How engaged are your employees? If they’re anything close to the average, you might be disappointed to learn the answer. According to a Gallup poll, only 15 percent of employees consider themselves engaged with their work. This factor isn’t wholly about employee happiness or satisfaction; instead, employee engagement is a measure of how invested employees are in their jobs and their employers, which means if that engagement is low, the entire company can suffer.
Of course, some employees will naturally be more disengaged than others. But for the most part, employee engagement is largely under your control, as the manager or business owner. And if you take specific measures to improve employee engagement through a new employee engagement initiative, you can dramatically increase your team’s productivity.
What Is Employee Engagement?
There are a few different ways to define employee engagement, and since the term is somewhat ambiguous, you might find varying definitions from different organizations. However, for our purposes, employee engagement refers to the level of emotional commitment an employee has to their employer; in other words, how much do they care about their employer and their work?
Note that this is distinct from employee happiness or employee satisfaction, though those are both important as well. If you want your employee engagement initiatives to be successful, you need to recognize it for what it is.
Benefits of Employee Engagement
Employee engagement isn’t an empty term; there are many benefits of employee engagement that employers can capitalize on, including:
- Productivity. Engaged teams are shown to help organizations achieve 21 percent greater profitability. When your team members feel like they’re an active part of your organization, they’ll work harder, waste less idle time, and go out of their way to do good things for the business.
- Retention. Feelings of engagement help keep employees around. In fact, 60 percent of Americans would rather have a job they love than a job they hate with twice the pay. Spending a fraction of a single person’s salary on new employee engagement initiatives can help you save a fortune in new hiring and training costs.
- Brand reputation. The more engaged your employees are, the more evident it will be that your organization takes care of its own. That reputation can positively affect your brand in many ways, inspiring a whole generation of new applicants and helping you close more sales.
- Self-fulfillment. Employee engagement is contagious and self-sustaining. The more you encourage employee engagement, the more those employees will engage with each other, and the stronger your culture will become. Accordingly, these benefits only increase over time.
How to Improve Employee Engagement (How to Engage Employees)
There are many employee engagement theories to consider, but for the most part, there are a handful of important employee engagement best practices to follow. Here are five of the most important employee engagement factors:
- Recognition. People want to feel seen and appreciated, especially when they’re doing their best work. If they feel like just another gear in the machine, they aren’t going to feel connected to their employer. See our list of employee recognition ideas for help perfecting this element of employee engagement.
- Development. People want to learn and grow. If they remain stagnant for too long, they won’t just become disengaged; they’ll sometimes even become resentful of the employer they perceive to be holding them back.
- Empathy. Stress is inevitable in any job, but there are positive, negative, and neutral ways to handle that stress—as a worker, as a coworker, and as a boss. Showcasing empathy makes people feel more connected to you (and to the organization as a whole).
- Bonding. To be engaged, employees need to feel a human connection—to you, to their bosses, to their coworkers, and to anyone else crucial to their job function. This can’t be artificial, either.
- Belonging. Part of feeling engaged is feeling like you belong somewhere. If the brand’s values aren’t aligned with the employee’s, the employee is going to feel distant, at best.
On some level, every employee engagement idea you execute should involve one or more of these categories.
Employee Engagement Best Practices
So how can you go about increasing employee engagement? These high-level strategies, campaigns, initiatives, and office changes can help:
1. Acknowledge and commit to improving employee engagement.
The first thing you need to do is make employee engagement your priority. If you don’t consider this part of your ongoing HR strategy, none of the changes you do are going to stick. You need to measure your employee engagement and evaluate the effectiveness of each new tactic you try.
2. Clearly define (and showcase) your values.
Employee engagement is about developing a bond between employees and the brand, which partially depends on your brand values. When employees feel the employer they work for has similar priorities and perspectives as they do, they’ll feel more engaged with the workplace. Ideally, your brand will already have some core values to showcase, but if it doesn’t, now’s the time to define them. Make sure these values are visible and clearly demonstrated to your employees, too, whether that means highlighting them with posters around the office or occasionally mentioning them in conversation.
