How to create an employee-first culture: Top strategies and examples

Kailash Ganesh
12 min read
How to create an employee-first culture: Top strategies and examples
How to create an employee-first culture: Top strategies and examples

Imagine you're in a circus ring, and you're the ringmaster. Your goal? To make sure every performance is a standing ovation. But here's the plot twist: you're not herding lions or sending acrobats soaring through the air.

You're leading a team of professionals, each with their own unique talents and quirks, in the greatest show on Earth – the corporate world!

We're not suggesting that your office transform into a three-ring circus. Instead, we're talking about the employee-first culture, where employees take center stage and where the workplace becomes a magical place of unprecedented engagement, innovation, and growth.

Kris Boesch, the author of Culture Works, reported that a people-first culture sees 26% fewer mistakes, 22% higher productivity, 41% lower absenteeism, and 30% stronger customer satisfaction than other companies

In this blog, we're going to dive deep into the concept of a people-first culture and explore how it can be a game-changer for your company's success.

Employee-first culture meaning

Employee hi-fying each other in the workplace
Employee-first culture meaning

An employee-first culture is a workplace philosophy that prioritizes employees' well-being, satisfaction, and development. In this approach, employees are at the center of decision-making, and their needs and opinions are valued and integrated into company practices.

It fosters a sense of belonging, trust, and empowerment, resulting in higher engagement, productivity, and employee retention. The organization focuses on creating a supportive, inclusive environment that enables employees to reach their full potential and, in turn, drives overall business success.

It's a commitment to treating employees as the most valuable asset and nurturing their growth and happiness.

Employee-first culture benefits

An employee-first culture benefits the employees and contributes significantly to an organization's success and growth. Here are some of the key benefits of embracing an Employee-First Culture:

  • Increased employee engagement: When employees feel valued and heard, they become more engaged in their work. This leads to higher productivity, innovation, and a positive impact on the bottom line.
  • Improved retention: A workplace that prioritizes its employees' well-being and growth is more likely to retain top talent. This reduces recruitment and training costs and maintains institutional knowledge.
  • Enhanced productivity: Happy employees are productive employees. They are motivated to give their best, leading to increased efficiency and better results for the organization.
  • Innovation and creativity: Employees in an employee-first culture are encouraged to share their ideas and take calculated risks. This fosters a culture of innovation and continuous improvement.
  • Positive employer brand: A positive workplace culture attracts top talent and enhances your company's reputation as an employer of choice. This can lead to a more extensive talent pool and better business partnerships. In fact, Bulletin reports that 46% of employees consider the company culture a crucial aspect when applying to a new company.
  • Enhanced employee well-being: Prioritizing employee well-being not only improves morale but also reduces absenteeism and promotes a healthier work-life balance. Employees feel valued and supported, leading to higher job satisfaction and overall happiness.
  • Fostered collaboration and teamwork: An employee-first culture encourages open communication and collaboration among team members. Employees feel comfortable sharing their opinions and working together towards common goals, leading to more cohesive teams and better project outcomes.

Employee-first culture vs. traditional management approach

Employees shaking hands
What are the differences between an employee-first culture and a traditional management approach?

The approach to managing employees plays a crucial role in shaping organizational culture and performance. Two prominent approaches are the employee-first culture and the traditional management approach. While both aim to drive organizational success, they differ significantly in their focus, leadership style, and impact on employee engagement and retention.

Focus and priorities

  • Employee-first culture: This approach prioritizes the well-being, development, and satisfaction of employees above all. Decisions are made with the employees' best interests in mind, fostering a supportive and engaging work environment. The belief is that happy and engaged employees will naturally drive company success.
  • Traditional management approach: The traditional approach prioritizes organizational goals, efficiency, and profitability. Employee needs are considered secondary to business objectives. This can lead to a more hierarchical and top-down management style where employees are viewed primarily as resources to achieve business goals.

