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How to Start an Employee Engagement Program

published: March 18, 2020

Most articles related to employee engagement offer quick-fixes and best practices on how to boost employee engagement. Such as offering advice like “give employees flexible hours.”

It can be helpful to know which HR tactics have seen success for other businesses, of course. And many of these ideas do increase employee engagement and morale in the short term.

However, if your goal is to achieve profound and systemic improvements in employee engagement, implementing singular short-term solutions just won’t cut it.

Band-aid solutions don't work

Think about it from this perspective: if you wanted to permanently improve your overall physical health, what should you do? Go on a fad diet to get quick weight loss results. Alternatively, you could change your entire lifestyle through a multifaceted program built on proper diet, nutrition, exercise, and other activities.

Undoubtedly, the fad diet is an excellent route if you want to lose weight quickly. But it’s ineffective if your goal is to achieve long-term permanent improvements in your overall physical health.

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Asset 86iZoom Out: A Long-Term Strategy

The same logic applies to an Employee Engagement Program. You can’t expect to experience long-term results by implementing any HR trend.

Building an action plan requires a multi-step approach.

The first step zoom out. Look at the big picture. What does your business wish to achieve in terms of employee engagement: A lower employee turnover rate? Higher productivity? Greater employee satisfaction?

Every organization has its own unique set of problems. Contemplate these issues and formulate your strategy around solving them.

Strategic planning: why it's critical for lasting engagement

Asset 28-1As mentioned, if you search the internet for employee engagement strategies, you be hit with long lists of ideas.

Solutions like "offer flexible hours" and "let employees bring their dogs to work" are common. 

These ideas might be good, but they are not strategies. And, too often, companies spend time and resources on initiatives without thinking strategically about them.

For example:

  • Implementing a trendy initiative without considering the problem you're trying to solve or if employees will benefit from it.

  • Spending money on a program and not questioning whether employees want to participate in it.

  • Offering perks or benefits that employees might not care for.
On the other hand, being strategic about employee engagement means every initiative you invest in addresses a real problem in your company.

This means:
  • Your business understands the core drivers of employee engagement (more on this idea in the next section).

  • You have identified employee pain points and are crafting tailored initiatives accordingly.

  • Speaking with or surveying employees to gain insight into what they want from their workplace.
Now, it's time to move forward to the next step: how you will reach your engagement goals. In short, the meat of your strategy.

A guide to building an employee engagement strategy - Download PDF Guide

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The Drivers of Employee Engagement 

When it comes to an engagement program, there are nine core tactics (i.e. drivers of employee engagement) that are the most important contributors to employee happiness and satisfaction.

In short, this framework identifies the critical building blocks of employee engagement. In turn, you can build your plan around them.

  • Career GrowthPulse Survey Themes
  • Leadership
  • Diversity & Belonging
  • Wellness & Balance
  • Recognition & Rewards
  • Mission & Purpose
  • Goals & Alignment
  • Autonomy & Empowerment
  • Benefits & Compensation

Remember: These are the main building blocks for your action plan.

For example, prioritizing wellness & balance is a great tactic to boost employee engagement. But, this tactic can be expressed in many ways. It must be "brought to life" with specific initiatives — for example, half-day Fridays, work-from-home policies, on-site yoga classes, etc.

As you can see, initiatives are very specific. They should reflect the values and culture of your organization. Most importantly, initiatives should be strategic. In other words, they are viewed as direct solutions to the engagement issue you're attempting to overcome.

To build a long-term engagement plan, start by selecting one or two blocks (example: Career Growth and Leadership) and ask yourself — how are we doing in this area? Or, what could we do better?

Repeat the exercise until you have systematically tackled the entire pie.
By the end of this brainstorm, you should have a list of actionable initiatives that will help kick-start your engagement plan.

Deciding which drivers to focus on

That said, you might be unsure of which slice of the pie requires the most attention in your business. 

To make the most strategic decision, go straight to the source — your employees.

PulseSurveysA standard method of assessing engagement is to administer employee surveys designed to measure employee engagement. 

If you want to build your own surveys, make sure to follow employee survey best practices. You can also purchase a Pulse Survey tool, which will do the heavy lifting for you.

Whether it's a formal survey or unstructured one-on-one, any feedback collection should reveal employee pain points. As a result, you can prioritize tactics based on real data, not just assumptions.

Employee Engagement Initiatives: A Few Examples

Employee engagement initiatives should be very specific and actionable. Here are a few examples.

Asset 84iGoals & Alignment

  • Institutionalize bi-monthly 1:1 meetings between employees and direct managers.
  • Implement a performance tracking or goal management software.
  • Institutionalize formal communications training for managers.

Mission & Purpose

  • Launch a monthly company updates email or newsletter.
  • Implement a yearly company-wide executive presentation and lunch.
  • Implement an anonymous feedback system, where any employee can send suggestions to executives.

Wellness & Balance

  • Institutionalize a work-from-home policy.
  • Consider a condensed work week.
  • Revise your PTO policy.
  • Institutionalize a flexible start time policy.

Asset 30Rewards & Recognition

Autonomy & Empowerment

  • Implement a monthly “think tank” brainstorm, anyone can join and pitch improvement ideas.
  • Offer to subsidize enrollment in outside training and educational opportunities like online courses or workshops.
  • Bring in experts to host panel discussions, workshops, or presentations on topics of interest in your industry.

Benefits & Compensation

  • Implement a bonus program.
  • Improve your health insurance policy.
  • Conduct a wage audit to ensure wages are fair and competitive.

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Some of these initiatives are quite simple and straightforward — requiring little resources or investment. However, others might be more complex to implement and require more time and resources.

Ultimately, the initiatives that you pick to implement must be targeted to the engagement issue you’re attempting to overcome and also fit within the framework of your budget and resources plan.

Final Thoughts

Now you should have an understanding of how to drive long-term employee engagement with a strategic plan. That said, the biggest challenge lies in respecting your resources — in terms of budget and time.

In other words, building a plan involves prioritizing tactics and initiatives — but more importantly, assessing how manageable they are to implement.

On a final note: documenting your action plan is vital to success and is, therefore, a crucial first step towards long-term employee engagement. Be assured that by reading this, you’re already on the right track!