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The Definitive Guide to Employee Engagement

perfect for a 36 minute break written by Sander Decuyper

This employee engagement guide was created as a detailed instruction manual for managers, HR professionals & CEOs who struggle with the concept of an engaged workforce. Its purpose is to provide you with a 2019 employee engagement blueprint that works and makes you aware of the enormous cost of disengaged employees. A lot of work and effort went into this guide - we’ll consider it worthwhile if you take even one concept and can implement it in a way that increases employee engagement in your organization.”
— Koen Stevens, CEO Ambassify

This employee engagement guide will teach you:

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Best Buy makes millions in extra revenue thanks to employee engagement

When Best Buy’s Store 484 in Manchester, Connecticut, was going through a tough time the regional manager, Eric Taverna, was wise enough not to look for the problem outside of the premises. Instead, he turned to employee engagement metrics, which showed that people working inside the store were not happy with their managers, their coworkers, or certain company policies.

At Best Buy, an increase of just 0.1 points in employee engagement results in an extra $100,000 in revenue for just one store.

After implementing some changes — laying off slackers, getting all the managers on the same page, and instituting a “team store close” — things started to pick up. Store 484 quickly became a huge employee-engagement-done-right success story1, shooting up to the top 10% of workgroups in Gallup’s database. 

It also started to recover financially and saw bottom-line gains that prompted other Best Buy stores across the US to take a look at exactly what Store 484 was doing right.

According to their own data, an increase of mere 0.1 points in employee engagement brings in an extra $100,000 in yearly revenue! Best Buy has 1008 stores around the world, which means that those 0.1 points result in millions added to their bottom line every year!

“There are only three measurements that tell you nearly everything you need to know about your organization’s overall performance: employee engagement, customer satisfaction, and cash flow. It goes without saying that no company, small or large, can win over the long run without energized employees who believe in the mission and understand how to achieve it.”

Jack Welch former CEO of General Electric

Everyone in the business world knows about the concept of employee engagement. The executives know about it, and the managers know about it — it even rolls off the tongues of frontline employees. It’s a very familiar concept, to say the least.

Seeing what employee engagement can do when leveraged correctly the question remains: “Why isn’t everyone excelling at it?”

In our opinion, it’s because companies don’t know that even slightly more engaged employees can bring about a huge business transformation. When your company’s “barricades” are manned by employees that are giving it their 110%, the retention rates go up, your customers are more satisfied, and your sales go through the roof.

That’s why we’ve created this ultimate employee engagement guide to explain, in plain English, the benefits your company stands to gain if you choose to shift your focus inward, to your own employees, to inspire them to do better each and every day.

Let’s get started on it!

What is employee engagement?

As we already mentioned, employee engagement is not something new. The term first appears in a 1990 article published in the Academy of Management Journal and written by William A. Khan. It’s probably safe to assume that management experts have been discussing it, in one form or another, for many years prior to that.

Before we move on to what employee engagement actually is, it’s important to understand what it’s not. Old school managers tend to scoff at it, calling it a ‘hippie’ idea according to which ‘everyone needs to be happy at work’. However, it’s much more than that. While happiness and satisfaction at the job are important within the concept of employee engagement, they are not what it’s all about.

So, to sum up, employee engagement is NOT:

  • Employee happiness — employees can be happy, yet unproductive, unmotivated, and lost at their job. Being happy at work is great but if it doesn’t translate into results, it’s not worth much from a company’s perspective.

  • Employee satisfaction — it’s easy to be satisfied with your job and still be disengaged. A lot of employees are collecting a decent paycheck, doing little to no work, and clocking out early. What reason do they have to be unsatisfied?

  • Employee wellbeing — you have a gym on the premises? Offer healthy snacks and discounted massages? It’s all just extra (unnecessary) costs unless your employees are delivering more because of it.

Your employees can be happy coming to work, satisfied with what they do and how they do it, and be healthy thanks to everything you do to keep them that way. However, if that doesn’t translate into elevated performance, we’re not talking about engaged employees.

“Employee engagement is a collection of psychological forces that determine the direction of a person's behavior in an organisation and their level of effort and persistence"

Gareth Jones

It’s a real mouthful, isn’t it?

