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4 employee engagement ideas: sure-fire AND time-tested

by | Jan 14, 2017 | people

 Are you repeatedly frustrated by what you perceive as a lack of employee commitment and growth- ie, a general lack of interest in continual improvement and skill refinement?  Have you made multiple attempts to execute various employee engagement ideas, with varying degrees of success?

The best employee engagement ideas are the ones that offer employees a vision. A vision of the true value of their work, the potential within themselves, and the benefit of their work to the company.

I could simply list employee engagement ideas here for you and leave you to their execution. And that would probably even be somewhat helpful. However, your engagement initiatives will also be more likely to succeed when you  first understand what employee engagement actually is and what factors can cause it to decrease (or be absent) in the first place.

before we get into the four employee engagement ideas, let’s answer these “engaging” questions:

What is a practical definition of employee engagement?

What factors cause employee engagement to decrease (or be absent)?

Why should it be important to you to increase employee engagement, as it is to most executives today?

Research indicates that workers have three prime needs: interesting work, recognition for doing a good job, and being let in on things that are going on in the company.

Zig Ziglar, American author, salesman and motivational speaker

Definition of employee engagement:

A person’s level of effectiveness, commitment, and loyalty to the job and company.

4 things that cause decreased employee engagement

It may be just a job

All too often many employees find it difficult to see how their contribution affects the company’s larger strategy.

Rather than communicating the worth or value of an employee’s effort, employers sometimes place a greater focus on ensuring only that the work gets done.

the war for talent is significant

Talent is now a key differentiator between companies.

Employees having high-demand skills could be more focused on the next great job rather than having longer tenure with their current company, especially if they can command more money, more vacation, lesser hours, etc.

A greater focus on work/life balance

Job commutes are becoming longer and more stressful.  Employers that offer jobs with less travel time or an option to work from home have an advantage over employers that do not offer these options. Advancements in technology allow this to become more common.

Conseqently, if your company doesn’t offer this flexibility some employees may be less engaged.

The perception of job transitions

Historically, employees that wanted to have a respectable resume would never change jobs within 1-2 years of starting at a company.

That view is fading.

As a result engagement is negatively affected since employees may care less about remaining with a company.

Why should employee engagement matter to you?

Employee turnover is expensive! The cost to retain talent is far less than the cost to recruit and train a replacement employee.

Furthermore, there is a quantifiable loss of productivity with new vs tenured employees.

median # of yrs (US Bureau of Labor statistics) that wage and salary workers stayed with the same employer in 2014

median # of yrs (US Bureau of Labor statistics) that wage and salary workers stayed with the same employer in 2016


percentage of executives stating that employee engagement is very important to their organization's overall success (2013 harvard business review study)


percentage of americans engaged in their job in any given year per Gallup research

The challenge with employee engagement is this: it can vary significantly from person to person. The larger your team – and the larger your company- the greater the difficulty in really understanding it completely.

But fear not. It certainly is not an overnight process, but there ARE proven and reliable ways to start increasing the overall commitment and effectiveness of your employees. Engagement is best managed and increased over time, rather than following a “checklist” approach to monitor task fulfillment.

I said part of this before (earlier on the page) but it is worth repeating again here:

Engagement is best managed and increased over time, rather than through following a “checklist” approach to monitor task fulfillment. The best employee engagement ideas are the ones that offer employees a vision. A vision of the true value of their work, the potential within themselves, and the benefit of their work to the company.

The following ideas and recommendations will empower you to increase employee engagement regardless of your environment or circumstance.

Here we go…

employee engagement idea #1:

increase the value of the work itself (here are 3 ways)


It has to be more than just a job!  It doesn’t have to be life and death but face it, many people tie part of their identity to their job or vocation.

Ask yourself this – when you meet a new person for the first time or when they meet you – what is one of the very first questions most people ask? What do you do?!

The first way to increase the value of the work itself is to:

Expand the job description to include purpose and significance within the company.

Most job descriptions have several bullet points that describe the expectations and goals of a job. However, most of those descriptions do not even mention its main purpose or overall benefit to the company.

So- communicate to your employees how important their role is in the overall success of the company.

This is especially important for positions in the back office, behind the scenes, or those that pay less since lower pay frequently is associated with the erroneous belief that the job is less important.   This best practice benefits these jobs quite well.

Here are some examples of what I’m referring to and how to expand the job’s importance. Click on each bar to see a way each position adds value to an organization.

