No-Cost Ways to Increase Employee Engagement

During the last great recession, we worked with a hospitality company who had a severe morale problem. The Chief People Officer recommended to the CEO that we conduct an employee engagement survey to determine the causes and potential solutions. The CEO resisted saying, “If we do a survey, they are going to expect us to do something, and we just aren’t in a financial position to do that right now.”

Was he right? Yes, if you survey employees, they do expect you to act on the results. And, no, because improving employee engagement need not cost an arm and a leg. Many executives assume that the only way to improve engagement is through increased compensation and richer benefits. That is not the case for most companies. Research by Deloitte has shown that while insufficient compensation is a key factor in employees’ leaving the company, increasing compensation is not correlated with increased engagement. Further, Deloitte’s research identified the five factors that do seem to drive engagement: meaningful work, hands-on management, positive work environment, growth opportunity, and trust in leadership.

In line with that thinking, here are seven no-cost ways to increase employee engagement (Source: Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)):

  1. The right tools for the job. By tools, we mean not only equipment but the policies and procedures that allow the work to be done, as well as organizational capabilities that employees can tap to get the job done. According to SHRM: An example might be “if security protocols require people to remember four or five different passwords to log in to the software they need to do their jobs, workers can become frustrated. They—and the company—likely would benefit from simpler procedures.” When you think about “tools,” keep your perspective broad – whatever it takes to do a job.
  2. Employees are individuals. Who doesn’t want to be treated like an individual? However, in today’s multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, muti-national, multi-generational workforce, it may be difficult to decide what kind of individual attention to give each employee. One constant: greater independence and autonomy. Giving employees more independence to decide how and when to do their jobs almost always increases employee engagement.
  3. Professional Development. Yes, there are training and coaching programs that cost money – sometimes a lot of money! However, there are also professional development opportunities that don’t cost money. Giving key employees an opportunity to work in a different department, or to be a part of an initiative or task force helps the employee gain skills and experience. Mentoring and coaching from more senior employees can help develop employees. There are also many, many free webinars and online courses that employees can access to develop additional skills.
  4. Just listen. Of course, one of the best ways to “listen” to employees is to conduct an objective survey. But if that’s just not in the budget, be sure you keep your door open and remain approachable. Employees have no problem letting you know how to improve processes and prevent problems. Just make sure you’re listening when they do so that you can take appropriate action. The flip side of this is also true: if employees don’t think you’re listening, they will check out, and you might miss critical information.
  5. Communicate, communicate, communicate. You really can’t communicate too much if you want engaged employees. Moreover, that doesn’t mean a lot more meetings. Communicate by walking around. Use social media to communicate with your employees. Send emails. Whatever it takes – keep the lines of communications open.
  6. Community service. Employees develop additional personal relationships and organizational pride in working together on a service project. Whether it’s building houses for Habitat for Humanity, serving meals in a soup kitchen, or cleaning up a park – the community needs your service, and it is rarely expensive to implement.
  7. Recognition for a job well done. Rewards and recognition increase employee engagement, especially if they are made public. Additionally, they give you an opportunity to express your company values and reinforce your culture. Throw confetti! Play loud music! Name the reward for something meaningful to your employees. Have fun with it and get everyone involved in the celebration.

So, the next time you think “increase employee engagement,” don’t start with your budget. Look at your employee engagement survey results and figure out where you can get the most bang for very little (or no!) bucks.