News & Analysis

People-First Workplaces Lead the Way In 2019


Celebrated American author and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar once said, “You don’t build a business – you build people – and then people build the business.”   This snippet of wisdom applies to every organization, irrespective of its size or geography. Great employers across the globe believe that people they hire are what make or break their business. And a similar trend was reflected in 2019’s ‘Top-Rated Workplaces In India’ recently announced by job site Indeed.

As per the report, SAP has secured the highest rank in the top-rated technology workplaces list in India this year, followed by Adobe, VMware and Microsoft as the leading technology organizations to work for in India. Surprisingly, the only public sector company that featured in the list is Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), which secured a fifth position. Some of the other companies that were featured in the list of top-rated workplaces include, Paytm, Flipkart, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), Cisco, IBM, Apple, among others.

One common observation about these companies is that each one stands out as the epitome of people-centric corporations. And that’s what makes them the best places to work. From various research reports, online reviews and expert opinions, we find out some of the common attributes of these companies and the culture they create that make people excited about their jobs.

Offer Challenging and Meaningful Work

All these organizations understand the importance of keeping employees’ work interesting, exciting, challenging and meaningful, because consistently, top performers say that challenging and meaningful work is the number one attribute they seek in a job.

Take the example of Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) which has secured the fifth position on Indeed’s chart, moving up from tenth spot last year. According to a junior scientist at ISRO, self-competitiveness plays a big part in ISRO’s culture. The employees aim to continually improve themselves and strive for self-development. Their independent drive to succeed, as opposed to feeling in competition with one another, could be a key factor positively influencing employee satisfaction.

Hire and Retain top performers

Great workplaces are made up of great people. Within these workplaces, top performers work alongside other top performers who are positive, hardworking, committed and loyal, believe in the organization’s vision. For example, TCS believes that they are better placed than their peers in retaining the contextual knowledge gained over time, and use that to build differentiated solutions tailored to each customer’s unique requirements.

For the quarter ending June 30, 2019, Milind Lakkad, Global Head, Human Resources, TCS said, “The vibrant, enriching workplace and best-In-class retention rates at TCS are a key competitive differentiator. Customers value the lower attrition because it results in greater stability and fewer disruptions in our service delivery.”

Paytm founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma said in an interview that the company makes a special effort to understand the skills of the employees who led Paytm to success. He also believes that Paytm employees are a bunch of hard-working people, so hard work is the one word that defines Paytm culture and we have always nurtured that, he said.

Value and Reward Employee Contributions

The best workplaces show they appreciate and value employees and their contributions. They celebrate success often, and praise, recognize, and reward employees in a variety of formal and informal ways. They never miss an opportunity to say ‘thanks’ for employees’ hard work.  According to a Glassdoor report, Apple employees get an annual 25% discount when they purchase an iPod, computer, or iPad. Apple software is 50% off for its employees. The company also offers other discounts for family and friends, depending on the product.

Each of these top-rated organizations offer competitive and fair compensation, above-average pay increases, and opportunities to earn more pay based on performance, such as bonuses, profit sharing, and other incentives to keep and reward top performing talent as well as attract new talent.

Invest in Training and Development

Great workplaces invest in training and development for their workforce to grow their talents and capabilities. They make time for learning and support it by paying for employees to participate in various opportunities and offering a variety of training and career development programs.

Through performance management practices that help guide, support, and develop exceptional performance, the best employers provide clarity on how to be a top performer, help other employees become top performers, and assist existing top performers in sustaining top performance. As a senior manager at Cisco said, “Reaching for excellence each and every day is what makes great workplaces successful.”

Invest in Employees’ Health and Wellness

The best of workplaces genuinely care about their employees’ well-being. They offer wellness options that help employees develop healthy lifestyle behaviors as well as provide an array of benefits which support their employees’ health and personal welfare. For example, Microsoft CARES employee assistance program also offers free personal and family counseling, stress management, and referrals for child and elder care. The cafés come stocked with healthy dining options, including a new “Real Easy Wellness” labeling system to help employees easily identify healthy food options.

Intuit’s “Fit for Life” program offers meditation and mindfulness classes as reimbursable expenses as well as incentives for employees engaging in stress-reduction habits, like taking a walk, practicing breathing exercises, or listening to calming music. Not only the company’s website that offers mindfulness resources, but employees can also find “mindful moment” tips on the whiteboards in the conference rooms.

Top workplaces are flexible to employees’ work/life needs and encourage work/life balance by offering flexible schedules, providing generous paid time off, accommodating individual requests and needs, and creating a supportive work environment that understands of personal and family obligations.

