A manual is the best way to centrally store your policies and procedures and share them with your employees. In this article, we walk you through how to create a comprehensive and user-friendly manual using our helpful template.
Table of contents
- A policies and procedures manual serves as a rulebook for your employees, outlining standard operating procedures (SOPs) and best practices.
- By having all your policies and procedures in one place, everyone in your organization can easily access the information they need to do their jobs.
- There are seven steps to follow when creating a manual. These include researching the policies and processes, drafting and organizing the content, and seeking feedback from management, employees, and experts.
- There are also several best practices to keep in mind, like using simple, easy-to-understand language and regularly reviewing your manual.
Good policies and procedures are ineffective if your employees don’t know where to find them. That’s why it’s essential to have them stored in a manual, where team members can easily access them when they need to.
A policies and procedures manual is a central, structured document with all your policies and procedures. An essential employee management tool, it sets out standard operating procedures to help guide decision-making. Improved decision-making leads to better compliance and productivity in your organization. Having a centralized manual also ensures that your employees always know where to turn to for the information they need to do their jobs.
This article walks you through how to create a policies and procedures manual and provides you with a free template to help you get started.
What Is a Policy and Procedure Manual?
A policy and procedures manual is a key business document that guides employees on the organization’s most important policies and their associated processes. Available in digital format or hardcopy, this manual is an internal document for use within an organization.
Policies are the broader rules that guide key business activities like human resources (HR) or the use of technology. They provide essential guidance for employee decision-making and conduct.
Procedures, on the other hand, are more specific. They provide step-by-step instructions that help employees complete tasks like applying for leave or reporting a workplace accident.
A policy and procedures manual is, in essence, a rulebook for an organization. It guides employers and employees alike in making major decisions, sets out best practices and work standards, and explains the organization’s expectations of its workforce.
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What Should a Policy and Procedure Manual Cover?
Effective procedure manuals typically cover a range of topics relevant to your business.
For example, most include a section on leave entitlements that address:
- The types and amounts of leave employees are entitled to, like paid time off (PTO) and sick leave
- How employees accrue leave (daily, monthly, or yearly)
- The conditions for taking leave
- The leave request and approval process including timeframes
- What happens to unused leave accruals
Other sections you may wish to include are:
- An organizational chart setting out your organization’s reporting structure
- A description of your organization’s culture (including its mission and core values)
- Hiring policies
- HR policies like disciplinary action
- Your diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) policy
- Harassment and discrimination policies
- Internal complaints
- Workplace health and safety rules
- Emergency procedures
- Employee benefits policies
- Leave policies
- Code of conduct
- Pay procedures
- Banking procedures
- Rules around the use of company credit cards
- Expense reimbursement and forms
- Dress code
- Use of technology
- Use of social media
- Working from home policies
- Relocation rules
- Travel policies and forms
- Training manuals
- Customer service policies
- Specific processes relevant to your workplace—for example, those needed when approving a new project or applying for a grant
Why a Policy and Procedure Manual Is Essential
Creating a manual of your policies and procedures offers a range of benefits to your business and employees.
A well-written policies and procedures manual becomes a trusted, single source of truth in your organization. With all the relevant policies and procedures stored in one place, employees can refer to them as needed.
Ensuring information is easily accessible limits the disruption to an employee’s focus, as they don’t have to search through lots of paper documents in order to find what they need. Digital manuals are easily searchable and employees can access them from anywhere. Your workforce can find the information they need within minutes and get on with the job. A manual also removes the need to interrupt another employee’s work to ask for help.
Easy access to relevant policies and procedures relating to business operations also saves your organization time by reducing the risk of errors or incidents. Employees understand best practices and can apply them in their work. If an incident does occur, employees know how to respond to minimize its effects and disruption.
For example, if an employee is injured at work, they know to first seek medical attention to make sure they don’t make their injury worse. They also know to report the event as soon as possible via an incident report form. This enables the organization to address any broader safety issues, reducing the risk of future incidents.
