Employee engagement is a hot topic in the world of human resource management, and for good reason. According to Gallup research cited by Paul Keegan, reporting for Inc. Magazine, only “30 percent of American workers are engaged at work.” The cost of this disengagement ranks in at a whopping $450 billion to $550 billion per year, encompassing absenteeism, workplace accidents and higher health care costs.
And it’s not just affecting some companies. Consultant Kevin Sheridan, author of Building a Magnetic Culture, points out that, “Even the best companies–those scoring in the top 10 percent on employee surveys–register only about 38 percent of their employees as “fully engaged.”
There’s a cost to disengagement in terms of turnover: “Engaged millennials are 64% less likely to say they will switch jobs if the job market improves in the next 12 months,” according to further data from Gallup.
The reasons for wanting employees to be more engaged are clear, but despite the obvious challenges facing companies whose workers are phoning it in, few companies have a clear view of how employee engagement on-the-job should be tracked.
If you can’t define or measure something, how can you expect to improve on it?
Is employee engagement offering professional development and advancement opportunities? Is it beer and ping-pong tables in the breakroom, as popularized by companies like Google and Facebook? First, we’ll explore the concept of engagement itself; then, we’ll dive into examples from Glassdoor’s list of Top 50 SMBs to Work For to help you put these principles into practice.
Defining Employee Engagement
Before we can begin to brainstorm possible solutions for keeping employees engaged, we need to know what we mean when we say “employee engagement”. Fortunately, several HR bloggers and professionals have stepped up to the challenge.
“The term ‘employee engagement’ describes when an organisation encourages employees to buy-in to their goals, ambitions and corporate ethos in a way that will inspire them to want to drive the business forward proactively and generate organizational success.”
Here, the focus is placed on employee’s ability to achieve their goals; a concept we’ll break down further in the second half of this article. Sylvester’s “Engage for Success – Get Engaged!” is worth a watch as well, while we’re still defining the idea of employee engagement:
Perdie Alder of RewardGateway offers a number of different definitions to consider on the subject of employee engagement. Alder’s exploration began after seeing a New York Times article that summarized engagement in the following way: “The willingness to invest discretionary effort at work.”
Not satisfied with that definition, Alder asked her RewardGateway colleagues, supervisors and clients to share their own summaries, and came up with the following (among others):
- “The alignment of an individual employee with the goals and vision of the business.” – Jeremiah Bird, RewardGateway Inbound Technology Manager
- “People being happy where they work, and wanting to contribute where they work and make the company they work for a better place. Also them not seeing it as work, but something they want to do.” – Richard Hurd-Wood, RewardGateway COO
- “Creating workplaces where each individual is encouraged, nurtured and enabled to be their best and where the culture, the environment, the tools to do the job and (importantly for us) the rewards for working at that Company promote recruitment, employee retention and motivation.” – Mary Jane Seddon, Specsavers Head of Reward and Policy
In truth, the myriad definitions that exist when it comes to employee engagement are a good thing. Though having a universal standard might help organizations determine conclusively where they fall on the spectrum of engagement, the flexibility present in these summaries enables individual companies to define “engagement” in the context of their unique needs and cultures.
Ultimately, what matters less is the definition of employee engagement you use. What matters is having one in place and holding your decisions and activities accountable to this overarching mission.
Employee Engagement Ideas That Work
We’ll assume that, by this point, you’ve developed your own standards for employee engagement based on what the idea means to your company. Remember that your definition will likely – and should – be different from another organization’s, and that it may evolve over time as you listen responsively to your workers’ feedback.
Once you’ve defined employee engagement, you can begin putting programs in place to support your objectives. And what better place to look to for ideas than the companies that make up Glassdoor’s Top 50 SMBs to Work For?
We’ve broken down the specific things they do to keep their employees engaged, motivated and happy into separate sections below. Pick and choose from their examples as you build your own engagement program.
Health & Wellness
Cover employees’ insurance costs
Want to make your employees happy? Keep them healthy.
One employee of Greenhouse Software – the Top 50 list’s top honoree – had this to say: “One of the best benefits packages I’ve ever gotten, I’m very grateful for Greenhouse for what they’ve done for me both inside the office, as well as when it comes to benefits and compensation.”
Illuminate Education, coming in 2nd place on the list, matches this perk, with one employee rating the company 5-out-of-5 stars because, “Our health care is covered 100% by Illuminate–for ourselves and our family members.”
Offer on-site fitness facilities
Employees will love the time and cost savings, and converting an empty office or conference room to an on-site gym may be less expensive than you think.
