How to Create Effective Employee Engagement Programs (+ Free Templates)
Employee engagement has been part of regular HR conversations ever since William Kahn first coined the term in the 1990s. But simply because it is on people's lips all the time, it doesn't mean companies are doing a remarkable job keeping employees engaged.
30+ years and gazillions of employee engagement programs later, only 21% of employees feel engaged at work, highlights Gallup's 2022 State of Global Workforce Survey.
Clearly, the plans aren't working.
In this post, we will go back to the roots of employee engagement and issues in existing employee engagement strategies.
Also, you'll find a winning 9-step detailed strategy to create your existing employee engagement program (with bonus ideas).
🔍 What is employee engagement, and what is it not?
Engagement is often misunderstood as happiness, job satisfaction, or well-being.
It's not happiness. One can be happy but not productive.
It's not job satisfaction. One can be satisfied with having less work and just being lazy.
It's not well-being. One could have the employee benefits taking care of their physical/mental health and still hate their job.
Kristen Robertson, an HR manager with a decade of experience in the space, says:
"I would define engagement at work as employees' emotional commitment to the company. Do they connect with the mission, vision, and values the company has set forth? It allows somebody to come to work every day, and they feel like they are not just doing their job but also impacting the business. So having that emotional connection to work is really important for engagement."
But why would an employee be emotionally invested in a company's vision?
It's when their goals and the company vision get aligned. And the company's growth also means employee growth.
💸 The ROI of implementing an employee engagement program
Firstly, what is an employee engagement program?
It is a dedicated program focused on finding gaps in employee engagement and working on steps to improve them.
Engaging employees positively affects workforce development, productivity, revenue, and employer branding.
Are you wondering how all of these heavy terms help in the business?
Look at industry reports on how these positive effects translate into actual numbers.
💰 Higher profit: Business units with engaged workers have 23% higher profits than business units with lower engagement rates.
📈 Lower turnover: Engaged workers have 52% higher levels of intent to stay.
🏆 Improved Employer Branding & Ease of recruitment: 65% more employees are willing to recommend their employer to others.
➡️ Looking for more reasons? Read the 46 latest employee engagement statistics to find out why you need a dedicated employee engagement program.
👨💼 The role of HR, managers, and leaders in employee engagement
A leader is a wolf leading the pack. They have to first communicate the vision effectively to employees. If an employee does not believe in the company's vision, it creates a disconnection at the basic level.
Can you run a marathon for a cause you do not support?
HR is the mediator between leadership and employees. Their primary goal is managing talent, so they are the voice of both business leaders and employees. They find what employees need and discuss the appropriate courses of action to fulfill those needs with leadership. So HRs are sitting in the driving seat when it comes to employee engagement initiatives.
Managers are at the ground level and the first point of contact for employees. They assist and make sure employees are engaged in day-to-day tasks. Plus, they are the first people who get their hands dirty and implement any plans HRs create.
🪜 Create your employee engagement program in 9 steps
Victoria Pelletier, Managing Director at Accenture, says, "Employee engagement is an outcome of a multitude of elements:
- Culture & leadership
- Diversity, equity, and inclusion
- Connection of work and the organization to purpose and values
- Talent development program
- Total compensation programs
- Rewards and recognition."
With many drivers of employee engagement, the list is big, and you can't fix all of it at once.
The internet is full of shortcut tips to fix employee engagement. But don't fall for it.
Instead, we will give you a more systemized approach. We are laying out a 9-step strategy to create an employee engagement program that works.
1. Understand engagement
Employee engagement is often confused with happiness or well-being. But it is more of an employee's commitment to work and the company. So the first step is to know what you are trying to fix.
2. Get current status through surveys
Find where you are currently standing with an employee engagement survey. Not only does it tell you the problems but also ways to solve them. Find what's going on in your employees' heads with a survey.
Trivinia Barber, CEO at Priority VA, says, "Employee Engagement surveys are the easiest and most effective way I have found to learn how my employees like to be engaged with, celebrated, and praised for their hard work. Some people like a verbal affirmation. Others would prefer a gift."
Tip: Keep a mix of quantitative and open-ended questions to get a more detailed response.
Wondering what to ask in a survey? Get 50 ready-to-use employee engagement survey questions.
3. Promote surveys
Creating a survey and thinking your job is finished?
Two popular responses to surveys are:
Employees hit the snooze button, trying on every touchpoint to bypass the survey.
Employees quickly finished the survey with half-baked answers.
Both defeat the purpose.
To get active participation, you can:
- Communicate the survey objective. Make the employees feel the survey is worth their time.
- Share it on the most active channels, like Slack or Teams.
- Make surveys easy to attempt.
- Give incentives to invite more responses.
➡️ Get best practices to boost the response rate of your employee engagement surveys.
4. Determine action areas
Ask employees about their problems in surveys, and you might receive an overwhelming list.
The next step is to narrow down and find focus areas. Three common ways to do it are:
- Having a brainstorming session with key team leaders and HR leaders.
- Taking help from researchers, workplace psychologists, or workplace consultants.
- Discuss with employees via focus groups.
5. Set goals and objectives
Once the action areas are clear, it's time to set employee engagement program objectives or measurable goals.
- Address loneliness struggle reported by 51% of employees.
- Reduce new hire time-to-productivity by 25%.
- Increase learning program satisfaction to 35%.
6. Create an action plan
With clear goals in hand, you can translate the goals into an employee engagement action plan.
