What is Employee-First culture, its importance and How to Build it?

Before moving ahead and discuss on employee-first, customer-second, we must know this term. So, let’s start-

What is Employee-First Culture?

“An employee-first culture is an environment in which employees feel comfortable sharing concerns, know their voice is heard & respected, see growth opportunities, are respected expressing their opinion, believe that they have a fair work-life balance, have confidence in the core values of the organization, and are being treated fairly.”

These are key components of making an employee-first culture and you’ll find several employees-first companies, focusing on all these key levers.

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 some easy-to-implement ways to build a strong employee-first office culture.

Change traditional customer-first approach

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 (Virgin Group CEO), creating a work culture that puts employees first is a smarter business move.

In an interview with Inc., Branson explained how his employee-first philosophy 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 with his employees 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 acts as an investment in the company’s future.

There are other examples that we can refer to for better understanding. When HCL Technologies Limited made Vineet Nayar its CEO in 2007, it tasked him with transforming the company.

As Nayar moved to reverse the decline of the company’s “mindshare,” market share, and talent share, he and his fellow company leaders discovered they needed to prioritize their employees to effect the necessary change. Nayar told attendees at the Society for Human Resource Management 2019 Annual Conference.

And so, Nayar changed HCL’s culture into an employee-first operation, as he said.

Managers can do nothing but infuse, enable employees in the value zone to create higher & much higher value. That’s how the idea of employee-first, customer-second was born.”


10 golden rules to be followed to make employee-first culture:

1 – Involve employees in the decision, engage them in mission and recognize for submission. 

2 – Awesome welcome for a new hire or employee. 

3 – There should be an idea board or suggestions board. 

4 – There should be a regular meeting about the vision and goals. 

5 – Skip meeting (Top level to employees) to reduce negative culture. 

6 – There should be at least once a week short games for employees’ engagement. So that, they can socialize up with each other to maintain a healthy environment. 

7 – Engage employees in socially-responsible projects. 

8 – Organize events for employees and their families in the office or at home. 

9 – Celebrate personalized occasions after completion of one task or goal.

10 – Establish a mentor-mentee relationship and offer regular training. 

A healthy culture has a magical power that boosts energy within the organization and if an employee is energized then the company is surely going to grow.

Now let’s move to some other factors that are considerable and needed also.

1 – Be Themselves: A Priority for Employee-First Companies

Every employee should feel that they can be their unadulterated self in the workplace.

If you’re forcing employees to adapt their personalities to fit a rigorously shaped mold, you’re in turn preventing them from bringing their unique skills, viewpoints, and innovative ideas to the table.

We all do our best work when we’re allowed to be ourselves, so don’t limit your employees or else you’ll see a decline in motivation and engagement, and risk raised attrition rates as well.

Backfill costs are prohibitive, so retain your talent and you’ll reap the rewards.

2 – Caring Colleagues: Building Empathy

We all want our organizations to be filled with kindhearted employees who can empathize with their colleagues to boost mental health company-wide.

Making sure people feel safe and comfortable talking to their fellow employees will have a huge impact on company morale, a key component of any employee-first culture.

Team bonding exercises, informal gatherings, and other fun activities can play a huge role in helping your team develop the bonds they need to feel good at work.

3 – Culture of Respect: Making Everyone Feel Safe at Work

You must cultivate an environment where people feel comfortable expressing their viewpoints, opinions, ideas, and ways of working without fear of judgments or reprisal.

Having an idea dismissed without proper consideration or respect given to its merits is incredibly hurtful, as many of us have experienced, and there’s nothing more demotivating.

So, build a culture of respect and reinforce & strengthen diversity in the workplace.  

4 – Democracy in the Workplace: Transparency and Two-way Communication

One of the central tenets of an employee-first approach in the workplace is assuring top to bottom transparency, and making sure the employees feel involved in larger business decisions.

A disconnect between rank and file employees and leadership is one of the quickest ways, a company culture can go toxic.

To develop a positive workplace culture you need to ensure communication goes two ways. Through regular companywide and individualized reach outs you can wipe out any potential extents of resistance.

