by Shayne Thomas
20 Feb 2020
The Rise of the Employee-Centric Workplace
Investing in the success, growth, and happiness of your employees is the key to driving meaningful long-term business outcomes
Let me guess, when you first read the headline of this article, you might have thought to yourself, “But isn’t the workplace already employee-centric to begin with?”
You wouldn’t be incorrect in making that assumption. The workplace is, after all, where employees come together to do their jobs and get work done. However, the real problem lies in this overly simplistic—but all too commonplace—definition of the workplace that I’ve provided here. Today’s workplace is much more than just a place to do work.
Or, rather, it should be. Here’s why. Studies have shown that we spend up to one-third of our lives at work, or for those of you who love numbers, somewhere in the ballpark of 90,000 hours. That’s a lot of time dedicated to something other than our personal lives or sleep.
That’s why, over time, the workplace has evolved. Remember when offices used to be a sea of cubicles? Now, they’ve been transformed into open, so-called collaborative spaces. Unfortunately, and to the detriment of beautiful office space design innovation, the jury is still out as to whether they actually drive collaborativity, as some research has pointed to up to a 70 percent drop in face-to-face collaboration once offices made the design transition. This is further compounded by the rise of new technologies and platforms—from Slack to Google Drive to Zoom—that enable, for better or worse, an always-on, work-from-anywhere mentality, giving employees more reason to engage deeply with their devices and less with their coworkers.
Then again, everyone needs a technology break from time to time. So, the workplace followed suit, creating cafeterias with (free) gourmet food, coffee bars with an endless supply of snacks, on-site gyms, commuter bikes and buses, and the list goes on. To help working parents, well, keep on working, many businesses have also added daycare services to their repertoire.
And especially as younger generations have entered the workforce, the addition of flexible schedules, remote-working possibilities, and other perks intended to foster a better, more positive work-life balance have come into the mix as well.
You get the point: the workplace has changed dramatically over the years. It’s much more than just a place to work these days—you might as well call it a “second home”—but that, still, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s employee-centric. Let’s dig in a bit more.
Business-centric vs. employee-centric workplaces
While there are many different workplace methodologies floating around these days, we’re only going to look at two primary models here:
There are two prongs to a business-centric model. The first revolves around everything mentioned above: creating enhanced spaces that, in theory, boost collaboration, productivity, communication, and, most importantly, employee engagement and satisfaction. The second part of this equation is optimizing technologies, platforms, communications systems, and other innovations to empower employees to be as effective and efficient in their job functions. Business-centric workplaces are often led by an ethos driven purely around growing the business and leading it to future success. Obviously, this is the goal of any business, but in these cases, it’s the guiding principle that defines the strategies underlying productivity-first organizational structures and workplace design. (Seems a bit frigid, eh?)
It should come as no surprise that these workplaces put employee happiness, well-being, engagement, growth, and development above everything else. This isn’t mutually exclusive with some of the business-centric workplace design approaches mentioned above, as many of the structural and productivity-driving innovations can be amplified even more by an employee-centric workplace. The difference here is that employee-centric workplaces don’t sacrifice employee happiness for the sake of productivity. In this model, they go hand-in-hand. Now, many people have written about employee-centric workplaces and, as such, have varying views as to what this entails.
The Forbes Human Resource Council defined employee-centric workplaces—and, thus, the cultures that stem from them, too—as embodying the five C’s: Commitment, Care, Communication, Celebration, and Community. And while these more “human” workplace characteristics are undoubtedly important in driving a more positive workplace ethos overall, they don’t go far enough, in our humble opinion, to shift the focus squarely on employees.
The qualities of an effective employee-centric workplace
At Cornerstone, we believe that fostering a stronger company culture, one that motivates and inspires all employees to rally around a business’s success, is absolutely critical. We also believe that, to do this, businesses must not only talk the talk but also walk the walk.
The truth is, the expectations of what workplaces should be—and how employees ultimately thrive in those spaces—is constantly evolving. To ensure your business continues to meet and even surpass those expectations, it goes without saying that building an effective employee-centric workplace is now table stakes.
Here are a few tips for bringing it to life in a truly meaningful way:
Support employee-driven goal setting: Creating an employee-centric workplace doesn’t mean simply shifting your focus to employees; it’s equally, if not more so about engaging employees in both making an impact and achieving their personal and professional goals. For this to happen, employees must be actively involved, with the guidance of their manager, of course, in setting their own goals, tracking progress against those goals, and eventually achieving those goals. Not only does this put employees in the driver-seat of their development, but it also gives them something to work towards that they can take full ownership of.
Invite employees to drive business outcomes: Rather than simply set goals at the business-level, letting them trickle down to each employee one-on-one, actively engage employees in identifying, adopting, and achieving key business goals. This is a great way to make all employees feel as though they are actively driving a business’s success as well as understanding the unique role they play in achieving that success.
Provide frequent and ongoing feedback: This is something we talk about often—and for good reason. Feedback doesn’t happen only once a year during an annual performance review. Feedback conversations can happen anytime, whether in a formal setting or casually when grabbing a morning coffee. These conversations are a great way to regularly monitor performance, set expectations, improve employee success, and ultimately increase loyalty and retention. The added perk: it can also breakdown any barriers in the employee-manager relationship by keeping the lines of communication open at all times.
Create a culture of learning: Today’s employees don’t come to the workplace just to do their jobs, they want to grow in their careers—and they expect their employers to support that development and growth. In fact, businesses that do this tend to retain employees a lot longer than those that don’t. (Hint: if you haven’t yet invested in a learning and development solution, there’s no better time than now to check out Cornerstone Learning and begin putting learning in your employees’ hands.)
Foster a culture of care: This is a less action-oriented tactic and more so a reminder that, at the end of the day, we’re not just employees, we’re all humans. We all deserve to be treated with respect, to be given the space to learn and grow (even if it involves making mistakes and learning from failure every now and then), and to feel as though our work, our ideas, and our contributions are appreciated. And this has to happen from the top-down—not just in words but in actions, too—to really permeate the cultural fabric of any business. This is both a byproduct of delivering on all the tactics above flawlessly as much as it is an essential part of the driving force of your business’s day-to-day.
It’s never too late to create an employee-centric workplace
The good news, if you haven’t gathered by now, is that an employee-centric workplace can boost business success in ways that all those productivity-oriented tactics wished they could do on their own. When employees feel personally invested in the business's growth and know that the business is equally invested in supporting them on their own career journey, only good things can happen—over and over again.
If you’re ready to make the shift, Cornerstone is help to help. Our end-to-end talent management solutions will help you along your business transformation as you build a dynamic and thriving employee-centric workplace. Learn more today.