Leadership style

  • Employee-first culture: Leadership in an employee-first culture is often characterized by servant leadership, where leaders act as facilitators and mentors. They focus on empowering employees, encouraging open communication, and fostering a collaborative environment. Leaders are accessible and supportive, aiming to develop their team members.
  • Traditional management approach: Leadership tends to be more authoritative and directive. Decision-making is centralized, and there is a clear hierarchy. Leaders focus on maintaining control and ensuring compliance with established procedures. Employee input is less solicited, and the emphasis is on adhering to rules and achieving targets.

Employee engagement and motivation

  • Employee-first culture: High levels of employee engagement and motivation are hallmarks of this culture. Employees feel valued and recognized, leading to increased job satisfaction and loyalty. Practices such as regular feedback, recognition programs, and opportunities for personal and professional growth are common.
  • Traditional management approach: Engagement and motivation are often driven by extrinsic factors such as job security, pay, and benefits. Recognition and feedback may be less frequent, and opportunities for growth and development are not as emphasized. Employee engagement can suffer due to a lack of personal investment and recognition.

Work environment and culture

  • Employee-first culture: The work environment is typically more flexible and inclusive. There is a strong emphasis on work-life balance, mental health, and creating a positive workplace culture. Policies are designed to support employees' overall well-being, such as flexible working hours, remote work options, and comprehensive wellness programs.
  • Traditional management approach: The work environment can be more rigid and formal. Work-life balance and employee well-being may not be primary considerations. The focus is on maintaining productivity and adherence to company policies, which can result in a more structured and less flexible workplace.

Retention and turnover rates

  • Employee-first culture: Organizations that adopt an employee-first approach tend to experience lower turnover rates. Employees are more likely to stay with a company that values and invests in their well-being and growth. High retention rates contribute to a stable and experienced workforce.
  • Traditional management approach: Higher turnover rates are more common as employees may feel undervalued or see limited opportunities for growth. The focus on organizational goals over individual needs can lead to dissatisfaction and increased job searching.

What makes a good employee culture?

What makes a good employee culture?
What makes a good employee culture?

A good employee culture is a harmonious blend of values, practices, and behaviors that create an inspiring and productive workplace. It starts with a clear and shared vision, where every member understands the company's mission and how their role contributes to it.

Communication is key, with open and honest channels allowing employees to voice concerns and share ideas without fear. Trust and respect are foundational, fostering employees' sense of belonging and commitment.

Furthermore, a good employee culture encourages continuous learning and growth, enabling individuals to develop their skills and advance in their careers.

This culture thrives when employees feel appreciated, motivated, and supported in both their professional and personal lives, ensuring a positive, collaborative, and engaging work environment.

How do you create an employee-first culture?

Employers are working on an idea to create employee-first culture
How do you create an employee-first culture?

An employee-first culture is crucial for any organization as it helps in keeping a positive environment and makes employee retention easier. Here’s how you can create an employee-first culture in your organization:

  • Define your values: Establish clear values that prioritize the employee experience, well-being, growth, and satisfaction.
  • Leadership commitment: Ensure top leadership actively supports the employees and the leadership team embodies all company values.
  • Open communication: Foster transparent, two-way communication channels for employees to voice their opinions and concerns.
  • Empowerment: Encourage employees to make decisions and take ownership of their work.
  • Recognition and rewards: Implement recognition and reward systems to acknowledge and celebrate employee achievements.
  • Professional development: Invest in training and development opportunities to help employees grow in their roles.
  • Work-life balance: Promote a healthy work-life balance and support employee well-being.
  • Inclusivity: Create a diverse and inclusive environment that respects all employees.
  • Feedback and improvement: Continuously gather feedback and make necessary improvements to align with employee needs.
  • Measure and adapt: Use metrics and feedback to monitor progress and adapt your approach as needed.

15 Strategies to create a great employee-first culture

Employers are working on employee-first-strategies
15 Strategies to create a great employee-first culture

Here are the top strategies for creating a great employee-first workplace culture. Make sure to follow them to create a space where employees feel they belong.