Sets standards of behavior and expectations
A manual provides employees with a clear understanding of what’s expected of them in terms of both their work and conduct. Using a single, authoritative document to set out shared goals encourages a positive work environment where everyone is working towards the same objectives.
Plus, a manual is another way to communicate your organization’s mission and values so all employees are on the same page. This helps employees understand the context of their work and how it contributes to the bigger picture, creating a sense of teamwork.
Setting out your policies and procedures also provides a basis for any necessary disciplinary action. A manual can outline the steps to take to handle policy violations, enabling managers to handle potentially difficult situations more effectively.
For example, if an employee repeatedly turns up late to work, a manager knows to first discuss the issue with them, rather than taking disciplinary action right away. Speaking with the employee may help identify why they have difficulty being on time. The manager may then be able to support the employee to address the issue.
A policy and procedures manual is the best place to address any laws and regulations that apply to your business. These can include anti-discrimination legislation, recordkeeping requirements, and workplace health and safety regulations.
In your manual, you can create policies and procedures that comply with any relevant laws. When employees understand these policies and procedures—and why they exist—they’re more likely to follow them. This helps in improving organizational compliance.
Improved compliance reduces the risk of workplace accidents, ensuring the safety of your employees. It also reduces the risk of compliance violations that can result in penalties like fines.
Makes onboarding and training easier
A manual also streamlines your onboarding and training processes.
New employees often experience information overload in their first few weeks. A manual is an excellent resource to include in their onboarding materials to help them get to know the organization. You can direct new staff to priority policies and procedures and they can read up on the rest at their own pace.
Providing your workforce with a manual reduces employee training time as well. Rather than providing repetitive training sessions on the ins and outs of each policy and process, employees can refer to the manual as they need it.
How to Create a User-Friendly Policy and Procedure Manual
Do your initial research
Creating an effective procedure manual is only possible with solid research. Start the process by assessing what types of policies and processes you need to include. Speak to each department to find out which ones they use the most and to understand any issues their workers experience. This also helps you identify any knowledge gaps to address in your manual.
Not every minor procedure needs to be in your manual. Department or teams may use daily informal processes that have developed naturally over time, for example, arranging when team members take their break.
Your manual should strike a balance between being comprehensive and not overwhelming. Include a process if it’s an essential one, like those designed to create a safe work environment. If putting it in writing will significantly improve a process, also include it.
For example, complex, routine, or recently updated procedures usually benefit from being written down. It’s also a good idea to put in your manual any processes that are heavily rules-based or require consistency.
Assemble a team
Creating a manual is usually more than a one-person job. It’s useful to set up a team to help create each section of the manual. Involve spokespeople from every department and ensure there is a range of experience and expertise represented.
You can then assign people to help with various tasks, including researching and writing the content, editing the manual, and regularly reviewing it.
Research the content
You then need to research the content of the policies. Speak to workers who use each process in their daily tasks. You should also seek advice from subject matter experts concerning highly technical or legal policies and procedures.
An important part of this step is understanding the relevant laws and regulations that apply to your business. Seek in-house or external legal advice on your compliance obligations. This information enables you to develop compliant policies and procedures.
Draft the content
After your preparation, you can now write the policies and procedures for your manual. When writing these sections, keep these points in mind.
- Each policy or process should include a title for ease of reference. For example, “Overnight travel policy”.
- Include a description of the policy. What is it designed to do? For example, “This policy sets out the safety procedures all employees must follow when working with potentially toxic substances.”
- At the start of each policy, explain its purpose. For example, the purpose of a health and safety policy might be “to provide all employees with the safest working environment possible.” When workers understand the purpose behind a policy, they are more likely to support it.
- Identify the scope of the policy and to whom it applies. Does it apply to all employees, one department, or a group of employees with specific job duties? You should also set out any possible exemptions or exclusions to the policy or process.
- Identify who’s responsible for applying the policy and approving any exemptions. This may be a department, like HR, or a specific person, like a fire warden. For example, when addressing workplace harassment, the manual should identify who an employee can go to for assistance or to make a formal complaint.
- Write out procedural steps one by one, as succinctly as possible.
