8 Employee Engagement Ideas for Employers Who Care

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It’s that time of day. I’m looking around the office and see a lot of glazed eyes and listless scrolling. More people are checking their phones than their email, and I don’t see an open document or report in sight. Wait, there’s someone writing a piece! No, wait, it’s just a “New York Times” opinion bit. Never mind.

The post-lunch slump is a well-documented phenomenon, with The Huffington Post reporting on why it happens (because of the digestive process), and how to minimize its impact (more whole grains and smaller meals).

High levels of disengagement are typical enough at 2 p.m. on a Tuesday. But what if this is how your employees look all the time? What can you do to keep your workforce engaged? Is there any hope at all?

Employee engagement ideas

Employee engagement doesn’t have to be complicated, expensive, or corny. You can use employee engagement software to connect with your employees, but let’s start with some hands-on methods first.

If you Google “employee engagement tips” you’re going to find a bunch of very long lists. And those long lists are going to repeat themselves a lot. After all, there’s only so many ways to rephrase, “Take your employees out to lunch!” or “Tell your staff thank you!” And there’s only so many times you can read those repeated tips without falling victim to the 2 p.m. eye glaze yourself.

Instead of making you suffer through another zillion-item list, I’m going to do something different. I’ve scoured HR and talent management blogs, websites, and e-books so that you don’t have to, and I’ve condensed all the best advice into eight rock-solid umbrella tips, presented for your reading pleasure in no particular order.

They’re left unranked because it’s so hard to say which tips will work best due to the variety of company cultures out there. I’ve also offered three suggestions for ways to put each tip to work, because not every small business HR manager has the same level of control or influence over their company’s budget, planner, and employees.

Beat the office slump with these eight tips.

1. Show your employees exactly how their job matters

Purpose can get lost in daily tasks, so remind staff why they do what they do, and how much they mean to the company.

Why it works:

It’s hard to feel engaged at your job if you don’t see the purpose of what you’re doing. If your employees feel like useless cogs in a machine they don’t fully understand, they’ll never feel satisfied and fulfilled at work.

Companies that have effective employee recognition programs find that 90% of their employees feel their work makes a difference at their company. You can help promote that feeling of satisfaction by showing your employees the value of their job.

Retail floor workers keep the store open and are the company’s public face. Social media managers make sure that your brand stays current and exciting. Show your employees the impact they’re having, beyond just their job title.

3 employee engagement ideas:

  1. As part of the onboarding process for new hires, help them understand their role and how they will interact with not only their team but the company as a whole. Introduce new employees to members from multiple teams and explain how your new employee’s position impacts those teams. A flowchart might help if you’d like a graphic display of inter-team impact.
  2. If your company has the luxury of transparency, take some time during a performance appraisal to show how an employee has directly impacted the company’s bottom line. Since some people think in more concrete ways than others, seeing a direct number can help hammer home their value. Check with management if you’re not sure which numbers you can disclose.
  3. Emphasize how cross-department work has value in your office. Find those situations where one team couldn’t have met a goal without another team, and make them known so everyone can understand how they work together. 81% of employees are happier when they feel that their skills are being fully utilized at work, and showing someone their impact on another team is a great way to demonstrate that.

2. Keep up the feedback

According to a survey from OfficeVibe, 63% of employees don’t feel appreciated at work, and 69% of employees believe they would work harder if they received more feedback. Providing feedback is a powerful tool for engagement.

Why it works:

I’ve harped on this before, but quarterly evaluations not the best way to show your employees how they’re doing. Ongoing performance appraisals are vastly superior since they allow for real-time course adjustments, and they can save more than 200 hours of work for your employees.

That said, you don’t have to overhaul your office’s entire performance review system to give your employees ongoing feedback. You can give great feedback outside of performance reviews. And that doesn’t mean endless praise. Don’t shy away from giving an employee a heads-up when they need to make a change. It’s easier to make small corrections than try to overhaul an employee approach that’s gotten way off course over time.

3 employee engagement ideas:

  1. Send emails that congratulate your employees on particular workplace achievements as they arise, even the smaller achievements like a well-led meeting. These emails can be brief as long as they’re sincere. A quick template for a brief congratulatory email follows:

Hey [NAME],I heard about your impact on [NAME OF PROJECT]. It sounds like your [PARTICULAR SKILLS THEY HAVE] made a big difference in [GOAL OF THE PROJECT]. I just wanted to say great job. You’re doing awesome work and we all appreciate it. Keep it up! [YOUR PREFERRED SIGN OFF]

2. Encourage managers to track their staff’s projects with an eye for small things that they could do better. When pointing out these little flubs, present them as “ways to take the work to the next level,” rather than nitpicking mistakes. The “feedback sandwich” method doesn’t always work, but being thoughtful with your phrasing does.

3. Institute an ongoing feedback and appraisal system. I know that a total tech change can feel like a lot. Even starting the buying process for new software feels overwhelming. But taking the time to make the change can help your workplace be more agile and responsive, according to Harvard Business Review. You can even gamify your performance appraisal software to help find some fun in an otherwise dry feedback loop.

3. Start ’em early, then keep ’em engaged

An employee is never more ready to make a strong connection to company culture as when they first begin their career with your company. Unfortunately, this is the time that they’re most disconnected from that same culture. It’s hard being the newbie! You can speed the time it takes for a new hire to make a connection by using more established employees to help plug new hires into the company’s existing culture.

Why it works:

New employees will have the benefit of a go-to to answer their questions and help them find an in, while older employees will get the satisfaction of imparting their wisdom on someone who’s eager to hear it. Everyone wins!

3 employee engagement ideas:

  1. An office mentorship program is a great way to engage employees at both the beginning and later stages of their careers. There’s an amazing wealth of programs and software that make managing a mentorship program so much easier, but at the end of the day, all you need are some folks who want to learn and some folks willing to teach.
  2. Shying away from the stuffiness of a label? You don’t need to call your mentorship by a formal name, and you might find success with fewer guidelines. Consider implementing a “buddy program” by setting up partnerships that are closer in age and experience, and lack the formality of a mentorship.
  3. If you need something even less formal than informal (I’m looking at you, startups), consider hosting an after-work or lunchtime meet and greet for a batch of recent hires. Offer snacks and invite more senior employees over to say hello. Facilitating a few introductions will allow mentorships to form naturally, and either way, you’ve helped break the ice.

4. Celebrate non-work achievements

Not everything important in your employees’ lives takes place in the office. A nod to a special occasion can be meaningful.

Why it works:

Employee recognition is vital, since people want to feel acknowledged for their achievements. But people don’t live their whole lives at work. If you’re aware of that and make an effort to recognize special occasions, your employees will know that their company sees them as people, not as minions.

Even if you’re not the head of the office, employees expect a moderate to high level of involvement from their HR department and if you have an open culture in a small office (of the sort seen in small businesses and startups), they might expect you to know things like birthdays without needing to be reminded.

3 employee engagement ideas:

  1. Plan ahead. Ask for new hire’s birthdays and keep them in a file. Add them to your work calendar and keep an eye out for upcoming days of interest. That way events won’t blindside you. Wishing someone a happy birthday the day of because you got a reminder on LinkedIn isn’t a replacement for knowing ahead of time and planning for a small birthday, anniversary, or other congratulatory treat.
  2. Not sure what someone in your office has been up to? Even if you’re not close, their immediate teammates might be. Shoot team members a quick email to confirm unknown dates or check in about accomplishments. That way you can avoid giving an awkward “Congratulations on Graduating!” card to someone who’s chosen to wait another semester before walking.
  3. Above all else, know your staff. A big surprise party might not be the best for someone who prefers to direct the spotlight away from them. An in-office acknowledgement of an anniversary might feel invasive to someone who values their privacy. Sometimes, the most thoughtful gift is nothing at all.

5. Encourage employee-led projects

Getting recognized for your original ideas goes a long way to feeling engaged in your work. And seeing your ideas come to life in the form of a work project is real-world proof that your job cares about what you have to contribute. When your company lets you turn your ideas into a full-fledged project, they show that they value what you have to contribute and have faith in your abilities to execute.

Why it works:

That extra bit of faith in an employee can go a long way toward building an employee’s dedication and drive to do well on a project. If you encourage personal projects, you’ll keep your employees incentivized while also getting the added benefit of great ideas from smart people.

3 employee engagement ideas:

  1. Set up an official form for submitting ideas for new projects, either to managers or to an employee’s team. Google has a surprisingly strong and thorough free form creator.
  2. Encourage creativity with employee bonding activities and outings centered around creative thinking and problem solving. A one-time painting class, a week-long puzzle design contest, or a staff trip to an escape room are all great ways to foster creativity while having fun.
  3. Nothing replaces a culture that welcomes ideas. Trust personal projects, especially those that require very little in the way of diverted funds or time. Make it public at the office that anyone can start a project like these. If you need to get this cleared with your boss or with management, do that before launching the program. Having the boss invested is a wonderful way to show how valued employees are, since 83% of companies in a cultureIQ survey felt that management involvement was vital to developing company culture.

6. Dorky team building is good team building

Company outings and events are a unique way to help employees build stronger bonds with their coworkers, and feel like a more connected part of the business.

Why it works:

We’ve all had at least one team bonding event that made us feel silly. Maybe it was a cheesy bowling night or a goofy game of charades at a company party, but whatever it was, you remember it. These activities stuck in your mind and helped you form bonds with your colleagues, even if those bonds were laughing at how lame everything was. Team bonding doesn’t need to be cool to be effective, it just needs to create those bonds.

3 employee engagement ideas:

  1. Offer variety. Different people have different interests and abilities. Try to be considerate by planning a range of activities. An outing to a sports event might work for some of the office, but others will be glad when you suggest a group visit to a particularly cool bookstore. This is also a way to include people who have visible or invisible disabilities. If you’re at a loss for inclusive events, try a quick google search. Many cities have lists of accessible attractions.
  2. Friendly competition is a great way to push a little more bonding. Humans love teams, whether being on them or rooting for them, because we are social animals who naturally want to form bonds with people who have a common goal. This is especially helpful for growing companies who can’t all fit on a single team for an activity. Competitive laser tag anyone?
  3. If big isn’t in the budget, don’t panic. DIY craft nights held in the office breakroom or a Pinterest potluck (everyone tries to make something new from Pinterest and brings it… no matter how bad of a Pinterest fail it is) are low-budget, high fun. Attending a free cultural event in your city as a group is also an option that costs the company nothing.

7. Give them something to believe in

What good is your company doing for the world? How can you use or develop good acts to create employee satisfaction?

Why it works:

The younger your staff is, the more likely they are to value the social impact of your company. Millennials in particular are serious about wanting to work for companies that do good and have a positive impact on the world around them. And engaging millennials is crucial, since 63% of them say they feel overwhelmed at work, and an unreasonable workload is the second-biggest contributor to employee burnout.

If you can use your company, even in small ways, to do good, be cognizant of your impact on the world, and perform acts of charity, your employees will feel like they’re part of something valuable, which will have an impact on employee engagement and satisfaction.

Before starting up a charity initiative, talk to management about business practices. Be careful not to use philanthropy as a replacement for treating your workers decently, because it’s a quick way for consumers to see you as inauthentic.

3 employee engagement ideas:

  1. Have a charity-minded company mission. Perhaps your company manufactures something that you can donate, or can make a conscious effort to make ethical and sustainable production and energy-use choices. Find something you can do that’s good for the world and make it a focus of your company.
  2. Make your office outings charitable. Skip the laser tag and have a company-sponsored day where everyone heads down to the local soup kitchen or cleans up a local park. This is a good way to save company money as well, since it costs you nothing but your time.
  3. If you have the ability, set up a donation-matching system. Choose a charity or have employees vote on one, and then for every dollar your employees donate, have the company make a matching donation. Double the impact, and everyone gets a tax write-off. It’s a big win all around.

8. Use a survey to determine what matters to your team

Every office, every team, every employee is different. What works at one company isn’t always going to work at another, no matter how similar they seem. Luckily, there are surveys that you can create to tell you specifically what your office needs to do to engage employees and keep engaging them.

Why it works:

Surveys are the most popular method of determining employee satisfaction— 55% of businesses use surveys to see how their employees feel about their jobs. So why not use a survey to find out what your employees want from you?

Consider questions such as levels of interest in potential outings, general interests and hobbies, and charitable organizations employees feel passionately about. Also, offering a blank space where employees can suggest what it would take for them to be fully engaged and satisfied at work is telling.

3 employee engagement ideas:

  1. Agonizing over how to create a survey for your staff? The internet has a wealth of options. Yay internet! My personal favorite is Google forms, because it’s free and easy to use with a variety of design options and a couple of different reporting features.
  2. Designing a survey is an art. SurveyMonkey has an entire wiki on how to create an effective and informative survey. Learning and studying the methodology of making a survey will help you design more effective surveys, and gain more actionable results.
  3. If you need to, offer a prize for survey participation. We all know how hard it can be to get folks to do something (especially if your staff is typically disengaged), so offer a small prize for every response, or enter responses into a raffle to get a larger reward. Don’t feel like you’re bribing your team; it makes sense that a workforce so stressed that 92% of managers express concern over their team’s stress levels might need a little nudge before adding another task.

How are you keeping your employees engaged?

Are your employees engaged, or falling asleep in their rolly chairs?

Have you implemented engagement tricks like these, or tried something else that worked for you? Tell me all about it in the comments below.

And check out our awesome free directory of employee engagement software, to help manage the methods you choose and keep your staff happy and involved.

Looking for Talent Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Talent Management software solutions.

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About the Author


Halden Ingwersen

Halden Ingwersen is a former Capterra analyst.



Very helpful info on employee engagement and you have expressed it in really nice way. Thanks for sharing.

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