Start-ups revolutionized what a healthy workplace looked like in the early 2000s. Everyone from Google to Apple took note and soon enough there were ping pong tables and espresso machines, stocked LaCroix fridges and free snacks in every office. Some businesses still rely on this business model to attract and retain employees, but it goes much deeper than that. An employee-first mission is more than cheap tricks and empty words, it’s an investment and a relationship-based business model that leads to success for employee, employers and customers.

Whether you’re a business owner or just managing your own books, everyone knows that money coming in is key. I believe that, unlike the popular way of doing business, personal and business success should be closely linked. Most businesses don’t see the connection between paying their employees well and making money, but like the outdated adage, ‘happy wife, happy life,’ I live by the mantra, ‘happy employees, happy clients.’

Client satisfaction begins with the employee

In Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report, since they began measuring in 2016, they’ve repeatedly found that “engaged employees produce better business outcomes than other employees—across industry, company size and nationality, and in good economic times and bad.” From fewer negative customer interactions to higher sales and productivity, when employees are engaged, businesses succeed. Here are the four pillars I believe lead to a true employee-first engagement model.

  1. Money matters. Employees who are paid fairly for their work are more likely to show up to work as their best selves. Additionally, if you compensate your employees at a higher rate than your competitors, then you can attract better talent which is crucial in the current job market. For instance, at Solve Clinics, we pay our medical assistants nearly double of what our competitors pay theirs. While this might seem untenable to a small business owner, trust me, the benefits far outweigh the risk of a high overhead.
  2. Take a vested approach. While we’re talking about compensation, let’s not forget about equity grants. Want to know how to make your employees really care about your business’ success? Tie their success to it directly. Much like sales positions that work on commission, almost all sectors can—and should—offer equity grants for employees. As your business grows, so does their potential pay out, therefore it serves them to serve your customer.
  3. Work-life balance. In 2025, Millennials will make up 75% of the American workforce. Generational divides have always affected workplace dynamics, and with a younger workforce, their values will continue to upheave the accepted business model. One way of doing so is a change from the “always-on” mindset. Millennials value the benefits that a proper work-life balance can bring. Offering abundant PTO and generous 401k packages, along with health and life insurance, is not just a “nice to have”, it’s a demand. If you want your employees to give their best for you, you need to provide the best for them—and that means providing the best opportunities for them to have a fulfilling life, inside and outside the office.
  4. Listen more, talk less. I’m not sure when it takes place, I’ve never been able to quite put my finger on it, but we’ve all experienced it: there’s a moment when someone moves up the career ladder that they find themselves talking more than listening. Their voice becomes the loudest in the room. And while I’m not discounting anyone’s business acumen and instincts that put them in a leadership position, being the smartest in the room—or thinking that you are—can leave leaders missing out on valuable insight. Everyone, no matter their level, from assistant to owner, should get a seat at the table. Finding a way to collaborate and truly listen to what your employees are experiencing builds loyalty that you could never buy, which turns into customer loyalty and success.

Long-term loyalty and success

Since I started my first business, I haven’t forgotten my first job—and I hope I never will. Because that, above all else, has led me to develop our employee-first mission. Customer satisfaction with each interaction is much more likely when we’re all equally invested in the customer’s success. Focusing on relationships first and providing a reasonable quality of life, allows business owners to plan for long-term employee and customer loyalty.