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4 ways to build a people-first company

'People first' is a new buzz phrase that’s catching on for many companies, but what does it mean? Hotjar’s CEO explains how to build a people-first company.

Last updated

18 Aug 2022

Reading time

4 min


“People first” is a new buzz phrase that’s catching on for many companies, but what does it mean? Hotjar’s CEO explains how to build a people-first company.

Are your team members an afterthought when you make business decisions? Or do you consider them first?

The Great Resignation shows no sign of letting up. According to a survey by Pew Research, the most commonly cited reasons people quit their jobs in 2021 were low pay, poor growth opportunities, and feeling disrespected at work.

To me, it sounds like employees are feeling taken for granted. 

Employee neglect increases turnover rate. To increase employee retention, it’s essential for individuals to feel valued. That’s why we run a people-first company.

Being people-first means the people on your team are your number-one priority. It means whenever you’re forced to choose between hitting a goal and supporting the well-being of your people; you choose your people. 

Four ways to put your  people first

The central idea of being people-first is to treat people like the complex humans they are. At Hotjar, we recognize and care for the holistic well-being of our employees in four main ways:

1. Pay your employees well 

While it’s noble to work for the love of your job and company, most people work to earn a living. Regrettably, many employees—especially women—are underpaid. A 2020 survey showed that women in tech were offered salaries that were, on average, 2.5% lower than those of men with the same job titles at the same companies. Not to mention the intersectionality of being in multiple underrepresented groups. For example, women of color are paid even less than white women.

Unfair or poor compensation can make people feel undervalued and insecure about their position in the workplace. 

We maintain transparent salary bands for every role. We’re also open about our criteria for determining salaries and ranges. We compensate employees fairly and adequately in accordance with these ranges. 

2. We invest in our people

In his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel H. Pink credits the desire for mastery as a core human motivator. 

In this drive for mastery, people seek to sharpen their skills and improve their work. At Hotjar, we help our people achieve these goals by investing company resources in personal and professional growth. 

One company perk to help accomplish this is our Personal Development budget, which is for each team member to use at their discretion on any subject or hobby of interest. We’ve had colleagues use their allocations for horseback riding classes, photography classes, or even to purchase novels.

We invest in professional growth as well, through opportunities for coaching, mentorship, and educational courses. 

These investments are a priority for us because we believe we grow as a company when our people grow. 

3. We champion employee autonomy

As Steve Jobs is noted for saying, “It doesn't make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do” (Steve Jobs: His Own Words and Wisdom). Instead, we empower our team members. Studies show that autonomy improves employee well-being and job satisfaction.

Autonomy doesn’t mean leaving people to do as they please without guidance. Rather, it’s allowing them to choose the most conducive working circumstances and make decisions within their wheelhouse.

We trust our team members to work in the company’s best interest from the first day they’re hired. To help them do their best work, we empower our teams to work autonomously, and we provide them the necessary support to succeed.

4. We support mental health 

Mental health is health. At Hotjar, we believe that mental health is a vital part of employee well-being, so we work to make our people feel supported in this regard. 

One way we do so is by being a purpose-driven company. 

Hotjar was created because its founders wanted to be the employers they wished they’d had. Our work is aligned with our values, and keeping our Just Cause in mind makes it easier to show up excited to work every day. 

We also support mental health by discouraging overwork. Unlike with some employers where working overtime is rewarded, working more than 40 hours per week at Hotjar can negatively impact an employee's performance review. 

This aligns with our robust vacation policy. We encourage everyone to take 40 days of paid vacation, and we offer a vacation budget to be used only when an employee goes on holiday. In the past, employees have spent this budget on jet skis, renting vacation homes, and other vacation-related expenses.

Hotjar also provides a special paid Exception Leave for employees facing challenging life circumstances such as poor health or grieving a loss.

Is there a cost to being people-first?

A quick look at Hotjar’s perks would lead most to conclude that being people-first is not cheap.

It’s not. But for us, it’s a worthy investment. 

Prioritizing our employees means they can work more productively at a sustainable pace and are less likely to leave the company due to burnout. We’d rather spend on perks than on replacing employees.

Prioritizing people may simply mean shrinking your budget in other areas. For example, as a fully distributed company, we free up funds by not spending resources on running multiple European metropolitan offices. 

Whenever we’ve been confronted with decisions to compromise human well-being for business profit, we’ve never regretted choosing people first. 

And it’s paid off.

Be bold, stand by your convictions and values, and watch your business grow.

Want to be part of the Hotjar team? 🔥

We believe people from different backgrounds, with different identities and experiences, make our product and company better. We would love for you to check out our current roles and keep following our jobs—we’re growing fast!