Limeade, a corporate wellness technology company, incorporates physical well-being into their daily culture. The company offers an onsite gym in the building, or they give $200 to remote employees to subsidize their own gyms.
Director of Corporate Communications Helen McClenahan describes how Limeade embraces whole-person well-being in their workplace:
“We encourage walking meetings and standing desks. We offer yoga balls, foam rollers, lacrosse balls, weights and more in the office. We also use our own technology, which means you’ll see our LimeMates participating in steps challenges, wall sits, planks and more. This is authentic to our culture and who we are, which is definitely appealing to people we recruit to work at Limeade.”
Offer free nutritional counseling
Bring healthy living directly to your employees by hosting free on-site nutritional counseling sessions. As a tip, reach out to local colleges for support. They may be able to connect you with a working professional who offers these sessions at no- or low-cost.
Cater healthy lunches
Better yet, make healthy eating a no-brainer by catering in or providing on-site staff to prepare healthy lunches. Employees will love the convenience, and you’ll save productivity that’s lost when workers leave campus to get food.
At Asana, employees have their pick of organic lunches and dinners prepared by a staff chef. Asana’s co-founder Justin Rosenstein describes the perk this way:
“We have a culture of work hard, live well. I felt like we needed to set an example.”
Provide healthy snacks free of charge
Don’t want to go all in on lunches? Stocking your breakroom with healthy snacks like fruit, veggies and nuts achieves the same effect.
- Increases in sustained energy
- Improved cognitive function
- Improved moods
- More engaged employees
- Improved retention
Take it from Glassdoor honoree Liveramp (@liveramp), which offers healthy snacks, fruit and catered lunches, on top of a small on-site gym, weekly in-office meditation sessions and corporate walking challenges, according to employee Vince Lim.
Host on-site health clinics
Make life easier for your employees by bringing flu shots, cholesterol screenings and other health clinics to them. Your health insurer can help you arrange this perk.
One of the largest insurers of U.S. military members and their families, the United Services Automobile Association prioritizes health benefits for its employees, too. USAA offers on-site vaccinations and cancer screenings, among other services.
Provide ergonomic workspaces
Standing desks are all the rage right now, but don’t forget about proper ergonomic alignment for traditional workstations. Tweaking seat height, monitor height and other variables is generally much less expensive than treatment for repetitive stress injuries.
“We’ll help you set up your ideal work station, with everything from an ergonomic review and standing desk to customized IT equipment.”
Bring in massage therapists, yoga teachers and meditation guides
According to one Asana employee, the Glassdoor Top 50 SMB award recipient includes on-site meditation as one part of a comprehensive wellness benefits package that includes, “on site 15 minute massages (once every couple months), on-site yoga classes, life coaches, monthly Uber credits, ergonomic advisors, and up to $10k (not a typo!) to spend on anything you want for your desk.”
Challenge employees to be healthy
Corporate health perks shouldn’t be something you push onto employees. You have to get them engaged and responsible for their own wellness.
“On a quarterly basis we try and do an optional company cleanse and all employees are welcome to participate. Each cleanse is different and sometimes the company pays for portions of the meals or snacks provided. For others we give employees guidelines of what to eat and offer support systems and buddies to keep employees motivated and on track.”
Encouraging Work-Life Balance
Offer unlimited vacation time
Unlimited vacation time is currently enjoying its day in the sun, and there’s no reason to be afraid of offering it to your workers. Sharlyn Lauby of HR Bartender offers the following perspective on unlimited vacation:
“The concept of unlimited vacation is focused on trust, transparency, and employee engagement. Today’s employees want flexibility and unlimited vacation gives them the opportunity to take advantage of new and exciting things, while at the same time, achieve their professional goals.”
Minimize turnover by instituting a sabbatical program based on length of tenure. Meghan Biro, writing for the TalentCulture blog, gives the example of Epic electronic medical records as a leader in this strategy:
“Epic gives their employees an additional four weeks paid vacation every five years, and if the employee spends that time in a country they’ve never visited before, Epic helps pay travel expenses for the employee and a guest. By providing some incentive for your team members to travel to new locales, they will return to work refreshed, de-stressed, and perhaps bearing a new cultural perspective that could help them do their job better.”
Let employees work from home
Sabrina Son of TINYpulse shares data from CNN suggesting that, “more than anything else, today’s workers want flexible schedules, i.e., the ability to work when they want and where they want, so long as they do their jobs and do them well.” Her response?
“At the end of the day, does it really matter whether your staff comes in super exhausted every morning at 9 a.m.? Letting your employees work at the most convenient times is a surefire way to boost employee morale.”
