Employee engagement, including its relationship to job performance and worker retention, is a subject that’s become increasingly popular among HR professionals. And when you consider that employee disengagement is estimated to cost the U.S. economy more than $500 billion per year, it’s easy to see why the topic is on the tip of everyone’s tongue.
But when most employers start talking about employee engagement, they think of Silicon Valley’s classic ping-pong table lounges and catered on-site meals. And while there’s nothing wrong with these types of perks, implementing them can be expensive.
So what’s the young and growing company on a budget to do? Consider the following 11 strategies for increasing employee engagement – for free.
1. Recognize great employee performance with a handwritten note
According to Custom Insight, “Poor relationships between employees and their managers are a leading cause, if not the leading cause, of employee disengagement.”
It’s understandable. Who feels engaged when there’s no mutual respect or trust between boss and employee? The good news, however, is that this is a problem that’s easily – and freely – solved. Rather than confining feedback to annual performance reviews, encourage managers to give their subordinates hand-written notes expressing their gratitude in the moment.
2. Set up a walking challenge
Health perks – such as on-site gyms or meal plan reimbursements – are another oft-recommended strategy for boosting employee engagement. But again, they can be costly.
As an alternative, encourage employees to take part in an internal walking challenge (depending on the mobility status of your workforce). Hold meetings while walking around the office park or trek to lunch instead of driving. Offer the winner a free or cheap prize, such as…
3. Give prime parking as a reward
A while back, I heard a story from a friend who worked in private education about his school’s annual fundraising auction. Prizes on the block included luxury vacations and multi-course meals at the city’s top restaurants, but the perk that consistently went for the most money was a dedicated parking spot near the school’s front door.
It might sound simple, but try it with your staff. Turning prime parking into a symbol of prestige can be a fun way to keep employees engaged without extra costs.
4. Onboard right from the start
Onboarding represents an important opportunity to engage new workers, yet it’s one that many companies fail to capitalize on. Natalie Hackbarth of Quantum Workplace offers one unexpected strategy for enhancing your onboarding program:
“Assign new employees a buddy or mentor from another group or department to show them the ropes. This will give employees a chance to get to know coworkers outside of their immediate work group and help foster cross-team communication down the road. (Plus, this new confidant can help answer some important questions new employees might be hesitant to ask their managers or team members.)”
5. Let employees work from home
Working from home may actually cut your overhead costs, while also giving your employees a perk they can feel excited about. Data from SurePayroll suggests that:
“Eighty-six percent of those surveyed said they preferred to work alone to “hit maximum productivity.” What’s more, two-thirds of managers say employees who work remotely increase their overall productivity.”
That’s pretty much the definition of an employee engagement win-win.
6. Show that you value employee feedback
Employees want to be heard, so showing them that you care about what they have to say naturally boosts their engagement. Jay Friedman of Goodway Group, as interviewed by Hubworks, describes how his company treats employee feedback:
“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.”
7. Identify internal growth paths
One common complaint heard from workers – especially career-driven Millennials – is that opportunities for advancement within their current companies aren’t clear, leaving them to look externally for better options.
Combat this by explicitly designing internal growth plans with your employees. Ask them where they’d like to go, then help them to understand what they need to achieve to reach these levels. Show that you’re invested in their success with your company, and they’ll return the favor with loyalty and engagement.
8. Create in-house mentorship opportunities
The benefits of mentorship are well-established, but this engagement strategy can be made even more effective when paired with well-defined internal growth paths.
For instance, if an employee expresses interest in becoming a marketing exec, partner them with a high-level marketer in your organization. They’ll reinforce their understanding of what it’ll take to reach their goals, while simultaneously honing the skills that will get them there.
9. Give employees time off to volunteer
If you can, shut down your operations for a few hours so that your whole team can volunteer together. If you can’t afford the indirect costs of doing so, stagger available volunteer shifts so that employees can give back to the causes they care about without impacting their department’s productivity.
10. Empower employees at all levels to affect change
Employees – especially those at lower levels of your organization – feel disempowered if they believe their suggestions aren’t valued as highly as others’ input. Remember the lesson of Spencer Silver, a 3M employee whose adhesive development wasn’t seen as useful until Arthur Fry came up with the idea for the Post-It Note.
You never know where good ideas within your organization will come from. Make sure employees at all levels know they have the ability to impact the company’s future.
11. Survey your employees regularly
SnackNation, in a round-up post of employee engagement ideas, suggests using surveys regularly to find out how invested your workers are. Using a free tool, ask questions like the following suggestions from SnackNation’s Emil Shour:
- What’s the morale you see around you?
- How satisfied are you with your opportunities for professional growth?
- Do you have a good working relationship with your manager?
- Are you satisfied with your overall compensation?
Employee engagement isn’t limited to a few suggestions – it’s an attitude you practice every day at work. If you have other ideas to add to this list, leave them for me in the comments below:
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.