What is an employee handbook?

What is an employee handbook?

20 December 2023

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No matter the size of your business and regardless of the industry you reside in, an employee handbook is a useful resource every organisation should have. Also known as a staff handbook, it sets out a company’s policies, procedures and expectations for employees so there is a clear and consistent approach to dealing with the full range of issues that normally arise during the employee lifecycle.

In this blog, we explain in more detail what an employee handbook should contain, where you can store it and the importance of regularly reviewing and updating it.

What does an employee handbook contain?

An employee handbook will typically contain a range of useful information that employees will need to know or easily be able to refer to during their time with a company. Some of the basics of what an employee handbook generally includes:

An introduction or welcome section

It’s always good to have this section especially for new starters. The introduction or welcome section will usually include a brief company history, some key facts, along with an overview of the company’s mission, vision and values. This helps set the tone for what new employees can expect and what the culture of the company is.

Policies and procedures

The majority of information in an employee handbook will provide details on the policies and procedures operated by the company. Many companies group related policies together in their employee handbook so they are easier to find – this also makes the handbook more readable. The order of the sections will vary but an example of some of the section that may be included:

  • Core hours of work
  • Development and training opportunities
  • Time off or annual leave entitlement
  • Health and wellbeing programmes
  • Employee relations
  • Family friendly policies (e.g. maternity leave or paternity leave policies)
  • Diversity and inclusion policies


Some of the policies and procedures which are documented in the employee handbook will have associated forms that staff need to fill in. That could be a form to request paternity leave, or perhaps an employee wants to make a flexible working request. In order do this, they would need to complete and submit a form that provides all the relevant information.

Rather than having to search elsewhere for these forms, it’s a good idea to include them in the employee handbook as well so the handbook becomes a one-stop-shop and saves time for employees. By doing so, the handbook also becomes a more valuable resource for employees and means that it’s likely to be accessed more frequently in one way, shape or form.

Where should an employee handbook be stored?

In days gone by, many employees would be presented with an employee handbook on their first day in a new job and would spend the rest of that day, and maybe a bit longer, reading through the whole handbook. Whilst that still happens, in some cases employers have tended to move away from that approach for various reasons.

Firstly, there is the cost of paper, printing and staff time involved, particularly if your business has relatively high turnover and regularly has a high volume of new starters. Secondly, making a new employee sit and read a handbook for a day is not a good use of resource. Finally, adopting that approach really doesn’t give an employee a great first impression of what life is like in their new job.

There will no doubt be some key information that they need to know on day one but with a clearly structured and developed induction plan, the remainder can be covered in a staggered manner over a period of time.

It’s important that the employee handbook is available to staff. If employees don’t readily have access to a computer, then a hard copy of an employee handbook should be printed and stored in a file somewhere staff can access. This might be in a staff room, canteen or general office for example.

For companies where all staff have computer access, then it’s perfectly acceptable to have an electronic version of the employee handbook. This can be stored in a shared drive, on the company intranet, a HR system like HRX, or anywhere that is open to all employees. Make sure that these versions can’t be edited in any way by those employees who simply need it for reference purposes.

Reviewing and updating your employee handbook

Once a company has an employee handbook in place, it’s crucial that it is regularly reviewed and updated. Employment law and guidance from ACAS changes frequently and so the handbook needs to be dynamic.

If changes to employment law and ACAS guidance happen, and the handbook does not reflect those changes, then a company is at risk of failing to adhere to their legal obligations and responsibilities. Ultimately, that could lead to legal action and employment tribunal claims being brought against an employer. So be sure to take time to regularly review and update the employee handbook as often as you can.

When changes are made to any policies and procedures, it’s also important that these changes are shared and communicated out to employees so that everyone knows what amendments have been made.

Learn more about our HR software

Our HR software allows you to streamline your onboarding processes and store your employee handbook and so much more. Learn more about how your business can go paperless by contacting our team today. Or why not try it out for yourself today and sign up to our FREE 30 day trial?

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