3. Clearly define and enforce your brand culture.
In addition to your brand values, you should focus on creating an internal brand culture. The exact specifications of your culture don’t matter, but they should be definable and offer employees an opportunity to engage with them. For example, is your work culture pristine, polished, and formal? Or is it more relaxed and quirkier? Defining these standards and adhering to them consistently can eventually make workers feel more “at home,” and weed out the people who feel like they don’t belong.
4. Help your employees improve their health.
Healthy employees are more productive, happier, and generally more engaged with their work. Spending time, money, and effort improving your employees’ health shows that you care about them, which also increases employee engagement. There are several ways you can positively impact employee health, including sponsoring better health benefits (like insurance or gym memberships), providing healthy snacks throughout the day, or encouraging your employees to bike to work.
5. Make your decisions transparent.
Employee engagement increases when employees feel like they understand what’s going on, and when they feel like they’re an active part of the group. You can make improvements in both areas by making your decisions transparent. When you change course or decide something important for the business, announce it. The more you do behind closed doors, the more isolated and disengaged your employees are going to feel.
6. Explain your motivations.
Similarly, you can spend more time explaining your motivations (when the situation calls for it). For example, if you’re starting to monitor employee emails, explain that you’re interested in tracking and improving employee productivity, rather than simply spying on people for the sake of it. Explain which factors you’re looking for, and be open to answering any questions your employees may have. Obviously, you don’t need to do this for every decision, but the more open you are, the better.
7. Give each employee a voice.
Employees who feel heard in the workplace are 6 times as likely to feel empowered in the workplace. There are several ways to give your employees a voice too, so there’s no excuse not to make use of at least one of them. For example, you can spend more time asking for individual employee opinions in meetings, or you could treat new employee ideas with seriousness and patience whenever they come up.
8. Use surveys to collect anonymous feedback.
Recognition is an important element in employee engagement, but some employees may be reluctant to be formally and uniquely recognized. For example, if an employee is distressed about a workplace condition, they may be reluctant to bring it up personally for fear of retaliation. For this situation, it’s a good idea to allow employees to express themselves anonymously. Surveys and suggestion boxes are good applications here.
9. Prioritize work-life balance.
Without a healthy work-life balance, your employees won’t feel like their employer values them—and may grow resentful of their working conditions. Work-life balance means something a little different to everyone, but it’s important that your prioritize it however you can. Listen to your employees when they express additional stress or a lack of personal time, and do what you can to give them the flexibility they need.
10. Celebrate and reward individual employees.
Employees who don’t feel recognized for their accomplishments are nearly twice as likely to look for a new job as their counterparts, but you can easily avoid this by rewarding and/or celebrating those valuable individual accomplishments. Whenever one of your employees exceeds expectations in one way or another, take notice and congratulate them; this is especially powerful if done publicly, since it shows other employees how much you appreciate extra effort.
11. Offer both team and individual goals.
Team goals help your employees bond with each other, and make each of your individuals feel like they’re a part of the team. On the other hand, individual goals show a degree of personal recognition, and encourage your team members to challenge themselves and flourish. If you’re trying to maximize employee engagement, you’ll need a healthy mix of both.
12. Give feedback regularly.
Giving employees feedback accomplishes several goals at once. You’ll display a degree of transparency, helping to build employee trust, while also giving your employees valuable information they can use to learn and grow. Note that this is true for both praise and criticism; what’s important is that you’re paying attention to how your employees perform, and you’re going out of your way to help them improve.
13. Avoid excessive office conventions.
Even the most hardcore professionals can grow tired of the typical 9-to-5 office environment. Conventions like cubicles, bland wall colors, and fake plants can be demoralizing, especially if these features never change over time. Experiment with some tasteful changes, like painting the walls to match your brand colors, or hanging some art that matches your brand personality.
14. Perfect your internal communication.
When internal emails are more frustrating than effective, it’s nearly impossible for employees to feel engaged. Sending too many emails, hosting long, meandering threads, or tolerating poorly written messages can all lead to the deterioration of team morale. You can fight against this by tracking employee emails, monitoring those communications, and working proactively to improve these habits. Work on writing more concisely, perfecting email etiquette, and respecting email recipients’ time.
