Many organizations use employee handbooks as a catch-all for communicating policies such as time off and dress code expectations, as well as procedures such as emergency protocols at the office. A lot of times, new hires will read the handbook once and never touch it again until they need to reference certain information. Additionally, employee handbooks are sometimes outdated and long overdue for a revision. Read on for ways that organizations can upgrade their employee handbook to a Culture Guide


Defined: What is an Employee Handbook?

An employee handbook or manual is a guide given to employees that includes everything related to an organization’s policies. This could include information on dress code, vacation time, and procedures. It is also a road map for employees, clearly outlining what behaviors and work patterns are acceptable to the company.


Are Employee Handbooks Required by Law? 

According to the National Law Review, employee handbooks are not required by law but they do help reduce employment law risks. By having policies and up-to-date compliance procedures clearly outlined in a handbook that employees are required to read, employers establish compliance expectations from the beginning—and a layer of defense if needed.


Elevating Your Employee Handbook to a Culture Guide 

Sometimes, employee handbooks lack voice and are written almost entirely from a compliance perspective. Instead of detailing an organization’s core values and vision, they focus only on employment regulations and outdated information. If this sounds familiar, it might be time to revise your current employee handbook or upgrade your organization’s handbook altogether to a Culture Guide

A Culture Guide goes beyond the typical employee handbook by explaining the history of an organization, its mission, and vision. It discusses how the organization tackles problems and communication norms.

Culture Guides also include norms for how colleagues treat each other, compensation philosophies, and information on employment law. In addition, they should discuss housekeeping items that help employees navigate daily life, such as how to connect to the printer.


What Should be Included in a Culture Guide?

The format of your Culture Guide will largely depend on your organization’s industry and goals, but at BerniePortal, our Culture Guide is divided into parts. Part I contains five main sections:

  1. History: Share a basic recounting of how your company got started with a few early milestones and the founding story—what spurred your founder creating your organization? What did that first year look like?
  2. Vision: A high-level view of where you want to be in the future, say in the next 15 to 25 years. It’s okay to present lofty goals here—give your team something to strive towards.
  3. Core Principles: What your team relies on to be successful, day in and out. These can include how you aim to help your clients, your commitment to team camaraderie, and more. 
  4. Ideal Teammates: An outline of what you expect from employees respective of your mission and vision. For example, you can say that an ideal employee should be passionate about the organization’s mission and empowered to help keep the team aligned with that mission. 
  5. Working Habits: Include how teammates work, how salespeople conduct sales efforts, how feedback is shared, how you solve problems, how you conduct meetings, and even how you write emails. Don’t make new hires figure it out on their own—document and write down what you expect.

Part II of a good Culture Guide contains four main sections: 

  1. Structure and Norms: What are the names of your brands and different teams in your organization? Document specific expectations and norms for how different communication channels are used. Do you prefer email correspondence over instant messages? What about phone calls? 
  2. Compensation and Benefits: Outline compensation practices, including how salaries are calculated, how the vacation policy works, and remote work policies for exempt and non-exempt teammates. Doing so takes time, but it demonstrates transparency, fairness, and objectivity to your team. 
  3. Technology: Do different roles need different hardware or software technology? What kind of tools can people expect to be able to buy or utilize? Writing this down avoids you dealing with a lot of one-off requests and further fosters an environment of fairness.
  4. How to Depart From the Organization: Employee turnover is part of life for all employers. But, how workers leave is a vital component of this process. This section addresses what’s expected of teammates who are moving on. How do they share with their manager that they’re leaving? How much time should they give before departing? Be as thorough as you can. Tell some stories about people who left with grace, emphasizing the things those people did well as part of their departure.

Just as important, employers and HR teams need to update employee handbooks/Culture Guides to match industry trends, culture changes, and workforce updates. 


Additional Resources

You can stay informed, educated, and up-to-date with important HR topics using BerniePortal’s comprehensive resources:

  • BerniePortal Blog—a one-stop-shop for HR industry news
  • HR Glossary—featuring the most common HR terms, acronyms, and compliance
  • HR Guides—essential pillars, covering an extensive list of comprehensive HR topics
  • BernieU—free online HR courses, approved for SHRM and HRCI recertification credit
  • HR Party of One—our popular YouTube series and podcast, covering emerging HR trends and enduring HR topics

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