by Michelle Kiss
Employee engagement is more than a buzzword.
Time and time again, studies have found that higher employee engagement rates contribute to greater productivity and with it, profitability. According to the Gallup State of the American Workplace Report companies were indicated to also experience 37% less absenteeism and 90% less turnover.
So, why do so few small businesses invest in employee engagement? Three words: budget, budget, and budget. With limited resources, it's easy to see why investing in employee engagement tends to dwell on the bottom of SMB to-do lists. But here's the good news. There are many low-cost ways for small businesses to increase employee engagement, and with it, foster a happy and healthy work environment.
1. Host a Brown Bag PresentationOften used for training or information sessions, a brown bag is an employee-hosted casual meeting during lunch with a short presentation on a topic that usually relates to the business. Participants bring their lunches, listen in, and ask questions. Learning from a fellow co-worker versus reading a 60-page PDF is certainly optimal, and far more memorable.
2. Take a Half Day and Hang OutFriday is known to be the least productive day of the week. The work slows down, people slip off to happy hour, and slam their computers shut at 3:00. Once in a while, encourage a final boost of productivity by offering a half day and then afterwards getting the team together for an outdoor event. This can be anything from a picnic in the park to a department-vs-department sporting event to a relaxing barbeque where employees can invite friends and family.
3. Try to Complete an Escape RoomAn escape room is a physical adventure game, where puzzles and riddles have to be solved using clues and other strategies to get from one room to another. Perfect for the small company, escape rooms are known for encouraging teamwork. Learning to communicate with each other and solve puzzles is a positive skill that is directly transferred to the workplace. Another plus is seeing how individuals think and come up with solutions so you know the best person to bring certain problems to.
4. Host Work ClubsEver notice how certain hobbies bring about like-minded people? There can be different work clubs for beer, fantasy football, improv, and more! They’re a great way to change the conversation from purely work to personal life, and offer an environment to develop friendships in. When co-workers are also friends, they’ll be more likely to help each other out at work, which makes working less stressful and more enjoyable. A workplace comprised of good friends consists of better communication and greater engagement as a whole, which means they’ll be sticking around for a while. The Society for Human Resources Management found that the more friends an employee has at work, the more likely they are to reject another job offer.
5. Make Onboarding and Learning FunEver have a job where you’re told that the first few months are like drinking out of a firehose? It can be stressful to have to learn so much in such a short time. If you have a lot of new information for employees to learn, you can make things easier by gamifying the process. Whether you have unique terminology for your line of business, lots of stats, or case studies, there are all sorts of creative ways you can incentivize learning. Encourage competition and set up an afternoon trivia game between teams, or hand out personal quizzes and set a timer. (Don’t forget the prizes!) Once onboarding is finished, have your new employees present to the larger team to ensure they understand the rules, regulations, and processes at your business.
6. Ask for Feedback Often — and Act upon ItEveryone wants to be heard. This is as true in the office as it is anywhere. Make it clear that you care and want all feedback — the good, the bad, the ugly. Then actually do something. Let your team know what you are changing or implementing based on what feedback was received. Connecting the feedback to real change makes employees feel valued and appreciated. The smaller a business is, the fewer decision makers there are. To act in the majority’s best interest, bring your employees’ voices in to help make decisions. Send out surveys on which snacks they’d like, how to utilize a currently empty room, or which brown bag topic they’d like next. Knowing one is heard and respected provides a huge incentive to stay.
7. Promote Perks That Support Physical and Mental HealthAs a small business, providing great care is expensive. It also eats away at other perks you could be offering, and when 4 out of 5 employees want benefits more than a pay raise, it’s time to get with the program. Try giving a stipend each month to go to exercise classes or see a nutritionist. Consider including employee benefits packages. Employees will love the perks, be more encouraged to make healthy decisions, and feel that you really care about their well-being. Healthy employees also need less sick time, get more done, and are generally happier!
8. Offer Healthy SnacksMore and more, employees are expecting snacks in the office. (I blame the millennials!) You can help everyone out by offering snacks that give your team energy without the sugar crash. No more digging into the receptionist’s candy bowl — make it a fruit bowl. Healthy food improves concentration, provides lasting energy, helps with digestion, and overall increases happiness levels. For snacks consider having avocados, blueberries, nuts, and other fruits to munch on.
9. Ongoing Training and MentorshipOnce onboarding is complete, that shouldn’t mark the end of learning. Employees who are consistently challenged are more engaged! Communicate with employees and find out who their mentors are. Make an effort to connect young employees with other mentors you know of to help them grow. This will help build solid work experience, and offer your employees a way to grow their skills, their network, and their careers.
10. Bring in Motivational SpeakersThis idea may be skipped over more than it should be. Having a good motivational speaker can do wonders. Think about your favorite pep talk or an inspiring speech from your favorite movie. Goosebumps, right? You’d watch it on YouTube the night before your 5,000 word essay you haven’t started and bang it out. Now, imagine hearing one for real. It may sound cheesy, but motivational speakers can be genuinely inspiring, and a good story can reignite some fading embers and inspire your employees to reach farther and work harder.
11. Sip'n'paint Night Vs Hackathon (Creatives vs Brainiacs)Know what employees appreciate? Choices. Have activities geared more toward right-brained individuals, and activities geared more toward left-brained individuals. Then, encourage full participation at both! Each event will have different stars of the show, and give others the opportunity to try something new. Add in a little wine, and those not holding a paintbrush or clicking away can mingle and chat with others.
12. Create a Comfortable Work SpaceThink about it. When your back hurts, when the sun is too bright, when the coffee machine is broken — are you really thinking about work? Make sure your employees have all the supplies they need to feel comfortable and focus for longer periods of time. Keep snacks stocked, the AC at a reasonable level, and be willing to invest in good chairs and more. Making the office feel like the home office will increase productivity and satisfaction. If you could use a time tracker to see how many hours your team spends in the office, you would agree: It’s time for better chairs.
13. SWAGEveryone has seen the company backpacks, fleeces, and water bottles. They’re useful, memorable, and pretty cool! It’s a great way to get the word out when others see them and ask about the company, and employees can feel company pride using them. Some kind of onboarding goodie bag is a treat, and having smaller knick knacks to give away such as bottle openers and stickers are also fun for employees. Never underestimate the value of SWAG, it really is something that employees talk about and want to have.
14. Performance-based PromotionsRetention, you say? Millennials are notorious for job hopping, staying at the same company between 18 months and 3 years. Giving promotions based on performance rather than tenure can motivate employees to stick around longer if they continue to advance. Emphasizing performance will encourage more consistent communication between leaders and employees, build trust, and strengthen mutual respect. These take time and dedication to achieve, something an engaged employee won’t want to lose so soon.
15. Freedom in the OfficeIn 1981, Adam Osborne invented the very first laptop, “Osborne 1”. With all the major technological advancements made to computers since, laptops are more portable and cheaper than ever before, and there should be no excuse as to why any employee shouldn’t have access to one. Being constrained to a desk for several consecutive hours has been shown to cause back pain, migraines, and dangerous blood clots. Instead, have employees freely move to rooms they can concentrate better in, stretch their legs throughout the day, and reap the benefits of a more productive, happy employee.
Investing in your employees’ happiness and education is the key to fostering employee engagement, and will ultimately benefit the both of you in the long term.