Motivated and engaged employees are your company's biggest asset. According to a Gallup survey, teams with engaged employees show an 81% reduction in absenteeism, a 14% increase in productivity, and a 43% lower turnover. But how can people leaders foster employee engagement? Competitive salaries and comprehensive benefits are one part of the equation, but strategic employee engagement programs can also make a difference.
Employee engagement initiatives are often part of a larger business strategy to improve your team's experience by providing growth and professional development opportunities. These programs can run the gamut from public recognition to offering family-friendly benefits. One study found that 94% of companies reported higher employee happiness and engagement by offering flexible work arrangements, such as remote work.
Comprehensive employee engagement strategies are a worthwhile investment for companies looking to boost employee loyalty and productivity. Here's what people leaders should know about building employee engagement programs that make a difference.
What are employee engagement programs?
Employee engagement programs are initiatives designed to promote employee satisfaction, and personal growth and development. Employee engagement initiatives can improve employee morale, motivation, and productivity, and make employees feel valued by creating a positive work environment and building a sense of community.
Such programs are numerous and diverse, but examples could include wellness programs, training and career development programs, flexible work schedules, employee recognition programs, social events, and employee feedback programs. There isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to employee engagement—the programs employers choose to implement will depend on your organization's values, workplace culture, location, budget, and industry.
Examples of employee engagement programs
There are myriad employee engagement initiatives, from simple team building activities to work-life balance improvement strategies—and you'll need to tailor them to your company's values, mission and overall strategy. Here are a few ways you can boost employee engagement in your workplace.
Create employee resource groups (ERGs)
ERGs are voluntary, employee-led groups that support and foster a diverse, inclusive work environment. These groups are centered around specific characteristics like gender, ethnicity, religious affiliation, or race. With a staggering 40% of U.S. employees admitting that they feel “isolated” at work, ERGs can help foster inclusion and increase employee satisfaction.
Research from McKinsey shows a positive correlation between effective ERGs and how well employees connect to their work environment. In companies where employees felt the ERG was effective, 83% said they felt “included,” compared to only 59% in companies where the ERGs were ineffective.
Provide support for reproductive & family health
At the surface level, this seems like a benefit (and it is), but supporting reproductive and family health is a great way to help employees feel valued, engaged and satisfied. Our recent report found that 96% of Maven Family Building members are more loyal to their employers because they implemented family benefits. There are many ways to support family planning and health, including:
- Providing on-demand access to family health professionals so employees can get the support they need from their homes
- Giving employees access to a library of clinically-vetted content and resources for a trusted source of information during their family journey
- Designating a comfortable space for breastfeeding in the office
- Implementing flexible work arrangements for employees to ease childcare burdens
Increase mentorship opportunities
In a CNBC study, 91% of employees surveyed with a mentor reported being satisfied with their jobs. Mentorship benefits everyone. The mentee receives career guidance, and the mentor connects with their community and feels like a valued member of the organization.
Your organization can set up formal mentorship programs, which usually includes mentor/mentee matchmaking, qualitative surveys, and a designated length of time for the mentorship. You can also encourage members of management to take on mentees on a rolling basis and provide informational sessions on how to find and approach a mentor for junior employees.
Implement training programs and development initiatives
Companies who invest in their employees' personal development are much more likely to improve employee engagement, retain top talent, and positively impact the overall organization's success.
According to a Gallup report, 59% of millennials state that learning and personal growth are extremely important when evaluating job descriptions, with a further 87% considering career development programs to be important in their role.
By incorporating ample opportunities for workers to learn new skills, take on extra training, and work with different teams, you can encourage employees to build on their abilities and confidence.
Some companies also help to inspire employees' entrepreneurial sides by offering leave, subsidized training programs and even investment for startup ideas and side hustles—of which 39% of US adults have.
Support mental health
Employees—and working parents especially—often deal with high stress levels. A Great Places to Work report found that nearly one in four working parents suffer from burnout at work, doubling their chances of leaving their jobs for a new opportunity.
To help alleviate burnout and stress, consider implementing wellness programs and hosting on-site yoga or meditation classes, designating a quiet room for employees to de-stress when needed, and providing management training on recognizing the early signs of burnout. Companies should also offer employees access to mental health professionals who can help them deal with stress outside of working hours.