Involve and Empower Employees

People-centric workplaces involve and empower employees by listening to their input, involving them in moving the organization forward, and giving them opportunities to lead initiatives, collaborate with one another, participate in decision-making, and make a meaningful difference at work. At some of the best workplaces, employees believe that their opinions matter and that they can positively impact their organizations. SAP encourages free expression, collaboration, individuality, and diversity. Its core strength as an employer, vests in the empowerment of its employees.

SAP Labs, Microsoft and IBM for example, boasts of an environment which motivates people to perform their best. Apart from employee benefits, facilities, training, employee engagement etc., it empowers employees through mentoring sessions which occur between a single mentor and mentee. The process called speed mentoring allows a single mentee to meet different mentors. Each mentoring session is based on a theme and is a series of short, focused conversations about specific questions.

Create and Sustain a Unique Culture

The best of workplaces create and sustain a unique culture. They are often described as fun, congenial, collaborative, positive, passionate, and creative. Their work environments, people, and workplace practices all help create a vibrant, positive and infectious culture. On the key ingredients to a vibrant corporate culture, renowned leadership coach and author of several management-related books, Marshall Goldsmith said in an interview, “It is about leadership from the top. Leaders should make sure they are great role models and that they embody the company culture day to day. If they don’t do this, leaders will have a difficult time establishing credibility.”

Great workplaces are led by exceptional and inspiring leaders. Leaders set the example from the top and lead the organization well. They genuinely care about and value employees. Relationships between leaders and employees are characterized by mutual respect, trust, honesty, and support.

According to Goldsmith, “Great leaders are more concerned about the growth of their employees and the organization rather than their own development. They have the courage to get feedback and to look in the mirror and ask whether their behavior aligns with what they’re teaching; they have the ability to improve and do the hard work to make those changes.”

As we see Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s effort in turning the behemoth to a people-centric company from that of a product company is a befitting example. With Nadella at Microsoft’s helm, there’s an emphasis on teamwork and collaboration, rather than competition. As one employee observed, “Microsoft values its employees. The culture also shifted in recent years from super individual competitor to making others successful and teamwork, which reduced the stress level at work to low.

Driving openness and accountability is another key function in a people-centric organization, where leaders frequently share information about the organization’s performance, its financials, the vision and direction of the organization, and other critical information. In addition, leaders regularly interact with and communicate with employees one-on-one, in small groups, and as an entire staff.

Encourage Innovation and Growth

Great workplaces are successful, growing, and innovative. They hold themselves to high standards, are focused on delivering exceptional customer service and quality, and strive to innovate and continuously improve their organizations. They are always raising the bar in their businesses and in their workplaces.

Sindhu Gangadharan, Senior Vice President and Head of SAP Labs India said, “The company has created a non-hierarchical, diverse and inclusive culture which speeds up our innovation and helps our customers to run at their best.”

Adobe makes no secret of the fact they have a very creative outlook when it comes to work. Adobe knows that fostering their employees’ creativity and giving room for experimentation is the key to an innovative workforce. There are multiple reasons why creativity is important for a company. Firstly, it boosts productivity. It allows employees to work faster, and provide solutions in new and interesting ways. It also boosts employee morale – being creative at work is fun, and there’s nothing better than truly enjoying your job.

“CSR first” leads to “employee first.”

And last but not least, best of employers make an impact on and give back to their local community. Not only do they generously donate their company resources to the community, but they also serve their communities by helping others in need and offering their staff’s time and talents.

Studies have found that having a comprehensive employee engagement strategy is more important to achieving higher CSR program participation than having just a CSR strategy. CSR and employee engagement strategies can help each other. Susan Hunt Stevens, CEO of Wespire, explained in an article in CSR Matters, why people friendly organizations do CSR programs better. “Higher participation rates in CSR programs come from having a broad employee engagement strategy rather than a just a CSR strategy. It is the inclusive focus on the employee first and their relationship with the company.  It is not just communicating about the CSR efforts, but creating comprehensive initiatives that drive employee activation, learning, and participation,” she said.

To sum up, while there is no magic formula for achieving a great workplace, people-first workplaces clearly lead the way in 2019. Many more companies are catching on to the importance of investing in their people. They are increasingly realizing the power of creating people-centric organizations that value the happiness of employees as much as the bottom line. Those who still haven’t, it’s time you need to wake up.

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Sohini Bagchi
Sohini Bagchi is Editor at CXOToday, a published author and a storyteller. She can be reached at