While programs aimed at boosting employee engagement have seen a surge in adoption, they have not significantly impacted overall employee engagement levels.
Similarly, employee engagement surveys are now commonplace in many organizations. However, their effectiveness in addressing engagement issues is limited, primarily due to a lack of action from leadership following these surveys.
Without a strong employee engagement strategy, with programs and initiatives in place that address the underlying causes of disengagement long-term, these surveys won’t help us fix the issues causing disengagement.
When it comes to engaging employees, surveys aren’t enough, though they are an essential step in the process. At the same time, forging ahead with employee engagement programs without the vital quantitative and qualitative data surveys can provide will doom those programs to failure.
To get the most out of employee engagement surveys, we need to make the measurement process ongoing and craft engagement strategies that involve incremental actions that are informed by employee feedback and the 14 universal needs employees have for thriving.
These strategies should be focused on achieving desired results through programs that sustainably meet employee needs and improve employee engagement now and in the future.
Six employee engagement programs for 2023 and beyond include programs that celebrate employee success, promote growth, establish a feedback loop, support well-being, focus on purpose, and build group belonging. These programs help organizations meet employee needs and improve engagement sustainably.
In this article, I’ll provide some background on employee engagement, discuss employee engagement programs and how they boost employee engagement, outline a simple four-step process for implementing effective employee engagement programs, explore the best employee engagement programs and initiatives for engaging employees in 2023 and beyond, and give a brief overview of some of the most effective employee engagement tools on the market.
Note: If you’d like to see a free video training program I created that will show you how to dramatically increase employee engagement in your organization in the next three months, just CLICK HERE for instant, free access.
What Is Employee Engagement?
Employee engagement is the connection employees feel to their workplaces, roles, and co-workers.
There are three categories of engagement: engaged, not engaged, and actively disengaged.
According to Gallup, an astounding 85% of employees are either not engaged or actively disengaged. Within that category, 67% are unengaged and are not invested in their organization’s success.
Disengagement can be a costly problem for organizations. At the average salary level, a disengaged employee can cost an organization nearly $16,000 annually.
Organizations with the highest employee engagement rates experience a 21% increase in profitability.
What Are Employee Engagement Programs?
Employee engagement initiatives and programs are a wide-scale strategy to improve the employee experience by providing opportunities for growth, succession, and development. Such programs can include initiatives like mentoring, coaching, feedback, career development, and opportunities to participate in decision-making.
Employee engagement programs support employees’ overall experience of their workplaces and roles, as well as their connections to colleagues, by meeting employee needs in ways that improve their motivation, increase satisfaction, and drive performance.
Employee engagement programs are often focused on communication, development, and well-being and tap into employees’ intrinsic motivation by connecting their daily tasks and activities to the organization’s goals and vision.
A study conducted by the Best Practice Institute revealed that individuals are prepared to sacrifice financial gains to be part of an organization that resonates with their personal values. Effective employee engagement programs help organizations leverage this to both boost engagement and increase alignment with core values.
Improving engagement and core values alignment among employees has many benefits for an organization, including improved retention, better recruitment, a greater competitive edge, more effective collaboration, and a more harmonious work environment. However, organizations will only recognize these benefits if they make engagement an ongoing quest for continuous improvement.
There are four important steps to follow to make employee engagement improvement an ongoing process, which I will discuss below.
How To Develop an Effective Employee Engagement Program that Will Quickly, Dramatically, and Sustainably Improve Results
There are four simple steps you can follow to quickly, dramatically, and sustainably improve employee engagement on your team or in your organization.
- Frequently remind leaders that their primary job is to inspire greatness
- Identify the needs people have for being engaged at work
- Get regular feedback on how well direct supervisors are meeting the universal needs people have for being engaged at work
- Help managers quickly respond to feedback by synchronizing feedback with training in bite-size bits
Let’s explore these steps in more detail.
Step 1 – Frequently Remind Leaders That Their Primary Job Is To Inspire Greatness
For an organization to thrive, it requires two crucial components. Firstly, the organization needs a robust strategy that clearly outlines its mission. Secondly, the organization must possess the capability to effectively implement this strategy.
Employee engagement serves as a key indicator of an organization’s ability to effectively implement its strategy. This is why organizations with high employee engagement levels are typically about 20% more productive and profitable compared to those with lower engagement levels.
Recognizing that employee engagement should be a paramount concern for an organization, on par with a successful strategy, makes it clear that this isn’t a task to be simply handed off to the HR team as some sort of “initiative” or “project.”
