While employee engagement has been a hot topic for years, it has seen a surge of interest as companies struggle to deal with the post-pandemic "talent war." While The Great Resignation shows no signs of slowing down according to recent statistics from the Bureau of Labor, today's top-talent is in high demand—and they know it.
When it comes to attracting and retaining high potential employees many organizations are learning first-hand that a focus on increased employee engagement does not go far enough.
It's time to shift the conversation from employee engagement to employee experience. And it starts by building a people-first company culture.
While the two may sound similar, the truth is, they are vastly different. Employee engagement is focused on how connected employees feel to the work they're performing. A people-first employee experience is a broader, employee-centric way of thinking that focuses on all aspects of their employment.
According to McKinsey, "To attract and retain new talent, including diverse hires, companies need to work on organization-wide culture change or create silos where new cultures and talent can flourish."
It should not come as a surprise that companies that put their people first and authentically strive to deliver the best employee experience are winning the "talent war."
For employee experiences to be the best, organizations need to adopt a people-first company culture where the entire leadership team puts themselves into the mindset of their employees.
What is a People-First Company Culture?
A people-first company culture is an organizational environment that puts employees at the center of all decision making. It prioritizes the wellbeing of employees and creates an inclusive, supportive, and empowering work culture.
A people-first culture not only focuses on employee engagement, development, and growth – but the complete employee experience. It is an environment where employees feel safe, respected, and supported.
At its core, a people-first culture is about valuing employees and their contributions. It is about recognizing their importance to the organization and providing them with the resources they need to succeed.
This type of culture is built on trust and respect. It works to create open dialogue and encourages employees to speak up and be heard.
Benefits of a People-First Company Culture
There are many benefits to creating a people-first company culture, several of which include:
- Promotes a Sense of Connection Among Employees: This sense of connection can increase job satisfaction and productivity. Additionally, it creates a more positive work environment, which can lead to higher morale and lower turnover.
- Helps Attract and Retain Talent: Employees who feel valued and respected by their employers are more likely to stay with the company for the long term.
- Fosters Innovation and Creativity: Employees who feel like their ideas and input are valued are more likely to come up with new solutions and ideas.
- Improves the Customer Experience: Employees who feel respected and valued are more likely to provide better customer service. This can lead to higher customer satisfaction and loyalty.
How to Create a People-First Culture
Creating a people-first culture starts with the leadership and management of the organization. Leadership needs to set the tone and demonstrate their commitment to creating an employee-centric company culture. This means creating an environment where employees feel safe and respected.
Leaders should recognize that employees are the most important asset of the organization and investing in the development and growth of their people is crucial to the company's long-term success.
The organization should also create policies and procedures that are focused on increasing employee engagement. This includes providing employees with clear expectations and goals, as well as recognizing and rewarding their efforts.
Additionally, the organization should foster a culture of open dialogue and feedback, where employees feel comfortable voicing their opinions and concerns.
Four Strategies for Building a People-First Culture
There are several key strategies that organizations can use to create a people-first culture.
- Developing an Employee-Centric Mindset
- Creating an Engaging Workplace Environment
- Improving Employee Experience
- Measuring and Monitoring Workforce Engagement
Developing an Employee-Centric Mindset
If you want to deliver the best customer experience, you must start by creating the best employee experience. To do this, it is essential that you learn to think like your employees.
Therefore, the first step in creating a people-first culture is to develop an employee-centric mindset. This means looking at every decision through an employee-focused lens.
Remember, every person is different and our workplace has never been more diverse. Diversity of lifestyle, age, gender, race, and culture all play a part in what an employee values, prioritizes, and expects from their employer.
Because of this, not every employee will have the same needs and "one-size-fits-all" company policies need to be avoided.
From childcare to flexible working models, benefits, and communication methods...it is important to have an open dialog with your team to understand what are the best options for each member of your team.
Creating an Engaging Workplace Environment
Another people-first strategy, is to create an engaging workplace environment. This is an essential component for fostering an employee-first culture and means creating an environment where employees feel safe and respected.
While salary and benefits undoubtedly factor into a person's decision to join a company, it is the company's environment and culture that drives individuals to stay and develop their careers.
Therefore, organizations should focus on creating an environment where employees feel valued and appreciated. This can be done through recognition and rewards programs, regular feedback, and open communication and dialogue.
That said, effective communication one of the biggest factors to consider when building an engaging work environment. And to be effective, communication needs to go both ways. It’s not enough for leaders to ensure they are heard – employees need to know their voice is being heard as well.
The following are the components of effective communication that fosters an engaging workplace environment:
- Promote active listening techniques
- Utilize assessments, tools, and training (such as DiSC or The Five Behaviors) for team members to understand themselves and others better
- Consistency in team meetings and one-on-one communication
- Clearly defined expectations and roles
- Offering authentic recognition and appreciation
- Properly deliver constructive feedback
- Train your leaders and team members on how to communicate effectively
Improving Employee Experience
Improving employee experience is key to creating a people-first culture and it goes well beyond free office snacks and casual Fridays.
A great employee experience is delivered when companies prioritize their people and authentically care about what their employees need to be happier in their work environment. The leaders of these organizations consistently solicit feedback and then demonstrate that their team's priorities and opinions can positively impact policy change.
In addition to providing benefits like top-notch health insurance and healthy performance bonuses, some creative ways organizations have worked to create a great employee experience are:
- Offering employees professional and mental health coaching and mindfulness sessions
- Giving remote employees a budget for home office setup
- Introducing strong, well-budgeted training programs for all employees
- Offer opportunities for employees to make an impact in the community through local service projects
- Offer flex PTO, extended paid parental leave, and creative caregiver benefits
But in the end, it's not just about creative new benefits and perks. It's about meeting your team members where they are with an understanding that not all employees value and prioritize the same things. Then with that knowledge, working towards building a company culture that works to put their employees at the heart of everything they do.
Measuring and Monitoring Workforce Engagement
Measuring and monitoring workforce engagement is essential for creating a people-first culture. This means collecting data on employee engagement levels and tracking progress over time.
Organizations should focus on developing metrics that measure engagement levels, such as employee satisfaction surveys and pulse surveys.
Here are several ways organizations can measure and monitor their workforce engagement levels:
- Annual engagement surveys
- Short, but frequent "pulse surveys"
- Net Promoter Score (NPS) outreach
- One-on-one meetings
- Exit interviews
- Turnover rate
Whether implement just a few of these strategies or all of them, the key to effectively measuring workforce engagement levels is through consistency and repetition. Engagement levels will evolve over time and can build slowly, therefore measuring employee engagement isn’t a one-and-done situation. It is important to measure, readjust, and realign.
When it comes to attracting and retaining high potential employees many organizations are learning first-hand that a focus on increased employee engagement does not go far enough. As companies search for new ways to attract and retain their top talent they are looking to adopt a people-first company culture where the entire leadership team puts themselves into the mindset of their employees.
Creating a people-first company culture is essential for the long-term success of any organization. It fosters a sense of connection among employees, which leads to increased job satisfaction and productivity. Employee-centric cultures create a more positive work environment, which produces higher morale and lower turnover.
Finally, a people-first culture helps attract and retain talent, promoting innovation and creativity, and improving the customer experience. By following the strategies outlined in this article, companies can work to build people-driven cultures that puts their employees at the heart of the organization.