2 people smiling in meeting

The importance of employee engagement to companies cannot be overstated. With so many people opting to freelance or dropping out of the job market altogether, attracting and keeping great people matters to a company’s success today more than ever before.

Forbes.com defines employee engagement as “the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals.” As part of positive company culture, engendering that emotional commitment in team members improves everything from top candidate attraction and retention to the customer experience and company productivity. Therefore, the key question is: How does a company promote and maintain employee engagement?

Recognition and Appreciation

A blend of simple expressions of appreciation and a more formal company recognition program helps people feel important to the company. Companies create a positive daily atmosphere by encouraging leaders and managers to look for opportunities to praise team members for their ideas and effort. Praiseworthy efforts can include anything from good suggestions for procedural improvements to successful teamwork on a difficult project.

“When you see something, say something” takes on new meaning when it applies to seeing the good in people and saying something to recognize it. However, praise and recognition must be sincere and not overdone. Supervisors should reserve positive feedback for someone going above and beyond the call. People see through false praise and resent it rather than appreciate it, and faked appreciation reduces or negates the effectiveness of sincere recognition.

Routine recognition can sometimes be a smile or thumbs-up gesture. Verbal recognition can be given in front of the team or in a private, one-on-one meeting between a supervisor and the individual. An email or handwritten note works, too.

Some companies give their daily recognition efforts themes, which can be fun. For example, a company might have post-It notes printed in a thumbs-up shape, so a supervisor can add a thumbs-up note to a great report or leave a message on someone’s desk to recognize a great effort. Special pens printed with “Great Job”, work too, and having something like that encourages team members to recognize each other.

In addition to having and encouraging a positive and appreciative daily atmosphere, companies need a formal recognition program. They can have annual awards events to recognize great ideas, years of service benchmarks, companywide or team accomplishments, and individual achievements. While companies can’t recognize everyone, they should try to include as many people, groups, or departments as possible.

Treat People as Individuals

Team leaders and company managers must know their people as individuals. By learning about an individual’s family situation and understanding a person’s passions, leaders can show they care and become better coaches.

Being able to ask people about their families and homelife or hobbies tells employees they matter as people. For example, if a man’s wife is pregnant, asking him about preparations for and anticipation of the big day lets him know you see him as an individual and care about his family. When someone has a sick family member, expressing concern, and offering time off when needed, helps the person feel good about their employer.

By knowing someone on the team well enough to understand their goals, a supervisor might find a great learning or training opportunity for the person. Knowing they are taking a class at night and finding ways for the person to use the skills they are learning goes a long way towards building employee engagement. Good coaches match team members with projects that will challenge but interest them. Telling someone, “I know you like statistics, so I think you would enjoy working on this project,” shows them you know something about them and want to give them work they enjoy. When companies show they care, employees care more about the company.

Do the Unexpected

Work routines are necessary but can get monotonous. Companies can relieve the monotony and show they care about their people by doing something surprising. Surprising everyone with a catered lunch or afternoon ice cream break tells them the company understands how hard everyone works. Closing the office an hour or two early before a holiday weekend gives everyone a lift.

A CNBC article describes how LinkedIn fought the anxiety, and mental exhaustion people felt during the pandemic. They called their program “LiftUP.” It included providing a resource hub, fun events, and some “well-being days off and meeting-free days.” Events included music festivals and days filled with random acts of kindness.

Other companies have added game rooms, refreshed everyone’s office supplies, or added “wear your favorite T-shirt” days. Surprises can cost the company nothing, very little, or a significant amount, but the payback in employee engagement is usually worth whatever effort and money they spend.

Bonuses and Gifts

One very traditional method of companies showing team members they see and appreciate them is company bonuses. Many companies give year-end bonuses, but money given unexpectedly for everyone getting through a tough period or accomplishing a big goal makes a bigger difference, because it’s unanticipated.

As an alternative to bonuses, giving restaurant, online shopping, or store gift cards to everyone upon completion of a major project shows company employees they matter. Gift certificates and cards work well as part of any individual accomplishment or event, especially when given unexpectedly.

Corporate gifts, especially meaningful ones, given without advanced notice, express appreciation, too. Whether it’s gourmet coffee, a basket of snacks for the office, or some fun summer toys to take home to the family when schools close, getting gifts never gets old. Gifts for the family can be especially effective, because everyone likes being able to make their kids and spouse happy.

Companies must engage their employees to attract and keep the best people. When a company’s team members feel seen and appreciated as individuals, they feel more loyal. Employees respond positively when companies demonstrate their appreciation for everyone’s efforts and great attitudes. Whether by surprising everyone with pizza for lunch or declaring every Friday, meeting-free, thoughtful events and policy changes help strengthen bonds between companies and their people. Stronger bonds mean people stay longer.


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