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12 Powerful Employee Engagement Ideas that Improve Profitability (Besides Bonuses & Salary Increases)

BY Gor Zhamharyan
Jan 20, 2021
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“We really try to make this a place where people want to be… It doesn’t happen by accident. It does happen by design,” shared Liane Hornsey, then VP of people operations at Google, and current EVP and chief people officer at Palo Alto Networks, in a past interview with Meet the Boss.

You can design this kind of workplace too, by implementing efficient employee engagement ideas that move the needle.

After giving you a business case for employee engagement – backed by 20 studies – we’re delivering on our promise: A practical list of workplace engagement ideas.

So how can leaders achieve high employee engagement (during the pandemic and beyond)?

Employee Engagement Ideas to Improve Sales & Customer Service

It’s easy to see how sales impact your bottom line. But customer service does too, as almost half “of consumers said they would pay more for a friendly, welcoming experience,” found a PwC survey with “15,000 respondents,” reports Adobe.

The two following employee engagement ideas are meant to support these customer-facing employees, especially in entry level positions, but they’re relevant to all departments in your organization.

Show Them They Make a Difference

Most of us come to work to make a living. But we also long for that positive feeling we get when the way we spend most of our waking hours makes a difference.

Maybe you work at a company that saves lives by manufacturers medical devices. But if you don’t, how can leaders achieve high employee engagement, especially in entry level positions?

Here’s the thing: Chances are, your work does make a difference.

After all, most companies exist to improve customers’ lives.

Maybe you work at a software company that helps contact centers provide more empathetic service. Or at a clothing brand that empowers women of all sizes to feel beautiful.

Whatever it is, chances are it exists.

Find the “why.” Find the impact.

Document customer stories, and share them with your customer-facing employees.

If you keep it authentic, it will very likely get your employees more excited about being part of your mission, and they will show up completely differently in interactions with customers.

Provide Coaching to Help Employees Work Through Their Fears of Rejection and Failure

Anyone who’s worked in sales knows that the most popular word you hear is “no.”

And it can hurt. “A 2011 study shows that social rejection can mimic physical pain,” reports Fast Company.

Source: Sales Humor via HubSpot

Customer service employees experience it too, sometimes spending 6-9 hour shifts fending off complaints and screams.

Among the most important employee engagement ideas to incorporate in your company is training for coping with fear of rejection.

And definitely, anyone in your company could use it – alongside training for mastering the fear of failure – to encourage them to share their ideas and try new things.

That, in turn, will improve creativity and innovation. But before we expand on that, let’s cover two workplace engagement ideas to ensure your team is as productive as possible.

Employee Engagement Ideas to Improve Productivity

“The most important sign that your team is productive is pretty straightforward: You’re getting stuff done… You’re hitting your most important goals [and]… you’ve gotten rid of the bad organizational habits that slow your progress,” explains Atlassian.

Here are two workplace engagement ideas that help you do just that.

Find Time Wasting Activities and Set Your Team Free to Shine

Consult with a productivity coach about making time, and you’ll find yourself logging everything you do in a week (or a month), then analyzing it by life areas.

You might discover that doing all the laundry tasks yourself, instead of distributing the workload between family members, is costing more time than you realized. And maybe you’ll decide to stop organizing everyone’s clean laundry, so you’ll have time to dance.

The workplace isn’t that different. Many of us do tasks we could redistribute or hire for.

So you could ask your employees to log their activities for a week, and see where there’s room to improve. But if your team is running around all day, helping customers in the store, consider asking them for suggestions instead. What do they think needs to be changed?

Maybe you’ll discover the approval process is so long, your engineers can’t move faster even if they wanted. Or maybe one of your senior managers needs an assistant, so she can focus on work areas where she really thrives.

But if you’re wondering how can leaders achieve high employee engagement with this strategy, given that not everybody is a productivity junkie… we recommend aligning their interests with yours.

Together, make a list of work they’d like to do, and work you need them to do, and look for commonalities. Find the middle ground, and remove unnecessary tasks neither of you needs, or that can be served best by someone else.

Give Employees Ownership of the Company’s Development… and Their Own

You know how we just casually mentioned cutting down long approval processes? This, in itself, might prove as one of the most efficient employee engagement ideas.

See, when you do that within reason, you put the responsibility on your employees. They’ll need to take ownership of company processes, which is likely to increase their emotional investment in the company’s success.