Pay for parental leave
Strong parental leave policies provide an important differentiating factor, while also minimizing turnover following new family additions. Bullhorn (@Bullhorn), a staffing and recruiting software company, has seen the advantages of these perks, stating:
“One of the benefits we’re extremely proud to offer is our four-months, 100 percent-paid parental leave to all employees. Much attention has been paid to the importance of paid parental leave recently, and we believe the U.S. is really behind the curve on this idea. But in the past two years since we’ve implemented the four-months, fully-paid policy, we’ve seen positive results on employee satisfaction and productivity. We offer this generous parental leave benefit because it’s about equality, it’s a recruiting advantage, it engenders employee loyalty, and it’s the right thing to do for society.”
Sponsor happy hours and other employee events
Get employees engaged outside of the office by sponsoring explicitly social events. The result isn’t just higher employee engagement and morale; it’s stronger working relationships that improve productive output as well.
To improve morale and encourage employee bonding, office design company Poppin encourages employees to meet up for social time when they’re off the clock. Employees can receive up to $150 every quarter for socializing with their co-workers.
Be a “human concierge”
Understand that work-life balance is about more than vacation time and remote work arrangements. Tom Gimbel of LaSalle Network (@LaSalleNetwork) shares the lengths his company will go to in order to keep employees engaged on the job:
“Our HR department is oftentimes referenced as human concierge, because they go beyond and help employees in various ways like with moving, finding daycare, etc.”
Leverage your company’s resources to benefit employees
SeatGeek, one of Glassdoor’s Top 50 SMBs, uses the resources at its disposal to improve work-life balance; in this case, by offering employees stipends to attend live events of their choosing. According to the company’s website, “Employees get a monthly allowance to attend concerts, sports games, Broadway shows, and more.”
Define your values and hold employees accountable
When it comes to values, most companies get it wrong: they develop a jargon-filled statement that hangs in the breakroom and is rarely acknowledged. Imagine how much better your employees would feel with a values system like the one Bullhorn has implemented:
“At Bullhorn, we have the following core values that our employees embody: ownership, energy, service, speed and agility, and being human. All employees, including executives, are graded on each of these values, and bonuses are tied to these scores. As company hallmarks, these values indicate the behaviors expected from employees every day.”
Let employees bring pets to work
Want to brighten your employees’ days? Bring on the puppies! Rulli, of Classy, shares: “We are a dog-friendly office which our employees love. The dogs offer comic relief and snuggles and kisses when needed.”
Create casual collaboration spaces
Concerned about productivity in open workspaces? Entelo, the 3rd place honoree on Glassdoor’s list, has an innovative solution: ”All employees receive $300 towards the noise-canceling headphones or earphones of their choice.”
Create positive “remote” office environments
If you work with remote teams – as many of the companies on Glassdoor’s list do – make sure they aren’t left out of office optimization efforts. To the extent you’re able to, extend the same benefits to remote workers that you do to in-house employees to keep them engaged.
Ditch the dress codes
Business casual is so 2007. Comfortable employees are happy, engaged employees. As long as certain standards are met (minimum clothing requirements or dress-up days when clients are in-house, for example), there’s no reason employees shouldn’t be empowered to dress the way they prefer.
Travel insurance review and comparison site Squaremouth has embraced a casual dress code from the start, and it’s a prominent aspect of the company’s culture. The company focuses on making employees feel comfortable at work not only through the dress code, but also in the workspace itself, by providing a casual environment with couches and standing desks, no assigned seating, mobile workspaces and a general rule not to sit in the same place twice.
To Megan Singh, the causal dress code has allowed the company to create a better employee experience overall:
“We couldn’t have this comfortable environment if we enforced a strict dress code. We don’t associate a dress code with an employee’s output. As long as everyone is getting their work done and getting along, they have the freedom to wear what they are comfortable in (whether that’s a t-shirt or button-down). To this day, we’ve never had an issue.
“This undoubtedly creates a better experience for our employees, while helping to attract the top talent. Overall we are a very autonomous company. Allowing employees to wear what they want provides another level of freedom and self-management. Ultimately I think that makes for happier employees.”
Build a “jam room”
Though the idea won’t be right for every company, another area where Bullhorn leads is its facilitation of employee jam sessions.
“One unique office feature is our “Jam Room,” a 350-square-foot music room that features about six guitars, a few amplifiers, drums, a keyboard, a saxophone, and a microphone. The Jam Room is an important recruiting and retention technique for us. Many of our employees are musically inclined, and often times it’s the Jam Room that becomes the clincher for prospective employees.”