Employee engagement is a year-round consideration that everyone should be mindful of. Consequently, leaders at all levels need frequent reminders that their primary responsibility is to inspire excellence and engagement in their team members.
This perspective encourages them to prioritize activities that foster engagement, rather than solely concentrating on tasks and short-term metrics. It also makes them more likely to cultivate and maintain an environment that emphasizes the removal of barriers to employee engagement and supports employees in flourishing both professionally and personally.
Action Steps: All managers should print out a document that reminds them of what their primary job is. The document should read something like the following:
My primary job is to inspire greatness in my team by serving as a coach who helps people to be happy, great human beings, who do great work.
Leaders are encouraged to set up a calendar event as a reminder to revisit this document multiple times a day for at least a month. Each time they read it, they’re more likely to take action that brings out the best in their team members. As a result, team members will feel more valued and cared for.
Step 2 – Identify the Universal Needs People Have for Thriving at Work
The second step towards fostering an environment that enables employees to flourish both professionally and personally involves recognizing the universal needs that contribute to individual thriving.
Here’s some encouraging news! We’ve identified 14 universal needs that are crucial for thriving. These needs have a strong correlation with employee engagement and retention, and this is backed by several decades of research.
Clarity of Expectations: Uncertainty about what is expected of one can be a major cause of stress and frustration.
Having the Tools Required to Do One’s Job: Not having the necessary tools to perform one’s job can be a major cause of stress and frustration.
Doing Work That Leverages One’s Strengths: The more individuals engage in work that they are skilled at and take pleasure in, the higher their likelihood of being engaged.
Appreciation / Recognition: Individuals need to experience acknowledgment or gratitude for their efforts.
Growth: Individuals require consistent personal and professional development.
Feeling Like Opinion Matters / Is Heard: Individuals need to feel that their input is valued and their ideas are given due consideration.
Meaningful Work: The average person would give up roughly 23% of their income to do consistently meaningful work.
Excellence: Individuals naturally aspire to excel in their work.
Belonging: Having a good friend in the workplace significantly influences job retention.
Feedback: For growth, individuals require frequent and constructive feedback.
Autonomy: People need to feel that they have as much control over their lives as possible.
Trust: Individuals need to have trust in their colleagues, especially their superiors.
Well-Being: Adversely affecting well-being is strongly inversely related to both engagement and retention.
Feeling Cared for by Supervisor: Being cared for by a supervisor could be the most potent catalyst for engagement and the basis for fulfilling all other requirements.
Action Steps: Identify the needs employees need to have met to be inspired to consistently do great work. Now that you’re aware of the 14 universal needs for employees to thrive, you can shift your attention to the unique individual needs necessary for their success. These are often best recognized through meaningful 1:1 discussions led by their direct supervisors.
Step 3 – Get Regular Feedback (In Small Digestible Bits) On How Well Direct Supervisors Are Meeting the Universal Needs People Have for Being Engaged at Work
Once the universal needs for employees to thrive at work have been identified, it’s crucial for managers to regularly receive feedback from their direct reports on how effectively these needs are being met.
While large, comprehensive engagement surveys have their place later on, they’re generally not the best starting point for your efforts to consistently foster high levels of employee engagement.
Leadership is the foundation of engagement due to the pivotal role leaders play in molding the organizational culture, which subsequently shapes the employee experience. In fact, employees’ direct supervisors drive 70% of employee engagement and retention.
It’s considerably easier to assist supervisors in better meeting the needs of employees than it is to implement top-down, organization-wide cultural changes. Therefore, to support employees’ thriving and foster high levels of engagement, you should begin with a small survey consisting of just one or two questions.
This survey should focus on addressing a single element of the 14 universal needs that people have for thriving at work, which will yield the most significant impact. This allows employees to see action being taken on their feedback within days of completing the survey.
Research from Gallup, published in the book It’s The Manager, found that employee engagement is almost three times higher when employees strongly agree with the statement:
“My organization acts upon the results of surveys I complete.”
Action Steps: Begin with one small survey consisting of just one or two questions, aimed at addressing a single aspect of the 14 universal needs essential for employees to excel at work. The survey should remain open for a brief period of two to three days. While you might not receive responses from all employees on every survey, the promptness in acting upon the feedback received holds greater significance.
Step 4 – Help Managers Quickly Respond to Feedback by Synchronizing Feedback With Training in Bite-Size Bits
The most crucial strategy for rapidly and consistently improving employee engagement is to ensure that employees see significant actions being taken in response to their feedback as swiftly as possible. This action should aim to better fulfill one of the universal needs directly linked to employee engagement and retention.
