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How to create a people-first workplace to grow your business

Growth and Operations

How to create a people-first workplace to grow your business

Updated: April 7th, 2023

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While there are endless ways to grow your business, a good place to start is by creating an environment where employees feel valued. Beyond simply finding and hiring talented people, this involves investing time and money into your employees’ happiness both inside and outside of the workplace. 

Why are so many businesses losing employees right now?

Throughout the Great Resignation of 2021, companies across all industries lost valuable, skilled employees. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, a record 4.5 million people quit their jobs in November 2021; since then, little has changed, with 4.4 million people leaving jobs in February 2022.

Pandemic-induced stresses and changes have caused employees to rethink their careers, lifestyles, and long-term goals. This collective shift has resulted in many people realizing their jobs and workplaces don’t offer enough compensation, recognition, work-life balance, or career growth opportunities.  

Employees in the service industry and other consumer-facing roles have had a particularly exhausting couple of years. Many of these employees don’t just want more financial incentives from their employers—they also want more emotional support at work. 

It should come as little surprise that by accommodating employees, businesses are more likely to retain workers and generate steady profits—two key factors that contribute to scalable growth. On the other hand, businesses that choose not to make workplace culture a priority tend to lose employees, customers, and eventually revenue. 

In Salesforce’s 2021 Small and Medium Business Trends Report, businesses that reduced their employee perks over the past year stagnated, while those that expanded employee benefits experienced more growth.

What is a people-first workplace and why does it matter? 

A people-first workplace doesn’t sacrifice employee well-being and satisfaction in exchange for profits. To ensure a safe and supportive work environment, it’s crucial to develop policies and processes that support employees, instead of expecting them to adapt to one-size-fits-all business rules. 

Here are some of the characteristics of a people-first workplace: 

  • Welcoming and inclusive work environment 
  • Flexible workplace policies
  • High job autonomy 
  • Empathetic leadership 
  • Open communication
  • Collaboration between coworkers
  • Reward systems and regular recognition 
  • Career growth opportunities 
  • Diverse array of benefits

When you care for employees financially, professionally, and personally, they tend to be happier and more engaged at work. High employee satisfaction and engagement can translate to greater workplace productivity, more loyal customers, and increased sales or revenue—not to mention higher employee retention

The bottom line: your employees are the foundation of your business. The stronger and more stable they are, the easier it is to build a profitable, long-lasting operation. 

How to build a people-first workplace culture

Improving your workplace culture takes time, but it’s a smart investment in your business’s success. Not only can a culture transformation help you attract new employees—it can also foster more trust and loyalty amongst your current workforce. Here are three key areas to focus on when creating a people-first workplace culture:

  1. Benefits and Compensation 
  2. Policies and Opportunities 
  3. Communication and Recognition

1. Benefits and Compensation 

Financial incentive is essential to employee satisfaction. By offering a strong benefit and compensation package, you can help reduce employee stress, increase motivation, and contribute to employees’ overall wellbeing. Here are three key areas to address:

Paid Time Off

Paid time off (PTO) offers employees a chance to recharge and invest in their well-being. People want the freedom and security of knowing they can step away from work to relax, bond with a new baby, spend time vacationing with family, or recover from sickness or burnout. Consider how you can offer more meaningful PTO for your employees. You could try: 

  • Increasing the amount of PTO you offer
  • Setting a minimum annual PTO amount employees are required to take 
  • Extending the length of parental leave and disability
  • Expanding your leave options to include bereavement, fertility treatments, pet losses, or care for loved ones
  • Instating an annual business-wide vacation shutdown (whether it’s for two days or two weeks) or offering half-day Fridays during the summer 

Mental Health Resources 

One of the most impactful employee benefits—especially amidst an ongoing pandemic—is mental health support. Employees today are struggling with everything from anxiety and depression to extreme stress and burnout. 

