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5 Steps to Building an Employee-First Work Culture


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In 2014, Cisco launched “Our People Deal,” a new internal initiative designed to enhance the employee experience. The goal was to create an exciting and cohesive company culture that kept employees engaged and happy with the work they were doing. 

Over the course of several months, Cisco added new programs to their talent strategy framework, including more open dialogue between employees and leadership, advancement opportunities, acknowledgment of contributions, and even a renewed mission for corporate social responsibility (CSR). 

“The most powerful thing we do is listen to our people. And if you think about some of the big things we have done over the last few years, it has all come from our employees.” 

—Kelly Jones, Global Head of Talent Acquisition at Cisco Systems

The focus on employee engagement helped Cisco earn the #4 spot on the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For 2020, marking its 23rd year on the list. In fact, 98% of Cisco employees said they love where they work, compared to the national average of 85%.

Happy employees are better for business

Today’s organizations know how important employee satisfaction is to driving key business outcomes. Multiple studies show that organizations with highly engaged employees are four times more successful than those without, and outperform competitors by 147% in earnings per share.

It makes sense. Employees want to work for organizations where they feel valued, appreciated, and rewarded. When they do, they’re more engaged, productive, loyal, and happy. Companies with engaged employees build better—and more profitable—brands. When employees are disengaged, however, the costs can be substantial. One estimate suggests each disengaged employee could cost an organization up to $20k a year in lost productivity, not to mention the costs of acquiring and training new employees.

Organizations looking to grow their businesses should consider shifting their culture to one that prioritizes employee satisfaction. As Richard Branson famously said, “Clients do not come first. Employees come first.” We at RingCentral agree with that notion. We’re proud to be on San Francisco Business Times’ 2020 Best Places to Work and Bay Area Wellness Award lists.

So how can organizations create an employee-first work culture? Here are five steps to get started:

1. Engage with employees to get feedback and insight

Many organizations make the mistake of holding reviews bi-annually or, even worse, only when they’re necessary. But without holding regular reviews, employers miss out on two major opportunities. The organization won’t understand its shortcomings, and employees won’t get the recognition and personal development they deserve.

Employees want to know that their companies are invested in their employees’ futures, and that starts with initiating conversations with them on a regular basis. Cisco eliminated quarterly reviews and instead switched to weekly check-in meetings with employees. This gives managers an opportunity to evaluate performance, discuss updates, provide training and coaching, praise achievements, and understand each employee’s career and life goals. In short, check-in meetings do wonders for helping employees feel emotionally valued within the organization.

2. Prioritize flexibility to promote better employee wellness

Today, the notion of 9-5 work hours feels outdated. A survey of 1500 people showed that 96% of employees want flexible work hours and a better work-life balance, and that 25% of employees would take a 10-20% pay cut in exchange for flexibility. The demand for flexible work is there, and organizations are starting to meet those demands.

As of 2019, 66% of companies offer some sort of flexible work schedule where employees can split time between office and home.Some organizations have begun experimenting with reduced office hours or four-day workweeks. These more flexible schedules allow employees to not only complete tasks at their own pace but handle other life priorities without being bound to the office. Employees with the freedom to manage their own time show lower levels of stress, higher levels of happiness, and most importantly, higher productivity.

3. Give employees the right technology to be successful

It may not seem apparent at first, but poor technology can have a significant negative impact on work culture. For example, outdated computers that take ages to load a new page not only waste time, but cause employees to lose focus. In fact, 57% of employees surveyed said that working with inadequate and obsolete technology has negatively affected workplace productivity and morale. 

What happens when technology doesn’t meet the needs of employees? Tasks take longer to complete, employees work longer hours, and the quality of work suffers. This leads to higher employee stress and higher turnover.

With that in mind, technologies that combine multiple functions and tasks into one have the greatest chance to improve productivity, focus, and morale. For example, many organizations use separate apps for team messaging, video conferencing, and phone, but an integrated communications solution that combines them into one unified app can dramatically improve the employee experience. Employees only need to learn and manage one app, reducing the stress of “app overload” and allowing them to focus more on their tasks.

4. Offer more growth and development opportunities

Organizations are increasingly realizing the importance of employee retention. The cost of replacing an employee can be as high as 150% of his or her annual salary

It should surprise no one that employees who feel they’re on a career path are less likely to leave. As a result, consider actively coaching employees and create new opportunities for them to expand their skills. Leaders can challenge them by putting them on more important projects and including them in decision-making meetings. Leverage one-on-ones to provide feedback and mentorship, and connect them with important people who can change their lives.

5. Promote social activities to create a sense of unity

One common misconception is that employees don’t enjoy socializing with coworkers. The reality is that many employees enjoy connecting with their colleagues, but not when it carves into their own personal time. Socializing in the workplace is great for developing personal relationships and teamwork, driving innovation, and reducing workplace stress. Company-driven social activities, such as hosting cornhole tournaments or installing a basketball arcade, can help foster that interaction. If it’s in the budget, consider hosting department off-sites where employees come together to bond and discuss ideas.

A performance-driven organization starts with an employee-first work culture

To ensure the best business outcomes for your organization, traditional methods of employee management may no longer do the trick. Happy employees work better, smarter, and faster while saving companies from costly recruitment tasks. When employees are nurtured and valued, they’ll return that favor in productivity for your organization.

Productivity starts with having the right communications tools. With the rise of remote and flexible work, teams are increasingly distributed and communication is more important than ever. Make sure your employees have a unified messaging, video, and phone solution that allows employees to collaborate effectively no matter where they are.

Originally published May 06, 2020, updated Jan 18, 2023

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