Ideally, direct supervisors should initiate some measures to improve their capability to meet the addressed need within three to five working days after the survey concludes.
While this may seem unfeasible, there’s a simple hack that can help you promptly respond to feedback with ease.
Action Steps: Rather than receiving feedback from employees and subsequently spending time devising a plan to address shortcomings, it’s beneficial to have concise video training prepared in advance. This training should assist managers in more consistently fulfilling their employees’ needs, even before a survey is distributed.
For example, if you’re planning to circulate a survey on appreciation, you should already have a short training video in place. This training should concentrate on a simple practice for demonstrating appreciation more effectively. This way, managers can view and act upon the training as soon as they receive feedback from their direct reports.
This approach is extremely important for several reasons:
Supervisors Are More Receptive to Learning
One reason why most leadership training doesn’t succeed is that individuals aren’t as open to learning something new if they don’t perceive a deficiency in the area being taught.
However, when managers receive feedback from their team members indicating room for growth in a certain area, they are much more likely to desire improvement and be receptive to the training.
The second reason for having training prepared before the survey is distributed, and focusing it on addressing just one need, is that it prevents managers from being overwhelmed with multiple areas to improve. Instead, they have just one area to focus on.
If the training provides a few simple, actionable ideas for improvement in that one area, it’s much more likely that the managers will take some action. Moreover, as the managers are only working on one new leadership behavior at a time, they are much more likely to form a lasting habit and create lasting transformation.
People seldom change significantly as a result of learning something new, no matter how exciting the new knowledge is. Lasting transformation occurs gradually over time when we develop simple habits that are easy to maintain.
The third reason why this approach of timely, focused, short training is so effective is that it doesn’t interrupt the managers’ work for an extended period of training. Therefore, when they return to their workflow, they are less likely to feel overwhelmed with tasks they fell behind on.
With this approach, the manager likely only missed about 10 minutes or so, including the time to read the feedback, watch the training, and take the first steps towards forming a new habit for improvement. By taking less time out of a manager’s workflow, they’re more likely to act upon and retain what they learned in the training.
Immediate Action Seen by Employees
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, this approach of having quick, focused training ready before surveys are distributed also helps ensure that employees see action being taken on their feedback within days.
With this approach, you can establish a virtuous cycle of employees sharing feedback, feeling heard, and quickly seeing action taken on their feedback.
With each cycle of this simple yet powerful process, employees’ confidence and trust in their managers and the leadership team increase.
As previously stated, fostering trust alone can significantly enhance engagement and retention. This is corroborated by Gallup’s research, which indicates that engagement is almost tripled when employees strongly concur with the statement:
“My organization acts upon the results of surveys I complete.”
Note: If you’d like to see a free video training program I created that will show you how to dramatically increase employee engagement in your organization in the next three months, just CLICK HERE for instant, free access.
6 Employee Engagement Programs for 2023 and Beyond
The most effective employee engagement strategies are focused on meeting the 14 universal core needs I discussed earlier that drive engagement. Employee engagement programs should help meet these needs.
Here are six employee engagement programs for 2023 and beyond that can help organizations meet these 14 needs.
1. Celebrate Success: Recognition and Rewards Program
Recognition and praise enhance employee motivation as they validate and celebrate the diligence, accomplishments, and victories of employees, making them feel valued and impactful. Such recognition fosters trust, elevates team spirit, augments employee retention and loyalty, and improves performance, all contributing to improved engagement.
Here are some tips to keep in mind when recognizing employee achievements:
Authenticity: By identifying a praiseworthy aspect of the employee’s performance, your acknowledgment will be sincere and related to their job. For instance, you can acknowledge an employee’s capacity to stay calm under pressure or manage challenging customers with tact and professionalism.
Specificity: Recognition can be expressed in numerous ways, but it’s always more beneficial for employees when it zeroes in on a particular action or behavior. Instead of general statements like “great job,” pinpoint detailed facets of your employee’s performance to recognize.
Highlight their efforts: When an employee accomplishes something significant for the organization, it presents a wonderful opportunity to acknowledge them. However, results-oriented praise like “Congratulations on securing that major account!” or recognition that primarily focuses on profits can be less effective than commending the efforts your employee put forward to achieve that result.
