Glossary of HR Terms

Looking to brush up on all the latest HR acronyms, buzzwords, and common terms? This glossary is for you, sort of like the ABCs of HR. It's everything you need to know in the realm of employee experience and human connection, defined in easy-to-understand language.


We'll continue to add more terms and phrases to this glossary so it's as comprehensive as possible for your learning!

Home Glossary

Employee Handbook

Employee Handbook Uncovered: Essentials & Insights

What Is an Employee Handbook?

Your organization has a variety of policies, processes, and cultural nuances that set it apart from every other business. All of that information can be hard to manage and even more challenging to communicate to new hires during the employee onboarding process. That’s why every business should have an employee handbook to serve as a guide to all things related to your company.

Learn the definition of an employee handbook, its purpose, and how to distribute the important information it contains in an accessible and engaging way.

Employee Handbook Definition

An employee handbook is a collection of policies and procedures that provide direction and guidance to employees about how to conduct themselves in the workplace. It serves as a reference tool for employees to understand their rights and responsibilities within the organization. It also outlines key policies such as dress code, attendance, vacation and benefits, work schedules, and performance expectations. The employee handbook is an important resource for both employers and employees to ensure a safe and productive workplace.

What Is the Purpose of an Employee Handbook?

Most people think of employee handbooks as a dry compliance document designed to protect the company. While that is one of the top benefits of a comprehensive handbook, it can have so much more value than that. Here are some of the main reasons your organization needs an official employee handbook.

Setting Expectations

Your handbook is an essential companion for onboarding employees as they get to understand your organization and its policies. While leadership’s words and actions matter, the company handbook spells out standards for employee behavior and explains why your company operates as it does. 

For example, if the handbook lists specific work hours during the day when everyone needs to be available, employees can expect to adhere to those hours. If something comes up and they can’t work the hours laid out in the handbook, they know to alert their manager to find a solution.

Communicating Company Culture

Your company culture includes norms for behavior and shared attitudes and values. Your handbook should weave the thread of purpose behind each of your policies, processes, and expectations.

Say an employee is moving from working at a small company with a flat reporting structure to a large one with a tiered reporting structure. The handbook lays out the basic org chart so employees can see who they report to, who their manager reports to, and who makes decisions at each level.

Providing Legal Protection

Company handbooks provide a clear set of expectations, rights, and responsibilities for everyone in the organization. The handbook can serve as evidence that you provided the employee with adequate information and made sure that they understood the expectations, often by signing an acknowledgement form. This clarity can help employers facing legal action from an employee who challenges policies or procedures.

Serving as a Resource for Employees

Company handbooks aren’t meant to be read cover-to-cover. Like any reference book, they provide resources and direction when seeking answers to specific questions. Index your handbook and make digital versions searchable so employees can refer to it whenever they need it. 

7 Key Components to Include in an Employee Handbook

Your employee handbook should be your most comprehensive employee-facing document. It needs to contain all the information employees might need to abide by your policies, make challenging decisions, and explore their benefits and options.

But with all the information you could include, how do you know what’s most important? Check out these seven key components to include in your employee handbook.

Company Mission, Vision, and Values

Include your mission, vision, and values in the employee handbook to provide employees with a clear understanding of the company’s purpose and goals. This will help to ensure that everyone works toward the same shared objectives. 

For example, Patagonia’s mission statement and core values aren’t just passive words on a page. They’re meant to be lived by every person in the company. Employees need to know exactly why the organization exists and prioritizes what it does, and your employee handbook is a great place to lay that out.

Workplace Policies and Procedures

Include your policies and procedures in an employee handbook by outlining the rules and expectations in clear, concise language and providing any relevant documents or links for further reference. Make sure to review and update your policies and procedures regularly.

The number of policies and procedures in a large, global company may feel restrictive to a new employee coming from a less structured environment, for example. But your handbook can explain that they exist not to be punitive but to maintain consistent best practices across locations.

Employee Benefits and Compensation

Include information about ‌paid time off (such as vacation time and parental leave), health care offerings, retirement plans, and other compensation-related information. In the interests of pay transparency, it can be helpful to explain some of the reasoning behind pay decisions in your handbook.

