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How to Write an Employee Handbook for Your Small Business

employee handbook

An employee handbook is a great tool that can help businesses of all sizes establish company policies and develop a positive workplace culture. They help keep operations running smoothly, from onboarding to managing sick leave.

What is an Employee Handbook?

An employee handbook is also referred to as an employee manual or staff handbook. It’s a document that outlines any company information that is important for your employees to know.

While the information included in employee handbooks varies across different companies, it usually includes a company’s mission and values, guidelines on interacting with customers and coworkers, benefits, policies, and the rights workers have under the law. Creating a handbook will give your employees a clear understanding of your business’s policies and expectations to ensure everyone is on the same page.

How to Start Writing an Employee Handbook

Starting an employee handbook from scratch may seem like a daunting task, but, fortunately, many small business owners are further along in the process than they might think. If you’ve already developed company policies—such as a leave request process, a dress code, or a weather emergency policy—you’re already well on your way to completing your handbook. Start by gathering any company policies you’ve written down and compiling them in a single document in whatever order seems most logical. There will likely be some gaps, but by doing this, you won’t be starting the handbook writing process at square one.

Steps to Develop Your Small Business Handbook

Try following these suggestions to simplify and accelerate the process of writing your employee handbook:

1. Search for a Template Online

There are many employee handbook templates available online well suited for small businesses, such as those offered by Smartsheet. The image below shows what one of Smartsheet’s templates looks like:

employee handbook


You may even be able to find a template that is specific to your industry by searching for “Employee Handbook Template for [Insert Your Industry].” This will be a great starting point and should give you ideas for important topics to address in the handbook.

2. Develop an Outline

Once you have a template, you can create a rough outline that lays out the topics you plan to include and a few key points under each. Writing down key high-level items in an outline will give you direction when you sit down to begin writing and ensure you don’t miss any important information. While the template may provide some relevant topics to include, you should also draw on your own management experience when creating this outline.

3. Use Clear Language

When you begin writing each section, make sure to use clear and simple language. Avoid using jargon whenever possible so your staff can quickly and easily understand your policies. This is especially important when addressing complex topics like laws and regulations.

4. Encourage Employees to Ask Questions

Encourage your employees to ask questions if a policy isn’t clear to them. It may be helpful to set up a company all-hands meeting to walk through the handbook in real time to give employees a chance to ask questions in real time. You can also give employees the option of setting up one-on-one meetings to demonstrate that you value their opinions.

5. Make Sure the Handbook Is Easily Accessible and Frequently Updated

Make sure that the employee handbook can be accessed online so employees can always refer to it when they have a question about company policies. You can encourage employees to bookmark the handbook in their web browser so they can easily find it with one click.  

As you grow your small business and hire more employees, you’ll need to add to and change your employee handbook. If any of your company policies change over time, you should update the handbook to reflect the changes. To make sure this happens, you can designate someone within your company as the handbook owner who is responsible for keeping it up to date. You can remind your staff that an updated version of the handbook can always be found online.

Your company’s employee handbook reflects the type of business you want to operate, so take the writing process seriously. The handbook sets the tone that you want to establish with your staff, and a well-written handbook will ultimately make day-to-day operations much easier for you and your employees.

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