- Add links to useful documents that will help your team members understand the policy or procedure. These include forms, templates, legislation, or related policies and procedures. Adding internal links within a digital manual helps employees navigate easily between sections.
- Provide employees with further support at the end of a policy, if needed. Where can they go to learn more about the policy or procedure or if they have a question? This could be another resource, a person, or department.
Organize the content
Once you have your content, you then need to assemble it into a manual. Leading with the broader, bigger-picture sections is often a good approach.
Organizational culture, the company mission, and general HR policy are all broader topics. The manual can address more specific policies and procedures, like those relating to payment procedures or dress codes, later.
By organizing your content, you can create a logically-structured table of contents that helps users easily navigate the manual.
Review and finalize the draft
Before finalizing the manual, it’s important to get feedback on it. The broader team responsible for the manual can give their initial insights, but you should also seek input from management. You should also consult the person or department responsible for implementing the policy or overseeing the process.
Go back to your subject matter experts to confirm technical and legal sections are accurate. You can also seek feedback on readability from a few employees in order to find out how easy your manual is to understand.
You may also want to test some of your procedures—especially new ones—before finalizing them in the manual. Have the relevant team or department perform the procedures and report back on any issues. This enables you to make any necessary changes before rolling out the manual company-wide.
Once you have finalized the content, get a sign-off from leadership to approve the final version.
Distribute to your employees
It’s important to then build employee awareness around the manual.
Ensure the manual is easily accessible to all team members. Add a link to it on your intranet, make it available via your internal knowledge base, and incorporate it in your onboarding and training programs. Send a company-wide email or notification to let employees know how they can access the manual.
Creating a digital manual makes it easy to update policies and procedures. You can send notifications to make workers aware of a change to the manual, helping employees to access the most recent version.
Employees can also usually access a digital manual on their mobile devices, for example, via the company’s intranet or knowledge base. This is a handy feature that enables employees to refer to it from anywhere at any time.
Best Practices for Creating a Manual
Here are a few more best practices to keep in mind when creating your manual.
Write in simple, easy-to-understand language
The more readable your manual is, the more likely your workforce is to understand and follow it.
You can do this by:
- Using active voice to make your writing more engaging, especially when providing step-by-step instructions. For example, rather than writing “the form should be sent to HR” (passive voice), write “send the form to HR” (active voice).
- Clearly explaining any acronyms or company-specific jargon used in the manual. A definitions or acronyms section at the start is a good way to do this.
- Formatting the document cleanly and consistently. Use short paragraphs and bullet points and include diagrams or graphs where appropriate.
Manuals are typically lengthy documents, containing a large volume of information. Knowing where to start can be overwhelming, so decide which sections to write first.
A good place to start is any policies or procedures that are required by law or used most often by your employees. It’s also useful to tackle complex policies and processes at an early stage. You can then build up the rest of your manual over time.
Regularly review and update
Your manual should be a living document. You need to update it as the laws or needs of your business or workers change. For this reason, your team should regularly review the manual and update its contents as needed.
Provide employees with training
Offer training sessions to management and employees to help familiarize them with the manual and its contents. The more comfortable team members are navigating and understanding your manual, the more likely they are to use it.
Training sessions also allow employees to ask any questions they have about the manual. You can conduct these training sessions in person or online—for example, via training modules that staff can complete at their own pace.
Use a template
Creating policy and procedure templates to guide the drafting of your manual ensures each section is consistent and addresses all the necessary information. As a starting point, we’ve prepared a handy free template for you to use.
Create Your Manual for Your Employees
A policies and procedures manual keeps all your policies and procedures in one place, making it easier for employees to find the information they need. It’s important to keep your team members at the forefront of your mind when writing your policy and procedure manual. Make sure it’s clear and easy to read and includes all essential information relevant to employees’ work.
To create an effective manual, you need to invest time in researching and drafting it. It will become an important reference point for your workforce that will help improve their productivity, so you want to dedicate the appropriate time and effort to it. By setting out expected work standards, a manual also increases compliance within your organization. It helps create a safe and supportive work environment for your employees so they can perform at their best.