Employee Handbook


Key to Managing HR

employee handbook

Your employee handbook is the very core of managing human resources. Some of the contents will be familiar, but we're sure you'll find some surprises that you hadn't thought of covering.

Having the right people is crucial to every business since your business is only as good as your people. You can't absorb the cost and disruption from having unsuitable staff. So it is important to find, hire and retain the right people.

"Hiring and retaining the right people is an obvious goal for every family business - but how these human assets are treated are defined in the managers handbook and the employee handbook." according to top family business expert Don Schwerzler. "Having a managers handbook and an employee handbook are the best defense strategies against litigation for issues like sexual harassment, age discrimination and wrongful termination types of lawsuits that can bankrupt a family business."

Schwerzler has been studying and advising family business entrepreneurs for more than 40 years and he is the founder of the Family Business Institute that is headquartered in Atlanta GA.

It starts with strategic planning

If you have followed some of our other advise, you will already have a family strategic plan and a strategic plan for your business; you will have an operations plan; you might well have plans for specific things like production, marketing and cash flow. Consider all of these before getting into human resources. Knowing yourself, your business and the situations you plan to encounter will tell you a lot about the people you will need - not only the hard skills and expertise but also the soft or people skills to work effectively within your organization and with its customers.

Finding and hiring the right people

  • Your employee handbook, discussed below, will contain information that prospective new hires and your staff doing the hiring will need to know
  • Determine the skills and attributes you require

    First, describe the job to be filled. This determines the skills and attributes the employee needs to do the job. Then you can match an applicant's skills and attributes with your requirement. Be realistic and accurate and specific with your requirements. You probably cannot find one person to do all the things that you just don't like to do or don't have time for!

  • Develop an application form

    You have defined what you are looking for. An application form will help you gather facts about potential candidates then screen through their information to select those you will interview.

    On one hand, the application should be complete so that it gathers the information you need to assess skills and attributes. On the other hand, it should be reasonably simple. We have found that a suitable form for most positions can be laid out on one page with enough space provided for hand-written information. The application should always be filled out before an interview since it is best used as a basis for selecting potential candidates to interview.

    It provides a written record of experience and former employer's names and addresses.

  • Find Staff

    There are several sources available for recruitment, and you may have to use more than one for best results. Each source must know the skills and attributes you have identified.

    • State unemployment service, affiliated with United States Employment Service. Will screen applicants and give aptitude tests.
    • An executive search firm will also screen applicants. Their services generally cost the employer but there is a guarantee for a limited period that the applicant will be suitable.
    • Newspaper advertisements. Often best to have applicant write or fax to avoid disruption and to enable screening of all applicants before interviewing.
    • Online job databanks such as The Monster and online ads in local newspaper. These cost and might provide far more than just local and qualified candidates. The more senior and unusual the position, the more the online databases can help.
    • Local colleges might have a "Cooperative Education" program. These are excellent sources for short term project staffing and to "take a look" at future permanent employees. Generally, as an employer you will have to complete some evaluation of your student since this position provides course credit for the student - but, you are already doing regular employee evaluation aren't you?! Why not look into bringing in a "co-op" student for four months to work with you to document all those procedures you have been meaning to "get around to"?
    • Your local high school may have a distributive education department where the students work in your store part time while learning about selling and merchandising along with their school courses. Many part-time students stay with the store after they finish school.
    • A "Help Wanted" sign on your building as long as applicants won't interfere with serving customers.
    • Personal contact sometimes works - present employees, customers, suppliers, friends, relatives, church. A pitfall is that the contact might have their own agenda and not be sensitive to your specific skills and attributes requirements. And if the employment doesn't work out, you risk losing a contact and friend.
  • Interview and Hire

    We find that generally the best way to get the information we need is to get the interviewee to do most of the talking. We look for them to provide information and insight about their work habits, their skills, their interests, their likes and dislikes about previous jobs. So we generally ask quite specific questions, but not so specific that they can be answered yes or no!

    • What did you do in your job with [Company x]?
    • What did you like most about it?
    • What did you like least about it?
    • What would you change about it?

    We want to know that they have the experience and skills and that they understand the work.

    We always interview all the selected candidates even if we think we have found the person we want.

    We give a candidate our best estimate of when we expect to conclude the process and indicate that we will contact them if we wish to proceed to the next step.

    We attempt to verify information with previous employer[s], preferably with a few short written questions that can be answered simply:

    Please rate their work average______ above average __________ below average _________;

    How long did x work for you? ______

    Reason x left your employment ___________

    Sometimes telephone interview with previous employer[s] can help to provide insight if the decision is close.

  • Training and Development

    Once the job offer is made and accepted, don't forget to get the employee off to a good start with an orientation to your company and its procedures. And take a few minutes when you are doing the job offer to consider how the person will fit into the Training and Development Plan.

Knowing who you need... and getting them... Now it's time to concentrate on your employee handbook - the core of your human resources function.

Your Employee Handbook

First, let's look at a comprehensive list of things your employee handbook could cover. We won't say should cover, because yours will be unique to your organization.

Welcome to [Company]


Overview of [Company]

Employment Policies

Hiring Procedures

Employee Information

Starting to Work


Performance Management

Professional Standard


Paid Time Off We include a discussion regarding the choice between PTO vs. Sick/Vacation/Personal time policy.


Paid Leaves Of Absence

Unpaid Time Off

Information Systems Usage Policy

Workplace Policies



Drug-Free Workplace Policy

Unlawful Harassment

Prohibited Conduct

Discipline Policy

Separation of Employment

Sure, not every one of these topics is applicable to your family business.

However, as you looked through this list, we're certain that you found a few - or more! - items that you might have forgotten about. Things that maybe don't crop up every day in your family business, but that should be covered in your employee handbook.

And, there will be unique items from your family business that must be included in your employee handbook.

So, flexibility is one of the benefits that you'll need in your employee handbook - it needs to fit your family business. What are some other benefits to look for?

Benefits to look for in your employee handbook

  • Pre-written sample employee policy handbook with 200+ employee policies
  • Includes 60+ supplemental forms & 10 Federal posters
  • Easily edit or reformat to your requirements using Microsoft Word
  • Developed with practicing HR attorneys & professionals to address the toughest standards of every state (+ California)
  • Step x step instructions explain each section and offer best practices
  • Includes the comprehensive Handbook of Employee Policies (PDF)

If you already have an employee handbook, does it measure up? If you don't have one at all, the above is a good shopping list.

Need help with your employee handbook? No problem... ASK THE EXPERT...

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