We should be all about giving employees a voice. To make or break is whether leadership considers feedback and keeps employees in the loop.


5 – Fair Treatment: An Employee Engagement Chatbot to Express Concerns

Feeling like other employees are being treated differently or that they’re being passed over for promotions or opportunities is a quick way to cause an employee to start hunting for new jobs.

Without opportunities for growth that are made possible by a fair and equal playing field, there’s no true incentive for an employee to stay within an organization.

Fortunately, an employee engagement chatbot allows employees to make sure their concerns about preferential treatment are heard by, who can then pass on concerns to managers and work to help upskill them.

So get an employee engagement chatbot so you can stop attrition and build a positive workplace culture by making sure every employee is treated equally. 

6 – Fun and Friendly Workplace: More than an Office 

Who doesn’t want to work in a fun workplace?

Events like company mixers, protracted engagement campaigns, and more can all help make your office a happy place to work.

We all spend many of our working hours at the office (or, now, working from home), so why shouldn’t we be happy doing it?

Again, unhappiness in turn hurts the bottom line as lower morale and company loyalty will negatively impact productivity.

There’s an obvious line to be drawnbetween productivity and just goofing around, but doing things like implementing gamification techniques can help make work more enjoyable.

7 – Performance Culture: Recognizing Top Talent 

A performance-based culture goes hand in hand with fair treatment in the workplace. Partiality should never be the way employees move vertically in an organization, rather an empirical evaluation of workplace performance should be prioritized.

One key way to do this, and in turn build positive workplace culture, is clearly defining goals and objectives for employees.

Making the performance aspect as transparent and data-driven as possible will help ensure all employees take pride in their work and are also accountable for hitting their numbers.

Rather than be anxious over how they’ll be reviewed by a supervisor using unclear criteria, staking OKRs and KPIs to data points will allow everyone to understand who is performing well, and why.

Want to ensure you’re building trust with employees and enabling a performance culture?

8 – Sense of Pride: Believing in the Mission & Work

One key part of building a positive workplace culture is ensuring all employees accept the guiding tenets and values of a company.

If you’ve worked to establish a strong culture and ethos it should influence all decisions taken within the company.

From this, the employees build a sense of pride in the work they’re doing for the company. If they believe in the vision of the company, they’ll inherently be more motivated and inspired to perform.

Having a high net promoter score is a huge part of building a healthy brand, both in the present and in the future when you hire.

Having former employees leave the organization as brand ambassadors is a sign you’re doing something right, and you should strive as a leader to ensure that everyone who joins the firm is proud to be there.

9 – Warm and Friendly People

Everyone wants to come into an office and be greeted by smiling faces. The intangible impact of positivity and cheerfulness cannot be undervalued, and it’s certainly contagious.

While it might be hard to do something as amorphous and subjective as asking your employees to smile more or wave at people, fostering a healthy work environment will help nurture these attitudes in your employees.

Further, personal disposition should be a factor in the hiring process. HRBPs should take note of all candidates’ personalities and demeanors, rather than solely focusing on performance and resume.

An organization filled with talented but curmudgeonly employees will fail because without strong internal bonds morale will never be where it needs to be.


10 – Work from Home-Life Balance

How to Develop a Positive Workplace Culture with Time Management?

Now more than ever, with the shift towards work from home, creating a healthy work-life balance for your employees is a key component in reducing burnout and keeping productivity high.

In a work from home setting the lines between “on” and “off” are often blurred, so make sure you’re not putting an inordinate amount of work on your employees’ shoulders.

While one huge benefit of work from home is flexible work hours, you must be considerate of your colleagues’ working styles. If you find that you work well after what we consider to be “standard” working hours, hold off on sending messages at odd hours to colleagues.

Try to align your periods of communication with the hours that most people are working.

11 – Work-life balance initiatives

A four-day workweek allows employees to have one more day during the week to themselves, at least theoretically. Some companies are experimenting with four-day workweeks. The concept behind a four-day workweek is that when employees are present, they are more engaged, more productive, and more creative because they have had the time to relax and revive.