Which is why we prefer this cleaner, simpler version offered by “Employee Engagement” author Emma Bridger:

"Employee engagement is defined by the willingness of your employees to continually go that extra mile for the company because you’ve managed to make success a matter of personal pride for them”.

This definition captures the essence of why engaged employees are worth their weight in gold. They always do their work diligently and with a “pedal to the metal” attitude because doing any less than that would be a personal failure.

What sets engaged employees apart?


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Why employee engagement matters — the service-profit chain and engagement statistics

Engagement (or disengagement) is something that partially shapes every employee — their focus, work ethics, and performance. And, since everyone’s work affects the bottom line of a company, it’s safe to say that engagement has a profound effect on every aspect of a business endeavor. This is called the Service-Profit Chain, and it was first theorized about by Harvard researchers way back in the nineteen nineties.

Here’s a visual representation of the Service-Profit Chain for easier understanding:


As you can see, engaged employees account for a lot of value that, ultimately, results in profit. One of the responsibilities of an organization is to create the conditions that allow this natural flow to happen.

Research firm Gallup takes employee engagement seriously and collects empirical data that confirms that it’s not a concept cooked up by bored HR professionals. While those positive engagement stats are heartwarming to look at, as a leader, you should be more concerned with the impact of disengaged employees, which can be profound and crippling to the economy.

Employee engagement statistics

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Employee disengagement statistics

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The link between employee engagement and employer branding

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Before shifting our focus to the elements that drive employee engagement, let’s take a brief moment to discuss the link between engagement and employer branding.

Employer branding refers to a set of practices a business adopts in order to become more attractive to top talent. 

As any HR professional will tell you, hiring the right person for the job is becoming increasingly more difficult with every passing year. Thanks to the global internet coverage, qualified employees can pretty much choose who to work for, and where they are in the world is becoming less and less important every day.

Employee engagement is intimately connected with employer branding. According to research conducted by Human Resources Today2, the biggest indicator of whether or not an employee will recommend the company they work for is the company’s culture.


“How an employee rates “culture and values” is 4.9 times more predictive of a company’s recommendation than “salary and benefits”. “Career opportunities” follow closely, being 4.5 times more predictive than “salary and benefits”, with the third place going to “confidence in senior management” - 4 times more predictive.”

John Bersin, Global HR Industry Analyst

It is evident from this that companies that score high on culture, high on career opportunities, and high on overall satisfaction with leadership and values can count on a recommendation from their employees. Of course, when companies score high on these things, it’s almost certain that their employees are highly engaged.

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Working on your employee engagement levels will not only results in increased productivity (and, ultimately, revenue), it will also make you more attractive to the talent you want working for you. It will mean a smoother hiring process with less settling for potential hires that are just “good enough” — because “good enough” isn’t really good enough. You want the best working for you and not your competitors.

The 7 supporting elements of employee engagement

Once in a blue moon, an engaged employee — someone who delivers more in every aspect of their job, and does so consistently — just....happens. The stars simply align for them and the company they work for. They love their position; they have a great relationship with their managers and peers; they have a sense of overall purpose in their life - all the bits and pieces simply click together.

For most companies, however, creating an engaged workforce is a conscious effort. It requires planning and resources, and it takes time. This is especially true if you’re trying to boost employee engagement throughout your organization.

One great employee is an outlier — a company full of great employees is a powerhouse that was grown through management’s dedication to hundreds of little details.

True employee engagement happens when employees are emotionally invested: when they care about the company's purpose, their role in that purpose, and their coworkers. You can help that process along by focusing on the things that matter. We identified those things and named them the 7 supporting elements of employee engagement.

Let’s explore them together

Company-employee value alignment

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People prefer to work for companies they feel represent them and their particular values. When that connection exists, the mere act of going to work becomes something far greater — it becomes an adventure in which they a) do something meaningful that they like, and b) they get to hang out with like-minded people that feel the same. 

Companies that have a culture-growing mindset thrive because they cultivate brand evangelists who are committed and enthusiastic about the job they do.

Those companies that do not invest in creating a company culture that represents them and their core values turn into a set of revolving doors through which the best employees enter and exist, never staying for very long.

Every great company has its “why”. In its most basic form, it appears in their mission statements. Here’s a few of them:

  • IKEA — to create a better everyday life for the many, not the few.
  • JetBlue — to inspire humanity – both in the air and on the ground.
  • Tesla — to accelerate the world's transition to sustainable energy.

