Putting People First: Top Employers Institute Shares Insights About Building a Human-Centric Organisation

5 minutes read
How recognising your employees’ individual needs, goals, and wellbeing as a top priority leads to success
By Wouter van Ewijk, Global Head of Brand & Content, Top Employers Institute

Human Resource departments frequently consider how to attract and retain top talent. Top Employers Institute is no different. Paola Bottaro, People Director at Top Employers Institute, has found the most success by putting people first. Notably, the organisation is not alone in this endeavour. Taking a human-centric approach to the workplace is a practice steadily gaining traction.  

So, what does this move to a human-centric model entail? During the 2023 Top Employers Inspire event, Paola and I discussed exactly that. I’ll share highlights of our discussion for companies interested in joining Top Employers Institute as a human-centric organisation.  

Read More: How Saint-Gobain Prioritises New Ways of Working into their Company Culture 

The Basics: What is a Human-Centric Approach?  

Essentially, this approach to the workplace recognises and accepts that people are people. Organisations acknowledge that their employees are multifaceted individuals with lives beyond the office. It’s about enabling employees to work in the best way that suits their needs and preferences, rather than requiring them to adhere to standard hours or procedures. Employees at different phases of life, a new parent versus a recently hired university graduate, for example, will likely have very different preferences for the rhythm of their workday. Allowing employees to determine their workday and workflow does not impact organisational results overall, yet it has a profound impact on each individual’s work experience.  

For Paola’s team, realising that there was no one-size-fits-all solution for creating a great workplace was a turning point. Reflecting on this moment, she shared, “We had a lot of conversations about what way of working would be best and we came to the conclusion that everyone is different, and we all need different things. Who are we to decide what each individual needs?” They concluded that in an ideal workplace, everyone gets to define the best way to work for themselves.  

Another turning point was adapting to a primarily remote workplace during the COVID-19 pandemic. This transition was smoother than anticipated, and productivity remained very high. Paola elaborated on their observations, “Everyone was very responsible and wanted to perform well. Actually, I had to make sure people took care of themselves much more than making sure that they were doing their jobs.” Seeing how well the company ran while employees worked remotely was a valuable lesson that built trust. Going forward, the company had complete confidence in allowing employees to decide how they want to work.  

Read More: World Mental Health Day 2023 Q&A with Marie-Soleil Ferland and the Health and Wellbeing Team at CGI Canada 

The Practicalities: How Does a Human-Centric Approach Work?  

Trust is a critical component of making a human-centric approach successful. Granting employees the ability to set their work dynamics, whether that involves unconventional hours or regular breaks, requires a high level of trust that employees will continue fulfilling their responsibilities to the best of their ability, even without constant supervision. The focus is on outcomes, prioritising results above all else.  

Top Employers Institue's company culture fully embraces a human-centric approach with its three core values:  

  • We are all professionals. 
  • All professionals want to be successful. 
  • We succeed when we achieve great things while taking care of our own wellbeing and each other. 

That teams communicate about everyone’s needs and preferences is critical. As our conversation progressed, Paola gave a simple example that Top Employers Institute does not want employees to pretend to be available during traditional working hours if they are not. She explained that this freedom also benefits managers, “They don’t have to think about motivating their teams anymore. The core belief is that all professionals are intrinsically motivated to be successful.” Transparency about who is doing what and trust in employees to fulfil their responsibilities improves operations.  

Although trust and open communication are generally recognised as positive values, translating them into practical action can be a challenge because doing so requires a shift in mindset. Top Employers Institute, like many organisations, was forced to try a new way of working during the pandemic. The success of this experiment gave management the confidence to use a human-centric approach even after pandemic-related safety restrictions were lifted. Organisations that have not had the opportunity to test drive a new working model may struggle with transitioning from employees coming into the office every day during the same hours to people working from home at hours of their choosing. Embracing the values of trust and open communication in new ways needs to happen at all levels of the organisation for a human-centric approach to truly succeed.  

If an employee is not performing well, the first step is to have a conversation. “Success is defined not only by great results but also by people’s wellbeing, which is a responsibility and not something that can be left to chance,” said Paola. Considering the complete picture of an employee's life while navigating challenges is a central tenet of a human-centric approach.  

Read More: The Transformative Power of Applied Artificial Intelligence 

The Impact: What are the Benefits of a Human- Centric Approach?  

This approach gives employees the best possible work life, which fosters loyalty and productivity. It also creates great returns. Through this approach, organisations can: 

  • Attract talent, 
  • Improve retention, and 
  • Foster a culture of growth and internal mobility. 

These benefits contribute to a positive atmosphere and help a company’s bottom line by attracting and keeping top-tier talent.  

Top Employers Institute is in the process of hosting workshops with employees to discuss both the company’s and individual employee’s values. “The most important thing is that we left one open space in our company values for employees to fill. There are three company-wide values and the fourth is for each employee to fill with their personal value. It’s an opportunity for them to connect their personal values and sense of purpose to the company,” Paola said of the process.  

Ultimately, a human-centric approach forges meaningful connections between a company and its workforce. By giving people the autonomy to work in a way that suits their needs best, organisations reap great returns. This approach truly benefits both the company and its employees.  

To hear more about Top Employers Institute’s journey to becoming a human-centric organisation and the lessons learned along the way, watch my full conversation with Paola below.  


Table of contents
Putting People First: Top Employers Institute Shares Insights About Building a Human-Centric Organisation

    Become recognised for your excellent employee conditions.