Encourage team participation: While research unequivocally shows a connection between recognition from top leadership and enhanced job performance and loyalty, urging employees to compliment and acknowledge their co-workers’ achievements aids in reinforcing the organization’s strategy and inspires commitment, helping employees feel positive about their work.
In a recent conversation with Robert Hefner, Vice President of Human Resources at David Weekley Homes, we discussed the importance of recognizing achievements and celebrating organizational and employee success.
Examples: Social recognition, thank-you notes, service awards, customer service awards, employee appreciation events, employee recognition wall, weekly shout-outs (in-office or via social media), monetary awards, and employee of the month.
2. Promote Growth: Employee Development Program
A recent survey by the Pew Research Center revealed that one of the primary reasons US workers resigned from their jobs last year was a lack of advancement opportunities.
Establishing a transparent trajectory for employees’ growth, development, and progression shows employees that you want them to succeed. When they perceive that you value and foster their growth and provide them with the resources to evolve, it can significantly boost engagement.
Sara Canaday, author of Coaching Essentials for Managers: The Tools You Need to Ignite Greatness in Each Employee, advocates for leaders to implement developmental coaching (not merely performance coaching) to maintain employee engagement at work:
“One of the best ways to get team members more engaged is to spend time with them through developmental coaching. When you demonstrate that you genuinely care about their career aspirations and want to support them, you can bet those employees will be ‘all in.’ To do it well, you need to really get to know your employees—their strengths, challenges, and professional goals.”
Examples: Training, cross-training, career pathing, tuition reimbursement, leadership training, mentoring, coaching, knowledge sharing, employee resource groups, and robust onboarding programs.
3. Establish a Feedback Loop: Feedback Program
As previously stated, there are 14 fundamental needs that employees must have fulfilled to excel. Regularly assessing how effectively these needs are being met through surveys can offer invaluable feedback, which is essential for executing efficient strategies and making necessary adjustments.
Regular exchange of feedback can aid employees and leaders in establishing a continuous improvement process and involve employees in the engagement process, thereby enhancing the efficacy of engagement programs.
To harness the type of intrinsic motivation that enables employees to engage with and commit to their roles, it’s important to understand the tools they require and the barriers to success that need to be eliminated for them to perform exceptionally.
Besides the 14 universal needs, each employee will have additional needs that are unique to them. Obtaining feedback on how effectively these needs are being addressed is also vital for engaging employees. Weekly 1:1 meetings can serve as an excellent method for this.
Andrew Freedman, Business Leadership Today contributor and author of Thrive: The Leader’s Guide To Building A High-Performance Culture, says leaders should treat these meetings like the most important meeting of the week because they provide an opportunity to authentically connect with team members.
“One of the ways to use 1:1’s is to understand where your people are. How are they actually feeling and doing? And are there things you can do, including just being a good ear, for your people?”
Examples: Surveys, weekly 1:1 conversations, and stay interviews
4. Support Well-Being: Wellness Program
To truly meet this need sustainably, it’s necessary to cultivate a culture of health and wellness that bolsters employees’ mental and physical well-being.
In a culture of health and wellness, organizations take responsibility for the comprehensive well-being of team members by offering opportunities and choices that encourage healthy living. Nurturing the well-being of employees is a crucial aspect of a robust, caring culture.
Every organization can potentially impact the public’s health, whether it’s through the support they provide for their own employees’ health or the overall health of the community. By promoting a culture of health and wellness, organizations acknowledge their impact and utilize their capabilities and authority to care for their employees.
What does this entail in practice? In a situation where leaders must choose between achieving a short-term goal and prioritizing their team members’ well-being, the latter should take precedence. When dealing with heavy workloads and extended hours, the impact on work-life balance should be considered.
When employees are healthier both mentally and physically, they will use fewer sick days and will be happier and more engaged in their work. Maintaining work-life balance is crucial for keeping employees healthy and productive, and reducing stress and burnout can decrease turnover and absenteeism.
In this video, Brandi Olson, author of Real Flow: Break the Burnout Cycle and Unlock High Performance in the New World of Work explains why high performance and well-being go hand-in-hand.
She says, “Burnout surfaces as an individual problem, so we often try to solve it with individual solutions. The reality is that burnout is an organizational problem and needs organizational solutions. Burnout is the symptom of the problem—the root problem is what I call organizational multitasking: pursuing too many competing priorities at the same time, to the point that quality, outcomes, and people suffer.”
Examples: Flexible work schedules, gym memberships, and wellness programs that offer health and wellness services that make it easier for employees to adopt healthy lifestyle changes.