15. Make employees feel part of the whole.
Every position in your company should feel like an integral part of the whole, from the new receptionist who just got hired to the founder and CEO who’s been there from the beginning. Don’t let new or lower-level positions feel overlooked or neglected; address them by name, and include them in as many company events as possible.
16. Increase employee ownership.
Ownership can function in a few different ways, but it always works in your favor for increasing employee engagement. There’s the literal definition—rewarding your employees and encouraging them to work harder by granting them partial equity in the company—but this isn’t accessible to every business. Instead, you can simply give your employees more accountability for their work; make them feel like they “own” their projects and tasks.
17. Facilitate long-term projects.
Along these lines, make sure your employees each have long-term, ongoing projects they can work on in their spare time. It makes sure they always have something to do while giving them ownership over a project that’s uniquely theirs. This could be something complex, like overhauling a content marketing strategy, or something simpler, like learning productivity hacks for Gmail to teach your other employees.
Employee Engagement Ideas
Next, let’s dive into some specific employee engagement ideas you can implement easily in your organization, based on the aforementioned employee engagement best practices:
Cross-train not just between departments, but within departments as well. Learning other people’s responsibilities gives each of your employees the chance to develop empathy for their coworkers. It also establishes some degree of redundancy, so your employees can feel comfortable leaving on vacation. Of course, it also provides a secondary means of providing training and development, which most of your employees will appreciate.
19. Introduce everyone to everyone.
You can avoid a great deal of embarrassing situations and make your employees more comfortable with each other at the same time by providing formal introductions whenever you make a new hire. Introduce your new recruits to everyone—including people at different departments—so you establish that you’re all working for the same company, as part of the same culture.
20. Allow some fun throughout the workday.
Even in exceptionally busy work environments, or formal settings, it’s important to find time for some fun. Depending on the nature of your brand and the budget at your disposal, that could mean setting up a billiards table in the break room or just passing a few jokes back and forth before the Monday morning meeting. It’s a good chance to bond and show your human sides to each other, especially in light of stressful circumstances.
21. Offer ongoing training and development options.
As many as 42 percent of employees believe that learning and development are the most important benefits for a workplace—even ahead of health insurance. If you want to keep those employees engaged, and prove that you value them, it’s important that you offer at least some training and development options. As with most of the items on this list, there’s substantial flexibility here; you could offer training and development by paying for your employees’ education, or do something simpler, like helping your employees understand a specific app or project management style.
22. Use cross-departmental interactions to mitigate silos.
Departmental silos can create rifts between your departments. Fortunately, they’re easy to mitigate, and in some cases, can be avoided entirely. Make sure there are ample opportunities for employees in different departments to interact with one another, whether that means sharing the same break room or training each other on basic departmental responsibilities. Empathy plays a major role in preventing these gaps from forming, so encourage it in these cross-departmental interactions.
23. Enable lateral moves.
Engaged employees may still eventually grow tired of their current position. If you want to keep them, and continue reaping the benefits of that heightened employee engagement, do your best to enable lateral career moves—in other words, let them move to different positions or different departments. This flexible mobility helps your employees feel less trapped, and gives them more opportunities to find their perfect role within the organization.
24. Gradually increase responsibilities.
Extra responsibilities make employees feel trusted, and give them a sense that they’re professionally growing within your organization. Accordingly, you can increase employee engagement by ratcheting up employee responsibilities over time. Note that this is different than just giving them new tasks or busy work to accomplish; they have to feel accountable for something important.
25. Have open office hours.
Back in college, your professors likely held “open office hours,” where any student could come in, ask questions, get help, or express concerns. Try the same thing for your team. One or two days a week, keep your office open for a few hours and see if your employees need anything. It’s one more opportunity for them to find a voice.
26. Let employees choose the music.
Music seems like such a small thing, but giving employees rotational control over the music can liven up the office—and improve the group’s productivity. Make sure everyone has an equal turn choosing songs for the group playlist. When their songs are playing, they’ll feel represented and feel a sense of belonging. When they hear the diversity of other songs available, they’ll get to know their coworkers better—even if only slightly.
27. Relax the dress code (at least occasionally).
Informal dress codes give people more flexibility to wear clothing that defines them. It makes them more comfortable, and lets them show off their personality. Of course, not all businesses or roles can tolerate a laid-back atmosphere, so consider relegating the relaxed dress code to one day a week, or to special events.
