The Benefits of Tossing Your Employee Handbook

The photo on page 25 shows your marketing department playing ping-pong in the cafeteria.  The caption next to your director’s shirt reads, “No tie required, but ironing is encouraged.”  Another picture includes your shipping department filling out their March Madness brackets and the description reads, “Playing for fun only, no money changes hands. Aren’t they a well- groomed looking crew?”  The receptionist’s picture has an arrow pointing to her legs with this tag:  “Nylon hose is optional. We left that back in the 1970s and we welcome your comfort.”

These pictures are not pinned up in the storage room behind the 5-gallon water bottles or in the lunchroom where they’re sure to be bleached by the sun’s rays.  Rather, they are strategically and playfully illustrating the company’s culture and policies in a book created BY the employees to get buy-in FROM the employees.

Is this book a small toy company’s employee manual?  No, being creative and engaging when it comes to company culture and policies is not confined to small, edgy design firms. Any company, from Fortune 500 manufacturing and leading technology giants to your local start-up can benefit from tossing their stale, facts-only, what-not-to-do handbooks in favor of something human and real.  This method allows you to create a culture handbook with greater transparency and buy-in.

When you have a culture handbook that is filled with photos of the employees sharing comments about a positive, productive work environment and what that really means to them, you are establishing and sustaining your company culture.  It’s a fun (and sometimes funny) way to engage people in culture creation.

It’s not Human Resource’s job to craft a company’s culture, it is a privilege given to each department.  Assign them the responsibility for a 3-4 page spread.  They should take photos of their team members, write out what they do, and how they contribute value to the hum of the company.  Of course, each department’s contribution must pass the “corporate” legal experts, but it will do so in a way that supports commitment over compliance.

You can even address your company mission (and pet-peeves) in a playful way.  For example, let’s say one of your missions is that you want the company, as a whole, to be helpful – to each other, your clients and your vendors.  That’s a great mission, but what does it mean?

What things are you doing, saying and projecting that are measurably helpful?  Is it helpful to leave a half-dozen dirty coffee mugs in the sink right next to the working dishwasher, expecting someone else to load it (does your mom work here)?  What does it do to the company culture when no one takes responsibility for the overflowing trashcan?  Is that behavior congruent with your “helpful” company mission?

What if you had a photo of the used “K-cup” in the coffee maker and crafted a pithy caption that illustrated how important it was to take responsibility and be helpful?  It would be far more effective and better received than pointing fingers and putting up obnoxious signs on the kitchen wall.  The fact that the mugs, the trash, and the K-cup made it into the handbook at all sends a strong message.

When the culture handbook is published, not only does each team want to see their own pictures, they want to look through everyone else’s photos and read policies in the form of fun captions in the language of your company.   Your culture handbook will still comply with Federal and State regulations, but it is now an engaging document that people will want to read and even want to embrace.

Photo credit iStockphoto

About the Author


With presentations to 30,000+ executives in 8 countries, AmyK Hutchens serves as an Intelligence Activist & business strategist to leaders around the globe. She is a former senior EVP of Operations for a leading sales & marketing firm, Director of Education for Europe & Australia for a billion dollar consumer products company & chosen member of National Geographic's Educator Advisory Committee. Visit or @AmyKinc on Twitter.

1 Comment


What a great post Amy! I’ve been wanting to throw out our employee handbook for quite some time and now I know what to replace it with. Thank you for the idea!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.