In the American Psychological Association’s 2021 Work and Well-being Survey, 79% of respondents said they recently experienced work-related stress. A poll conducted by the  American Psychiatric Association revealed that 43% of US adults said the pandemic has taken a significant toll on their mental health

It’s important for business owners to prioritize mental health in the workplace by providing employees with the tools and resources they need to take care of themselves. Here are some options to consider:

  • Paid mental health days 
  • Paid (or partially covered) therapy sessions 
  • Access to an app that has breathing exercises or guided meditations like Calm and Headspace
  • Monthly wellness stipends to put toward exercise, books, spa services, or retreats 
  • A mental health handbook with one-pagers on issues like stress, anxiety, burnout, and depression


It’s a good idea to reexamine your compensation structure if you haven’t changed it in a while. Taking into account rising inflation, industry averages, and the cost of living where your employees live, see if there are opportunities to make changes. Consider:

  • Raising your minimum wage
  • Giving annual bonuses
  • Offering automatic annual raises or regular equity increases

2. Policies and Opportunities 

Compassionate policies, along with unique growth opportunities can make  employees feel supported and more at ease in the workplace. If you’re not sure where to start, address these three areas first: 


Workplace flexibility has a direct impact on employee satisfaction and effectiveness. According to MetLife’s 2020 Employee Benefits Trends Study, a flexible work arrangement is one of the top five mitigators of stress, burnout, and depression, as well as one of the top 10 drivers of employee productivity, engagement, and loyalty. 

When employees have more flexibility and autonomy over their work hours, shifts, or work location, they can structure their lives in a way that works for them. Here are some options for increasing flexibility in your business:

  • Give employees more choice over their shifts
  • Extend lunch or offer longer breaks so that employees can run errands or attend appointments
  • Adopt a hybrid schedule that allows employees to work from home two or three days a week
  • Give employees flexible work hours, so they can work when they’re most productive
  • Relax the rules around arrival and departure times
  • Adopt an asynchronous work model

Career Growth

Growth opportunities don’t just keep employees engaged at work—they also give employees a sense of purpose and fulfillment. If you want to create more growth opportunities for your employees, consider offering:

  • Additional job training
  • Reimbursements for career development activities such as online courses, workshops, or conferences
  • Opportunities to shadow people in different roles or take on new responsibilities
  • Clarity and updates on promotion opportunities and pay raises
  • Scheduled 1-on-1 meetings to set employee goals and discuss career growth 


Some employees may struggle under the weight of their workload or career responsibilities. As a business owner, there are a number of ways you might be able to help. 

  • Minimize workplace meetings when possible  
  • Give employees more autonomy over their day-to-day work responsibilities, so they can work at the pace that makes sense for them  
  • Encourage employees to take sick days when they feel unwell 
  • Discourage employees from working overtime and taking work-related emails and calls outside work hours
  • Hold weekly or monthly check-ins with employees to ask about their workloads and see where they need help  

3. Communication and Recognition 

Clear, empathetic workplace communication and regular employee recognition contribute to a positive employee experience. Rethinking your workplace communication style and tactics is a big endeavor, but here are two places to start: 


Employees perform better and feel better when they feel included and comfortable in the workplace. As an employer, you can create a more welcoming environment in a few different ways: 

  • Create a no-tolerance policy for workplace bullying, harassment, and discrimination  
  • Enroll managers and supervisors in a course on inclusive leadership 
  • Enroll every employee in a training seminar that teaches them how to recognize, respond to, and minimize microaggressions in the workplace
  • Facilitate events where employees can bond and get to know one another 
  • Encourage employees to ask questions and share concerns with you or their manager 
  • Lead from a place of openness and compassion 
  • Be accommodating to employees’ different needs and abilities 

Feedback and Rewards

Employees want to feel valued and appreciated at work. In Bonusly’s 2022 employee appreciation poll, 65% of the employees surveyed said they’d work harder if their managers recognized their work on a regular basis. Here are several ways to prioritize employee recognition:

  • Train managers and supervisors to offer regular feedback on employees’ job performances
  • Praise employees for their skills, whether they’re excellent with customers or amazing at organization 
  • Thank employees for their dedication to your business on their yearly work anniversaries 
  • Reward hard work with tangible gifts, like gift cards, bonuses, or treats

Keep learning and evolving

Building a people-first workplace isn’t a one-and-done effort; it’s ongoing work. To keep evolving, make a point to continue listening to your employees (through surveys or conversations) and reading up on workplace trends and changes. It’s also a good idea to invest in your own growth as a leader and employer, so you can stay one step ahead. 

If you need help creating an employee-centered business, consider applying for Funding Circle business financing. Our long-term loans are affordable and versatile; if you qualify, you can get the funds you need to expand your benefits or invest in new hires in just a few days. Apply now to help build the business you’ve always dreamed of—and one your employees have always dreamed of working at, too.


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