Hidden in these simple statements is the reason why most of the employees of these companies get up to go to work. They are inspired to do great every day because they know they are working towards a common, greater goal. But, this only works when everyone is on the same page.

If employees feel that there’s a disconnect between their values and those of the company, they will be less enthusiastic about everything they do. They won’t give it their 100%. That’s where management needs to step in. It’s your job — either as an executive or a manager — to work on developing a concise, clear “why” of your company, as well as to define the values that go with it. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to lead by example in all things, including upholding the tenets of your company culture.

Company culture alignment action steps

  • Find your WHY — if they haven’t already, the founders (or the board) should sit down and write a concise statement that answers why the company exists in the first place (hint — “making money” is never the correct answer).  What would get them, and everyone else working there, out of bed in the morning?

  • Craft an inspired mission statement — aim for one or two sentences that describe the problem you exist to solve. Attach underlying values to that sentence — a couple of authentic and actionable processes and standards that help you achieve your mission.

  • Work on developing a company culture that’s based on that mission and values — everyone in the company should know about your why. It needs to be reflected in how you communicate, do business, hire people, and everything else. Every employee who is not aware of your mission cannot fully contribute to it.

  • Base all your programs and activities on your values — if one of your core values is providing excellent customer service, a yearly award honoring employees that exemplify that should be implemented. Also, social and team-building activities that help employees practice this particular skill need to be emphasized.

  • Set an example and be consistent — no one in the company is exempt from adhering to company values. This applies to top management, and even the owners, as much as it does to line employees. Hold everyone to the same standard, and make sure that they reflect your why in a way that makes everyone who knows about it proud.

Professional and personal growth opportunities

A company that treats its employees as an expendable commodity is a company with no future. We can’t put it in simpler terms. If your employees feel like it’s them giving, all the time, without getting anything in return, they will have zero remorse when an opportunity to leave comes along. If anything, in that kind of environment, they already have one foot out the door and are actively looking to replace you.

Personal growth and development opportunities are a very important part of a company culture that supports and actively encourages employee engagement. Employees need to know that they are worth your investment when they are growing their professional and personal skill-sets. Otherwise, they will be checking out, and sooner rather than later.

It’s the tech giants that have changed the paradigm for every other business in the world. In places like Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and others, continuous learning is a necessity, and the resources are always readily available. That’s because most of these companies treat employees as capital, not as a resource. They understand that people can be shaped, molded, and improved so that they execute their tasks more efficiently. And, psychologically, people are wired to always strive for betterment so the equation balances out. 

Simply put, people want to learn stuff, whether they know it or not. If you want to keep them, you need to provide them with an environment that recognizes and encourages that.

  • Learning is a process, not an event — employees are never done learning at their job, similarly to how they are never done learning in their personal lives.

  • Learning happens in real-life — learning happens when we are faced with a challenge, with an obstacle we need to overcome, regardless of whether it’s personal or professional.

  • Everyone learns differently — employees have different learning styles, and your processes and strategies need to be flexible enough to accommodate that.

  • Learning is a social activity — people learn things from other people. Making sure that your employees are comfortable enough around their peers to ask for advice can be of great help when it comes to their professional and personal growth.

Tips on tackling employee development and growth issues head-on

  • Educate managers on the value of learning — people in key positions should actively encourage employees to take advantage of company resources. Whenever they see potential being wasted, they should be confident enough (and supported) to encourage employees to pursue a path that will help them grow their careers.

  • Make learning comfortable, easy, and available — this means having in-house learning materials and programs or subsidizing formal education. It also means teaching employees that allocating a percentage of work hours into professional development (and mastering a new skill) is preferable to delivering sub-par results.

  • Encourage passion projects & cross-departmental collaboration — most employees have a pet project related to their role (or your Why) somewhere in them that they are dying to work on. Allow them to allocate a percentage of their work time to that project, and encourage making it an opportunity to meet and socialize with people from other departments.

  • Subsidize personal growth & betterment — instead of investing money in all-too-frequent team-building outings, make it available for personalized classes, courses, and activities that make it easier for employees to pursue something they’ve always wanted but found cost-prohibitive.

Employee health and wellbeing

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Our jobs are slowly killing us. We’re not being overly dramatic here — scientific research shows that this is actually true. A recent study3 links sedentary workplaces and job descriptions with negative long-term health consequences. These include increased chances of diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and early death.