5. Focus on Purpose: Community Impact Program
Helping your team members see a bigger purpose in their work, find meaning in their day-to-day duties, and see the impact of the work they do can have a positive effect on motivation.
For many people, work aids them in fulfilling their desire to achieve objectives and effect change in the world. Occupying a role where one’s work is purposeful and holds a profound meaning beyond routine tasks improves motivation.
Effective leaders measure performance with impact. They use impact, rather than quotas or profits, as a measure of success, and help employees see the connection between their day-to-day activities and the larger mission and vision of the organization.
In this video, Brandi Olson explains why individual performance should be measured with impact instead of perceived productivity.
A sense of purpose at work not only gives the work employees do meaning; it also helps them unite with their co-workers and work successfully together toward shared goals.
Examples: Celebrating impact, volunteer time, workplace volunteer programs, and fundraisers.
6. Build Belonging: Team-Building Program
Fostering a sense of belonging at work boosts morale, enhances unity, facilitates collaboration, and is associated with increased motivation. It also safeguards against the development of a toxic work environment.
Cultivating a sense of belonging requires a psychologically safe work setting. Psychological safety is characterized by the conviction that one won’t face repercussions for posing questions, expressing concerns, or sharing ideas.
In a psychologically safe work environment, employees are motivated to contribute, partake in decision-making, and form genuine relationships with each other.
Employees need to experience psychological safety at work. They need to feel at ease expressing their true selves at work daily to form authentic bonds with their colleagues. A sense of belonging is crucial for fostering team cohesion.
To support a sense of belonging in the workplace, organizations should be dedicated to policies and strategies that promote an inclusive work environment for all employees and strengthen cohesion, cooperation, and collaboration.
To nurture this essential sense of belonging, it’s vital, especially with remote employees, to create opportunities for employees to familiarize themselves with each other, engage in one-on-one interactions, and enjoy shared experiences.
Examples: Water cooler conversations, team-building events, and gamifying collaboration.
Employee Engagement Tools
There are many tools that can be purchased that assess and boost employee engagement. Here are just a few:
My team and I developed a groundbreaking approach to employee engagement, retention, and high performance. PeopleThriver helps managers and team members build and sustain workplace cultures that drive high performance, while also making a positive impact on the well-being and growth of the managers, team members, and the communities they serve.
PeopleThriver is a repeatable, scalable system for improving engagement and retention that enables organizations to easily train all their managers to drive high levels of employee engagement and reduce turnover with simple habits they can stick to, without pulling managers away from work for long training sessions.
It utilizes the four-step process outlined in this article, including pulse surveys that gather valuable feedback from team members, and provides quick, five-minute training videos to help organizations quickly and dramatically improve engagement and retention without competing on pay.
Founded in 2009, Culture Amp enables organizations to conduct anonymous employee surveys, collect analytics for managers (including turnover prediction and team goal tracking), and convert the data collected into action to grow engagement.
Culture Amp offers customizable questions and templates, survey templates with benchmark data from all other users, and survey questions that are grouped into clusters representing specific aspects of the employee experience, a variety of analytics tools, Slack integration, live chat support, and other features.
Lattice is a people management platform focused on increasing employee engagement and improving performance by providing a customizable solution that teams can tailor to build a culture of continuous feedback, growth, and accountability.
Key features of Lattice include customizable employee engagement surveys that measure how valued employees feel, their faith in leadership, and how connected employees feel to their company’s mission, performance management tools to facilitate continuous performance improvements, 360 reviews to share ongoing feedback and recognition and track goals, and data analysis.
Bonusly is a platform that aims to improve employee engagement, motivation, and retention. It allows employees to give and receive small bonuses to recognize each other’s work, which can be redeemed for rewards that align with the organization’s culture and values.
Bonusly can be used on a variety of devices and platforms, including desktop, mobile, Slack, and Microsoft Teams.
Founded in 2017, Workvivo is an employee experience platform that simplifies internal communication to drive engagement. It combines advanced internal communication and engagement tools, a social intranet, and an employee app into a central hub.
Matt Tenney is an active CEO who aspires to create the best workplace culture in the world. Matt is also the author of Serve To Be Great: Leadership Lessons from a Prison, a Monastery, and a Boardroom, and The Mindfulness Edge: How to Rewire Your Brain for Leadership and Personal Excellence. Matt is frequently invited to present keynote speeches at leadership conferences and meetings. His TEDx Talk has been viewed over 1,000,000 times since January, 2020.