Kinda like building Ikea furniture.

When participants across four studies “assembled IKEA boxes, folded origami and built sets of Legos,” they “saw their amateurish creations as similar in value to experts’ creations, and expected others to share their opinions,” reports Harvard Business School (HBS).

Check out this two minute video for a further explanation on how the Ikea Effect, as it’s known, impacts the workplace. The video is by Business Insider and Dan Ariely, professor of behavioral economics at Duke University and author of Predictably Irrational.

Basically, when employees see their success aligned with your company’s success, they feel ownership of it. Therefore, they’re also likelier to invest in their own learning and development.

Importantly, the Ikea effect “leads to love only when labor results in successful completion of tasks,” according to HBS.

Therefore, consider giving employees the option to grow their skills through micro-learning, so it’s easy to consume, move on to implementation and start getting quick wins.

To get the most of it, make some of the micro-learning about the significance of fellow departments.

Employee Engagement Ideas to Improve Collaboration

“61% of operations leaders believe cross-functional collaboration has the greatest potential for helping the company reach its strategic goals,” according to PwC.

Think of what would happen if marketing and sales actually joined forces, or if your product development team worked hand in hand with business development and customer success.

Align Goals and Get Employees to Walk in Each Other’s Shoes

Back in 2012, in that interview we mentioned above about managing human resources at Google, Hornsey said that Google encourages “rotation and mobility… In the sales organization, we’ve had roughly about a 1,000 people move jobs over and over these last three quarters.”

Watch her interview here:

Hornsey said that employees do that to either “move jobs permanently, or… see for a period of time if they’d like to work in X, Y or Z area.” But you can use it as one of the workplace engagement ideas to get employees out of their routine, and walking in each other’s shoes.

By helping them engage with each other better, and understanding each other’s perspectives, you’ll drive more engagement with your company.

You can make it a fun, special occasion week – say, on Halloween or April 1 – or do it routinely every once in a while.

But whether you do it or not, ensure that everyone’s goals are aligned. This way, everyone is part of one team, working for the same mission.

And the best part? If some of your employees realize they like another job better than theirs, you can give them priority when a new role opens up in that department. This way, you’ll retain employees who are already deeply engaged.

And speaking of walking in colleagues’ shoes…

Provide Multicultural, Multigenerational Training

This topic often gets ignored, but in today’s multicultural, multigenerational work, how can leaders achieve high employee engagement without proactively educating their teams on cultural intelligence?

For example, according to Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), “American managers often accentuate the positives and minimize the negatives… French managers tend to gloss over the positives and provide direct, blunt feedback.”

Therefore, an American employee working for a French manager might think she’s underperforming when she’s doing great, whereas a French employee might miss the areas for she needs to improve.

That’s just one of many scenarios that can lead to conflicts, frustration and disengagement, and could stand in the way of both collaboration and creativity.

Employee Engagement Ideas to Improve Creativity and Innovation

Creativity and innovation are the driving force of any company that wants to make an impact long term. Ready to take your company to the next level?

Hire and Promote Diversely

According to a multi-university study, diversity needs to be prioritized in your workplace engagement ideas list. The study discovered that, “statistically… there are strong casual linkages between diversity, trust and employee engagement,” reports Deloitte.

To get started, recognize that we all have unconscious bias that’s keeping our companies far less diverse and engaged than they could be.

“Our brains are overloaded with 11 million pieces of information every second, yet we can only process about 40 of them, so we’re wired to make cognitive shortcuts, using past experiences to make assumptions,” explains the above PwC video.

“Our unconscious mind can put us on autopilot, determining where we sit, who we eat lunch with, who we turn to for advice, and who we choose to offer a helping hand,” it continues.

As Devex explains, three of the common unconscious bias are choosing someone who’s similar to you (in appearance or background), listening only to information that confirms what you already think, and anchoring “the first piece of information that you were given about a subject.”

To change it, make room in your schedule and budget to consistently educate your employees and give them opportunities to practice, so together, you can reduce the bias.

Set Fail-Friendly Budgets and Schedules

As we covered in the 20-study business case for employee engagement, it’s critical to allow employees to fail. Failures are opportunities to build trust and prove that this is a psychologically safe workplace.

That you indeed see failures as learning opportunities.

Because you understand your employees are human, and you want them to feel confident to share and test new ideas.

However, to ensure your company still meets its current goals, set aside certain resources for experimentations – a certain day of the month, special occasion hackathons, and a budget.

