More Sustainable, More Equitable, and More Productive

How employee-centric policies build a workplace that works better

Employee-centric workplace

While millions have returned to work in person, it’s not all bliss. Haphazard plans and wild assumptions about employee behavior led to the “great resignation” and now to the “great regret,” with 80% of executives regretting their decisions and bold plans to return to the office. Companies were thinking about sunk office costs instead of the more important asset: the employees themselves.

An employee-centric approach considers employee needs, desires, and well-being along with company outputs such as sales or customer satisfaction.

At a time when the demand for labor is high, there’s renewed interest in creating comfortable cultures that support employee diversity, equity, and work-life sanity. And it makes business sense, too. When employees are happier and more engaged, they’re more likely to work harder, boosting productivity, revenue, and profits.

Now is the right moment for American businesses to become more employee-centric. While some are still recovering from the pandemic downturn, many companies feel they have weathered the storm. Rewarding employees for being flexible or loyal makes sense, yet things aren’t what they were before. We’ve gotten a glimpse into the human side of employees. We’ve seen their living rooms, their pets, their outside-of-work life. We understand that allowing them to wear jeans to the office on Fridays is not a valuable reward when childcare needs, household responsibilities, and personal interests pull them in different directions.

By examining five aspects of work that illustrate the impact of employee-centric policies, business owners and leaders can create a more sustainable, equitable, and productive workplace, regardless of where that work occurs.

Small business management

1. The definition of success

For far too long, we’ve allowed what we see to be a fair judgment of an employee’s abilities and effort. By focusing on what time they came to the office and whether they were at their desk, pounding away at a keyboard, we neglected to dig deeper and define what productivity meant for each role.

An employee-centric approach seeks to break each job down to its essence, with targets, tasks, and deliverables that reflect the employee’s ability, career goals, and organizational goals. Managers can look at the metrics to judge performance, leaving it up to individuals to determine how, when, and perhaps even where to work.

2. Work that works

According to research from McKinsey, employees overwhelmingly prefer hybrid work, and 50% of the time in the person is the ideal balance, offering the flexibility employees crave, time for recovery, and the opportunity to do focused work.

The most successful employee-centric policies redefine operating norms beyond how many days employees should be together in person. Instead, employers and employees should determine objectives for meeting in person, how to check in with each other regularly, how to measure productivity, and what would provide the balance they need.

Some companies have gone even further to redefine norms―creating meeting-free days and insisting on no-contract evenings and weekends. Creating formalized feedback mechanisms to allow all employees to have input on the company’s direction, values, clients, and policies. Offering employees unlimited personal days―and encouraging time off between projects.

Colleagues in an office space
photo credit: Kindel Media / Pexels

3. The office experience

The COVID lockdown proved what a hundred years of history could not: we live at a time when working remotely does work. We have the technology, communication, and skills to do office jobs from places other than the office. Economists estimate that roughly half of all Americans could logistically work from home. So, a decision to return to workplaces needs to be well-founded.

What makes the office environment valuable is the opportunity for collaborative moments. An employee-centric approach considers how employees can get things done that they cannot do while working at home―such as team bonding events, one-on-one meetings, and client presentations. It understands that when you ask (or demand) for people to come to an office when they could have done the same work at home, you’re burdening the employee, leading to resentment.

Heads-down work requires a place to focus. Phone calls and video calls require quiet space. Meetings and ideation can get loud. Is your office set up for all of that? Commutes take time and energy before an employee even gets to work. Is the office experience worthy of that? Removing friction from the office experience may require employers to rethink the space and their in-office policies.

4. Growth and support

The employee-centric approach emphasizes professional growth. That means offering an individualized dose of learning and development, stretch opportunities and assignments, coaching, mentoring, or other forms of personal support. While that doesn’t sound too different from the benefits many companies offer, the difference is in the details.

The support, for example, might be a group of other working parents to share strategies for childcare or a coach who provides daily feedback on sales pitches. At the same time, development might take the shape of being paired with another employee for a few months to learn the ropes or pick up best practices.

5. Streamline communication

Collaboration and synchronization have taken a hit with teams working in different locations and time zones. Employee communications have regressed. Facetime with management is down.

The challenges point to a shift in communication strategies, with more information being provided asynchronously, such as in emails, and more scheduled calls and meetings, which cause work disruptions, burnout, and meeting fatigue.

Building structured communication processes can help all employees, regardless of roles and locations, feel more included, informed, visible, and heard. Streamlined communication strategies include delivering the same message across multiple channels and combining synchronous and asynchronous communications. For example, send a recorded briefing from management followed by a series of live discussions or Q&A sessions, or have a manager who regularly checks in with team members to ask about their work and wellbeing.

Diverse business team

At a time when diversity and equity are professed values, and there’s a push to regain some of the stability businesses enjoyed before the pandemic, employee-centric policies offer a sustainable approach to the future of work. Teams that are motivated, excited, and committed to their work are an invaluable asset. It’s in every company’s best interest to encourage and nurture its employees by understanding what they want from their jobs and creating workplace policies around them.