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What does it really mean for a company to care about its people?

Written By
Simon Dumont
With thanks To
Albert Alabau, Chief People Officer at Typeform

A few decades ago, the idea of a company caring for its employees would’ve sounded a bit silly. ‘Company culture’ was limited to group complaining sessions while smoking in the carpark. Employees and employers were ancient adversaries. HR was out to get you.

Things have changed since then—at a lot of companies, anyway. Someone realised that happy employees stay loyal and go the extra mile. From free breakfast, to remote working, to help with child care, companies started looking out for people. HR became ‘People Experience.’

But while employee-employer relations have improved a lot, the tension will never disappear. Are they closing the office to stop water-cooler chatting? Is the air hockey table there to expose procrastinators? Will the new office therapist laugh about my darkest secrets with my manager? 

Employees will always suspect a hidden motive behind new perks and policies. Often, they’re right.

We sat down with Albert Alabau, Chief People Officer at Typeform, to ask what it means for companies to care about their employees in a genuine way, how sometimes caring for people can just be about benefiting the company—and whether people can tell the difference.

Do employees need to feel like their company genuinely cares about them?

In a world where changing your job is so easy, it's essential to feel that you’re not just operating in transactional mode—just giving your time and taking your salary.

But ‘care’ is a very broad word. The best way to show it is not always the obvious choice for everyone. So it's very important that a company is explicit and transparent about what people can expect. Then they can decide if this aligns with what they want.

Some companies will focus more on perks, for example. For me, it's about showing you care from a holistic perspective: giving people meaningful work that creates value for customers who really appreciate it. This can turn into your employee value proposition.

Is it HR’s job to make people feel cared for? 

This is culture. HR can catalyse or amplify it, but culture is not an HR job—it's a company job. 

Of course, it’s important to train managers on a philosophy: what do we mean by caring about employees? Are we talking about hand-holding? Or understanding what drives people?

For me, feedback is a type of care. So I invest time into having difficult conversations with people. Maybe what they want is not something we’re able to do now—but if they’re open to it, we can talk about other options.

"To truly support people, sometimes you have to bet that doing the right thing for them will positively impact the business—even if this isn’t clear."

<quote-author>Albert Alabau<quote-author><quote-company>Chief People Officer at Typeform<quote-company>

But care comes from everywhere—from how leaders behave, how managers talk to employees, how employees talk to each other. You can feel really cared about when you are surrounded by great people in your team. HR’s job is not to create this feeling, but to provide a structure for this to be maintained and scaled.

What’s the difference between caring about employees in a genuine vs. transactional way?

Back in the day when Typeform’s co-founders decided to set up the canteen, they really wanted people to have quality food options for free. They weren’t reacting to a demand from the company—they really wanted to provide a healthy option and create an office where people felt at home. 

Now, you could say that healthy people are more productive—and this was the real intention behind the canteen. But they didn’t make it mandatory. You could stay for lunch if you wanted, or eat somewhere else. They just believed it was the right thing to do.

I’ve been in companies that offer free food after 7pm, just so people spend more time in the office and work more hours. There are plenty of examples like this—where the outcome seems positive, but there’s a hidden company interest behind it. Sometimes it’s easy to identify the transactional part of an HR policy. 

But to truly support people, sometimes you have to bet that doing the right thing for them will positively impact the business—even if the outcome isn’t clear. 

I remember back in July last year, we sent a typeform to everyone asking: what is your work preference? Fully remote, part-time remote, full flexibility, or back to the office? We needed to make plans for the offices, but we really wanted to give people the best support.

"If people don't trust in your company, they'll start reading between the lines even when the company's intentions are genuine."

<quote-author>Albert Alabau<quote-author><quote-company>Chief People Officer at Typeform<quote-company>

Based on this feedback, we announced in September that we’d extend flexible working permanently. People could continue working from wherever they wanted—and we wouldn't push anyone to go back to the office.

That proactivity was super welcome. At the time, most companies hadn’t made a final decision on this. Now it seems like an obvious choice, but back in September 2020 we didn't have this visibility—we took a chance on giving people a ton of flexibility.

People were really grateful to have this confirmation—parents, for example, could continue caring for their kids when needed without feeling guilty. Managers were grateful too, because people were asking them: ‘are we going to keep this flexibility? If I visit my parents, I might get stuck in a lockdown for months.’

But as a result, people have also stayed engaged, productive, and go the extra mile. It’s also made a difference recruitment-wise, because we had clear guidelines that recruiters could tell candidates.

But these were not expected outcomes. We just wanted to relieve some pressure on people.

Can employees tell when a decision is made with transactional vs. genuine intentions?

Whether people trust your intentions or not depends on the culture you have and the moment you’re in as a company. 

If people trust in your culture, they will trust the intentions of your decisions are in their favour—even if there is a transactional motive behind them. If people don't trust in your company, they might start reading between the lines even when the company makes a decision with genuine intentions.

That's why it's so important to be transparent and explain why you do things. Trust is so difficult to get, but so easy to lose. You have to build it on a regular basis. Are you making obvious transactional choices or are you making choices that are genuinely in people’s interest? 

What I've seen work well in many companies is channeling messages through people considered to be ambassadors. That could mean formal ambassadors like managers, or informal ambassadors—maybe an individual contributor that people trust.

Make those people part of the decision or the implementation, so they can explain that it’s being done because the company really wants people to be healthy. Especially when your company gets bigger, you have to make sure your message is crystal clear. This helps you at least own the narrative.

Oliva therapist photograph

by Oliva therapist