28. Allow schedule flexibility.
You can accomplish multiple goals by allowing scheduling flexibility as well. Letting your workers come in late and leave late, or come in early and leave early, or take a bigger break in the middle of the day can give them more time to handle personal responsibilities. It also helps the team members who are natural night owls work in a time slot that allows them to do their best. More importantly, it gives your individual team members more of a choice.
29. Enable remote work.
Remote work is becoming increasingly practical for many professional roles, especially if you employ some method of productivity tracking. Just be careful here; when employee work fully remotely, they won’t have a chance to engage in your brand environment or immerse themselves in a team. For most businesses, the ideal balance is one or two days per week of working remotely. Be sure to check out our post Does working from home increase productivity? and our post on working from home productivity statistics for more insights.
30. Rotate meeting leadership.
In meetings without a central authority, consider rotating who leads the agenda. Giving different people the chance to lead and direct a conversation provides them some measure of professional development. It also helps you foster different personality influences and styles in your meetings on a regular basis, which can prevent your most frequent meetings from getting boring or repetitive.
31. Limit late-night and weekend emails.
Email is, by far, my favorite communication medium, but it’s easy to fall out of love with your email account if you’re dealing with constant interruptions after-hours or over the weekend. Make sure your employees feel empowered to turn off email notifications when they’re not at work; you can always reach them via text or phone call in case of emergency. Then encourage your employees to mitigate the problem further by avoiding sending emails during these hours.
32. Personalize your management styles.
Employees who give their managers low scores are four times as likely to be looking for a new job as employees who are satisfied with their managers. The trouble is, no single management style is ideal for everyone; each employee on your team will likely have unique preferences. Therefore, the best way to manage is to tweak your approach slightly for each person. For example, some employees may prefer to be left entirely alone so they can function autonomously and take charge of their work, while others want near-constant reassurance and guidance so they feel confident they’re doing the right thing.
33. Gamify everything you can.
Gamification is the process of integrating game-like elements into structures that aren’t games. For example, you might establish a point system for achieving certain goals or following certain processes; the person with the most points at the end of a given period gets a prize. Games keep things interesting, and act as an extra layer of incentives for your employees.
34. Launch office committees and subgroups.
This is another little touch, but it’s a way to give your employees more authority while also promoting team bonding. Create small office committees and subgroups, like a party planning committee, or a group responsible for reaching out to colleges for new potential recruits.
35. Allow personal projects (to an extent).
Google garnered attention for allowing its employees to work on personal projects for several hours each workweek. These personal projects eventually morphed into some of Google’s most profitable products, including Gmail. Give your employees the chance to brainstorm, suggest, and pursue their own projects within your company—so long as they don’t distract from the bottom line.
36. Train your leaders in emotional intelligence.
All your managers and leaders should be high in emotional intelligence, the ability to recognize and engage with human emotions. Emotional intelligence gives you more control over your own emotional responses, grants you more empathy, and allows you to adjust your approach to people who are angry, detached, or otherwise feeling strong emotions. If your employees feel their emotions aren’t recognized, or if they don’t receive empathy, they’re going to become disengaged.
37. Have open, personal conversations.
Don’t just make small talk. Don’t just talk about work. Make some time for more personal conversations. You’ll get to know your teammates much better, and they’ll feel recognized as individuals.
38. Allow controlled venting.
Work can be stressful, and sometimes, people just need to vent about their stress. Some forms of venting are toxic, and will serve to make you angrier about the situation. But controlled, deliberate forms of venting that get at the root cause of the issue can dispel that stress. Give your employees plenty of time and space to vent in healthy ways; all their problems will seem smaller as a result.
39. Create a team mascot (or get a pet).
You can reinforce your team’s identity and introduce a new talking point by getting a team mascot, which could be an animated character, an anthropomorphized animal, or even a signature inanimate object. If you’re feeling especially bold, you could have a live animal in the office, like a fish or a lizard, if you’re prepared to take good care of it.
