The Employee Handbook: an Undervalued Hero of Staff Training

8 minutes

6 hands-on ways to turn a dusty folder into a consistent eLearning experience.

Imagine a game with no rules. Players are rushing around the playground yelling; one player is trying to kick a ball, another to bat it, someone has set up a net in the middle, and above everything, there are random numbers flashing on the scoreboard. It’d hardly be a game. 

Rules and restrictions define what the game is, its goal, and how to win it. The same principle works for business. Just like a player’s handbook, an employee handbook establishes the rules and boundaries for work in the company.

An employee handbook is a manual that employers often give their newly hired staff during the onboarding process. It provides basic job-related information, both sublime (the company’s mission, values, and culture) and mundane (working hours, rules, policies, perks, etc.). The purpose of the handbook is to manage expectations and communicate what’s expected from employees and what’s unwelcome.  

In 2012, we got the chance to peep inside Valve, an American game development company, thanks to its hilarious ‘Handbook for New Employees’ that leaked to the net. In addition to setting the mindset that Valve’s newly hired team members should have, the handbook also happened to be an excellent PR tool, as it went viral. 

Valve’s handbook two-page spread

The specimen of a handbook that is worth reading from cover to cover.

What Makes Employee Handbooks an Underutilized Tool?

The issue with employee handbooks is that they’re often a one-time tool. You hand it over with a welcome pack and cross your fingers that a newbie will read it from cover to cover. And they’re huge.

Also, it’d be foolish to assume that once employees read the handbook, they’ll remember it. On the contrary, our memory needs ongoing reminders that the information is worth retaining. 

So, if companies want the contents of their handbooks to be committed to the employees’ memory and—what’s more important—to behavior patterns, they need to continuously broadcast these ideas. That’s why simply having a beautiful handbook doesn’t work.

Zappos Culture Book editions

Zappos’s Culture Book is updated each year.

How to Make Everlasting and Evergreen Employee Handbook? — Make It Digital! 

An employee handbook doesn’t have to be a book in the literal sense. Aside from being well-designed in your brand colors, it also has to be up to date. Unlike ‘books’ for which creating a new edition requires tons of effort (btw, what should you do with the previous edition that has already been printed?), updating and editing an online handbook is easy and doesn’t cost you anything.

For example, Motley Fool, a financial advice company, made a website instead of a paper edition. It includes information about the company’s purpose, values, culture, benefits, and approaches to work.

Dress code at Motley Fool

The Fool Rules

Another example is Trello, a task management service. They created an extensive employee manual using their own service. Not only do their newly hired employees learn about the policies and benefits, but they also naturally learn how the company’s products work.

Trello employee manual

Trello employee manual

Other companies such as Netflix or Hubspot are easy about the tool for sharing their handbooks with the world, so they simply published them as slide decks. Simple and effective.

Hubspot Culture Code

Hubspot Culture Code

Use eLearning Tools to Work with Employee Handbooks

By now, you may be thinking: “Alright, this is cool, but do I really need to design a special website for my handbook?” You can, but there’s an even better option that lets you have your cake and eat it, too – using eLearning tools.

Why is it better? The thing is, employee handbooks are a part of the onboarding process. So, let’s remind ourselves of what we expect from a modern onboarding instrument:

  • It can be easily updated
  • It’s a continuous rather than a one-time experience
  • It allows you to launch ad-hoc activities
  • It’s interactive

All of these and more can be done with the help of a learning management system and an authoring tool combo. Unlike developing websites, you don’t have to master any programming and design skills to do this, and also don’t need to hire additional staff.

6 Ideas for Your Employee Handbook

Below are some ideas on how to enhance and get the maximum from your employee handbook using eLearning. For some of them, we use iSpring products as an example, but if you’ve already got any eLearning software, everything said is well-applied to it, too.

Idea #1: Add resources that can be printed out

It’s always a good idea to add something for learners to grab, print, and put on the wall or next to their computers. This could be checklists, posters, or charts. These ongoing reminders will help employees remember the necessary information quicker and apply it at work.