This person makes the first impression on your potential client. First impressions are extremely important and are often used (correctly or not) to judge the overall attitude or even legitimacy of the company.
Invoice Processor

If the invoice is not sent (and conseqently not paid), your supplier will delay sending more product causing you to be out of stock.

The person processing invoices adds great value to the company by potentially directly affecting inventory!

Sales clerk

A poor customer experience with your employee can cause a customer not to shop with you in the future.

Alternatively, a positive experience (or even better, repeated positive experiences) with your employee can convert sporadic shoppers into long-term loyal customers. And loyal customers are good for word-of-mouth advertising.

Claims adjuster

A delay in filing or inaccurate record keeping by your adjuster may cause your customer to change insurance companies altogether.

Alternatively, a dedicated and efficient employee may increase customer referrals as well as contribute to the expansion of services/policies with current customers.

In summary, communicate the importance of the job and do it in terms that mean something, ie- this job increases sales, decreases cost, etc.

When employees recognize their work actually DOES contribute to the success of the company, they naturally engage more fully.

A second way to increase the value of the work:

Describe the job’s effect on the company brand and mission statement

Keep in mind and always communicate to your employees that it isn’t solely the responsibility of the marketing team to own, foster, and promote the company brand.

It is everyone’s responsibility. If you aren’t in marketing, I’m talking to you.

If your company has a mission statement, a brand statement, etc., describe to your employees the ways in which their job fulfills the company mission statement. This can increase employee perspective on the value of his or her work.

Communicate to your employees that a job performed well protects and promotes the company brand.

Alternatively, the brand suffers as a result of a job (or jobs) poorly performed.

A third way to increase the value of the work:



delegate as a one-time occurrence

Ask an employee to write a presentation, attend a meeting, or resolve an issue on the team.

Assign the task to one or more people and give them a deadline by which to complete the work.

These assignments promote greater employee ownership in the work while also increasing skills.

Delegate as a recurring task

This works in areas where you expect continual work such as process improvement.

Delegate to one or many. Ask for volunteers. Empower them to develop their own ideas and resolutions.

This method of delegation allows employees to engage by identifying and resolving their own problems.

employee engagement idea #2:

recognize employee contributions and increase your expectations of them

Recognition continues to be a very top contributor to increasing employee engagement. Whether you do so publicly or privately, recognize members of your team for their contributions and achievements.

It doesn’t have to be a big deal, unless you’d like to make it one!  But it can be small, consistent forms of recognition through email, letters, even small and brief conversations.  Your team wants to be recognized!

Here’s something about recognition that you may not realize:

Increasing your expectation of an employee can be (and IS) a form of recognition.

When you give higher profile assignments or higher level responsibilties to an employee, you communicate that you recognize their increased capabilities as well as their value and potential.

Increasing your expectations is NOT about getting 60 hours’ worth of work/value in a 40 hr/wk job.

Not at all!

It is an opportunity to increase engagement by promoting employee initiative and development.

Here are a couple of methods of recognizing employees by increasing expectations of them:

1. Assignments:

This applies to large or small tasks. Assigning work out is a wonderful, effective way to increase employee engagement. It promotes greater ownership in the work. It increases the skills and knowlege of team members. Here are some examples:

Instead of attending a meeting, can you send one of your direct reports?

Rather than taking a lead on developing or delivering a presentation, can you assign it to an appropriate candidate on your team?

You can always stay apprised of status and direction, but assigning work such as this is a good way to empower your team. In doing so, you increase employee stake in ownership and sharpen their ability to make decisions.

2. “Move” the work down:

This is another way to delegate but refers instead to things that involve groups of responsibilities vs assigning a specific task. If you have multiple job levels within your team, this is feasible.  For example:

Move a manager level responsibility to an individual contributor on your team.

Move an individual contributor responsibility to a group of entry level members of your team.

By moving/delegating responsibilities down, you increase the effectiveness of every role on your team. Your entire team or company benefits by making every level, even entry level, more capable. Consequently, they are more productive as time passes. Give it a try!

Employee engagement idea #3:

change your own perspective regarding scope of work and job titles

Everyone is a professional. If you’re not using the term “professional” in reference to everyone on your team or in your company, I suggest you change that immediately. I suggest you also discard the terms ‘hourly employee’, ‘entry level’, ‘non-degree’, etc.. These terms do harm to employee engagement initiatives. I DO recommend this approach:

Think of, treat, and refer to your employees as professionals.

Expect your employees to approach their jobs as professionals, including the expectation to self-motivate and continually learn.