That’s what Coca Cola does. Wendy Clark, then Coca Cola’s SVP of integrated marketing communications and capabilities and now Dentsu Aegis Network’s Global CEO, explained it simply at a 2015 McKinsey event, reports Digital in Asia. “At Coke, 70% of spend funds current proven programs, 20% goes to new and promising trends, and 10% to test completely new ideas,” she said.

Employee Engagement Ideas to Improve Employees’ Mental & Physical Health

As we covered in the business case, engaged employees are often healthier employees, who find it easier to help your company grow, because they’re not focused on survival.

Following are a bunch of workplace engagement ideas to help you support them in becoming their healthiest selves. Just remember that health can be a sensitive, personal topic. Give employees a choice whether to participate, and respect their privacy.

Enable a Work-Life Balance that Puts Employees’ Health First

Offer in-office or Zoom-based wellness and health workshops, or ongoing cooking or exercise classes, and allow nap time.

Check out Digiday’s two and a half minute tour of the Huffington Post’s office, including its nap and meditation rooms, to get inspired:

Plus, arrange discounts at local or online gyms, or at online therapy platforms – as long as there’s confidentiality. Let employees take care of themselves privately off hours, so they can take care of your company when they’re at work.

Encourage employees to practice self care and spend time with loved ones. Provide longer maternity and paternity leaves. Don’t under-hire parents, or expect singles to work late into the night just because they don’t have kids. Give people a few extra days off, so they have time to go to the doctor or take that vacation.

But how can leaders achieve high employee engagement with this strategy, when so many companies say they care about employee wellbeing, but there’s a low level of employee trust?

By walking their talk.

If the policy is it’s OK to take extra sick days when you need them, leaders need to do the same, while constantly reaffirming that this is a company value, and proactively working to minimize judgment across the team.

Have Fun as a Team

A 2019 Lebanese paper discovered that workplace fun tends to increase engagement levels, and therefore helps companies reach their goals, reports Emerald.

It makes sense. Having fun lets people let go of the to-do list and focus on connecting with one another on a more personal, lighthearted level.

Gradually, instead of “just another day at the office,” it becomes “another opportunity to hang out with my friends.”

And you can have fun as a team even if you’re still working remotely. Check out this video for a few virtual workplace engagement ideas.

Employee Engagement Ideas to Improve Talent Retention

Your employees are the biggest differentiator for your company.

What’s the biggest differentiator for them?

Create a Culture of Growth

The necessity of growth is another great alignment between employee and company needs. “Personal and professional development is an important focus area for modern employees when seeking employment, as well as for deciding to stay with their current employer,” according to Training Industry.

Deliver that, and Training Industry says you’ll get a “key differentiator” when “competing for top talent.”

You could set training as the opportunity to grow within the role, and into promotions or to transfer departments. Let employees know you want them to stay long term.

Acknowledge Accomplishments and Efforts

We’re all adults. We’re professionals. We “shouldn’t” need external validation. But we’re humans, and most of us like to hear what we did well.

Whether we admit it or not, it has an impact on our performance.

“86% of highly engaged employees were recognized the last time they went above and beyond at work, compared to only 31% of actively disengaged employees, reports Bonusly.

But how can leaders achieve high employee engagement with employees that took a chance, did they best, and failed?

Notice how the acknowledgement above was for proactive action, not the end result.

Definitely, acknowledging accomplishments is an important addition to your workplace engagement ideas list. But so is acknowledging effort.

Remember, you want employees to trust you enough to keep learning, try again and give it their all.

How to Implement these Employee Engagement Ideas Without Getting Overwhelmed

For Better or worse, employee engagement doesn’t happen with a click of a button. It’s a process, but it’s possible, and there’s never been a better time to start than right now.

So how can leaders achieve high employee engagement quickly?

Choose one or two of the employee engagement ideas we covered here today – or maybe one area you want to improve, like creativity or talent retention.

Make a plan, set a schedule, designate a budget, and get going.

Don’t worry about doing all the things, or doing them perfectly.

Just implement them on a regular basis, and you’ll start building trust and positive emotions with your team.

If you need support in getting inspiration on how to improve employee engagement in your organization, contact Atobi here. We’re always ready. ATOBI is the leading employee engagement app for retailers and telcos with gamified execution and communication features. We have a full-suite app that enables you interact with your organization through ONE channel.

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