For new employees at your organization, the employee handbook is a lot like the firm handshake from the new boss or a welcome from colleagues. It has the potential to be the ultimate first impression for employees just starting a career at your organization. And welcoming someone new to your team is an exciting time! The most successful employee handbooks play to that idea, they don't squash it.
Here at Bananatag, we were in a bit of a funk with our own employee handbook we were distributing. Needless to say, it wasn’t making an impact nor was it communicating who we are to excited, new employees. We focused on optimizing the employee handbook model -- the book had to be viewed as an important first engagement touchpoint for employees and it needed a makeover, stat.
Even if you can't change your company handbook on your own, it's important to remember that this is the first real chance to engage employees -- that's probably an idea your CEO's can get behind.
So, we created our own employee handbook from scratch and reflected on some of our successes that some communicators might be searching for.
Why we care and introducing the Bananatag employee handbook
At Bananatag, we efficiently created a generic employee handbook to meet a legal requirement. As we grew and worked on our onboarding experience, presenting the old employee handbook started to feel like a buzzkill in what should be an exciting time.
Our lacklustre, Microsoft office template employee handbook wasn't representative of our company identity. We scrapped the old, sterile book and replaced it with one that was more 'us'.
The transformation was extreme:
Not only was this version far more aesthetically pleasing, but it was an honest reflection of who we are.
We felt proud to hand this over to new employees and wanted to make them feel just as excited as we were to welcome them to the team.
The making of the Bananatag handbook
Being a small and lean company, all our founders were involved in the content and tone of the handbook and each had a hand in what went into it.
We created multiple versions until we ended up with the final book. Any employee handbook will take time to perfect -- it should be a complete representation your company and cover all important information and that magic won't happen overnight.
It was also important to us that the handbook look sharp, clean, and fun. The design aesthetic had to match our brand guidelines, which also gives employees a visual idea of who we are.
Let's take a peak at a few pages of the handbook and how we made it work:
The first thing new employees see should feel personal, which lead to the decision to open with a warm letter from our CEO. The letter briefly explains our background, how our company got to this point, and why each new hire is so important for our growth and health.
The cover and inner cover feature the letter in a way that we hoped would both emphasize the importance of that section, and also make the message easier to digest -- it's a personal note from our CEO:
Another goal was to make it fun and inject more meaning. This was accomplished by encouraging employees to cut out the page and turn it into a paper airplane -- a symbol for all of the places we're going as a company (and a metaphor for a way to spread the message, which relates to our professional focus on internal communications).
To further this idea, the airplane cutout is on the other side of the letter from the CEO, which makes that metaphor even more powerful:
We made a point to reference elements of our brand throughout, and aimed for imagery that would represent as much of our employee’s workplace experience as possible.
Here, that's displayed with the banana emoji, the table tennis paddle, code, and our logo:
For the following spread, the emphasis was on the different communications tools we use, when each one is most useful, and defining expectations for each channel. These pages helps answer questions like which kinds of messages should go where, and how frequently employees are expected to check each channel.
It’s also a fun little nod to the main creator of the handbook, Andrew, and of course, our heavy dependence on french press coffee.
Here and throughout, we heavily edited to reduce each section and policy to the most clear and concise it could be while still getting the message across. This also means using your "weekend words" (thanks to Steve Crescenzo for the term). While meeting legal requirements is important, leave the jargon behind and make the messaging accessible:
Just in case the handbook was getting a bit heavy on policy and light on culture, the next spread is focused on a very important but entire non-work related activity we participate in at Bananatag -- table tennis.
We chose to include this here not just because it was unexpected and fun, but also because this section actually helps our new hires get up to speed with our rules and succeed in the activity that tends to consume most of our break time.
This was also key for us to communicate the employee experience at Bananatag. Even though table tennis isn't related to anyone's work, it's an important aspect of who we are and it's part of how we enjoy our work everyday so it's something that new employees should be introduced to in the employee handbook.
How it worked out
Once we started distributing the new handbook to new and existing employees, we saw how helpful it was to have one legendary resource of company information, which, not to mention, blew our previous guide out of the water.
The response from our employees couldn't have been more positive. Some feedback we received was that a few employees felt they were able to get information they needed with ease. What someone thought was a silly question (which is a feeling often amplified when you're the freshman at a company), didn't need to be asked because they had the handbook for reference.
Upon reflection of our own efforts with employee engagement, looking back, the previous internal employee handbook was created to fill a legal requirement, which ended up making it disengaging for employees.
Reading company policies doesn't have to be a chore and with the new handbook, it no longer was. This was huge for our CEO and managers, as it made communicating key information to employees simpler.
We look at this handbook as a first draft -- we know things will change in the future. As the company grows, so will our policies and requirements. The handbook is a staple that will be evolve over time.
Key employee handbook takeaways for Internal Communicators:
We realize not all internal communicators have a hand in creating the employee handbook. But it's crucial to revisit and provide constructive feedback on your organization's document for a few reasons:
- A strong, inclusive employee handbook is an internal communicator's first opportunity to engage a new employee and get them onboard and in touch with the organizations mission, vision and values.
- As a new employee's first official touchpoint with the company, the employee handbook provides a chance for new employees to see what their experience at the company might be like
- The handbook also remains a staple for employees to refer back to for key company information and will continue to be an important resource throughout their time with the organization -- all the more reason for it to work well.
The handbook is now a proud Bananatag staple and one of the many goodies we give out to our new employees -- it's our way of saying welcome to the bunch and we're excited you're here.
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As always, we'd love to know what you think about our employee handbook in the comment section. How are you changing your own organization's employee handbook?