What is an Employee Handbook?

In many ways, businesses are a lot like sports teams. Let’s say you’re the captain of a rowing team. In order to lead your team to victory, you’ll first need to ensure every member of your team is rowing in the same direction. If you don’t, your odds of success decrease as each member of the team makes their own isolated decision on which way to row. Sounds like a recipe for a lot of spinning in circles…

Now back to the business world. In order to achieve success at your company, you need to communicate your expectations, policies and procedures clearly and consistently with your team. If you don’t, you run the very real risk of everybody doing their own thing. Often, this leads to mistakes because people “wing it” or make decisions on-the-fly. If your team is all frantically rowing in different directions, progress will be a lot harder to achieve, even if you have a group of superstars.

A simple way to formalize and organize all of the crucial information your team needs to be aligned and rowing in the same direction is to have a modern Employee Handbook. And, we strongly recommend that your Employee Handbook doesn’t appear as though it were written by a lawyer. That’s more of the old-school approach. Instead, it should reflect the passion and purpose of your leader in a manner that’s easily understood by every employee.

What is a modern Employee Handbook?

A modern Employee Handbook is a formalized document that is given to every employee prior to their first day of employment. It is an all-encompassing document detailing your company’s values, policies and core procedures. After reviewing it, your employees should clearly understand what’s expected of them and have something to refer back to as questions arise. While customization is encouraged, it’s important to note that your modern Employee Handbook must include:

  1. Policies that protect the business, either because they are legally required or seen as best practice. For instance, these may cover topics ranging from very serious situations (e.g., preventing sexual harassment & workplace violence) to expectations around how people carry out their work (e.g., rules for working from home).
  2. Procedures on how certain things are done at your company. For instance, how does someone request access to a new system or report a sick day they’ve taken.
  3. Information about your company’s values, norms and culture as well as any other information that is unique to your company that should be widely known.

Make no mistake, this is a critical document for all of your employees. A leader within your company must take ownership of this document to ensure it is consistently distributed and updated routinely. From time to time, as your company grows and evolves, or as the laws change, you will need to update this document to reflect the current landscape.

Why do I need one?

All businesses need a modern Employee Handbook because if your team isn’t given direction, they will create the processes, values, and culture themselves. This can quickly get hectic. Think back to the ‘frantic rowing team’ going in multiple different directions analogy!

Having all of your essential information in one place means that you, as a business leader, are efficiently organized. It also means that all of your employees – regardless of the length of their tenure – will be able to reference information, policies and procedures that are consistent. “Solutions” won’t be made up on the spot as a situation arises with an outcome that depends on someone’s mood that day.

A well-crafted Employee Handbook minimizes misunderstandings within your company and ultimately saves everyone’s time. Your employees will be clearly told what to expect and what is expected of them. They won’t have plausible deniability when a situation arises and they respond in a manner that is inconsistent with their Employee Handbook. This is how to protect your company and the majority of your employees from the potential actions of one or two bad actors.

How do I organize it?

Your modern Employee Handbook must include the following information:


Some of these will be required by law, others as general best practices and the rest as unique elements of your business model. If it’s important to the viability of your company, include it. Every employee must sign off on having read the handbook, so anything you include within it, you know is getting read.


These are the previously agreed upon ways in which certain administrative tasks get done. Generally, adherence to these is expected across all of your employees. This can be anything from how people clock in and clock out to how much-advanced notice they must give before booking a day off. People typically appreciate clarity, rules and structure so long as it doesn’t get carried away.


Include your story, mission statement, and values. Let everyone know why you exist, how you got there and what makes you unique. Introduce your leadership team and include some perspective about what it means to work for your company.

Look and Feel

Make use of colourful imagery, bold fonts, easy-to-digest paragraphs and a bit of personality. Employee Handbooks can be dense, but there are steps you can take to help the information in your handbook resonate with every employee. Remember, you’re crafting a document for today’s modern workforce, not a court of law!

How does Castle HR approach modern Employee Handbooks?

You’re not a cookie-cutter business. You have your own culture and your own strengths, and we recognize that. Actually, we love and encourage that! As a company that takes a modern approach to HR, we believe in making customized, modern Employee Handbooks for your company. Boilerplate templates won’t cut it. That means every policy is written to fit your unique needs and we keep your values front-and-centre.

A modern Employee Handbook isn’t just a box you need to check for legal compliance. It’s an opportunity to share everything your employees want and need to know in one convenient package. This will help you avoid disconnect, simplify decisions as situations arise and align your team on the path to success. Spending a bit of time on this upfront will, in return, save you that time many times over in the future. So, what are you waiting for?

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