While the idea of a “handbook” often conjures up a jumble of jargon and rules, writing one gives you a chance to express how your small business thinks about culture, how you treat your team, and how you celebrate success or endure hardships together. It’s a place to communicate the values that keep you on the path of true north.
We’ve assembled some of our favorite employee handbook examples from companies whose handbooks and culture guides especially bring their voice and vision to life. Some of the examples below are company manifestos more so than employee handbooks—and yes, you can mesh the two—but keep in mind that a handbook has specific requirements it needs to fulfill (which you can learn more about here!).
1. Education First
Education First (EF) has a charming employee handbook filled with illustrations that hearken to children’s books, and they carry a humble tone throughout. Following a section on their company’s core values, EF writes:
“We are not: hierarchical. Team spirit is important at EF. Office politics are not. Keeping our organization lean helps us move faster and respond quickly to market chances. We don’t believe in lots of layers, rigid reporting structures, or excessive decision-making chains.”
There’re a ton of great blurbs and inspirational language in Facebook’s highly visual employee handbook, all to do with how they aim to differentiate and win in a big way. They make bold, evocative statements to put power behind their beliefs and to challenge more traditional wisdom, like “slow and steady wins the race.”
“Fast is better than slow. While slow is adding unnecessary embellishments, fast is out in the world. And that means fast can learn from experience while slow can only theorize. Those who ship quickly can improve quickly. So fast doesn’t just win the race. It gets a head start for the next one.”
3. Austin Fraser
Austin Fraser’s employee handbook is highly visual with bold colors and blocks, combining a sense of playfulness with the more serious down-to-business facts they need to include in their handbook:
“To get over all the turkey, eggnog and general over indulgence, Austin Fraser shuts down for three days over Christmas.”
If you want to go all-in on creative, energetic visuals to get your employees excited, you might not find a better, bolder example than this. Houston keeps it light (and bright) with companionable, conversational language and short text blocks.
“Mainly, this guide should help you to not freak out, now that you are here. Forever. (Calm down. No really. Stop crying. We’re all very nice. I promise. It will be ok.)”
5. Disney (1943 edition)
This handbook from 1943 may not be in circulation anymore, but using playful illustration and easily digestible language in your handbook will never get old. We adore the undeniable charm and friendliness of Disney’s employee handbook for amusement park workers.
“When Uncle Sam joined us on the lot, he brought with him a new and necessary institution. We refer, of course, to the identification badge. You will note that your picture looks very much like someone else. This is entirely beside the point. The point is (and we aren’t kidding) you can’t get through the time office, morning or night, without your badge. If you’ve lost it or left it at home you’ll have to go to the Police Gate and get a temporary badge until yours is replaced.”
6. Valve Software
Valve’s employee handbook has been praised often over the years for similar reasons. With clever, cheeky comic strips strewn throughout the handbook, Valve keeps their employees’ attention and conveys the attitude they’d like others to take about their work. In this case, Valve wants their employees to tackle their work with both a sense of humor and a determination to get things done.
On the tactical side of things:
“We all need feedback about our performance—in order to improve, and in order to know we’re not failing. Once a year we all give each other feedback about our work. Outside of these formalized peer reviews, the expectation is that we’ll just pull feedback from those around us whenever we need to.”
On company perks and culture:
“Sometimes things around the office can seem a little too good to be true. If you find yourself walking down the hall one morning with a bowl of fresh fruit and Stumptown-roasted espresso, dropping off your laundry to be washed, and heading into one of the massage rooms, don’t freak out. All these things are here for you to actually use… If we ever institute caviar-catered lunches, though, then maybe something’s wrong. Definitely panic if there’s caviar.”
7. Crispin Porter + Bogusky
Crispin Porter + Bogusky’s handbook does an excellent job of conveying company values along with promoting their ideal of a collaborative workspace. Their expectations for their employees are clearly laid out so all can move forward with the right intentions.
“We do stuff. We don’t talk about it, or have a meeting about it, or e-mail each other about it if we’re not going to do it. Brilliant thinking not executed is literally worthless. No amount of PowerPoint presentations can substitute for work not done. People who do things are the people who change the world. You are in the game here. There are no sidelines.”
If your brand is less straight-laced and suited-up and more about making employees feel comfortable, happy, and empowered to be themselves at work, pull a page from 22squared’s handbook. It’s chock-full of familiar, smile-inducing language that’s sure to put any reader quickly at ease.
“So, you’re over the new employee blur and now it’s time to do stuff. But everything seems kind of clunky. It’s going to. Relax, nobody expects you to know everything all at once or, actually ever. Because everyone here is learning, all the time. That’s one of the things that makes this place so great. It’s never perfect because perfect isn’t perfect. Perfect means stopping. And stopping sucks. So, relax. You won’t be judged for trying too hard. And you’re good at what you do. That’s why they hired you. And they’re really picky. Did we mention that you need to relax?”
Taking advantage of their own platform to cleverly lay out the pieces of an employee handbook, Trello put together an employee guide with a tone that’s supportive and affable, easy to get through, and makes employees feel confident about what they need to do and where they can go if they require more help.
“2FA and Password Managers: The Internet’s a scary place, and we keep most of our cool stuff there. We need to do everything we can to keep the baddies out. That way we can sleep better at night, without the teeth grinding and nail biting and other anxious habits that might emerge….”
10. The Motley Fool
Don’t take yourself too seriously! Ever playful and silly, The Motley Fool compiled their handbook into “The Fool’s Rules” to best incorporate their favorite quirks and guiding principles. What’s more, they encourage employees to each choose or make up their own Motley Core Value by picking a word or phrase that best defines them. With this added level of interactivity, employees feel like they’re a part of something instead of having to slog through a lot of text that doesn’t invite them to participate.
“We take special pride in calling ourselves ‘Foolish’ – with a capital F. Harkening back to Shakespeare, it is our calling card to be irreverent, to instruct and amuse, and to speak the truth. So our Core Values can be summarized simply as ‘Be Foolish.’
- Collaborative – Do great things together.
- Innovative – Search for a better solution. Then top it.
- Honest – Make us proud.
- Competitive – Play fair, play hard, play to win.
- Fun – Revel in your work.
- Motley – Make Foolishness your own!”
There are infinite ways to make your employee handbook unique to your company, infused with color and voice and magic. You don’t even have to call it a handbook. Some creative titles we came across included Employee Atlas, Storybook, Playbook, Culture Book, simply “The Way We Work,” or even “A Voyage to Pluto” (thanks, Memória Visual!).
Explore what makes your brand and your team unique, and play with different formats, mediums, language and color—there are no limits to your creativity. For the rest of the rules you have to follow when building an actual handbook, download our handy and detailed guide to creating an employee handbook.