How can we expect employees to give their 100% if the mere act of coming into work is a nail in the proverbial coffin? It’s simply not realistic.

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Additionally, employee engagement is strongly linked to the perceived impact of work on physical health. According to Gallup4, close to 62% of employees who identify as strongly engaged feel that their work has a positive effect on their physical wellbeing. 

That’s because they work in companies that actually invest in making them feel good. This means that employee health should not be viewed as a cost, ever. It’s an opportunity to save money by increasing productivity, and decreasing sick days and employee churn.

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When focusing on employee health, you should strive to design programs that are physical, long-term, competitive, and fun. Also, they should be voluntary — your employees should not be pressured to participate because that could result in a backlash. Instead of mandating a run or a gym visit, design the program and create some hype around that so that employees feel as if they are missing out if they are not participating.

Healthy snack options also play a part in overall employee health. Most employees will eat at least one full meal while on the job. If you can make sure that it’s a healthy meal, and offer some variety while at it, your employees will thank you for it.

Google offers a lot of benefits to its employees, including great health insurance and a robust 401K plan. That said, most Googlers find their food choices to be the biggest perk of the job. They are so impressed with it that, when commenting on Glassdoor.com, they mention it almost X4 more than the next best thing! So, if you want to really impress your employees, go the Google route - not only will their health and productivity benefit from it, but they will also appreciate you more.

Google review

Blueprint for a healthy, productive company

  • Build health and wellness programs that are long-term & robust — a healthy lifestyle is not about hitting the gym every day. It’s about building a culture that values physical activity.

    Making moving around a part of the daily routine — holding walking meetings, avoiding the use of the elevator, and investing in standing desks are just some of the things that you could implement.
  • Gamify the experience through competition and technology — a bit of friendly rivalry can go a long way when it comes to employee buy-in. You can organize company-wide challenges and have departments competing with one another for symbolic prizes to be given out quarterly. Keep track of everyone’s progress by providing them with digital fitness trackers.

  • Bring in personal trainers — or yoga instructors, marathon coaches, deadlift experts — really, any professional that can shake up your employees with something new and exciting. Do this on a regular basis. If you don’t have the space for it, schedule the workout in your local park on a sunny day.

  • Subsidize a gym membership — employees like to take advantage of job perks. Offer to cover the cost (or part) of their regular gym membership. Think about it as investing in your business because healthy, active employees are more productive.

  • Provide easy access to healthy snacks — if you can’t go all out and have a fully-equipped kitchen in your offices, at least make sure that your break room is stocked with healthy snacks and organic fruit juices. It’s an employee engagement game-changer at Google — why wouldn’t it be in your company?

  • Promote mental health awareness — keep employee depression and anxiety at bay by letting people know that it’s OK to talk about it. Have mental health systems in place that allow you to provide access to a trained professional when need it, or support and subsidize an employee’s effort to get help.

Employee advocacy made easy

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  • Employee engagement and employee advocacy are two distinct but very connected things. In fact, it’s safe to say that fully engaged employees are one of the best ambassadors that a company can have (the statistics shared below should be proof enough). They are happy and satisfied at work for all the right reasons, which means that they are more inclined to talk about their company in a positive light.
    Interestingly, though, a well-thought-out advocacy program can also help boost employee engagement.

  • Advocacy creates a feeling of greater involvement — employees who are involved in creating and sharing company-centric content feel connected to it. The fact that they are doing something that directly influences how their company is perceived creates a sense of belonging, which, in turn, boosts their engagement levels.

  • It provides a personal branding opportunity — more and more people are becoming acutely aware that, to advance their career, they need to build a personal brand. Advocacy programs provide a good outlet for that — a ready-made platform (and content) that they can use to build their name in the industry. Of course, all of this makes work hit closer to home (since it’s now personal, as well), which is why they are generally more engaged when carrying out their tasks.

  • An element of gamification (& excitement) gets added to the mix — competing against fellow coworkers can be fun, and can drive employees to invest a lot of effort into advocacy activities. And, as we know, fun, happiness, and satisfaction are key components of employee engagement — when they go up, the overall engagement with work goes up, too.