Incentives, Rewards & Recognition
Build a culture of recognition
Employees who feel their efforts aren’t recognized naturally disengage, which makes building a culture of recognition critically important. Kelsie Davis of BambooHR (@bamboohr) shares the difference such a culture has made for her company’s staff:
“We feel the best way to help employees feel appreciated is to consistently recognize them. We’ve built a culture among coworkers and managers where we consistently recognize each other for great work.”
Take employee feedback seriously
“From the time that Lane Rankin, our CEO/Founder, started the company, his goal internally was to make every single team member feel like a stakeholder. The idea was that if everyone felt like they help control the destiny of the company, most everything else would take care of itself. And it has.”
Mark employee anniversaries
Let employees know their major milestones matter to you. LaSalle Network does this with their “rebirthday” celebrations:
“At LaSalle, we celebrate “rebirthdays,” which is the anniversary of someone’s hire date. The employee’s desk is decorated with balloons, pictures, and signs, and food is catered in. We give speeches reflecting on the year, and depending on what year the employee is celebrating, they get a gift from the company.”
Institute quarterly awards
Skip annual events and institute quarterly awards that recognize employees at all levels. Healthy competition, driven by desirable rewards, sparks engagement from workers who are eager to distinguish themselves.
“At the beginning of each quarter, we set clear goals and we expect teams to reach them. Everyone is held accountable and knows what they are accountable for – we are a very transparent company.”
Create a profit-sharing plan
Prove to employees that their contributions matter by giving them ownership stakes in the company. You’ll need legal counsel to create a profit-sharing plan, but the expense may be worth the long-term engagement.
At JM Family Enterprises, employees receive not only a 12% profit-sharing contribution, but also a 15% contribution to retirement savings accounts.
Learning and Career Development
Run sponsored lunches to encourage growth
Periodically – say, once a month or once every few weeks – invite a guest speaker in to conduct a brown bag lunch with interested employees. Speakers may be internal resources with advice to share or external professionals who can provided needed training.
Create a leadership development program
Alternatively, if you’re committed to employee growth within your organization, offer interested employees a defined leadership development program that will give them the skills and competencies needed to move up your ladder.
Randstad USA, a staffing solutions company, helps employees identify skills and education opportunities – like management or presentation training – so they can keep moving up the ladder. As Michelle Prince, the senior vice president of talent management, says:
“We value our employees and encourage their professional growth and career mobility within the organization.”
Bring Toastmasters on-site
Work with Toastmasters International to make your office a meeting location. Rulli, of Classy, shares: “We rolled out Toastmasters this year and the program has great participation.”
Give up annual reviews
Yang, of Illuminate Education, has seen success with a more collaborative approach: “We are moving away from annual reviews. Instead, a group of 7-12 close colleagues give monthly feedback through an employee survey form. This allows for more timely feedback from a broad set of people who know your work.”
Offer promotions immediately
Waiting until your employees hit arbitrary milestones – a year of employment, for instance – demonstrates that you’re more concerned with rule-following than employee engagement. Promote employees as they distinguish themselves to earn their respect.
Launch a mentorship program
Pair your newest workers with their more established counterparts so that each can benefit from professional guidance. Kelsey, of Zscaler (@zscaler) shares that, “Our Sr. Director of HR Business Partners just launched a program to help managers and employees determine their career path direction, weaknesses, and strengths.”
Reimburse tuition for relevant training programs
Put your money where your mouth is. Prove to employees that you care about their advancement within your organization by reimbursing them for training programs that will make them stronger workers.
Building Relationships Between Employees
Host an all-company retreat
Once a year, take your entire team off-site for a company retreat that’s equal parts enjoyment, entertainment and focused work on key company objectives.
At SendGrid, an email marketing company, employees attend company-wide retreats twice per year for team-building and bonding – which leads to better working relationships. Employee Lauren Wasp sings the company’s praises:
“This is the most transparent company I’ve ever worked for. You can really collaborate with your team and determine your own paths to take.”
Facilitate informal employee gatherings
Building a community amongst your employees can improve productivity and morale, and reduce turnover. On a smaller scale, create regular opportunities for your employees to get to know one another. Gimbel, of LaSalle Network, is proud of his company’s efforts in this area:
“Along with hosting various celebrations and happy hours to encourage employee camaraderie, there are many different things we do like year-round intermural sports, philanthropic events we sponsor and participate in, wellness activities such as races, challenges and book clubs that employees get together for, among many others.”
Make your holiday party an event to remember
Forget the cheesy buffet dinner and cash bar. Go all out. Your employees will be talking about the event – and looking ahead to the next one – all year.
