How to manage your local government employee handbook

Every local government has a handbook for employees. Here are practical ways you can develop a high-caliber local government employee handbook.

December 22, 2020

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Every local government organization has a handbook for employees. But if you want to maximize your handbook to support an efficient and successful environment, there are a few points to consider.

According to the International City/County Management Association, there are several reasons to prioritize managing your employee handbook.

First, it lays out your organization’s policies and procedures so your employees can be successful on the job. Policy manuals can also protect government organizations in legal scenarios.

A handbook means you gave your employees the tools and information they need to comply with your policies.

Finally, local government handbooks can streamline your work environment and reduce confusion in your organization. This sets everyone up to be as successful as possible.

So how do you develop a city policy manual that works for you and your team?

Here are a few practical ways your organization can develop a high-caliber local government handbook.

Identify the right people

Your department will be heading up the development of your local government handbook, but it is not a solo endeavor. You want your document to be as balanced and accurate as possible. That means you will need input from others in your agency.

To ensure quality and consistency, make a priority of seeking out key players across departments.

Think about who should be involved regarding who can add value, and communicate expectations clearly on the front end. Also, keep in mind that “the right people” are not necessarily the ones who are easiest to work with or those most excited about being involved.

In the end, a diverse team will ensure you cover all necessary areas. Our Beginner’s Guide to Policy Management, encourages departments to form a diverse team. It says:

“For quality assurance purposes and to lessen the burden on one person (i.e. the Compliance or Policy Manager), it’s best to form a team to ensure all areas are covered. This team can vary in size depending on the caliber of your organization. The most beneficial team will be comprised of staff members from multiple departments so insight is at the highest degree possible.”

Learn more about policy and procedure management for local government today.

Cross-departmental collaboration

Once you establish a team, come up with a collaboration game plan. You will need input from other departments to develop both internal and external procedures pertinent to each area of your agency.

In the process of writing your handbook, know that not all of your team members will share the same role. Some will be more involved and want more say. Others may only want to be involved as it relates to their particular department.

Also, consider who you want to keep in the loop as you engage with handbook materials. Though the colleagues you collaborate with may not be the department director, that person will likely want to be aware of your progress.

Remember that if your agency has a formal policy-writing process, it is important to make sure you engage and comply with it as you create your handbook.


Focus on quality and consistency

To ensure compliance with your policies you will want to create an easy-to-understand handbook. This starts with prioritizing quality and consistency through the entire manual.

If your organization has policies in many different formats (for example, PDFs, Powerpoints, Word Documents), it will help to standardize the structure.

You may want to provide templates or specific instructions for the handbook, especially for departments with particularly complex policies.

Work from a single source of truth

Being on the same page with your team is important. But equally significant is the actual content you include and organize in your local government handbook.

Working from a single source of truth will streamline your process and prevent disorganization, confusion, or errors.

A master document will allow you to edit and track changes all in one place.

Track changes and comments

When employees from across departments work together, there is risk for miscommunication.

For this reason, make sure you track changes and comments in your master document. An audit trail will help you easily find context for the content in your handbook and recall what information or research went into the decision.

Notify people when they need to act

Clear communication is another vital part of working as a team to create a high-level document.

Set up your team for success in the handbook-creation process by being upfront about your expectations from the get-go.


A workflow tool may help you keep everyone on track as you collaborate on documents and gather feedback and approvals during the process.

Regularly review all policies

It’s also helpful to remember that employee handbooks are living documents.

Because the law and technology change constantly, you will need to review and edit your handbook at least annually. You may want to start by revisiting your existing handbook to make sure your policies are not out of date.

No one likes reading about the proper procedures for historic technology like beepers.

Distribute the handbook

The next step is distributing the handbook to your employees. After all, if you want to make compliance easy, they need to know what their workplace expects of them on a day-to-day basis.

Try to remember that as technology advances, more and more organizations are using electronic documents. Stacks of paper and file cabinets are quickly becoming a thing of the past.

Electronic distribution makes sharing much easier, and it also saves money on paper and supplies.

Make it easy to access

Another part of making compliance with your policies simple is keeping your handbook highly accessible and easy to find.

Don’t rely on printed copies you handed out on your employee’s first day of work. Make sure you have an electronic, easily searchable document available to all employees.

Be clear about where you house the document, so your team knows how and where to access it in a pinch.


Alert employees of changes

As you know, a frequently revised document means you will need to update your employees of changes on an ongoing basis. However, not every policy change will affect every department or employee.

For example, a work-from-home policy would only apply to remote employees, while a social media policy would apply to everyone in your organization.

Make sure you are specific with your alerts and send them only to those who need to know. Otherwise, your employees may tune out and end up missing critical updates later on.

Train employees and officials

Onboarding is an important part of training. Make sure your employees have access to and understand your handbook from the very beginning.

However, it is also crucial to train your elected officials on specific procedures and policies unique to your local government. You created your handbook to ensure success across the board, so make sure both your organization’s employees and officials know the protocol to which they need to comply.

No matter where you are in the process of developing or managing your manual, it is never too late to optimize it.

By taking the time to identify weak areas and create relevant, organized content, you are empowering everyone in your organization to do their job well. Your handbook will likely be an involved and time-consuming process, but you will be thankful you took the time to make it great.

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Beginner’s guide to policy management

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