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If you’re not already harnessing the power of employee advocacy, you should definitely consider doing so. Nothing beats an enthusiastic employee when it comes to selling your company and its products and services. The accompanying boost in employee engagement is just the icing on the cake.

How to fast-track your employee advocacy program

  • Select an enthusiastic advocacy team — while you don’t need to have a formal advocacy officer, it’s important to create a core team that’s excited about the opportunities that employee advocacy brings. Make sure that the team has at least one top management member — they will help with internal obstacles.

  • Choose your advocacy platform wisely — Ambassify makes employee advocacy a breeze — it’s intuitive, easy to set up and use, and has all the features you need to gamify the experience. What you don’t want is a complicated advocacy solution that makes employees feel like they are doing extra work.

  • Get employees hooked with low-hanging fruit — before moving onto big asks, create challenges that are easy to do - social media shares, likes, and similar. Once people get a feel for the platform, they are more likely to set aside some extra time for more time-consuming challenges, such as writing a post, reviewing the company on Glassdoor.com, and similar.

  • Make rewards achievable and attractive — rewards should be unique to your company, or come with bragging rights — a chance to sit on the next board meeting, or a dinner with the CEO. They should also be realistically achievable. A high rewards threshold will only discourage employees from participating.

  • Share the impact results with your employees — people will like to know that what they are doing is contributing to the bottom line. Every few months, share a couple of business wins that would not have been possible without the employees active in the advocacy program.

People-focused managers that know how to grow teams

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It’s amazing how much of an impact your leadership pipeline has on the overall employee engagement levels in your company. Let’s put it like this — even if you are getting stellar marks on every other item on this long list, if your managers are sub-par, most of your employees will be disengaged at work.

As the old adage goes, “People don’t quit bad jobs, they quit bad managers”.

In a study published in 2009 by the Harvard Business Review5, 58% of employees interviewed said that they trust complete strangers more than their boss. 

Until companies start producing better managers who are focused on the employees they are managing instead of exclusively on the bottom line, they will never achieve the level of employee engagement that can make a true difference in their business.


Copyright: Dilbert.com, Scott Adams

Middle management is especially important in this context. These are the managers who are in direct contact with most of the rank and file employees. They are in the trenches, executing strategies, running meetings, giving pep talks and feedback, and dealing with everyday office activities.

In short, if the middle management is not doing a good job, it’s felt by your whole organization!

How do good managers look like? Every one of them brings something different and unique to the table, but here are some of the characteristics they all share:

  • Vision and the decisiveness to execute it — a good manager understands the why of the company, and it’s easy for them to explain it to the people that report to them. They are also assertive, and employees follow their lead, even in uncertain situations.

  • Strong team-building skills — a good manager knows how to instill their employees with a spirit of togetherness. They often dip into their personal time to help build the right personal and emotional connections so that their team flourishes.

  • The ability to motivate and inspire people — managers inspire by knowing the company’s why and giving 110% to achieve it. They also recognize when employees go above and beyond and are not stingy with praise - a pat on the back costs absolutely nothing but it can be a very powerful motivator.

  • The ability to set clear goals and hold people accountable — with the right manager, every member of the team knows exactly what’s expected of them. Nothing kills employee engagement more than a horde of people walking around the office aimlessly. A good manager sets goals, assigns tasks, helps people excel, and holds others (and themselves) accountable.

  • Feedback-giving skills — every manager needs to know how to give constructive feedback to employees. This feedback needs to be timely, constructive, targeted, and something that an employee can actually use to improve in a particular segment of their job.


All these characteristics are equally important tools in the arsenal of good managers. However, if you want to focus on just a few things at a time, focus on the motivational and feedback skills of your managers first.

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Also, when it comes to feedback, a lot of managers don’t know how to help employees improve, or to even explain what it is that’s expected of them in the self-improvement department. That’s worrying because studies have shown that employees that get regular actionable feedback from their managers score much better when it comes to workplace engagement. Giving feedback is a skill that can be learned so make sure you’re managers have ample opportunities to practice.



Growing a management team that focuses on employee engagement

  • Hire and promote the right people — don’t base your selection purely on performance — a great performer might not have the people skills necessary to manage a group of employees. Instead, look for a mix of performance, culture fit, and empathy. Managers who can’t put themselves in the shoes of their employees can’t really understand and inspire them and are rarely successful.

