9 Culture Secrets from Employee Handbooks

Reading time: 8 minutes
by Cecily Batten
Your first day at any new job is always eventful. There’s countless names to learn, office in-jokes to accustom yourself with, and (crucially) a coffee machine to locate.

Your first day at any new job is always eventful. There’s countless names to learn, office in-jokes to accustom yourself with, and (crucially) a coffee machine to locate.

Help is at hand though in the form of your employee handbook, a blueprint for understanding how your new workplace ‘makes things happen’, which is a staple for almost any modern company.

These documents are some of your first impressions of your new office, and as a result, the best examples of these books are carefully crafted to help you understand the culture of the company in question.

We took a look at nine employee handbooks of some of the most successful companies for culture, and these were the lessons we learned:


It could be argued that HP invented corporate culture when they wrote their ‘The HP Way’ document in 1957. While they didn’t invent teamwork, as company founded off the partnership of two Stanford graduates, cooperation was and is at the core of HP’s ongoing culture.


Facebook’s university dorm origin is well documented in its employee handbook, and a continued focus on ingenuity is reflected throughout its contents. The booklet inspires new employees to strive to create whatever will eventually ‘kill’ Facebook before anyone else does. And they will need to if the social network is to maintain its phenomenal growth.


Valve’s corporate hierarchy is reflected in the credits of their games, with names simply listed alphabetically. Employees are encouraged not to fill a specific role, but instead to focus on getting products to launch to the highest quality possible. Their tongue-in-cheek handbook includes diagrams explaining how to communicate, including: “Talk to someone in the kitchen”.


Netflix’s employee culture presentation starts with ‘Many companies have nice sounding value statements…’ and continues to explain in great detail how they deplore the overly-friendly cultures of other start-ups. There’s no place for dead weight employees at Netflix. They see culture as a means, and survival as the objective.


Zappos’ culture is perhaps the polar opposite of Netflix. Their cultural focus is on happiness, rather than productivity and growth. To sustain this model, their strict recruitment process only hires those that fit with their community-driven culture. So confident is Zappos in its methods, that it offers new recruits $3,000 to leave in their first week.


HubSpot claim to share “uncommon levels” of information with employees. This works in two ways- new employees feel like insiders with information about long-term financial and business strategy; and it also reflects in their infamous party culture of free drinks and relaxation rooms across their offices, which also promote social cohesion.


While Nordstrom also have a much longer, separate legal document; their two-page culture piece centres on this one core message. Reflecting on everything from what to expense right up to who to fire and hire, it’s a one-sentence wonder that respects employees and encourages them to rise to the challenge of autonomy.


American marketing software company Moz use their TAGFEE system to explain their company culture. It stand for “Transparency, Authenticity, Generosity, Fun, Empathy, and Exceptionality”. For Moz, fun is a positive and optimistic attitude towards work. This is why they focus on recruiting people who adore a challenge, over those who work hard with a frown on their face.


Twitter is renowned for their company culture, so much so that they topped Glassdoor’s top company for culture and values list. Employees cite lengthy informative conversations with executives, and roof-top team meetings as a key part of what keeps them happy. Let’s assume they can communicate across the office in sentences longer than 140 characters.

This article was originally published in 2019.