Employee handbooks are what most Business Owners consider a necessary evil – something that is nice to have but it rarely changes. But employee handbooks can be a living, breathing document that can increase team culture, help avoid extremely costly HR-related lawsuits, and more. We say this often, but the more you can do to communicate with your employees, the better.

Did you know that among businesses with 10-200 employees, 13% of them don’t have an employee handbook (or other written HR policies) at all? With even smaller companies, those with 2-9 employees, that number jumps to 74%. Just in Central Ohio, there are 277,000 small businesses that have employees. That’s an awful lot of employees that have no clear guide to the company. And even though hiring a great employment attorney to review your handbook on an annual basis can cost a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, the average HR-related litigation costs around $88,000. It’s money well spent.


Don’t get hung up on having hundreds of pages for employees to read. A simple document that is 12-15 pages is sufficient, if your employment attorney agrees. Priority one for the contents is including the Mission, Vision, and Values of the company. If you want to have those things top of mind in your employees’ everyday work, then they need to be communicated clearly and often. Some other ideas for employee handbook contents:

  • Work hours and paid holidays
  • Leaves of absence
  • Workplace safety
  • Dress code
  • Use of company equipment
  • Salary and bonuses (don’t forget a clear explanation of how bonuses are calculated)
  • Meal and break periods
  • Attendance
  • Substance abuse
  • Email, internet, and social media usage
  • Disciplinary action, and what leads to disciplinary action
  • Travel & expense accounts
  • Performance reviews
  • Termination (both voluntary & involuntary): what happens if/when they leave
  • Bullying
  • Discrimination
  • Available benefits


We recommend that your employee handbook be updated annually at the very minimum, but remember that this is a living, breathing document. Most of our clients are on the path to massive business growth, which requires more and more employees, and potentially different policies as you grow. Is the wording that absences need to be reported to the Owner and now it is to a General Manager? Have you changed from work-at-work to work-from-home? All of these require different policies. Generally, the mission, vision, and values of the company don’t change too often – but when adding product lines, services, and more, that original mission & vision may not apply. Be sure that the employee handbook grows with your company.

This also goes for Job Descriptions. In a very small company, the Office Manager is often the bookkeeper, social media manager, event planner, human resources department, payroll company, and so much more. As the company grows and their job changes as you may hire a bookkeeper, event planner, human resources staff, payroll department, and more. Be sure that as job duties update that written job description does too.


Have you ever considered putting the employee handbook in a different format to make it even more accessible to your employees? Perhaps each section read by an executive at the company in video form? Or as an audio file? Different people learn in different ways – most are Visual, Auditory, or Kinesthetic, or a combination of a couple of them. If your handbook is only in print, some of your people may have trouble retaining the information. After all, most people absorb only 10% of what we read, but we absorb 95% of a message in video form. Recording the information on video takes only a few minutes with simple equipment like a laptop and can be recorded using a one-person Zoom meeting. It doesn’t have to be highly produced, but it does have to be consistent across each of the methods. Be sure your on-screen talent is reading the same words that your attorney has reviewed in the print version.


Your employee handbook can be a guiding force in your business, assuring that each and every employee is ready to do the right thing. Communication is key for strong teams, and this is just one more step to make your team stronger.


Need help developing your mission, vision and values of your company? Is communication with your employees something that is a struggle? We can help. Schedule your free, no-obligation business analysis today.

About the author,

Director of Marketing, ActionCOACH Columbus

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