Best Practices in HR

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Julien Emery
  June 9, 2016

How to Build an Employee-First Culture

How to Build an Employee-First Culture

You know that putting your employees first can benefit your company, but how do you start?

There are numerous, cost-effective ways to let employees know you appreciate their hard work. Whether it’s offering an option to work from home or supporting a more relaxed dress code (especially for employees who aren’t client-facing), here are easy-to-implement ways to build a strong employee-first culture.

Change traditional customer-first thinking

There’s a traditional notion in business that the customer comes first and the customer is always right. But according to business mogul Richard Branson, creating a work culture that puts employees first is actually a smarter business move.

In an interview with Inc., Branson explained how his employee-first philosophy actually helps customers.

If employees are happy, they’ll make customers happy. If employees are unhappy, they’re only going to treat customers poorly and ultimately hurt the brand.

Branson believes little things like chatting up Virgin employees on flights he takes and proactively asking for their feedback can help create this sort of culture.

How big companies put employees first

Large, highly profitable companies tend to put employees first by providing them with benefits that employees want, but that also act as investment in the company’s future.

Like many major corporations, Starbucks helps cover post-secondary tuition costs for employees. Those who choose to stay with the company after completing their studies are in a prime spot to take advantage of management opportunities as they rise through the ranks: they are already familiar with the business at the ground level. Offering tuition to these employees is an investment in the future of the company.

Similarly, Pixar takes employee education a step further by offering its own “Pixar University” with a variety of classes that range from yoga to ballet. These classes build on the company’s creative spirit, and help employees develop new skills and avoid burnout.

According to Pixar’s president Ed Catmull, Pixar University also functions as an effective way to enhance internal communication. In his book, Creativity, Inc., Catmull explains how learning a new skill together helps Pixar employees get to know each other personally and have honest conversations. Whether they are VPs or interns, everyone starts from the beginning.

Human capital accounts for 70% of operating costs. That means that even though employee education can require substantial upfront costs, it’s worth it in the long run.

How companies of any size can put employees first

Of course, most companies do not have the resources of Starbucks or Pixar. It’s unrealistic to expect all but the largest businesses to pay for college education for most employees or start an internal university. But there are other ways to foster a work culture that puts employees first.

Some ideas to try:

⏭ Ask your employees for input. What would they like to see change in your organization? What would make them excited to come to work every day?
⏭ Offer more flexible office hours, including an option for employees to work from home.
⏭ Try a more relaxed dress code, especially for employees who aren’t client-facing.
⏭ Make a budget available to employees who want to plan team parties, events or outings.
⏭ Offer occasional workday classes that would interest your team, like yoga, painting, or dance. Create a poll to see which options would be most popular.
⏭ Bring in a healthy lunch for employees to share, and have everyone eat together.
⏭ Check in with employees who are working a lot of overtime, and ask what you can do to reduce their stress or their workload. Prioritize a healthy work-life balance.

How it works in practice:

How would you like to get a call from your boss seeing if everything is OK when you’re putting in too many hours at the office? Does that sound too good to be true? Well, it’s actually a regular practice at Point B, a management consulting firm with offices around the country.

While most consulting firms focus on getting employees to bill as many hours as possible, Point B has gained recognition in the industry for striking a strong work-life balance. Employees get to make their own hours and determine how long a project will take to complete.

Though the company has several offices around the country, travel for business is always optional for all employees, so there’s no keeping them away from their families for extended periods.

Letting employees set their own hours doesn’t necessarily work for every business, however. Some companies have found that the best affordable way to put employees first is to foster a work culture of openness.

That’s the strategy at Blue Jeans Network, a San Francisco web developer consistently lauded as one of the best places to work in the Bay area. Blue Jeans Network lets employees dictate culture. There’s no traditional office structure and while there is a human resources department, it doesn’t plan employee get-togethers. Instead, the department lets these parties happen organically, and employees take the lead with other work culture innovations like forming a softball league or bringing dogs to work.

Could your office benefit from a flexible social budget? Check if some of your employees would like to plan parties, events or outings.

These are all ideas that cost little or nothing to implement, yet they make employees feel valued, and have consistently helped Blue Jeans Network’s reputation among its peers.

So what’s the payoff?

You’re probably thinking that this is all well and good, but what’s the point? A little more office transparency is always great, and of course everyone wants to provide extra benefits to their employees if they can afford them, but what’s the long-term benefit?

You’ll improve your image and attract talent

A work culture that puts employees first helps your reputation. It makes your business known as a leader and an innovator in your industry. That gets your name out there, and more importantly, it attracts top talent. It makes your company the place to work.

You’ll gain loyalty

Once employees have found a company that puts their needs first, not only will they put customers first as Richard Branson pointed out, they’ll also be much less likely to leave. Why would anyone leave a company that lets them make their own hours? That’s only going to help avoid the costs and loss of productivity that comes with high turnover.

You’ll invest in your future

Finally, if you’re able to invest in the education and development of your employees by offering them educational opportunities, you’re investing in the future. That means that your company will continue to be a leader and attract top talent for years to come, so if you want your business to succeed and your customers to be happy, the best place to start is actually internally with your employees.

Find out how Allay can help you streamline your hiring and benefits processes. Learn more >

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Source: Julien Emer