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How to write a staff handbook: a guide for small businesses

4-minute read

How to write a staff handbook: a guide for small businesses
Conor Shilling

Conor Shilling

5 November 2021

A staff handbook helps you to introduce your way of working to new recruits, while reminding existing employees of your company’s policies, expectations, and procedures.

Read on to find out why your business might need a staff handbook, what it should include, and how to create one.

What is a staff handbook?

A staff handbook gives your employees an overview of what’s expected of them, and also what they can expect from you when it comes to things like holiday allowance.

Employees can use the staff handbook to find information on what they should do in various situations, from taking maternity leave to using the internet during work.

A well-constructed staff handbook helps you to communicate with staff, while keeping them well-informed.

You can use a staff handbook to reiterate contractual issues such as duties and workplace pensions. It can also be used to highlight non-contractual issues such as company values, or statutory rights such as sick pay.

Why do businesses need a staff handbook?

Although having a staff handbook isn’t a legal requirement for UK businesses, they’re very useful for communicating with staff and enforcing your employment policies.

Here are some of the main benefits:

  • it reduces legal risks – if an employee wanted to take you to tribunal, a handbook that shows the policies you have in place could be invaluable
  • it improves consistency – everyone has to meet the same standards set out in the handbook, with one central document to refer back to
  • it saves time for HR staff – instead of every staff query taking up time for your HR department, employees can refer to the handbook
  • it improves staff relations – a staff handbook is a great communication tool, helping to keep staff engaged and informed

What should be in a staff handbook?

It depends on whether you want to incorporate the staff handbook into your employee’s contracts or create a non-contractual handbook.

If your handbook is non-contractual, you can change policies and procedures without needing employees to agree. On the other hand, if the handbook is incorporated into staff contracts, they can negotiate the policies.

You can use the handbook to reiterate policies outlined in employee’s contracts, such as workplace pensions and a health and safety policy (if you have more than five employees).

Many staff handbooks also include information on the company’s equal opportunities policy and dignity at work policy.

Here are some of the other policies you may want to include in the handbook:

  • email and internet policy
  • data protection and privacy notices
  • bribery and gifts policy

Staff HR policies

A staff handbook will also need to include your company’s HR policies on things like:

  • sickness
  • holiday
  • maternity and paternity leave
  • flexible working
  • bereavement/compassionate leave

We’ve partnered with Farillio to create a range of customisable, downloadable templates, to help you stay on top of important employment policies:

What else can you include in your staff handbook?

Some companies use a staff handbook to set out their expectations on dress code and lateness.

A staff manual could also include key business objectives, as well as an overview of the company’s culture and values.

When do you need to give employees a copy of the staff handbook?

It’s worth issuing employees with a copy of the staff handbook as soon as they join, or during their induction process. This allows them to read up and ask questions during their probation period.

You’ll also need to reissue the handbook to all staff every time it’s updated, for example if your policy on holiday being carried over changes.

How often should you review the staff handbook?

A staff handbook should be reviewed around once a year, according to the Federation of Small Businesses.

If you update contractual policies in the handbook, you’ll need to consult with staff and get their agreement before making any changes. This helps to protect you against breach of contract claims.

As mentioned above, you can make changes to non-contractual policies without asking staff.

How to create a staff handbook

Most staff handbooks will follow a simple structure with an introduction, followed by an overview of policies, and then extra information such as business objectives and company values.

It’s best to keep the handbook as short as possible, although it needs to include all the key information. A digestible layout and images will help make it accessible to staff.

When writing the handbook, make sure it matches your brand’s tone of voice. What’s more, use simple language where possible, so it’s easy to read and understand.

How should the staff handbook be presented?

You can send PDF copies of the handbook to staff via email, or give them a physical copy. Alternatively, you could upload the latest version to an online hub or shared drive for staff to download.

It’s important that staff acknowledge they’ve received the handbook and have read it in full – particularly if you’ve included contractual policies. They could do this by giving written confirmation in an email, ticking a box, or signing a physical or digital copy of the handbook.

Make sure staff are aware of the handbook

Creating a handbook is a good start, but you need to make sure it’s read by all staff and referenced by managers when dealing with their teams.

If you were taken to a tribunal and it became apparent that staff weren’t aware of the policies in the handbook, this could cause you a problem.

What’s more, getting buy-in from the staff increases chances of consistency, new recruits adapting quickly, and managers being able to deal with issues quickly without involving HR, or giving the wrong guidance.

Staff handbook template

Staff handbook examples can help you to work out what you need to include and how the information could be presented.

You can download a staff handbook template on the Human Resource Solutions website.

It’s important that you only use a template as a guide and customise it with your own company policies and procedures.

Please use this article as a guide only. Before creating a staff handbook, make sure you get legal advice on contractual issues, as well as support from an HR professional.

Photograph 1: Svitlana/stock.adobe.com

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