Publicly recognize employees
Simply put, employees want to be recognized for their contributions to their organization—and when employees feel appreciated, they are nearly three times more likely to be highly engaged. Robust employee recognition programs are a great way to show gratitude to employees who reach goals, generate revenue, or promote the company's mission.
Recognition can be in gift cards, cash bonuses, quarterly employee luncheons, awards, or a combination. You can create reward and recognition programs tailored to your specific company culture and management styles.
Encourage recreational team-building activities
Think beyond icebreakers—there are many different team-building activities, even if you have a remote workforce. Host a virtual quiz or escape room for remote employees. For in-person employees, you can have a team field day with various activities.
These kinds of team-building initiatives serve multiple purposes. They stimulate a more collaborative work environment with employees getting to work in teams, which fosters connection and team morale. Employees also get a chance to network with coworkers across the company.
Create a strong employee feedback loop
Constructive feedback is essential for every organization. However, employees often feel that their feedback isn't implemented or taken seriously, which has dire consequences on employee engagement.
According to Gallup, employees who “strongly agree that their organization takes action on survey results” are twice as likely to be engaged. Beyond conducting employee surveys, your human resources team can create a strong plan that includes regular updates on feedback received, an escalation protocol, and designate employee feedback as a management metric.
Develop a formal onboarding program
Great engagement should start the day that new employees do, but unfortunately, too many organizations are missing the mark. Gallup reports that only 12% of employees felt they had an adequate onboarding experience. Implementing a thorough and strategic onboarding program significantly improves employee retention and productivity. Formal onboarding should be a holistic process that includes everything from equipment, training, and HR sessions to adequate time with their new team members and managers.
Spread the company news
Like a strong employee feedback loop, informed employees feel empowered and part of the larger organization. Whether good or bad news, do not shy away from being transparent with your employees. Transparency means clearly aligned organizational goals, accountability at every level, and open and honest communication. Research shows that transparency promotes better employee productivity, trust in your organization, and even improve job satisfaction.
What are the benefits of engaged employees for an employer?
High employee engagement doesn't just benefit employees—employee engagement is an important marker of organizational health and a company's success metrics. Here are the key ways in which employee engagement initiatives benefit a business.
Engaged employees have higher productivity levels. Gallup's meta-analysis shows that organizations with high employee engagement report 22% higher productivity. Highly engaged units achieve 18% more sales and 10% higher customer ratings, even within the same organization.
Better quality output
An engaged workforce produces better results, not just in quantity but in the quality of the work too. They are less likely to be distracted and make mistakes, whilst also being more motivated to work to their best ability. This can result in fewer errors, with one study reporting 40% fewer quality defects in highly engaged organizations.
Improved retention & satisfaction
When employees are unengaged, they seek other job opportunities, which costs your organization money. A 2019 CNBC study found that 90% of U.S. employees who considered quitting felt “undervalued” at their current job.
Job satisfaction is also higher when employees are actively engaged and don't have a reason to leave their current employer, which translates to higher productivity and interest in their duties.
A safer place to work
When employees feel connected and engaged with their workplace, they become more aware of their environment and the task ahead of them. Because of this, it's reported that engaged workforces result in 70% less health and safety incidents.
Employees engaged in their job are much more likely to be healthier, motivated and happier, which has a direct result on the number of sick days taken.
According to Gallup, highly engaged workplaces had 41% less absenteeism. Reduced absenteeism could potentially save your organization millions of dollars—one paper calculated that unplanned absenteeism costs U.S. employers $3,600/hour.
This is due to the role employee engagement initiatives play in overall happiness and health. One report found that unhappy employees and those disengaged in work are more likely than their colleagues to experience health issues including depression, high blood pressure, and pain. They also report more "unhealthy" days in which their health issues impact their activity.
Contrary to popular belief, research indicates that remote workers are more engaged than their in-office counterparts. A flexible work schedule leads to a 62% increase in employee satisfaction, helping employees to manage a better work life balance. Maintaining an engaged remote workforce can enhance their experience and support your company's goals.