  • Train them to do the right thing from the start —managers should not be left to guess what’s expected of them. Make sure you have written managerial guidelines that cover most (if not all) manager-employee scenarios.

  • Invest in their growth — while not everyone can be a good manager, people with the aptitude for it might also need some training. Make this training available by inviting HR guest speakers and leading experts to share their knowledge with your middle management team.

  • Hold managers accountable — improving the engagement of direct reports should be one of the KPIs for your managers. Stress that fact, and make it clear that you will be holding them accountable for the development and the growth of their teams.

Recognition and rewards done right

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Money and benefits are important considerations for people applying for a position at your company.

That said, they are not the reasons why people choose to stay — or to leave. If your HR department is doing a good job attaching value to positions, it’s safe to assume that most employees could get the same job (with the same paycheck and the same benefits) as any of your competitors.

With everything else remaining the same, employees choose to stick with their companies because they fulfill more than just their basic needs. Some of the strongest of those needs have to do with respect, recognition, and self-fulfillment.

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Maslow’s hierarchy of needs illustrates this quite nicely. Money buys the bottom two tiers. Once those needs are satisfied, throwing more money at your employees comes with diminishing returns.

A simple “great job” that an employee hears from their manager, and a good peer-to-peer recognition program are both much more effective when it comes to fulfilling the needs from the top of Maslow's pyramid. And, they are what your managers need to focus on in order to boost employee engagement.

According to a Gallup6 poll from 2009, employee engagement can fluctuate widely, depending on how a manager handles the individuals on their teams:

  • When a manager focuses on someone’s strengths, the chances of that employee becoming disengaged drop to about 1%.
  • When they focus on someone’s weaknesses, that employee has a higher chance of becoming disengaged (around 22%).
  • On the other hand, if a manager completely ignores an employee (by having no feedback and no kudos to give them), that employee’s chances of becoming disengaged soar to a whopping 40%!

This is why the role of managers in maintaining (and boosting) workplace engagement should never be dismissed. Oftentimes, managers are the ones that can have the most direct influence on employees. Their actions and words can either inspire and drive forward employees, or throw a wrench in their performance engine.

Unsurprisingly, peer-to-peer recognition matters as much as managerial recognition. Peer-to-peer recognition can be formalized and include a monetary incentive (bonuses awarded by employees to one another for going above and beyond on a particular project), but they don’t have to be. They can simply be a part of a company culture in which employees are encouraged to recognize each other’s achievements on a regular basis.

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Here are some examples of formalized recognition programs (that have a monetary/reward-based component):

  • Years of service awards — given to employees on milestone anniversaries, such as 5, 10, or 15 years of service. Generally, the baseline for them is between $15 to $20 per year of service but most companies tend to be more generous after the 10-year mark.

  • Spot recognition bonuses — awards given to employees by their managers for exemplary service. Usually around $25 to $30 per award. Not all employees will earn these and, on the other hand, some employees will earn multiple ones in a year.

  • Peer to peer bonuses — awards given by employees to their colleagues, usually for helping out on a cross-departmental project. The baseline for these is $15 to $20 per award.

  • Innovation recognition — if your company values innovation, it’s a good idea to recognize employees who excel at coming up with new approaches. Usually, the amount you want to set aside for it goes from $30 to $50 per employee. Or, you can get innovative with the reward - it would definitely fit the theme.

  • Employee advocacy rewards — a formal advocacy program can incentivize participation by offering tiered rewards (usually symbolic). Employees compete by sharing posts on social media, writing reviews, and contributing to the company blog to earn points and unlock those rewards. If you’re looking for an advocacy solution for your company, don’t forget to schedule a demo call with us here at Ambassify!

While these recognition programs have a monetary component to them, your ability to attach some emotion to that money is what makes them or breaks them. Conceptualizing these rewards so that employees feel that they are contributing to the success of the organization when they are selected to receive them is key. That’s why profit-sharing and equity reward schemes work that well - they encourage employees to identify with that success, making them feel like they actually and truly belong. And, that’s the kind of recognition that does wonders when it comes to increasing employee engagement.

At Ambassify, we tend to de-emphasize monetary rewards whenever we can. We feel that they are the least effective out of the bunch and that employees respond much better to rewards that offer visibility, access, or involvement. We wrote about it extensively in our blog post about rewarding advocates — many of the points we make in this post are applicable to employees so make sure to give it a read if you want to know more.

