Employees First

I am sitting with some friends when a cell phone rings. Wife says to her husband – is that your work wife? I starting thinking about a work day. 1/3 of it is at work, 1/3 of it you are asleep (if you are lucky) leaving 1/3 of the day for family, travel, exercise, eating, grooming, friends, and other hobbies. So really, some of us may spend more time with our work family than our real family. We spend a lot of time with these people; should we treat them like family? And what would that do to business profits?

I asked 2015 Business Excellence Awards Employer of the Year winner Fernie Super 8 Hotel and finalist Nevados Restaurant about their work culture, and if takes on attributes of a family. Both described to me work environments of trust, respect, openness, and reward. Further, they noted that their low turnover rates and high customer satisfaction ratings related to the emphasis they put on their work culture.

This employee-first focus is a consciences decision by both companies. Jeremiah Pauw of Fernie Super 8 described to me, “If your employees feel happy and empowered you can guarantee your customers will be happier. The customer first has been the industry norm forever, and it has proven not to work because without engaged, enthusiastic employees to make those customers happy, my business would suffer.” Jeremiah is in good company on this strategy. Billionaire Richard Branson has been quoted saying “clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your clients.” Kurt Saari of Nevados said to me, “Sometimes your child gets really sick, or your car breaks down. Sometimes you get the flu in the middle of your scheduled work week. We put our employees first because we have been in those situations, just like they have. It's during these times you realize how truly important your team is.” This conscious approach to employees first creates team togetherness and effective communication amongst staff.

Competition for employees is high, especially in the hospitality industry that sees about a 20% higher staff turnover rate than other industries. Building a family and team environment creates better employee retention and happiness says Kurt. Maybe it is a high five for the person who has done something well and stopping a second to enjoy the moment and celebrate. Jeremiah says that creating an enjoyable workplace results in improved customer experiences, and employees that care about their job put effort into their tasks.

How important is work culture? An Academy of Management study looked at 904 employees over a six-year period. Organizational culture had a significant effect on the rate of which newly hired employees voluntarily terminated employment – quit. The culture also had a significant effect on job performance. The culture effect was more important than labour market and employee demographics. Companies that focus on their employees and the environment they work in will see better staff retention and increased worker satisfaction. In return, the company provides better customer service and sees bigger earnings.

One tool for creating a better work place is to empower your employees. Inc. magazine lists eight tips to empowering employees including: foster open communication, reward self-improvement, encourage safe failure, provide plenty of context, clearly define roles, require accountability, support their independence, and appreciate their efforts. And one last thought for creating a great work culture from Anne M. Mulcahy, former CEO and chairperson of Xerox.

Employees are a company's greatest asset – they are your competitive advantage. You want to attract and retain the best; provide them with encouragement, stimulus, and make them feel that they are an integral part of the company's mission.