Higher employee engagement means higher savings. According to recent research, disengaged employees in the U.S. cost organizations around $450-550 billion each year in lost productivity. Companies with a high ratio of engaged to non-engaged employees experienced 147% higher earnings per share than their competitors.
A checklist for successful employee engagement programs
You know the importance of having a highly engaged workforce. We've shared a few tactics you can implement in your organization, but what must you do to have a thorough employee engagement strategy? Here's our tried and tested checklist to keeping employees connected and engaged.
Take inventory of all current employee engagement initiatives
What have you tried that worked and didn't work in the past? If employees responded well to an program, dive into why it worked and incorporate those findings as you build your plan to improving employee engagement.
Conduct employee surveys
Surveys can provide a baseline for how employees currently feel about role satisfaction, engagement, work-life balance, and transparency. This information will help you build your engagement strategy in the short-term and help you measure the impact of your strategy in the long run.
Get management buy-in
People managers must be on board with employee engagement programs, as they often receive firsthand employee feedback. Everyone from upper leadership to frontline managers needs to understand the how, and, more importantly, the why behind an employee engagement strategy. Encourage leaders to get involved from the start.
Take a test-and-learn approach
Getting and employee engagement program to be as effective as possible is an ongoing process. There is no way of knowing what will work until you try it, so don't be afraid to learn with a pilot of a few teams or a scaled-back strategy at first.
Don't try everything simultaneously; gauging success will be too difficult, and you risk overwhelming your employees. Test two to three tactics in your overall engagement strategy and tweak them based on their success.
Promote employee engagement initiatives to your workforce
For an employee engagement program to be successful, it must be utilized by all eligible employees. Make sure to communicate the benefits that are available to your workforce and encourage team members to make the most of them. If employees aren't aware of the program or how to use it, they won't reap the benefits, and neither will your business.
Keep a continuous feedback loop
Employees who feel valued and heard are 4.6 times more likely to perform better in their role. Give employees and management multiple opportunities and methods to provide feedback, not just during formal surveys. Informal feedback mechanisms like an internal forum or team meetings can be great places to gauge the program's effectiveness.
Whilst qualitative feedback is important, the numbers are what will prove the success of your employee engagement initiatives and help you to win further investment. Review your individual KPIs including performance metrics, retention, and sick days, and see how each has been affected in line with the implementation of your program.
Don't be afraid to switch it up if something isn't working; sinking more time and money into something that isn't working will only further erode employee engagement, morale, and satisfaction.
Why measure employee engagement?
You won’t know if your employee engagement programs are working without proper measurement. The program is an investment of time and resources, and you want to be sure your efforts positively impact the bottom line.
How can you measure employee engagement?
There are a few different ways to measure your efforts, including employee satisfaction, productivity, absenteeism, and customer satisfaction.
What differentiates employee engagement from job satisfaction?
While it may seem like these are the same, engagement and satisfaction are different. Employee satisfaction is when employees are happy and content with their workplace experience. Engagement is whether or not employees are invested in the organization and motivated to put effort into their jobs.
How do engaged and disengaged employees differ?
Engaged employees are more productive, happier, have less frequent absences, and contribute positively to the organization’s goals. Disengaged employees put less effort into their job, may constantly be looking for a new position, don’t contribute as much, and are more likely to have unexplained or unplanned absences.
What drives employee engagement?
A myriad of factors can influence employee engagement. Transparency, recognition, support, feedback, and efforts from the organization make it clear that employee engagement, satisfaction and experience are a primary concern.
How do you develop an employee engagement program?
Review your current needs, gather initial feedback, get management sign-off, and implement two to three tactics. Test and learn; keep what works and move away from what doesn’t work. Always keep feedback loops open.
What is the goal of employee engagement programs?
To increase employee engagement in a way that positively contributes to your organization’s goals, values, and mission statement
How Maven can help you develop an effective employee engagement program
Maven, the leading women's and family healthcare company, offers an integrated, 24/7 platform that makes family planning and reproductive health easy, streamlined, and accessible for your employees.
Challenges when starting and raising a family can have a significant impact on employee engagement, but with Maven as a partner, you can offer a full range of support services for your employees so they feel cared for at work and home. To learn more about how Maven can further enhance your employee engagement efforts and employee benefits, request a demo today.
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