Again, you don’t want to rely solely on formalized recognition programs. Their whole purpose is to reinforce your recognition-based culture, and that starts with hiring managers that know how immensely valuable a simple pat on the back can be.

“People often say motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing- that’s why we recommend it daily.”

Zig Ziglar, Salesman & Motivational Speaker

Tips on building a recognition-based company culture

  • Talk about the importance of workplace recognition — connect the dots for your managers, and teach them how vital recognition is to employee engagement. It’s a good idea to semi-formalize this and build it into your management training.

  • Have weekly recognition activities — consider starting off the week with a quick kudos session. This can be a short departmental all-hands-on-deck session where employees can thank a colleague for help during the previous week.

  • Create formal recognition programs — monthly or quarterly awards provide employees with a goal they can strive toward.

  • Attach emotion to money and rewards — allow employees to feel proud when they receive a bonus. Make the remuneration more about their contribution to the company goals than about the money itself.

  • Encourage employees to give kudos generously — but don’t make it feel like work. Your managers should lead the charge, and signal to employees that it’s more than OK to praise colleagues for a job well done. Reinforce this organic behavior through a peer-to-peer recognition program (a formal platform where employees can give kudos or a peer-to-peer bonus to a colleague).

Workplace relationships and friendships

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Although we are all often cautioned to keep our personal and professional lives separate, most recent studies on employee engagement have a bone to pick with that piece of advice. 

A recently published Gallup7 study found that employees who say that they have a best friend at work can be up to 50% more engaged than those who don’t.

Despite running against the established grain, this assertion makes sense.

The time when we went to work just to earn a paycheck is long gone. Today, employees expect more from their work - they expect adventure, friendships, and a sense of purpose. Considering that we all spend more time at work than at home, those expectations are not so unreasonable.

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According to Gallup, employees who have a friend at the office are X2 more likely to be engaged. It comes down to the feeling of belonging — employees feel a greater responsibility toward friends than they do towards faceless corporations.

At Zappos, the quest for workplace friendships starts even before employees become employees, as it’s built into the hiring process. Potential candidates go through two interviews — one that evaluates their performance, and another that evaluates their culture fit. That’s because people with similar values are more likely to form closer bonds than those who have nothing in common.

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For example, it’s not uncommon for Zappos’ senior management to get actively involved in the hiring process, just to make sure that the person being considered is true Zappos material.

While it’s true that you can’t really force people to be friends, you can create an environment that encourages the formation of such bonds. It’s a delicate line to walk, for sure, but failing to do so can result in low overall workplace engagement. That said, don’t mandate friendships or force things. It’s the company’s responsibility to create conditions in which employee friendships can flourish. Your employees are adults - they will know where to take things from there.

Tips on building a company that values workplace friendships

  • Encourage people to get to know each other -—explore the idea of cross-departmental teams to help employees get to know one another.

  • Promote open communication and collaboration — employees should not have a fear of speaking up. Quite the opposite — they should feel that they can voice their opinions on matters, and even propose ideas and initiatives. This creates an environment that’s conducive to forming closer relationships.

  • Organize social activities — things like company sports teams, after-work parties, and retreats, and team-building outings all give employees an opportunity to get to know each other better outside of work. They are a way to explore mutual interests and connect on a personal level.

Measuring employee engagement

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What gets measured, gets done.

There is no point in any of the employee engagement-boosting activities described above if you don’t know how they are affecting your workforce. To know that, you need to have a system in place that allows you to periodically measure employee engagement levels, preferably after implementing some engagement-boosting activities or procedures.

The metrics system you come up with will be a combination of different things - pulse surveys, employee net promoter score, exit and stay interviews, and one-on-one interviews. How much you focus on each of these is going to depend on your organization. We’ve dedicated a whole post to this particular problem, where we discuss, in great detail, each of the above-mentioned tactics. 

For example, to check for a cultural fit between an employee and the company values, you might ask:

On a scale from 1 to 10, how strongly do your personal core values align with those of the company?

This will give you a number that will tell you whether the employee-company alignment is something that you need to focus on in the future. Do this for each of the 7 elements of employee engagement, and you will soon be able to assess the health bar of each of them. Armed with that information, you can work on getting the numbers up.

