Your Global Employee Handbook: A How-to Guide

global employee handbooks


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Who reads the instructions before they plug in their new oven? Or goes through the handbook before they drive their shiny, new car out of the showroom? Instructions… they’ve a bad rep for being boring. Same with employee handbooks. And we know how frustrating it is for every HR team who has ever put an employee handbook together.  We work so hard on it, and then no-one even opens it. 

But what if instructions were not only useful and informative but also an easy read? And what if your employees actually enjoyed reading their handbooks? That would be a great asset for all HR teams. Especially for those operating globally – when you have to produce a different handbook for every region your employees work in, that’s multiple unread employee handbooks and multiple points of frustration! 

But we’ve seen the positive effect of great employee handbooks and can help you deliver them in your business too. That should mean your people know what’s what, and your hard work isn’t wasted. 

What’s an employee handbook?

The best employee handbooks are like the most loaned book in the library. The book everyone wants to get their hands on because it delivers.  The best employee handbooks clearly and succinctly lay out all the information you need, right there in easy-to-follow steps. They’re where you’ll find all the details about company policy, company procedures and codes of conduct.  

Which all sounds easy. But when it comes to a global business, you have to think about global handbooks. Each of your outposts around the world will have a unified vision and ethic, but each will be bound by local considerations. Local laws and cultural differences abound, and the handbook is the place where these can be carefully stored. A perfect handbook for your office in London will not have the same relevance in your Beijing setup.  

What do you need to consider for a global employee handbook?

Well, the most important thing to remember with producing effective handbooks, (as in all things international HR), one-size won’t fit all. To function at its best, each handbook in each country needs to be unique. We can see what you’re thinking here… That’s a lot of work. But let’s not look at this as a stress-fest. Being part of a huge multinational melting pot is one of the things which makes a global organisation great. So, let’s not worry too much… The core of your handbook won’t change. It establishes who you are as a companyThe variations for each global employee handbook might be slight or they might be huge, but it’s all about the details. Let’s map out the key areas where these variations might occur: 

1. Employment laws

It’s that old chestnut, HR compliance. Rules 101. You must know the rules and follow the rules. And every country has slightly different employment regulations. Your teams need to see the appropriate legislations and laws neatly set out in their handbook, so each office knows they’re compliant. At all times. Lay out the legals: 

  • Wages: employees need to be clear on minimum wages, pay scales, bonuses and anything pay related for their region.   
  • Work-life balance: every region will have differences in the maximum hourly work week so your global teams will need to be able to address time off and annual leave 
  • Cultural differences: even culture affects laws.  Make sure your team understand national customs so they’re working to the letter of the local law 

Equally important, a rule that applies in the US might not even be a thing in China. You don’t want to limit the range of workers in a locality if it’s not necessary.  

2. Language

It would be a shame to sort out all your compliance, lay out all your policies and criteria and let it all be lost in translation. We don’t all speak Spanish, Swahili or Korean. Every global outpost needs a global handbook that speaks to them. In their language. To make sure it’s understandable to all, you need to translate it into the language used in each operation. And Google Translate just isn’t going to cut it. Nuance works differently in every language. A Brit might have too much on their plate, while an Afrikaner has too much hay on their fork. Go figure. You need to get this stuff right. 

Plus, some countries make it a legal requirement for the employee handbook to exist in the local language and might come with some additional requirements. In France, for example, the ‘code of conduct’ is required to be translated into French—and it must be subject to the employee’s representative consultation and must also be sent to both the labour inspectorate and the labour court.  

3. Cultural norms

It’s all about courtesy. A happy office is one where everyone is shown respect, and no one feels intimidated by their colleagues’ behaviour. We take for granted the way we pick up the phone and address someone, what we wear to work, who makes the coffee and so much more.  

Your handbook doesn’t want to be a bossy list of “You will not wear pink if there’s an R in the month” and “You will not put mature cheese in the communal fridge”. These are obviously flippant examples, but you get the point. It’s important to recognise that some actions might be offensive to some people. There are a lot of cultural differences around the world and your handbook should gently acknowledge them and highlight anything which could cause upset.  

4. Benefits

Some things aren’t up for discussion; they’re a legal requirement. And they’re more than that. We all come to work for the compensation. It’s not a hobby. So, it’s important that people are paid right, in line with peers in their region. 

There are perks that are highly valued by some and are specific to certain countries. In New Zealand for instance, many companies are creating a more flexible environment for their people by trialling a 4-day working week. And we all know about the amazing maternity and paternity rights in Scandinavia.   

So, it’s key that not only pay, but also benefits are laid out in your employee handbook.  The rhythm of the working week, health insurance, retirement plans, all the compensations relevant to that office in that country, all in the handbook.  

5. Holidays

Listed on the first page of the handbook? That would get everyone reading your hard work! In all seriousness, bank holidays and saints’ days, religious holidays and observances might differ from country to country, continent to continent. On the calendar, China’s New Year happens in a completely different month the western world’s New Year for exampleIn a global organisation, everyone needs to be sensitive to the whole team. So, a list of this kind of information is a good way to start. 

6. Data privacy

It’s a tricky thing keeping information about your talent. The way you collect it, the details that you’re allowed to store, and how you’re allowed to use it, all fall under different legislation in different regions. It’s a tightrope you’re walking, balancing between legal compliance and cultural compliance. Make your employees: 

a. aware of what you’re doing,  


b. confident that you’re doing it well. 

Your global HR teams can partner with you to make sure that your handbook is showing employees that you know what you’re doingLocal HR colleagues know the requirements in their country and can advise you on what to put in the handbook to reassure your teams. But if you’re not lucky enough to have colleagues on the ground in your far-flung places, maybe it’s time to partner with a global HR expert like Cintra Global to help with just this kind of stuff. 

7. Employee rights

The clue is in the heading. Rights. These are all the things your teams are legally entitled to. Well, in regard to their work they do for you! But it varies hugely from country to country. Those Scandinavian paternity and maternity rights we talked about? They’re a great example. Or you might be looking at different working conditions or remuneration. And we all hope it doesn’t come to this, but if your hire feels they need to file a grievance or take legal action if their rights have been violated, their options should be in the employee handbook. Can they legally join a union in their country? It’s your duty to let them know.

Creating your bestselling global employee handbook

It’s a shame, but you can’t just write one edition and press go at the printing press on a single roll out. Your company’s employee handbook is going to look slightly different in every location of your organisation. Company values will be a constant, but the details need to reflect the individual country.  

A thorough, usable global employee handbook is a basic requirement in all countries.  

It’s non-negotiable. You must have one.  

So why not let Cintra Global’s international HR services help you streamline your handbook planning project? As part of our service, we can offer guidance on creating individual handbooks covering all the policies, all the procedures all the codes of conducts in all your locations. You won’t have to worry about all the idiosyncrasies in all the locations as we sort that out for you. Plus, you get us to hold your hand with all things HR.  

  • We would lay out all your employment contracts and keep you compliant and up to date on mandatory benefits in every region and implement them.  
  • Any bonuses you promise, we have those details covered too and can update them throughout your payroll and HR systems.  
  • Someone moving on? We know the steps involved in every country. We can show you.  

We understand all the HR criteria and have the local templates ready for you now.  

Get in touch and take a look at our big wide world of HR tasks made simple.  

Picture of Danielle Nicholson
Danielle Nicholson
Danielle is our Communications and Content Manager, leading the content strategy for Cintra. Outside of her passion for all things copywriting, she loves being on the water in a kayak or taking long walks with her Golden Retriever!