The Power of a People-First Workplace

The role of a people-first workplace in combating the cost-of-living crisis

Key Insights from our Workplace Training Report 2023 The benefits of building a people-first workplace

PwC’s annual survey shows a significant shift over the past 12 months in the risks people are most concerned about, which will impact their daily lives, from Covid-19 and other health concerns to financial worries. Amid the highest inflation since the early 1980s and spiralling energy bills, the UK public is increasingly worried about the cost of living crisis, with 86% of people concerned about day-to-day living costs.


As the cost-of-living crisis sets in, employers must recognise this and offer support

New research from the University of Bristol has shown rising prices are prompting people in the UK to make dramatic cutbacks on essential healthcare which could affect their long-term well-being. A third (33%) report that financial worries cause them to sleep poorly at night, and 35% say their financial situation worsens their mental health. Many also (27%) say their financial situation worsens their physical health.

As the cost-of-living crisis sets in, employers must recognise this, with 33% of people thinking businesses are responsible for tackling these issues (PwC). While an employee’s financial situation may not directly affect your business, the cost-of-living crisis impacts us all, and there are positive steps employers can take to support their people. The concept of a people-first workplace can help boost employee well-being.

Our Workplace Training Report 2023 highlighted how empathy had become a required skill for leaders in any business, and this is a hallmark of an influential people-first culture too. Here we’ll explore the concept in more detail and help your business find ways to implement strategies to focus more effectively on your people.

Building a people-first workplace

One Chartered Management Institute (CMI) survey of more than 1,000 managers found that 71% had seen evidence of the cost-of-living crisis increasing stress and anxiety for their teams. Of these, 93% said it was affecting employees’ productivity. A people-first workplace is a company-wide commitment to recognising its people and supporting them so they feel connected and motivated. The benefits of this approach are not just for the individual but will also have tangible results for your organisation. 

Building a people-first workplace is about more than simply communicating your commitment to your people; there are actionable ways to implement this culture within your workplace. From embedding a sense of value in every role, ensuring that people know their work is of value, to prioritising empathetic leadership and ensuring they are supported to achieve.

You can implement many people-first strategies to demonstrate your commitment to this approach to management and company culture. Investing in schemes such as unlimited leave, flexible and remote working and committing to incentives such as additional paternity or parental leave all show your commitment to recognising your employees are more than just workers. Additional incentives such as gym memberships, private health insurance and reward programmes and platforms position employee health and wellness as a priority for your business.

Addressing burnout in a people-first workplace

A recent Slack survey found burnout is rising globally. There is a notable and increasing disparity between women and men regarding burnout. Women are 32% more likely than men to encounter burnout, highlighting a significant gender gap. The risk of burnout escalates with younger workers, as 49% of individuals aged 18 to 29 reported experiencing burnout, compared to 38% of workers over 30. Various job positions also exhibit varying levels of burnout risk, with middle managers having the highest risk at 43%, followed by individual contributors at 40%, senior management at 37%, and executives at 32%.

While this signals that all employees can experience burnout, it also highlights that the gender gap, early careers pipeline and middle managers require additional supports to address these issues. The notion of kindness and its value in the workplace cannot be underestimated, and prioritising empathy in the employee experience is vital to keep your people feeling supported and able to continue working effectively.

The majority of people are facing the same issues when it comes to affordability and the general cost of living. Understanding this is one point, but ensuring you prioritise empathetic leadership and drive your management teams to create the supportive environments necessary will help ensure your most vulnerable employees can access the support they need. The returns on empathetic leadership speak for themself. 

In the 2022 EY US Generation Survey, 86% of employees believe empathetic leadership boosts morale, while 87% of employees say empathy is essential to fostering an inclusive environment, and a staggering 92% of employees surveyed across all four workplace generations said that company culture impacts their decision to remain with their current employer. According to the survey, failing to feel a sense of belonging at work or connection with co-workers is a growing reason employees quit their jobs. 

Why investing in a people-first workplace should be a priority

Investing in a people-first culture gives your employees the support they need to thrive and can relieve some of the pressure from difficult economic times and financial crises. Investing in a people-first work culture has multiple benefits that all organisations can enjoy including:

Employee engagement

Employees who feel valued, supported and integral to their organisation are more engaged in their work and with their colleagues. Prioritising your employees and showing them they matter will increase employee engagement.


Promoting work-life balance and a flexible approach to work helps employees manage their time better and can prevent burnout. Their time working is often more productive as they can be fully task-focused.

Employee retention

Employees who feel their company values and supports them are much less likely to look for a role elsewhere in another firm. This improves your retention rates and minimises the need to invest in costly recruitment processes.

Improved employer brand

A people-first workplace is something applicants look for from an employer, and it helps to build positivity around your employer brand, attracting a higher calibre of talent.

Creativity and innovation

Adopting a people-first work culture means you empower your employees and build high levels of trust. Employees who feel valued and essential to their organisation feel more able to take risks and try out innovative and creative ideas.

Mental health and well-being

Prioritising employee well-being will naturally have the consequence of improving workplace health and well-being. If your employees experience better mental health, there is a lower risk of burnout and other health issues, reducing absenteeism.

Explore our leadership and management programmes below

To drive a people-first workplace, leaders and employees must champion and promote this approach. Investing in targeted training to produce leaders who embrace and prioritise empathy helps ensure you have the foundations for a people-first approach. 

Our programmes help your leaders understand themselves and others better, with a people-first approach running through all modules. Each of our programmes is designed to suit the needs of your business, and our blended learning approach ensures training can be flexible around your manager’s work commitments.