If you’re serious about employee engagement, you should be collecting this data as often as you can. The great thing about pulse surveys is that they don’t take more than 5 minutes so doing them on a monthly basis is more than feasible, and won’t result in employee resentment.

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The Ambassify platform is great for designing and distributing these questionnaires - your employees will have instant access to them, and the data collected can then be dissected by your HR teams to pinpoint which departments need to focus on what.

Once you have the data you need, it’s time to act on it. This is what separates the companies that truly care about employee engagement from those that just pay lip service to it.

How you proceed will depend on your organization, as well as the level of effort you’re willing to put in, but here’s what we’re suggesting:

  • Share the results of the surveys — and thank your employees for participating. They will appreciate that you’re keeping them in the loop, and you can consider this the first step in the ongoing process of boosting employee engagement.

  • Hold an all-hands-on-deck meeting — take a moment to discuss the results with as many employees as you can. Although you’ve already explained the purpose of the surveys, emphasize the importance of your company’s focus on employee engagement. Get everyone’s buy-in and discuss what (and how) will be done in order to improve the results.

  • Make time for one-on-one meetings — you have the rough numbers but now you need the details. Have your managers organize one-on-one meetings where they will ask employees questions about each of the metrics in order to learn what actions need to be taken to address the issues.

  • Pick a sub-metric to work on for a set period of time — focus on one thing at a time, and try going for the low-hanging fruit first. For example, take three months and work on employee advocacy (or wellbeing) before shifting your focus to a different employee engagement element.

  • Rinse and repeat — keep collecting the data and discussing and implementing the next steps with your team. Remember, when it comes to employee engagement, even incremental increases are good because they yield great results, and you’re in it for the long haul, in any case.

Budget-friendly employee engagement ideas can still make a big difference

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There’s no denying that employee engagement activities can be very costly. If you decide that it’s an investment worth your time and effort - as well as a dedicated budget -, you need to keep in mind that what you’re potentially getting back is a lot more than what you’re putting in.

That said, there are things that you can start doing today that only require a bit of time and a change of attitude. These things include:

  • Handwritten “Thank You” notes — these take two minutes and can actually do more for employee engagement than a financial bonus. Encourage your managers to sit down and write them, at least after a big team wins.

  • Written internal advancement plans — map out how employees can advance through the company ranks, and make this available to everyone. This makes it easier for the employees to visualize their career path, and to see where in your company they see themselves in the future. Employees that are able to do that are much more likely to invest extra effort into their day-to-day tasks.

  • Official TGIF hour — instead of finishing at 5 pm on a Friday, why not make it 4 pm, and invite everyone in the office for a drink in the meeting room? Let’s face it - nothing gets done in that one hour before the weekend officially commences so why not collect some “employee appreciation” points.

Of course, employee engagement activities are not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. Everything you end up implementing needs to be a) in line with your company culture, b) something your employees appreciate, c) doable on a budget you have available. That said, with a bit of effort and a lot of imagination, you can find ways to boost workplace engagement without spending thousands in the process. 

What you can do today to grow employee engagement

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First thing’s first - congratulations on getting through this entire employee engagement guide!

It’s a lot, we’re acutely aware of that. And, while you do have your work cut out for you, at least now you know how all the pieces of the puzzle actually fit together.

Our final advice to you would be not to overwhelm yourself. Working on employee engagement seems like a monumental task after reading this, but you need to remember that it’s a process, not an event. You don’t have to do every item on the list immediately - and you definitely don’t have to get started on everything tomorrow.

Before implementing any changes, sit down with your team and discuss the benefits of investing in increasing employee engagement. Ask your employees for their take on things, talk budgets and timelines, and test the waters with small changes.

Tackling the employee advocacy element of workplace engagement is always a good start because it:

  • Turns your employees into social media evangelists.
  • Boosts your online reputation.
  • Has a real impact on your bottom line.
  • Increases employee engagement.

That’s it!

You now know more than enough about employee engagement to make some real, results-oriented changes in your company. You will quickly learn that every dollar you invest in workplace engagement yields a massive return. Good luck with it — and have fun in the process!


If you want to know more...

1 Gallup

2 Human Resources Today

3 Annals of Internal Medicine

4 Gallup

5 Harvard Business Review

6 Gallup

7 Gallup