If you’re looking for ideas about how to party with your co-workers, Facebook has got you covered. The tech giant holds regular, themed bashes – like it’s 2014 Roaring 20s party, which booked out AT&T Park in San Francisco.
Support group volunteer efforts
“We believe strongly that we are all building a great company together, so we look for opportunities to have employee-led programs that are typically top-down at other companies. One example is our Cloudera Cares initiative – we have a team of employees from across the company that coordinate volunteer activities for all of our main locations.”
Run a “hackathon”
“[APT] runs bi-yearly “hackathons” wherein employees voluntarily form teams to develop products, processes, or concepts that can be implemented at APT in the future. In a similar vein, once a month, employees from any level or department can pitch a new idea to the company’s engineers. The engineers select the pitches they are most interested in, and have allocated time to work on these projects.”
Host “demo days”
Similarly, host “demo days” where teams present their newest projects to the entire staff for responses, feedback and – ideally – praise.
Let employees pursue passion projects
Google was one of the pioneers of this concept with its since-retired “20% time.” Offer employees similar flexibility by freeing up time for passion projects, like volunteer work or community service. The impact on your business could be substantial.
Take management consulting outfit Deloitte, which provides paid leave to employees pursuing volunteer work. Principal Jonathan Copulsky is proud of the company’s positive impact on community, and sees it as more than just volunteer work:
“With an increased focus on strengthening our nation’s workforce through our education and veterans initiatives, our people’s volunteer efforts are aimed not just at doing good but also at making a long-term, strategic impact where it matters.”
Prioritize diversity and inclusion
Recognize that true innovation comes from diverse stakeholders. Prioritize diversity and inclusion initiatives that ensure all voices in your company are represented and heard.
In a show of solidarity for LGBTQ workers, for example, digital services agency Accenture helps transgender employees pay for the cost of gender reassignment surgery.
Explicitly measure engagement
“Our company sends out a bi-annual employee engagement survey to test the overall health of the company. We then have a town hall meeting to discuss the results. A team is put together to identify the top focus areas and get employees involved on mini-task forces to work on resolving the issues and then provide an update to the employees on action steps to resolve the issues.”
Update employees on company happenings
A weekly, biweekly or monthly newsletter keeps employees from feeling in-the-dark about their employers. Employees must feel informed to be engaged.
You can also use social media to help employees feel plugged in. REI’s “company campfire” gives employees a chance to share their opinions about the workplace – and upper-level management regularly chimes in.
Use a robust intranet
Build out a robust intranet program to house these newsletters, along with extensive documentation on your company’s HR policies, corporate culture and insider info.
Try all-hands stand-up meetings
Regularly get your whole team together to share updates. Doing so prevents departments from feeling siloed; greater engagement comes when each department understands how their work affects others.
Leverage tech tools for remote communication
Answer all pieces of feedback fairly
“We have a policy at Goodway: Any employee can submit anonymous feedback and expect a response from the most appropriate person (or a named individual if they specifically request that) provided two criteria are met: 1) No hate or vitriol, and 2) include your own reasonable suggestion on how to change what you’re writing about.”
Begin onboarding before day one
Provide employees with HR paperwork ahead of time so that their first days aren’t spent slaving over documentation. Take this a step further by introducing a “Getting to Know Me” survey that’ll allow new hires to share interesting facts that can spark first day conversations and connections.
Between a virtual welcome packet and a supervisor call before their first day, employees at Warby Parker are welcomed to the company long before they show up for their first shift. Taking these extra steps before your new hires come into the office helps make their transition to employee that much easier.
Introduce employees to company culture
Nobody wants to feel like the new kid at a new school, so don’t leave your new hires hanging. According to Josh Danson of the Achievers blog:
“New hires are more likely to decide to stay with your organization when they feel appreciated and welcomed by their peers… Setting up new hires for success through early participation in a company’s culture of recognition is good for employees and good for the organization.”
Offer onboarding trainings across departments
New developers need to know how customer service operates. Marketing hires need to understand how accounting processes expenditure requests. Don’t limit onboardings to an employee’s specific job role; touch on all departments so that new hires can more effectively move within your organization from the start.
Give out company SWAG
Finally, want to make your employees smile? A fun piece of swag, like a coffee cup or bag – Cloudera offers company hoodies – reinforce to new hires that they’ve made the right choice in joining your company.
What works for you?
With these suggestions from the companies who are recognized by their employees as being top places to work for on hand, you have a good insight into just what your staff might be looking for. Try some things and find out what suits your business and your employees – and remember to ask for their feedback to make sure you’re getting it right!