Yes, an engaged employee is a productive employee. But it can be difficult for small business owners to devise ways to get their employees to care about their company’s mission, vision, and values. Especially if they’re on a tight budget. After all, pool tables, free drinks, and corporate retreats are great, but they can take a serious chunk out of an operating budget.
Don’t despair: there are ways to boost employee engagement without spending a dime. Here are eight of them:
1. Offer praise
Too many workplaces operate on a “no news is good news” system (as in, if you haven’t heard anything negative, you must be doing an OK job). However, actually telling people when they have done a good job is a far better tactic. After all, if someone has no idea whether their efforts are appreciated, they’ll start to wonder why they should bother.
A brief email saying, “I just wanted to let you know that you did a really good job on that presentation/report/closing” – or better yet, a quick chat in-person – will boost the employee’s morale and motivate them to continue doing their best.
2. Create friendly competition
The “Employee of the month” concept might be somewhat stale (and some argue it breeds “praise junkies“), but employees still like to have their accomplishments acknowledged in a public manager. One option is to award a weekly (non-monetary) prize to a top-performing team member.
It could be as simple as a flag that sits on their desk, or some kind of statue that gets passed from person to person – whatever will instill a little competition among team members, and offer a constant reminder that good work gets noticed.
For example, Content marketing startup Influence & Co. has “The Belt,” a championship belt that gets awarded to employees when they do something amazing. And Red Velvet Events passes around a troll doll named Pockets (the recipient adds an accessory to the doll and then awards it to another over-achiever the following week).
3. Care about them
In our interview with executive coach Mikael Meir, his number one tip for being a good boss is being caring. “It’s the most unexpected, and in fact, the most powerful trait,” he says. “People want to know that their bosses truly care about them.”
A major component of being a caring boss or manager is communicating with and listening to your employees – and really put emphasis on the listening part. Take an interest in what they have to say, what is going on in their lives, and what their goals are. Make them feel heard and supported.
4. Encourage friendships
“To ignore friendships is to ignore human nature,” writes Gallup in its 2017 State of the American Workplace. “Yet, many organizations discourage people from socializing or becoming friends.”
Instead, Gallup suggests, employers should recognize that company loyalty is actually built on friendship. “When employees possess a deep sense of affiliation with their team members, they are driven to take positive actions that benefit the business.”
Of course, you shouldn’t force your team members to be friends. But you can plan social events and activities (maybe even arrange a few inter-office blind dates?) to help your employees really connect with their co-workers.
5. Challenge them
When employees aren’t challenged regularly, they tend to get board and unmotivated – and this is especially true with your star performers, who tend to learn things quickly.
There are several ways that managers can help employees continue to learn and grow. It can be as simple as setting yearly and monthly goals, or assigning new duties and responsibilities. Again, listening is key: if an employee seems keen to learn a new skill, for example, encourage them to do so – and follow up on their progress (more on that below).
An important thing to remember when challenging your team: sometimes, failure has to be an option. As Forbes explains in an article on challenging employees:
“Regardless of how smart or hardworking one is, failure is inevitable. Everyone makes mistakes or fails to meet expectations at some point in their professional lives, and it’s important to frame those situations correctly or a career can be sidetracked. Again, the leader has much power here. Employees will go further for a leader who they know has their back. It’s important to build your employee back up after a failure and get them back on their feet again as soon as possible. Discuss the failure as a learning opportunity, and avoid being overly critical or berating them about the issue. Make sure they know that you view failure as a necessary part of growth and innovation, and that you see great things for the person ahead.”
6. Celebrate progress
In his book, Business Execution for Results, Stephen Lynch of Results.com explains the importance of encouraging (and acknowledging) progress, no matter now small: “People want to grow, develop, and make progress. If you arrange their work so that they can do that, even a little bit every day, they are more likely to become motivated.”
To celebrate progress within your team, break goals down to smaller milestones (and, if possible, even smaller tasks for each milestone). Each time something is checked off the list, your team will know they’re one step closer to a big achievement.
7. Allow for (some) autonomy
This should come as no surprise: people want as much control as possible over their work life. As Quartz puts it, “The key to happiness at work isn’t money – it’s autonomy.”
This means letting your employees make some decisions themselves. This means cracking down on micromanagement. This means trusting your employees. Depending on the management structure at your company, starting to allow autonomy might be a major shift, but it can also mean a huge boost in engagement, motivation, and retention.
8. Show them who they are impacting
A few years ago, a study by Adam Grant explored the importance of showing employees who their work impacts. The study looked at a software firm’s call centre, where one group of employees were given inspirational words by the CEO, while another group met an “internal customer” (an employee in another department whose salary depends on the call centre’s sales). The latter group had a 20 per cent improvement in revenue.
“Leadership is most effective in motivating followers when they interact with the beneficiaries of their work, which highlights how the vision has meaningful consequences for other people,” wrote Grant.
In short: give them a purpose, and employees with thrive.