40. Have a creative space.
Offering a space for creative expression can be another way to give your employees a voice. It gives them something fun to focus on, other than work, and an opportunity to express themselves. This could be a blank wall where everyone can doodle, a musical instrument mounted on the wall for people to play with, LEGOs in the breakroom, or literally any other creative exercise you can think of.
41. Begin a company newsletter.
You may already have an outward-facing company newsletter for new products and similar announcements, but consider having an inward company newsletter too. You can highlight accomplishments from your employees, or list exciting personal announcements like marriage proposals or newborn children.
Employee Engagement Activities
You can give a boost to your employee engagement periodically, by hosting or facilitating one-off events like these:
42. Hire a motivational speaker.
Motivational speakers have mixed results, but the right person with the right message could make a significant impact on your team. Consider hiring someone to provide perspective, teach your team something new, or just break up the typical monotony of the job.
43. Head to an escape room.
Escape rooms are opportunities for your team to get out of the office and work together to creatively solve a problem. It functions as a reward for hard work, while also providing a platform for team bonding and communicational development.
44. Take a team lunch (or dinner).
If an escape room sounds like too bold of an outing, consider just taking a team lunch (or a team dinner), especially if you’ve recently accomplished an important goal. Again, it functions as a reward and an opportunity for team bonding. It’s hard to feel disengaged from your employer with a plate of free, delicious food in front of you.
Take some or all of your team to volunteer for a good cause in your community. Not only will it give you a chance to collaborate with each other outside of work, it will also look good for your company.
46. Give awards and celebrate team wins.
This should go without saying, but take the time and spend the money to properly celebrate major team wins. For big goal accomplishments, consider throwing a party or hosting some similar kind of celebration. You could also give out awards for “best of” accomplishments in various categories on an annual or semiannual basis.
47. Practice trust exercises.
Trust falls are the go-to here, but any exercise that provides the potential to improve trust between your employees is valuable. If you have the time to prepare a bigger setup, you could blindfold half your team and have the other half guide them through an obstacle course.
48. Start a book club.
In a slightly less challenging idea, consider starting a book club. Choose a leader or two to take charge of choosing new books every month, or hold a company-wide vote. Then, get together and discuss your opinions; it opens a dialogue and helps you get to know the other people in the group. If you choose the right reading materials, it also serves as an opportunity for professional development and learning, making your employees more satisfied.
49. Host a Q&A.
If you have a large organization, consider bringing down the CEO or other high-ranking staff members for a Q&A session. Allow your employees to ask about anything they want in an informal setting, and allow your leaders to respond however they feel is appropriate. It’s a good opportunity to break down barriers between high-ranking and low-ranking staff members, and could be a valuable learning opportunity for everyone involved.
50. Go on a walk.
Teambuilding and bonding exercises don’t have to be complicated, competitive, or expensive. Go on a walk together, and you’ll have just as much of an opportunity for conversation—plus, you’ll all get an opportunity to exercise and get some fresh air.
51. Participate in sports leagues.
See if there are any recreational sports leagues in your area that your business could join, potentially competing against other businesses. Practicing and playing matches are good ways to help your employees stay in good health, and it provides an opportunity for bonding outside the normal work environment.
Employee Engagement Games
Games are a great way to bring colleagues together to share memorable new experiences while strengthening bonds and a sense of belonging to a team. Here are ten employee engagement games to try:
52. Untangle a human knot.
Arrange your employees in a tight, inward facing circle, then have them randomly reach out to people on the other side with each hand. The end result here should be a massively tangled human “knot.” At this point, ask your team to work together to untie this knot—without ever releasing hands. That should keep them busy a while.
53. Play board games.
Board games are perfect opportunities for your employees to compete with each other, learn how to communicate under stress, and even solve complex problems. Old-school options like Pictionary are a good place to start, but consider looking into more modern board games, with more complex and interesting styles of play.
54. Experiment with social deduction games.
You can go a step further by playing social deduction games, or games based around deception. These games either require some players to deceive others, or require the group to solve a mystery collectively (like a murder mystery). Either way, your team will need to solve a problem through communication and/or deceive each other. It strengthens communication and persuasion skills, and is fun for most people once they get into it.