Code of Conduct

You can include your code of conduct in an employee handbook by clearly stating the rules and expectations of behavior for employees and making it easily accessible to all staff members. Additionally, you should ensure that all employees are aware of and agree to the code of conduct. 

As an industry, for example, healthcare is fraught with potential ethical challenges. A robust, accessible code of conduct can help employees make challenging decisions on the floor, in keeping with your company values.

Health and Safety Measures

An employee handbook should clearly outline health and safety measures to ensure that employees know the correct procedures to follow in the workplace. This can include details about the use of protective equipment, hazardous materials, emergency procedures, and any other relevant safety information as well as notice of relevant employment laws, such as OSHA regulations in the U.S.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Policies

Include a section in the employee handbook dedicated to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) policies and programs, which should outline the company’s commitment to these values and how they’re implemented and enforced. Make sure to provide resources and information for employees to learn more about DEI issues as well as contact information for DEI resources within the company.

If you have employee resource groups, for example, list each of them and their purpose in your handbook so employees can decide which, if any, is the best fit for them.

Disclaimer and Acknowledgement Form

Include a section in the employee handbook for both a disclaimer and an acknowledgement form. Employees should sign and date each form to confirm that they’ve read, understood, and agree to the terms of the employment relationship set forth in the document.

8 Frequently Asked Questions About Employee Handbooks

Have lingering questions about the purpose and maintenance of your employee handbook? Check out our take on these eight frequently asked questions about employee handbook best practices.

How Often Should You Update an Employee Handbook?

An employee handbook should be reviewed and updated annually, or whenever significant changes occur, such as a merger or acquisition or a human resources technology transformation.

Are Employee Handbooks Mandatory?

No, employee handbooks aren’t mandatory; however, they are a useful tool for employers to communicate expectations, policies, and key company motivations to their team.

How Should You Distribute an Employee Handbook?

The best way to distribute an employee handbook is to make the handbook available electronically through your company intranet portal, or to provide each employee with a printed copy for reference.  

Who Should Be Active in Creating Employee Handbooks?

Your human resources team should be the primary driver of creating employee handbooks, as it’s your responsibility to oversee the company’s policies and make sure they’re communicated effectively to all employees. Additionally, try to involve managers and supervisors in the process to ensure the handbook reflects their departmental needs.

How Can You Make Your Handbook Accessible and Engaging?

To make a handbook accessible and engaging, consider using visuals such as images and charts to break up large chunks of text, and create clear section headings for easy navigation. Additionally, use simple language and ensure the handbook is available in different formats, such as PDFs, audio files, and e-books.

Check out this example of how Moneysupermarket Group used Enboarder to break up all the information shared during onboarding into more digestible chunks. 🤩

How Can HR Software Help With Handbook Management and Distribution?

HR software can help with handbook management and distribution by automating the process of distributing handbooks to new employees and tracking who has received and read them. You can program your onboarding automation software, for example, to deliver sections to new hires corresponding with what they’re learning through the onboarding process.

HR software also makes it easier to update handbooks with new policies and to push any changes out to the workforce to ensure all employees stay informed.

Should Your Employee Handbook Be Different for Remote and In-Person Employees?

Yes, your employee handbook should be different for remote and in-person employees. Remote employees need specific guidance on how to work remotely and the policies and expectations around this. This can include guidelines on communication, the technology needed for remote work, and how to collaborate with colleagues. 

An in-person handbook should focus more on the physical workplace, such as expectations around attendance, dress code, and safety procedures. It’s essential to ensure that each employee handbook is tailored to the specific work environment and employees it applies to.

How Can You Communicate Changes to Your Company Handbook?

Use HR workflow software to communicate changes to your company employee handbook to ensure that everyone is aware of the updates in a timely manner. This type of software allows you to easily capture each employee’s acknowledgement of the change and send automated reminders if necessary.

Is an Employee Handbook Your Ticket to a Connected Workforce?

Shared values and priorities bring people together and support a culture of connection at work. 

Your company handbook definition extends far beyond a simple compliance document. It’s a powerful tool for connecting employees to the company’s purpose and goals, and it provides a blueprint for working effectively together to achieve them.

Want to learn more? Discover the return you can earn from investing in human connection.