Small Business

6 Inspiring Employee Handbook Examples

An image of a Valve office
Credit: Shutterstock photo

Let’s face it, most employee handbooks are probably best used as a treatment for insomnia, but it doesn’t have to be that way. While some companies stick to the tried and true C.Y.A. model and leave it at that, other companies take a more inspired approach by turning the stodgy employee handbook into a clear articulation of the company’s vision and culture, with a little style and humor thrown in for good measure. Some employee handbooks are so effective, in fact, that they end up serving as a recruiting tool.

You may have no choice but to include specific policies and procedures required by federal, state, or local laws (be sure to get competent legal counsel for that ... that’s certainly not what this is). Still, it doesn't have to read like something that was spit out of an online employee handbook generator. One way to address these competing needs is to create a “culture book” for the more human aspects, and a separate legal document for the more formal HR policies and procedures.

However you decide to approach your employee handbook, the following examples may help reshape the way you think about them.

1. Valve Handbook for New Employees

Valve’s widely circulated employee handbook is described on its first page as “A fearless adventure in knowing what to do when no one’s there telling you what to do.” The company’s flat management structure makes for an interesting case study in self-management models, but the handbook itself is kind of amazing in its overall design and communication of company values.

Check out the Valve Handbook for New Employees (pdf)

2. The Motley Fool: The Fool Rules

With “Foolishness” encouraged and a vacation policy that advises you to “take what you need,” it’s no wonder The Motley Fool won Glassdoor’s Best Places to Work 2015. This one isn’t a handbook, but rather a full-blown interactive experience on a dedicated website, complete with a video from the CEO, specific company policies, and glossary of key terms. They’ve even taken the time to ensure the website is mobile-friendly, which makes me happy.

Check out The Motley Fool’s “The Fool Rules”

3. Disqus Culture Book

Disqus is a good example of a company who uses a “culture book” to communicate their vision, values, and beliefs in a way that preserves the start-up vibe, but separately has an official employee handbook to address things like labor law guidelines, anti-discrimination notices, etc. The Culture Book itself is presented as an attractive PDF filled with great looking pictures, graphics, and Internet memes that reinforce their identity as the web’s “Community of Communities.”

Check out the Disqus Culture Book

4. Zappos Employee Handbook

Zappos is well known for placing tremendous emphasis on cultural fit (so much so that they offer you $3,000 to leave after the first week). The Zappos Culture Book is filled with thoughts on Zappos’ culture straight from its employees, as well as photos, core values, and more.

So how do you place so much emphasis on culture and then follow that up with some boring employee handbook? You turn the boring handbook into a comic book, of course! The actual employee handbook is done up comic book style and features a story of a grandmother explaining to her grandson how to play nice as a vehicle for communicating all the boring policies and procedures they’re required to include.

Check out the Zappos Employee Handbook (video)

5. Netflix Culture: Freedom & Responsibility

Netflix’s 128-page internal presentation called “Netflix Culture: Freedom & Responsibility” was made public in 2009 and provided great insight into the company's hiring and firing process, as well as how they motivate and manage employees. While not the flashiest presentation, the content itself represented a cutting-edge management philosophy that has allowed them to attract and retain top talent and influence countless small start-ups.

Check out the Netflix culture document

6. Nordstrom: The World’s Shortest Employee Handbook

Nordstrom is known for their great customer service, so it’s not surprising that the way they communicate with their customers would carry over into their corporate culture. According to Nordstrom spokesperson, Dan Evans, “Our employee handbook is a single card that says ‘Use good judgment in all situations.’”

While the super-short approach is a nice sentiment intended to communicate a high degree of trust in their employees, the fact that they have a much lengthier and more formal document posted online illustrates the realities that most of us, as small business owners, must face as we put together our own employee handbooks.

Check out the Nordstrom employee handbook

What’s in Your Employee Handbook?

Hopefully these examples spark some ideas for you as you consider how to approach your own employee handbook. Paying a creative team to turn yours into a comic book, for example, might not be the best use of your time and resources if you’re running, say, a small accounting firm, but if you’re trying to build a brand that attracts and retains top talent, it may be worth taking some inspiration from these examples.

What are your favorite employee handbook examples? Please share in the comments and let me know if I’ve missed any other good ones.

Image credit:Flickr user Long Zheng

About the author: Jim Robinson is the Founder & President of ClickSeed, a digital marketing agency based in Frederick, Maryland. ClickSeed specializes in search engine optimization, content marketing, and Google Adwords management for B2B enterprise clients and media organizations.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

Jim Robinson

Jim is the Founder and President of ClickSeed, a digital marketing agency specializing in enterprise SEO and audience development for medium to large size companies, as well as publishers in news, financial, and entertainment media. Clients include Nasdaq, Rolling Stone, and Us Weekly. Learn more at

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