Is there anything more bewildering than walking into a new office on your first day of work and having no clue what you're supposed to do, much less where to find the bathroom? With a little planning (and a long memory of what it was like to be a newbie yourself), you can design an employee orientation manual that will make first-timers feel right at home.

1. Identify the Purpose of the Employee Handbook

Identify the purpose and scope of the employee orientation manual. Is it to walk the newcomer through the step-by-step process of performing specific tasks? Is it to introduce her to corporate history and policies, rules of appropriate behavior, and standard forms and procedures pursuant to attendance, vacations and sick leave? Or is it a combination of both?

2. Outline the Topics in the Employee Orientation Guide

Outline the list of topics to be covered in the orientation manual and determine whether you want to write the entire employee manual yourself or delegate sections of it to knowledgeable personnel. This decision will be based on the complexity of the job as well as how often the orientation manual will need to be updated to keep pace with company growth and the introduction of new technology.

The topics that you might wish to address in your employee orientation handbook could include:

  • Dress codes
  • Computer use and internet policies
  • Emergency evacuation procedures
  • Time off request procedures
  • Safety policies and procedures
  • Correct use of equipment
  • An organizational chart and employee directory
  • Anti-harassment and anti-bullying policies
  • The history of the company
  • The office floorplan

Never omit crucial steps from an explanation of how to perform a task. Even something as simple as telling them where the "on" button is located on a piece of machinery or in which drawer certain documents are kept will be hugely appreciated by a newcomer.

3. Collate Existing Documents for Inclusion

Collect and photocopy existing documents for inclusion in the orientation manual. These will include such items as the job specs for the new employee's position, standardized forms, the company mission statement and/or latest annual report, an organizational chart, an office floor plan, a list of employees along with their titles and their office phone numbers, sexual harassment policies, and perhaps a copy of the latest company newsletter.

4. Determine Which New Topics Need to be Written

Determine which topics need to be written from scratch. For instance, employees who are not only new to the company but also new to the city might appreciate a list of nearby restaurants, shops and post offices. If there are unwritten traditions that would be interesting for newcomers to know, this would be a good place to mention them. For instance, maybe there is a division potluck held once a month month to celebrate birthdays, or perhaps there's an on-site yoga class that meets every Friday during the lunch hour.

5. Seek Advice from Recently Hired Employees

Solicit advice from some of your most recently hired employees. Ask them what kinds of materials would have been helpful to have on their first day and how they went about finding the information they needed.

6. Include a Welcome Letter

Include a welcome letter from the employee's supervisor or even the president of the company. This letter should encourage the recipient to contribute ideas for the manual if he sees ways that the content can be improved and/or expanded.

7. Outline Appropriate Office Behavior and Dress Codes

Spell out the rules of what constitutes appropriate office behavior. Define the company dress code. You may want to include prohibitions, for example, on using office telephones for personal calls, surfing the Internet, sending external emails, or driving a company vehicle to run errands. If the employee's desk or office is in plain sight of the company's customers and visitors, you will also need to set forth rules insofar as artwork, plants, desk items, photographs, radios, etc.

8. Organize the Materials and Proofread

Organize all of the materials in a 3-ring binder that can be given to the employee on the first day of work. Recruit extra pairs of eyes to proofread the content thoroughly. Since an employee orientation manual can be considered a work in progress, you may want to consider producing an online version that all employees will be able to access and, if need be, refresh their memories about company policies.

If practical, have every employee in your organization prepare individual desk manuals that address all of their responsibilities. This is not only advisable to have on hand as a time-saving training tool if/when they give notice but also allows temporary personnel to easily fill in if the employee goes on an extended vacation or is out on sick leave.

9. Prepare an Employee Sign-Off Sheet

Include a sign-off sheet for the employee to acknowledge that she has received the orientation manual and that she will be responsible for reviewing all of the orientation materials within.