When your employees are genuinely respected and treated as professionals, they feel more engaged within your company. These ideas are not always easily executed on a daily basis, but as a leader if you set the tone that everyone is a professional, you’re on your way to better engagement.

Manage it larger than it isYou may be asking yourself at this point how you can achieve some of these ideas. For example, if your sales team is 1 full and 2 part-time people. Or if you have only been out of school a couple of years and this is your first job. Or your team includes only 10 people while other teams at the same company have 50 people.

The answer is this: manage your career and your team as if it is larger than it is today. Here’s what I mean: it isn’t necessarily the size, but rather the value, the sophistication, the potential that is created by how you manage your world.

If your business has $250,000 annual sales, what mindset do you need to manage it as if its a $500,000 business?

If you’re in your mid-20’s, how would you approach your job if you were in your mid-30’s?

If your team is 10 people, how would your management philosophy change if there were 50 people instead?

Growth comes naturally with time. But I say you can change your philosophical mindset today without anyone’s permission. In fact, by managing it larger than it is, you can conseqently increase sales and efficiencies.

In addition, career opportunities may appear sooner because you’ve elevated your mindset. Not to mention this is an effective tool to increase employee engagement as well! Try it! I bet your team embraces this newfound philosophy.

Employee engagement idea #4:

share a message vs simply communicate

Without question, communication continues to be a cornerstone of successful leadership. Whether formal or informal, communication keeps your team and your company “in the know”.

Messaging, on the other hand, is enhanced communication focused on longer-term resultsRemember, you need to do both.

Here’s the difference between the two, followed by ideas on how to implement each:

Communication focuses on the HOW.

Communication relates to status, tactical, and instruction.

Communication AFFECTS your team’s ability to relate their job responsibilities, tasks, and goals to your team’s overall success.

Communicating frequently and effectively increases SHORT-TERM EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT.

Messaging focuses on the WHY.

Messaging relates to value, strategy, and direction.

Messaging INFLUENCES your team’s ability to see their value and performance as integral to the company’s long-term success.

Messaging frequently and effectively increases LONG-TERM EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT.

Implement these ideas to communicate with your team:

1. Individual conversations (1 on 1s). These can be formal or informal, since both are effective and beneficial. Employees may prefer this option as it allows them to receive and share information in confidence. These conversations can include hallway conversations, formal performance reviews, or status meetings to discuss specific topics.

2. Team or group meetings (“town halls”). As with 1 on 1s, they can be formal or informal. A benefit of group meetings is your employees benefit when they get to hear from their peers. Types of group meetings can include one-time meetings to discuss a specific topic, or they can be recurring (weekly, monthly, etc.) Team meetings save time by communicating to everyone at once.

The focus during BOTH types of meetings is on two-way communication. Focus on the content at hand as it relates to that individual during a 1 on 1 meeting, and as it relates to the team in a group meeting.

In both cases, it needs to be about THEIR work, concerns, and perspective. Ask what you can do for them. It should not always be about what they can do for you.

Implement these ideas to share a message with your team:

1. Set aside a larger amount of time than you might for a regular communication. I recommend at least 60 minutes for the meeting, especially if you plan to receive questions from the team or solicit feedback from them.

2. invite a larger audience when needed.  Messaging meetings could include others from outside your team to present special content.  In other cases, you may want to invite your own peers or even senior management since having them present will help solidify the importance of your message.

3. Plan to spend longer preparing for the meeting.  Preparation could take extra time depending on the format of your meeting.  Make sure you devote adequate time to developing your presentation, handout, or a list of specific points that you want to make.

4. Use team or group meetings only, rather than 1 on 1s. Sometimes group meetings can feel a little more formal and consequently they highlight the significance of the content you present.

5. Be prepared for more emotion, positive and negative. Messaging inherently involves more emotion than communication does, especially if you are announcing difficult or unwelcome changes. Explain the reasoning (the “why”) behind changes. Messaging your team allows you to receive feedback (good or bad), show empathy, and promote unity as a team. Engagement increases when everyone feels a part of the team.

Increasing your employee engagement is achievable when you commit to the time and effort required.  The time you spend to foster employee engagement will have a significant impact on your team’s performance and loyalty in the future.  

Start small, increase your confidence, and continue to build upon the employee engagement ideas and best practices that I’ve shared.  

I am confident that you will find over time that these types of activities will become more natural for you.  Your team will start to embrace these conversations and opportunities.  Employee performance will increase, employee engagement will increase, and you will become a better leader.


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