Even during a 5-day work week, some employees still spend personal time on work projects. Giving people a bit more time on the personal side allows for occasionally working on the weekend while still providing time for rest and rejuvenation.

12 – Growth and development initiatives 

To check the “opportunities for growth” box, many companies are putting some sort of career development and learning program into a place that may or may not reflect their employees’ opinions about what is valuable.

HR leaders and the companies they serve are unfulfilled at the lack of alignment between the types of growth they want within their organizations and what employees want in terms of learning and development.

In places where those two things are aligned, companies are reaping the benefits of greater employee engagement, increased productivity, easier recruiting, and better retention.

13 – Mentorship

It is human nature to help others and, at times, get help from others. Mentorship programs are an efficient way to fulfill that need while providing opportunities for cross-department collaboration, employee growth, and improved satisfaction.

Mentorship is not an initiative that will take hold as an ad hoc system of people partnering with others in the organization on their own.

If companies are serious about establishing effective mentoring programs, HR leaders need to take a step back to do some planning.

An integral part of a sustainable plan will include processes for training and establishing a climate where people are given the time—not on top of their current workload—to allow mentoring to be a meaningful experience for both the mentor and the mentee.

14 – Volunteerism 

While most companies do provide some paid time off to volunteer, rarely that is advertised or deployed effectively.

In some cases, employees may feel unspoken pressure to not take the time in fear of impacting their work goals and deliverables deadlines.

When organizations embrace volunteerism and encourage employees to work together outside of the office for the greater good, something magical happens.

Volunteering gives people a chance to feel good about themselves and experience pride in a company that allows—and even encourages—giving back. 

A robust volunteer program allows employees to work together in teams with people outside of their own soloed departments provides an avenue to build self-esteem, and creates a positive image of the company in the greater community.

15 – Initiatives from the top 

The success or failure of any endeavor begins with changing how things have always been done.

If the HR department creates a mentoring program, but some managers refuse to lighten the load of regular work, the initiative will quickly die as people discover they must work on the weekends to help someone else.

The personal sacrifice may just not be worth it. The same can be said for any employee engagement or learning and development program at any company in any industry.

A management mindset shift is the only way new programs and new ways of looking at the workforce can take hold.

While some managers may be eager for the changes suggested by the HR strategists, others will be holdouts for the old, top-down, micromanagement style of work.

The only way out of this cycle of misfires is to establish proper deployment and accountability for every manager and supervisor in your organization.

Accountability, compliance, and behavioral changes to make room for the new initiatives must be enforced evenly and regularly by the top executives.

Managers who lead by example by taking advantage of volunteering opportunities and encouraging their teams to join them may receive some reward or recognition.

Those managers who don’t make room for employees to easily participate in a mentoring program may need additional training or even consequences for not meeting the company goals for greater interaction between soloed departments. 

Companies unable to properly deploy initiatives into the ranks of their managers and supervisors will fail, maybe be worse off as some employees are given the leeway to take advantage of opportunities and some are not.

Planning, measurement, and accountability are the keys to actually changing the culture and demonstrating an “employee-first” mindset that results in meeting retention and recruitment goals.

So, how companies of any size can put employees first?

Of course, most companies do not have the resources like large companies. Yet, there are other ways to foster a work culture that puts employees first.

Some more ideas to try to go on Employee-First culture:

  • Ask your employees for input.

What would they like to see as a 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 into customer dealing.

  • 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.


As we know there are few successful companies, who follow “Customer-centric” approach, but as we discussed, there are few companies, who are as success with “Employee-first” approach as well.

Sometime we’ll try to discuss on the “Customer-First” approach as well. Till then, don’t forget to tell us your opinion on this in the comment box and please ask, if there is any query related to this topic or Employee management techniques or our business management service “PagarBook“.

Still Not Using ‘PagarBook’ for Employee Management?

Prashant Kumar

Prashant Kumar

Associate Growth Manager

Prashant is Associate Growth Manager in PagarBook and manages all the organic web presence for brand. 


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *