10 Employee Engagement Ideas (That Will Actually Make a Difference)

June 25, 2019 - Written by Albert Eloyan

Employee engagement doesn’t have to be difficult. Still, many companies and managers miss the mark. 

Employees who are bored at their jobs do lackluster work and eventually leave entirely, with companies footing the bill for lost productivity and costly turnover. Then, after the long process of finding and hiring a new employee, the same thing happens again—and again. Where are you going wrong? 

To stop this cycle, you need to revamp your approach to employee engagement. To get started, apply these 10 straightforward and actionable employee engagement ideas to improve your workplace and boost motivation across your team.

1. Focus on your why

It’s not just what your company does but why you do it that motivates employees. People want to do meaningful work they’re proud of! This means your team must understand the mission and vision they’re supporting. 

Raise employee engagement by using customer testimonials, visuals, and whatever it takes to show the company’s impact on the world and how your team makes that impact possible.

2. Be authentic

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Employees notice when you fake (or worse...contradict) your stated values. They stop trusting you. Soon, you wind up with a bunch of cynical and disinterested employees. Luckily, there’s a better way! 

Start by hiring people who already subscribe to your philosophy. Then, continue to demonstrate and reinforce these beliefs. Match your words and actions, and your employees will believe in your mission and align with your values for the benefit of all. In moments of uncertainty, they’ll fall back on these principles to guide their decisions—because they know your core values truly matter.

Remember, being authentic isn’t always easy, but it is always worth it.

3. Let your employees flex 

Every employee has areas where they shine. Why not let them use those skills? Always delegate and assign responsibilities based on employee strengths. People are most engaged and do their best work when they’re doing what they like and using their skills. It’s that simple!

If someone dislikes a task or it doesn’t match their skills, see what you can shift around. (As Jim Collins explains, it’s not only about getting the right people on the bus, but also the right people in the right seats.) A responsibility one person dreads could be something another person has wanted to do for years. Win-win!

4. Prioritize learning and growth

This employee engagement idea has to make the cut. Lack of growth and learning is a huge cause of boredom and unhappiness at work. To combat this, give your employees time and/or money for activities like:

  • Attending conferences and courses
  • Buying and discussing relevant books
  • Watching TED Talks or reading industry articles at work 

Then, actively encourage your team to utilize these opportunities and share their learnings with each other! Set an example by doing these things yourself. Talk about what you’re learning, ask what others are curious to explore, and find ways to help them learn about these topics. You can also start a Lunch & Learn series that rotates between speakers you hire and employees presenting on whatever they’re passionate about.

5. Mentor as much as you manage

Growth isn’t only about learning something new. People also want to advance existing skills and further their careers. This requires mentors. 

What counts as mentoring? Mentors help others assess and solve the problems they face. They offer guidance on goals and future roadmaps. They help people take on more responsibility and ownership of important projects and initiatives. Being a mentor means preparing your employees to move wherever they want within the company, including outside your team.

6. Be transparent—even about the bad stuff

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This can be one of the more confusing employee engagement ideas. Won’t employees find behind-the-scenes details distracting? Will knowing potential obstacles or past mistakes worry them? 

Those questions sell your employees short. People know that running a business is hard. In exchange for working for you, your employees deserve to know what’s really going on. Hearing about company mistakes or upcoming changes through office gossip or online news sucks. People respect honesty, and they’ll be happier when you’re upfront about your company’s direction, goals, roadblocks, and failures. This knowledge can also empower them to help address or offset existing challenges. 

7. Ask for people’s opinions, then listen

Employees who believe their opinions matter stay more engaged at work, and employee feedback is an awesome tool for improving workplaces. To get good feedback, we suggest using a mix of regular surveys, individual check-ins, focus groups, and brainstorming sessions and asking about topics like:

  • Satisfaction with growth opportunities
  • Goals they want to accomplish
  • Morale around the office
  • Ideas for improving the organization, their team, or individual job
  • Working relationships with management or colleagues
  • Resources that would help them do their jobs—or help the entire company

Other creative employee engagement ideas include executives taking a rotating group of people to coffee every month or team managers holding weekly office hours where anyone can discuss anything. No matter how you do it, encourage even your shyest employees to share their thoughts freely.

The more you involve employees in solving problems and growing your business, the more invested they’ll be in your success. By seeking out their opinions and support, you acknowledge their expertise and demonstrate trust—all while getting valuable input to inform your actions. Once employees see their ideas in action, they’ll start sharing even more ideas with the team.

8. Set clear expectations and give detailed, frequent feedback

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Unclear roles, responsibilities, and goals lead to low employee engagement. Faced with constantly lacking or nonexistent instructions, employees eventually quit trying to figure it out. 

Defined goals and guidelines help people perform better. While micromanaging isn’t your goal, it’s useful to provide general details like preferred communication methods or what to include in status reports. You can also provide employees with clarity through constant, real-time feedback—praising what employees do well and calling attention to areas where they could improve or try new tactics. Give feedback that is specific and detailed enough to help people grow. That means don’t simply request changes—explain why they are needed. 

Without feedback, employees are hesitant and unsure. Worse yet, they think they’re doing well until they’re hit with a remediation plan out of the blue. Neither scenario leads to happy employees.

9. Have fun and be social

Relax a bit, why don’t you? Reserve time for team lunch, order in, and play games for a break from your hard work. Welcome a new hire with tasty treats, throw a party for wrapping that massive year-long project, or simply join your colleagues for afternoon walks around the block. These team engagement ideas encourage team bonding and kickstart valuable conversations that won’t happen otherwise. Taking breaks also leads to higher employee productivity.

When employees build relationships, collaboration skyrockets and coworkers feel more connected to the company. Yet not every workplace invites socializing. Those that do include physical space for casual conversations. Think lunch rooms, outside tables, comfy couches in a corner—anywhere people might sit and chat. After you create these spaces, use them yourself. Once your employees see you socializing, they’ll know it’s fine to follow in your footsteps.  

Team building activities should also happen regularly, with options that fit various schedules and needs. Some people might prefer Friday happy hours, others a family friendly weekend potluck, and still others a Wednesday night kickball league. Get to know your team and their interests, so that you can not only better connect with your employees but also plan events they’ll enjoy.

10. Celebrate your people

Find ways to recognize and thank your employees, so that they know they’re appreciated. Acknowledgment and gratitude works wonders for improving engagement. Beyond professional accomplishments, your employees’ personal milestones, from birthdays to marriages to community accolades, deserve attention too. Sometimes, a handwritten note or recognizing an employee at a team meeting is perfect. Other scenarios warrant thoughtful, personalized gifts. 

Most importantly, researchers say to never settle on one go-to gift for every person or scenario. To maximize engagement and motivation, learn what each person likes and then keep them guessing each time. This is critical because no matter how strong a response a reward initially evokes, people adapt over time. You can’t fight human nature. What is at first exciting quickly becomes the new baseline—which is exactly why you want to constantly keep your employees on their toes. If that sounds like a lot of work for your HR team, check out the turnkey platform for employee celebration from Surprise HR to see how simple it can be.

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