55. Play “two truths and a lie.”
You could also play a variant of “two truths and a lie,” where each participant posits two surprising truths about themselves (including things they’ve done or unique characteristics) and one lie. Other participants need to deduce which of the three options is the lie. It’s an opportunity to learn more about your coworkers, and collaborate to solve a mystery about each one.
56. Play “who am I?” or a similar guessing game.
If you want a similar deduction game that’s less personal than “two truths and a lie” and less stressful than social deduction, consider playing “who am I?” In this game, each player will have the name of a famous person, object, or other noun on their back, so they can’t see it. They’ll be forced to ask yes or no questions of other participants regarding their assigned noun until they successfully guess it. It’s perfect for mingling and honing both communication and problem-solving skills.
57. Host a trivia night.
It may take some time to put together your own trivia questions, but you could always substitute that with a game of Trivial Pursuit, or questions from last week’s Jeopardy! episode. Group your employees into teams for a more engaging, team building experience.
58. Plan a scavenger hunt.
If you have the time and inclination, you could set up a scavenger hunt for your team to follow. Solving subtle clues and wandering throughout the office (or throughout the city) may be the perfect way for your employees to get to know each other. Just make sure the reward justifies the work they’re going to put in.
59. Play with improvisation.
Consider hosting an improv session with your employees. By playing with various exercises in roleplaying and teambuilding, you’ll facilitate bonding and give your employees more confidence to be themselves. Plus, you’ll incidentally end up creating some hilarious situations that have the power to relieve stress.
60. Build marshmallow towers.
This exercise typically requires a finite number of marshmallow and a finite number of toothpicks and/or sticks of uncooked spaghetti. Split your employees into teams and give them a fixed amount of time to use these finite materials to build the tallest tower they can. It’s harder than it looks to find a design that works, and is a low-stakes opportunity to scout for leadership and hone your team’s collaborative potential.
61. Fly paper airplanes.
A similar exercise is providing each individual or each team with a sheet of paper, challenging them to make the best paper airplane they can. Then you can have fun flying the planes and seeing which one goes the furthest.
Measuring Employee Engagement
So is there an employee engagement KPI, or employee engagement factors that can be measured? Unfortunately, because employee engagement is somewhat subjective, it’s a tricky concept to measure. Measuring employee engagement takes dedication, and your attention to several different areas:
- Email monitoring. Email is both a source of employee engagement and a barometer for it. For example, good email etiquette and concise communication can make employees feel more engaged with their team and the brand as a whole. You can also use email tracking as a way to measure employee engagement; if an employee is inattentive to their email inbox, or if they’re consistently engaging in bad habits, it may be a sign they’ve become disengaged. A productivity measurement tool like EmailAnalytics can be used as a sort of employee engagement software by helping you measure how many emails each employee is sending, their busiest email times and days, and more.
- Surveys. An employee engagement survey can help you understand what your employees are thinking, including how effective your existing employee engagement initiatives have been and what they’d like to see in the future. Consider your employee engagement survey questions carefully, and be sure to ask employees about your latest efforts specifically. Also consider offering both an anonymous and non-anonymous version of the survey, so you can take advantage of the benefits of both.
- Performance reviews. Annual employee performance reviews are a perfect opportunity to explore employee engagement factors, like how connected the employee feels with the brand and whether they feel appropriately challenged or rewarded. Make sure to ask critical questions, so your employees have a real chance to express themselves.
Cumulatively, disengaged employees cost the U.S. economy an estimated $550 billion a year. Don’t let your workforce be part of the problem. For more inspiration on boosting employee engagement in your organization, see our big list of employee engagement quotes.
I’ve given you dozens of ideas on how to boost your employee engagement, but it’s only going to be effective if you have a way to measure that engagement. EmailAnalytics is an ideal platform to help you on both sides of the equation; you can track your team’s email habits to improve internal communication, and keep using the platform to measure how your employee engagement improves over time. Sign up for a free trial today!
Jayson is a long-time columnist for Forbes, Entrepreneur, BusinessInsider, Inc, and various other major media publications, where he has authored over 1,000 articles since 2012, covering technology, marketing, and entrepreneurship. In 2010, he founded a marketing agency that appeared on the Inc. 5000 before exiting it in January of 2019, and he is now the CEO of EmailAnalytics.