  1. Strong leadership role modeling: Leadership should serve as a shining example of the desired company culture, embodying its values in their daily actions and decisions. When leaders walk the talk, it sets the tone for the entire organization.
  2. Clear vision and values: Establish a compelling mission and a set of core values that prioritize employees' well-being, growth, and satisfaction.
  3. Transparent communication: Foster open and honest communication channels, enabling employees to voice their concerns, share ideas, and receive updates on company happenings. Transparency builds trust and fosters a sense of belonging.
  4. Empowerment: Give employees the autonomy to make decisions and take ownership of their work. Empowerment fosters a sense of responsibility and accountability, encouraging managers and employees to excel in their roles.
  5. Recognition and rewards: Implement a system for acknowledging and celebrating employee achievements. Recognition can come in various forms, from verbal praise to tangible rewards, boosting team morale and motivation.
  6. Professional development: Invest in training and growth opportunities to help employees enhance their skills and advance in their careers. This not only benefits individuals but also strengthens the organization as a whole.
  7. Work-life balance: Promote a healthy balance between work and personal life. Encourage employees to prioritize good work-life balance and their well-being by offering flexibility and support in managing their responsibilities.
  8. Inclusivity: Create a diverse and inclusive environment that respects all employees, regardless of their background, gender, or beliefs. Inclusivity fosters a sense of belonging and equality.
  9. Feedback mechanisms: Establish regular feedback processes that allow employees to share their insights and encourage feedback and concerns. This valuable input can drive positive change and improvement in the organization.
  10. Employee wellness and well-being: Support physical and mental health initiatives, offering resources and programs that help employees lead healthier lives. A focus on well-being demonstrates a genuine concern for employees' happiness.
  11. Flexible work arrangements: Provide options for remote work or flexible schedules to accommodate the diverse needs of your employees. This flexibility can enhance work-life balance and job satisfaction.
  12. Trust and autonomy: Trust employees to make decisions within their roles. By delegating responsibility and granting autonomy, you empower your workforce and build a culture of accountability.
  13. Continuous improvement: Regularly evaluate the organization's culture based on feedback and evolving needs. Be willing to adapt and evolve the culture to ensure it remains employee-centric and aligned with the company's values and objectives.
  14. Collaborative decision-making: Involve employees in decision-making processes that affect their work and the organization as a whole. Seeking their input fosters a sense of ownership and commitment to the company's goals.
  15. Social responsibility initiatives: Engage employees in corporate social responsibility initiatives that align with their values and interests. Participation in community outreach or sustainability efforts can enhance employee satisfaction and pride in the organization.

7 Employee first culture examples

Here are the top examples of organizations that have successfully embraced an employee-first culture. These organizations have successfully integrated employee-first principles into their culture, resulting in happier, more engaged employees and, ultimately, greater business success.

  1. Google: Google is renowned for its employee-centric culture, offering various perks, such as free gourmet meals, on-site fitness centers, and 20% time for personal projects, which encourages innovation and personal growth.
  2. Salesforce: Salesforce places a strong emphasis on its 1-1-1 model, where they commit to donating 1% of product, 1% of equity, and 1% of employee time to charitable causes. This employee-first approach fosters a sense of purpose and giving back.
  3. Zappos: Known for its unique corporate culture, Zappos places a strong focus on employee happiness. They offer flexible work arrangements and prioritize core values like "Deliver WOW Through Service."
  4. Netflix: Netflix encourages a culture of freedom and responsibility, where employees are trusted to manage their time and make decisions independently. This empowers them to take ownership of their work.
  5. HubSpot: HubSpot's culture values employee well-being and growth. They provide generous benefits, learning opportunities, and flexible work arrangements to promote work-life balance.
  6. Patagonia: Patagonia promotes environmental and social responsibility. Employees are encouraged to take time off to engage in environmental activism, showcasing the company's commitment to shared values.
  7. Costco: Costco has a reputation for providing competitive wages and benefits, including healthcare and retirement plans for its employees. This commitment to employee welfare leads to higher job satisfaction and loyalty.

How can companies measure the success of an employee-first culture?

Employees working together
How can companies measure the success of an employee-first culture?

Cultivating a workplace culture that prioritizes the well-being, development, and satisfaction of employees has become increasingly essential for organizational success.

This approach, known as an employee-first culture, places employees at the forefront of decision-making and strategic planning, recognizing their value as the driving force behind innovation and growth. However, assessing the effectiveness of such a culture requires careful measurement and analysis of various metrics and indicators.

