5 Lessons from Valve’s Exceptional Employee Handbook

No matter how small or large a company is, everyone needs an employee handbook. They help educate new (and old) employees on company policies, as well as provide important company information to those who need it most. But just because it’s an industry best practices requirement doesn’t mean your employee handbooks can’t be fun.

Enter Valve, builders of online gaming platforms based out of Bellevue, Washington. A few years ago, Valve leaked their employee handbook on the internet, and it caused quite a stir. Almost four years later, the employee handbook still stands as a model for well-made employee handbooks.

While Valve’s handbook is great in its own way, it’s highly unique and probably not an exact template for how every company should make their employee handbook. But the point is this: they made an awe-inspiring employee handbook that genuinely helps their people! With that in mind, let’s discuss the five things we can all learn from Valve’s employee handbook. (All examples are taken straight from their handbook which can be found here.)

The Employee Eperience Journey

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They stay true to who they are. In Valve’s case, this means to have a lot of personality. Like, a lot of personality—and a pinch of irreverence. There are a thousand ways this is shown throughout the handbook, but perhaps my favorite are the handwritten notes in the margins and “Figure 2-4” (below). Whatever your company DNA, make sure your employee handbook matches that.

They are candid and conversational. The Valve handbook feels like a conversation between a wise veteran of the company and the new guy. There is a section titled “How am I doing” and a page that covers the age-old question “But what if we all screw up?” At the end of the day, the best way for your people to learn company information is to have a conversation with somebody who knows. But since you don’t always have time for that, at least have a handbook that can do the talking for you.

They intend for employees to actually read the handbook. Obviously, Valve put a lot of time into the design and copy of the handbook; it’s easy to follow and fun. But they even went out to get them bound like a novel you’d find at Barnes and Noble. If you’re going to go through the work of making an impactful handbook, make sure your people are actually compelled to read it.

It is wildly informative. Need to understand the cultural quirks, lingo, and other nuances of Valve? You got it! Need to know how to move your desk? Really? Well, the handbook helps with that, too (below). The more informative a handbook is the better. And if your handbook is engaging (like Valve’s is), your people will come back to it often enough to retain that information.

It is insightful. The Valve handbook gives lessons on company culture and policy in a way that opens the mind. Lessons like: “Inside the company we all take on the role that suits the work in front of us. Everyone is a designer. Everyone can question each other’s work.” They do more than just present the necessary information to work at Valve. They get to the root of why they do what they do. Your handbook needs to do the same.