Who needs an employee handbook, anyway? (You probably know the answer already.)

Employee handbookUnlikely scenario: “Well then,” you say to your new employee on her very first day, “Let’s just run through a few of the policies we have here at the company.” Depending on your personality, you then make some feeble statement about everyone behaving professionally or you wax on for five hours about the many rules of the office.

Somewhat more likely scenario: Your staff comprehensively educates your new employee. The task is performed chiefly by one or two well-meaning long-timers who are eager to share their perceptions about company culture and customs, and about your reputed hot buttons regarding employee behavior. (“He says there are personal days, but just try and TAKE one.”)

Best scenario: You lay it out in writing. You date it. You provide it. You have employees sign a form saying they’ve seen it. This is Your Employee Handbook, and it could save you thousands of dollars and hours of misery.

Content: At our company, we’re on the umpteenth revision of a handbook that serves as a history of how companies and their cultures grow and change. The handbook has gotten longer, more detailed and, in some areas, gentler. The handbook covers virtually every policy issue that arises plus a few that may never come up, such as management response to felony assault in the workplace.

Your topics list will, of course, reflect your own company’s way of doing business. Just be sure to include material that protects you legally, such as your right to terminate employment and your expectations for confidentiality of customer information.

Don’t assume you’ll never have a bad apple who defends his or her abhorrent behavior on the grounds that you have not expressly forbidden it. (There is a place for “and any other actions that management deems inappropriate in the workplace” language, believe me.)

Also, be sure your policies are consistent with employment laws.

Here’s a peek at our company handbook’s current topics:


Dress and demeanor

Professionalism and mutual respect

Personal work style


Production meetings



Non-disclosure/non-compete/software use policy



Disciplinary procedures

Weather cancellation

Dealing with outside contacts and associates



Performance reviews

Employment status



Sick time

Parental leave notice


Jury Duty


Retirement plan

Travel expenses

Anti-Discrimination and sexual harassment policy

Acknowledgement of handbook and company policies form

Resources: Developing a handbook is much easier now than when our company first tackled the job. Simply Google “guide to creating employee handbook” and you’ll find a bonanza of resources.

Update, publish, update: After writing this article, I am going back to the van Schouwen Associates handbook and updating some language. Keeping a handbook up-to-date is a great exercise in communicating what you want and expect as an employer, and what is fair and reasonable for all.


Michelle van Schouwen is president of van Schouwen Associates, LLC, a B2B marketing company based in Longmeadow, MA. The company is known for vSALaunch, its proprietary, modular and scalable system for B2B marketing launches, as well as its expertise in integrated marketing for B2B. Michelle and the van Schouwen Associates team believe that virtually every business is undergoing the tug of change, and that having a great team makes all the difference. Contact Michelle at michelle@vsamarketing.com.


  1. How about adding your Safety Program into the list!? Great list just a thought!

  2. Mike Linder says:

    We print employee handbooks and safety books as well for some of the largest industries in the country. We print as little as 500 for very reasonable price. linderprinting@verizon.net

  3. Michelle

    Your advice as a business owner who has been there and done that carries a lot of weight and is spot on. Having a consistent message for all employees on specific company policies is a means to keep the politics & disputes to a minimum and promote a harmonious and productive workplace.

    I disagree on one point, however. As a supplier of custom employee handbooks to the Canadian market, the most common comment we receive is something along the lines of "we've been building a handbook for over six months and hate it". These build-it-yourself projects often end up being costly, time consuming and of questionable quality.

    The resources available online can be like drinking from a fire hose – downloadable templates, sample handbooks, conflicting recommendations from other companies, etc. Just as with any other business tool, reinventing the wheel on an employee handbook is a huge task because the learning curve is very steep.

    On the other hand, copying someone else's handbook is just as damning an exercise. Your business needs what your business needs, not what some other business needs. And that's why our product was created – it extracts the specific needs of a business in a very concentrated process then converts that input into a fully customized and highly usable employee handbook that is ready to roll out within one or two weeks at most. And it does so with minimal time commitment from a business rep (4-5 hours plus review time) and at a low fixed fee of roughly $3000.

    No more white elephants! Just a highly useful tool that benefits your business across many different fronts.

    For now, Canada-only. But coming to the USA in 2015 (fingers crossed)!

    Anyway, thank you for your blog post. You're preaching to the choir with me but I still love the spreading of the gospel.

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