  • Employee engagement surveys: Regularly conducted surveys provide valuable insights into employees' perceptions, satisfaction levels, and overall engagement with the company culture. Questions should focus on factors such as job satisfaction, work-life balance, and opportunities for growth and development. High participation rates and positive feedback indicate a successful employee-first culture.
  • Retention rates: Monitoring employee turnover rates can indicate the effectiveness of an employee-first culture. A low turnover rate suggests that employees feel valued, supported, and motivated to stay with the company. Conversely, high turnover rates may signal dissatisfaction or a lack of alignment with the company's values and priorities.
  • Employee feedback and suggestions: Actively soliciting and implementing employee feedback and suggestions is a key indicator of an employee-first culture. Companies that prioritize listening to their employees and taking action to address their concerns demonstrate a commitment to creating a supportive and inclusive work environment.
  • Performance metrics: Assessing performance metrics such as productivity, efficiency, and quality of work can provide insights into the impact of an employee-first culture on business outcomes. Employees who feel valued and supported are likely to demonstrate higher levels of engagement and performance, leading to improved overall results.
  • Employee referrals: The number of employee referrals for new hires can reflect the success of an employee-first culture. Satisfied and engaged employees are more likely to recommend the company to their networks, leading to higher-quality candidates and reduced recruitment costs.
  • Employee development and promotion rates: Tracking employee development and promotion rates can indicate whether employees are being provided with opportunities for growth and advancement. A culture that prioritizes employee development will have higher rates of internal promotions and career progression.
  • Employee well-being metrics: Monitoring employee well-being metrics such as stress levels, work-life balance, and mental health indicators can provide insights into the overall health and effectiveness of an employee-first culture. Programs that support employee well-being, such as wellness initiatives and mental health resources, contribute to a positive work environment.
  • Customer satisfaction and loyalty: Employee satisfaction and engagement have a direct impact on customer satisfaction and loyalty. Companies that prioritize their employees' well-being and development are more likely to have satisfied and loyal customers who value the quality of service provided.


1. What's the connection between an employee-first culture and company profitability?

An employee-first culture can significantly impact profitability. Engaged employees tend to be more productive and innovative, resulting in improved customer satisfaction and increased revenue. Their commitment and loyalty reduce turnover costs and enhance the organization's reputation,. By prioritizing employee well-being and fostering a supportive work environment, companies can achieve competitive advantage in the marketplace.

2. Are there industries where an employee-first culture is more challenging to implement?

While adaptable to any industry, implementing an employee-first culture in heavily regulated or traditionally structured sectors requires tailored strategies. Adapting to industry dynamics is essential, ensuring employee well-being remains a priority amidst regulatory constraints and traditional norms. Flexibility and innovation are crucial for navigating challenges while fostering a culture that values and supports employees.

3. How do you measure the success of an employee-first culture?

Success can be gauged through various metrics. Employee retention rates, increased productivity, positive feedback from employee satisfaction surveys, and active employee feedback channels all indicate the effectiveness of an employee-first culture. Another key indicator is improved profitability, demonstrating the direct impact of prioritizing employee well-being on the organization's financial health and overall success.

4. What are the risks of an employee-first culture if not implemented correctly?

Poorly executed employee-first initiatives can result in inconsistency and resistance from employees. Balancing employee needs with the organization's goals is crucial to avoid creating a sense of entitlement or discord. Misalignment between employee-first efforts and business strategy can also pose a risk, undermining the effectiveness of such initiatives and hindering organizational success.

5. Can a small business with limited resources embrace an employee-first culture?

Small businesses can cultivate an employee-first culture without extravagant perks. It's about fostering a workplace that values each employee's contribution, focusing on personalized recognition, clear communication, and flexibility to accommodate individual needs. Prioritizing these elements can create a supportive and engaging work environment, putting employees first, irrespective of the organization's size or resources.

Kailash Ganesh

Kailash Ganesh

Kailash is a Product Marketer with 5+ years of experience. He loves story-telling in the simplest way possible and he is an avid reader, movie buff, and likes to travel new places to meet new people.