changes.
  • Companies should involve their compliance and leadership teams when updating the employee handbook.

Content Changes

  • Content should always be updated when new laws or policies are put into place.
  • A great example is the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which is the first ever federal paid leave law to affect private sector employers. 
  • Temporary regulations often require a more temporary notification solution. While employers who update their handbooks frequently are welcome to include temporary regulations in their handbook, employees can simply be notified of these temporary policies, to avoid the need for a handbook update.


  • The “bound book” is no longer a bound book anymore.
  • PDFs, short onboarding documents on the employee’s desk, company websites, intranets, and video introductions/handbooks are all variations of the traditional handbook we have been seeing more and more. 

The Core of an Employee Handbook

  • There is truly more within the handbook than outside of it when it comes to workplace policies and procedures. 
  • Staples are things such as:
    • Time off
    • Legal rights in the workplace
    • Vacation time
    • Organizational flow charts
    • How to report to a manager

Examples of Unconventional Handbooks  

  • Valve Software
    • Their 2012 handbook features comics and illustrations that make the company policies fun and easier to understand.
  • Nintendo
    • The Japanese employee handbook features illustrations that are drawn by their game artists that simultaneously celebrate their employee’s work while also providing employees with the vital information they need.
  • Tesla

Which Approach Suits Your Company Best?

  • The benefit of a more unconventional employee handbook is that it “sets the tone” for what employees should expect when they come into the workplace each and every day - so whether you go with a traditional approach, or a more unconventional approach, is a question that only you can decide.
  • A disadvantage of this unconventional approach is that these documents may not serve as that “go-to” document for all the “nuts and bolts” details that traditional handbooks contain.
  • Companies should evaluate their culture to determine what approach is right for them and their brand.

Handbook Updates

  • The responsibility for the update may still lie with Human Resources, but to create a comprehensive document, others must be involved as well, including: company leaders, compliance staff (in-house or third party), recruiters, management staff, and leaders should also be involved, and everyone who is involved with the hiring and management of employees can also be consulted. 
  • Set up regular meetings with the different members of the departments involved in these updates over the course of the year, to stay up-to-date.
  • Every legal change that has occurred this past year should be taken into consideration.
  • Always stay up to date with employees and their experiences in the workplace as well.

Deploying an Updated or New Handbook

  • Communication is essential to making sure an updated handbook is seen and employees are made aware.
  • Internal forums, discussion groups, and group chats are all great tools to get the word out.

HR Dive

  • HR Dive is an HR news-focused publication; it is online only, and access is completely free.
  • They feature newsletters on the topics of: training, talent development, compensation & benefits, and more.
  • Mr. Golden is a reporter for HR Dive and is consistently learning more about the changes within the industry by remaining in contact with HR professionals.

Ryan Golden Backstory

  • B.A. in Communications from Mount St. Mary’s University 
  • Began his career at a variety of digital and print publications, including ZeroFOX and The Mountain Echo Newspaper
  • Mr. Golden has worked at HR Dive since 2016, serving as an Associate Editor and then moving into his current role as a Reporter


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