- Address loneliness struggle reported by 51% of employees -> Launch a Walk & Talk connection program.
- Reduce new hire time-to-productivity by 25% -> Get onboarding software to optimize the new hire program.
- Increase learning program satisfaction to 35% -> Add more learning curriculum.
Determine the solution for every goal/problem, assign the task to an owner, and give a timeline. "The best is to get everyone involved. If managers and senior leaders are the only people with control over employee engagement, you won't get the visibility and usage that you want. Recruit your whole team instead of just leadership," says Logan Mallory, VP of Marketing at Motivosity.
➡️ Struggling with an action plan for engaging a remote team? Get 47 unique ideas to engage remote employees.
7. Communicate the plan
Shweta Choudhary, an ex-corporate employee with over eight years of experience working in MNCs, says: "I hated employee surveys because I never knew what they did out of it. I saw no result summary and no follow-ups."
Don't make your employees feel like Shweta. Instead, tell them what you observed in the survey and share the planned employee engagement program actions.
8. Invite additional employee insights
No employee engagement plan is once and for all. You can always keep going back to employees via 1-on-1s or focus groups to ask:
- If the project is realistic.
- If it serves the purpose.
- If employees find areas for change.
- If anything could be done better.
9. Do not forget new hires
Lastly, do not leave out new hires.
Engagement starts even before they join. An effective preboarding to onboarding will help them slide into the company's culture at ease.
Employee engagement programs are not a one-time event but an iterative process. You first conduct a survey, identify a few action items, implement changes, measure the improvement, and go back to square one. It's an endless loop (but for the good).
🏆 9 Effective ideas to boost your employee engagement program
We have compiled a list of 9 employee engagement program ideas with a real word example.
Tip: You can pick any of these ideas based on the action area you are focusing on.
Focus on purpose
The core values of Patagonia, an environment-friendly clothing brand, are:
- Build the best product.
- Cause no unnecessary harm.
- Use business to protect nature.
- Stay free of convention.
A strong focus on purpose keeps Patagonia employees engaged, with only a 4% turnover.
Train managers in coaching
Freeletics, an AI-driven fitness platform, launched three learning programs for its leaders:
1. Microlearning: Short weekly challenges
2. People Manager Roundtable: A peer learning activity to discuss leadership challenges and share best practices.
3. Leadership Onboarding: In-depth program to help new leaders get up to speed
Shortly after launching these programs, they noticed an improvement in engagement.
Implement 360 feedback
Netflix let go of formal reviews and implemented 360-degree feedback. With this new structure, the review is not linear anymore.
Employees can give feedback to peers, managers, juniors, and senior leadership. The overall process is more transparent and has proven to be highly effective.
Create a culture of continuous learning and growth
Microsoft has implemented a culture for learning and a growth mindset. Employees get dedicated learning days. The company also uses analytics to support learning and identify what employees need.
Reskill and upskill employees
Amazon, the world's largest online retailer, invested $1.2 billion to upskill and reskill 300,000 employees with free training programs. They invest in employee growth and train people with the right in-demand skills to move into better-paying jobs.
Build a culture of recognition
Zappos is known for its focus on company culture. Another remarkable thing to notice is their peer recognition program. It has a Coworker Bonus Program where Zapponians can reward each other with a $50 coworker bonus. It builds team spirit and also creates a healthy work environment.
➡️ Read 42 more ideas for employee recognition programs to boost engagement.
Focus on human connections
Metrolink conducts weekly Teams calls as one of the team-building activities. The CEO leads the call and keeps it open to all staff. In this call, they welcome new hires and announce promotions. They also use the call to share personal stories, vacation plans, debates about sports, and more. It is an interactive call and a platform where employees get to know each other.
➡️ Get Zavvy’s ready-to-use connection program templates.
Improve new hire experiences
Alasco was observing low participation or engagement from new hires and knew something was amiss in the system. So they shifted to onboarding software to improve new hire onboarding and saw time to productivity for new hires directly going half.
Use technology to automate tedious tasks
Hope for Haiti, a nonprofit organization, observed how manually tracking job applicants took time and opted for an automated applicant tracking system. And the recruitment started on steroids. The company size doubled in weeks.
➡️ Discover 11 more inspiring examples of companies with great employee engagement initiatives.
❗ Is an employee engagement program the magic bullet?
"Leaders and employers need to look at workforce engagement more as a way of life and less as a program. It's not something you do and then move on to the main event. Rather, it's how you operate, day in and day out," says Bill Catlette, Coach and CEO Advisor.
While a scheduled program does help to solve pressing issues, engagement is more than just a one-and-done project.
Instead, it needs strategic planning, prioritization, and continuous implementation. ]
You have to think about the following:
- Ensuring employees connect with the company vision.
- Empowering employees by providing them with the right tools, information, and autonomy over work.
- Creating communication channels for both formal conversations and short talks.
- Building trust within the team by conducting regular meetups(one-on-one and group).
- Developing processes to address concerns.
- Providing adequate training and growth opportunities.
- Keeping benefits in line with expectations.
- Making team-building a part of your process and ecosystem.
You need the right ecosystem(both process and tech-wise) for all of this.
➡️ Engage and enable your workforce with Zavvy
Zavvy helps you continuously engage and enables employees to go the extra mile with:
- Interactive onboarding.
- Regular learning programs in the flow of work.
- Ease of conducting surveys and 360 feedback cycles.
- Routine conversations for building connections.
Raise your employee engagement levels with Zavvy. Book a call with one of our experts today.