People-first workplaces – much more than a trend!

There’s a lot of buzz these days about people-first workplaces and that they’re a ‘trend’ for 2022. While we agree with the underlying sentiment, we’re here to tell you – it has been, continues to be, and should be more than a trend. We do appreciate that the focus is more prominent right now – in part due to the ongoing impact of the pandemic and the opportunity provided to people to reflect on and reassess what they want, in addition to the impact of younger generations in the workplace. That said, putting your people first is, ideally, an ongoing and integrated part of your culture.

What is a people-first workplace?

While the term ‘people-first’ may sound like a buzzword, it should be taken simply for what it is. Meaning: you put your people first – including your employees, your customers/clients/members, and the community/communities in which you operate. It’s about moving the focus from success and profit to how people benefit, which is also fundamental to Simon Sinek’s concept of the “why”. But don’t worry… as you’ll see below, when you shift your focus to people, the success and profits follow. As Marriott International’s mission states: “If we take care of our people, they will take care of our customers, and the customers will come back.” It’s that’s simple.

When leaders take a people-first approach to their employees specifically, they focus on creating a meaningful and fulfilling work experience that prioritizes ‘life’ (which includes their jobs) over just the job.

Why are people-first workplaces crucial?

There are several reasons why employers should focus first on their people:  

  • The hiring market is highly competitive, with potential employees often getting several offers to choose from; all else being equal, they’re going to choose one that cares about them as individuals.
  • Employees increasingly want remote, hybrid and/or more flexible work options. According to the Harvard Business School, 81% of those who’ve been working from home during the pandemic want to continue with a remote or hybrid work option.
  • Toxic workplace cultures (including those in which inequity, unethical, and/or other unacceptable forms of behaviour occur) are a top reason why employees leave.
  • They help prevent turnover of your best employees. While the “great resignation” hasn’t been seen in Canada in the same way it has in the US, that trend could still be coming, as the economy picks up.
  • They lead to higher levels of engagement. Organizations with high engagement are not only more productive, they also have better retention and are more profitable, as outlined below.

A 2020 Gallup employee engagement study (based on over 100,000 business units, 2.7 million employees and 54 industries), found that high engagement organizations were nearly 25% more profitable than those with low employee engagement. These organizations also have up to 43% less turnover, and 80% less absenteeism. Accordingly, Jacob Morgan found that those organizations that make culture, technology, and environment a priority were four times more profitable than the average organization.

How to create and maintain a people-first workplace

There are several ways you can make your people a priority. All of these ideally start with revisiting your purpose/why and values to ensure they align with both the people you serve and support, as well as those who make your business what it is (i.e., your employees). Even better, engage employees at all levels in this process. From there:

  • Talk to and really listen to your employees. Give them a reason to stay connected to you.
  • Be meaningful and intentional about a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion and define what that specifically means for your organization and your people. In other words, make sure it’s a true part of your culture and not simply a policy and media statement.
  • Ensure your inclusion efforts contain the heart and soul of genuinely getting to know one another. Several studies (including those done by Glint and Globant) have found that employees who feel a sense of belonging at work are up to six times more engaged.
  • Meet employees where they are, as diverse and unique individuals (who bring diverse and unique talents), rather than trying to mold them into who you are and putting them in a box.
  • Prioritize wellness with a focus on the individual. Rather than rolling out an employee wellness program that you think people want, find out what they actually need/want (e.g., more flexibility or time off may work for one employee, whereas someone else might prefer wellness dollars for a gym membership).
  • Genuinely recognize and appreciate your employees (more than “good job”). Refer to our past posts on bringing out the best in employees, re-engaging disengaged employees, and gratitude.
  • Make their development and progression towards obtaining or maintaining meaningful work a priority and empower employees in the process.
  • Provide flexible work options balanced with solid technology, resources, and support.

Let Jouta’s HR Consultants help you define a culture and practices that put your people first.