Google manager behavior instructions

Google found the ten behaviors of successful managers. Why not pin it above your desk? 

Image credit: re:Work

Idea #2: Have a theme of the month 

Simply having a section like ‘Safety’ or ‘Dress code’ in your handbook is convenient when you just need to tick the boxes. It allows you to say something like, “Well, John, you did read the employee handbook, right?” in case of any issues with the employees. 

Instead, if you want to be more than just a box-ticker, you can announce a new theme for each month. These themes can support the most important aspects covered in the handbook or draw attention to the most frequent misconduct. For example:

  • January: Dress code
  • February: Privacy & Security 
  • March: Performance review
  • April: Fire safety
  • May: Burnout
  • June: Equality
  • July: Travelling, attending events & expenses policies
  • August: Leaves, vacations, and time off
  • September: Social media policy
  • October: 5 key values of our company
  • November: Zombie apocalypse preparedness plan
  • December: Free perks we’d love you to use

Using the iSpring Suite authoring toolkit, you’ll be able to easily create special mini-courses on the topics with quizzes and various interactions, upload them to your learning management system, and from there, schedule the assignments.

Idea #3: Create weekly polls or quizzes

Asking questions is a great way to boost engagement and learn audience opinions. Also, weekly polls or quizzes will work together perfectly with the theme of the month; not only do they help you interact with employees, but they also serve as friendly reminders of the topic on the radar. 

There are two ways, at least, to do this. If you don’t have any quiz-making software currently, the easiest way would be to use Google Forms. This is a free service for creating surveys. Then you can distribute the link via email or a corporate messenger, so anyone can leave their answers and see the collective results afterward.

Another option is using an LMS. Unlike the above-mentioned solution, running surveys with the LMS can be automated. Once set up, it requires less attention and manual tweaking from you.

Also, using special eLearning tools provides you with a wider range of question options. For example, with the iSpring quiz-maker tool, you can develop interactive drag & drop or hot spot tasks.

A screenshot from a mini-course on fire safety

Trying to suppress a virtual fire is more engaging than answering theoretical questions.

Idea #4: Gamify

If you use an LMS, you should definitely launch friendly contests for badges and positions in a leaderboard. If you don’t have one, you can still use a whiteboard and stickers (an LMS just makes it easier, because it does all the work for you).

You can also steal an idea from De Agostini, a partwork publisher that sells kits for scale modelers. After subscription, every month, you’ll receive parts, instructions, and plans to complete a specific stage of the build. 

You can use the same principle and bestow awards to employees who have completed each chapter of the handbook learning path and give a special prize to those who have unlocked all the achievements throughout the period.

Gamification feature in iSpring Learn LMS

Collecting achievements is fun.

Idea #5: Hire multimedia

The key thing in an employee handbook is that it needs to engage the reader while getting them familiar with your company. Take the best of the digital world by making your employee handbook live. 

Recording a video presentation from a CEO, adding a talking-head video to a presentation, or creating bite-sized video tips from internal experts – all are great opportunities to make the company more human.

A screenshot from an onboarding video course

Video better communicates a message than plain text.

Idea #6: Use scenario-based learning

Scenario-based exercises were made for conveying companies’ cultures. Unlike a handbook that employees passively read (if that), with scenario-based interaction, they actively participate in the process. What are you more likely to remember: if someone tells you to do (or not to do) something or if you’re allowed to do the unwelcomed action in a safe environment and see what happens? We bet the last one.

With iSpring Suite, you can create interactive role-play simulations that will help your employees see how your corporate values are applied in day-to-day work, practice their communication skills with virtual colleagues or customers, and get meaningful feedback.

A screenshot from a dialog simulation

This dialogue simulation aims to demonstrate to a newly hired employee what behavior is appropriate in the company.

Does your company have an employee handbook? What is it like? Please, share your experience in the comments below!

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