The Rules of the Game: Employee Handbooks

Introduce new employees to your clinic and enable them to shine.

By M. Carolyn Miller, MA

Introduce New Employees to Your Clinic and Enable Them to Shine


Every game has a set of rules. The game of work is no different.

Every game has a set of rules. These rules dictate what a player can and can’t do, and the associated rewards and penalties. A game also creates excitement about the game and what is expected, in player behavior, to win.

The game of work is no different. A new employee steps into the game—the clinic—and is handed an employee handbook that outlines the clinic rules. It also shows new employees how to “win,” that is, how to become valuable members of the clinic team.

But the employee handbook is not just a set of rules and behavioral expectations. It is also a living document that communicates what your practice stands for. It can bring your practice’s values to life and motivate new employees to want to be part of your vision.

It also creates a safe context for “game play” and, as a result is a critical onboarding tool. Granted, there will be other, more informal rules, such as whether work starts when you’re up and running or just walking in the door. But the employee handbook is the starting point from which all other “rules of the game” spring.

The Basics: What Every Employee Handbook Should Include

Portion of a gameboard where you communicate what your practice stands for

The employee handbook is a living document that communicates what your practice stands for.

Every employee handbook should include some basics, such as those noted below and paraphrased from the Society of Human Resource Management. For more in-depth information, check out the AAHA Guide to Creating an Employee Handbook, Fourth Edition by Amanda L. Donnelly, DVM, MBA, Charlotte Lacroix, DVM, JD, and Kellie G. Olah, SPHR, SHRM-CP.

Welcome. This message sets the stage for success for a new employee. It outlines the clinic’s mission and some of its history. It can also build excitement about the role of the new employee in furthering the clinic’s vision. Legal information is also included, such as an Equal Opportunity statement.

Policies and Procedures. This section outlines the “rules of the game,” such as the clinic’s hours and attendance expectations. It shares the clinic’s policy on such things as overtime pay and performance reviews. It also provides the boundaries for an employee’s use of the internet and social media.

Common Employee Handbook Blunders

  • Failing to spotlight your clinic’s brand by using a boilerplate template.
  • Skipping the opportunity to use the handbook as a communication tool.
  • Omitting policies or applying policies inconsistently.
  • Being too strict with social media and disciplinary policies.
  • Forgetting to train those who will administer the handbook.
  • Failure to get input from your legal team before distributing.

Source: From “Top 10 Mistakes to Avoid with Employee Handbooks” by Jeffrey M Beemer, Society of Human Resource Management.

Benefits. This section specifically outlines the “rewards” a new employee gains when coming to work at your clinic. That can include vacation and sick leave or Family and Medical Leave (FMLA). It can also note any educational benefits and/or health insurance information.

Safety. The game space is always a safe space, and this section creates just that. It documents the clinic’s commitment to practical employee safety, by, for instance, outlining emergency procedures in the event of a fire. It also includes OSHA requirements and any Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) requirements.

Procedures. A game penalty has its own process, such as moving back three spaces, or going to jail in Monopoly. That’s what this section outlines. It notes what disciplinarian action the employee can expect should he/she/they not follow the rules of the game. It also outlines what to expect in an exit interview.

Employee Acknowledgement. This section reiterates the importance of the “rules of the game” outlined in the employee handbook. Here, the employee acknowledges, by signature, that he/she/they has received and understands them.

M. Carolyn Miller
M. Carolyn Miller is an employee development consultant, writer and instructional designer.

Photo credits: ©AAHA/Alison Silverman, filo/DigitalVision Vectors via Getty Images, Volhah/iStock via Getty Images Plus



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