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14 Low-Cost Employee Engagement Ideas for SMBs

published: January 10, 2020

Unless your company can afford to pay large salaries and top-of-the-line perks (think: Google or Facebook) you probably don’t have the means to provide your staff with the same lavish employee benefits and perks.

Luckily for you, that’s O.K. In fact, it’s more than O.K.

Small business have an advantage

According to a Gallup survey, the largest U.S. companies (despite their substantial revenue) have the lowest levels of employee engagement.

Businesses with fewer than 25 employees have the highest engagement levels. 

Better still, according to an Aflac survey, 75% of small business workers surveyed said they were “very” or “extremely” satisfied with working for a small company.

In the end, it’s not so much about the resources allocate to your employee engagement strategy, but the importance you assign to it and the effort that really matters.

bigstock-Start-up-Business-Team-Brainst-189652615The Two Main Employee Engagement Drivers for SMBs

Asset 73The belief that the organization will be successful in the future

Quite logically, SMBs employees like to know where their company is going. That’s why it’s so essential for SMBs to stay open and transparent with their employees.

What does that mean in practice?

It means establishing clear corporate values. In addition, it means being transparent about the company's financial objectives, future projects, and investments. In a small business, employees should never be left in the dark.

Opportunities for personal growth and development

Unfortunately, SMBs can't always offer competitive compensation, perks, or benefits. But SMBs have a significant edge on large, heavily structured corporations.

SMBs can offer employees flexibility, autonomyand, most importantly, room to grow. As business scales, new positions and roles are formed.

Employees look to work as a place to receive a paycheck, but also a place to grow personally and professionally. So driven, ambitious employees (aka. your top talent) is going to desire to grow with their company in terms of skill, salary, career, training, etc.

Bottom line: Offering growth opportunities is a crucial driver of employee engagement.

Having these two goals in mind, here are 15 ways SMBs can implement employee engagement initiatives on any budget!

7 research-based strategies to improve employee engagement - Download PDF Guide

bigstock-Business-Partners15 Low-Cost Employee Engagement Ideas for SMBs

1. Adopt a full transparency policy

SMBs workers appreciate transparency. For them to reach their full professional potential at their company, they can't be blind to the company's goals. That's precisely why SMBs' owners should be candid about their goals, their investments, and even their revenue. This will ensure the trust relationship that's so essential to employee engagement.

You can put this idea into action in several ways.

For example, you can host a weekly "all hands" meeting to announce important company news and keep everyone connected. You can also send announcements digitally, with a weekly or monthly company email. When employees are in the loop of the higher-level business goals, everyone feels like a stakeholder. And it keeps your entire team motivated and on target.

2. Recognize your employees

Asset 30

The great thing about offering gratitude is it's highly effective and free!

The same goes for employee recognition; it does not have to be expensive to work.

It's all about saying "thank you" to your employees for their excellent work and making sure they feel respected, valued, and appreciated.

Managers can offer praise with words, or you can give a small gift or token of appreciation if you feel generous. 

It's less about the price of the gift and more about the gesture behind it. Nowadays, SMBs even have tools tailored for them to recognize their employees. One of them, Award-Winning Applauz Recognition, is free-to-use, so no need to worry about money!

Some other ideas: you can create a "recognition" channel on your company chat. This channel should be reserved only for shout-outs and praise. You can also dedicate the last ten minutes of an all-hands meeting to recognition. This time would be an opportunity for employees to offer verbal and public praise to their peers. 

3. Promote flexibility 

Although 43% of employees choose workplace flexibility over pay raise, the power of work flexibility is still underestimated by many companies, including SMBs.

First off, businesses must acknowledge that most workers participate in different degrees of unpaid labour. For instance, they might be running a home, caring for children, ageing parents, or other loved ones. Two days off a week usually isn't enough to take care of it all, including finding time to recharge yourself.

Your business can promote flexibility in a number of ways. 

For example, you can offer employees the option to work remotely. Or offering flexible hours can also do wonders for engagement, and productivity, as a result. It's all about supporting a healthy work/life balance.

A recent Stanford study showed that companies with employees working from home could save money, decrease by 50% of their employee attrition and absenteeism. 

Asset 284. Involve employees in goal planning

When it comes to creative tasks, motivation is sparked by a desire for internal satisfaction--not an external paycheck.

In short, people are deeply motivated by a desire for learning, growth, and mastery.

To keep your workforce engaged, you need to offer some level of autonomy and potential for professional growth. As such, you should let employees get involved with determining their goals and objectives. This tactic is highly effective, and virtually free!

It’s even easier in small companies! If your SMBs create software, for instance, discuss the creation steps with your employees, including the design, the features, the user experience, etc. Your employees will get even more involved in projects because they will feel they contribute to their creation.

5. Recognize employee anniversaries

When an employee is celebrating a work anniversary (whether it's one year or five years), it's crucial to acknowledge their loyalty. All it takes is a small gift or celebration. It's the thought that counts. Even if your business doesn't have the resources to implement an official employee rewards program for anniversaries, it doesn't matter.

For instance you can host a small lunchtime get-together or offer a handwritten card. These are some of the easy and inexpensive anniversary ideas that leave a positive impression.

Conversely, failing to acknowledge a work anniversary can lead to resentment and negative feelings. Anniversaries are a time for evaluating your current job and happiness, so it's crucial to leave your employees with a positive impression of your company and its culture.

6. Use modern communication tools to promote connection and culture

If you want to attract and retain young and talented employees, consider updating key communication tools and solutions.

Work communication and productivity tools are absolutely essential in an era where remote work is the norm. For example, using communication tools such as Slack helps you keep your employees informed about everything happening in your company, whether it's announcements or funny workplace stories. These modern chat tools not only help with work-related communication but also help support employee's personal connections and culture.

LSB-02_Graphic-17. Offer career growth

As aforementioned, SMBs employees are better engaged when they know they have a future in their company.

That’s up to their company to figure out how and how much they want to grow to ensure they can give their employees career perspectives. That means training them for the positions they aspire to reach, offering them access to courses, which can be done at low cost with digital classes and workshops run by industry leaders.

8. Prioritize regular social activities 

Small businesses have a significant advantage--everyone knows each other. This creates the experience of working with a group of friends or like you are a "family."

Take advantage of that close-knit spirit and launch a culture committee focused on planning social activities to bring people together. For example, board game happy hours, barbecues, social Fridays, team lunches, etc. SMBs can foster a positive work environment and distinguish themselves from their competitors with collaborative, friendly environments.

Asset 729. Get employee feedback

One of the keys to lasting engagement is understanding what employees truly need and want out of their employee experience. That said, employee surveys are the best tactic to learn where your employee experience is falling short.

At first, surveys might seem complicated. But with the proper tools, surveying employees couldn't be more simple and affordable! Applauz, for instance, offers SMBs' owners a Pulse Survey tool. These digital solutions help HR confidently keep their finger on the pulse of employee sentiment.

10. Be pet-friendly

Allow your employees to bring their pets at work. This initiative lightens up everyone’s mood. The proof is, a Purina survey found that 80% of employees in pet-friendly workplaces say having pets nearby while they work makes them feel “happy, relaxed and sociable.”

11. Provide food freebies

Whether it's a fruit basket or muffins or bagels every other Friday, healthy and delicious snacks are an affordable way for SMBs to show your employees you care.

Remember, though: Perks like these aren't a cure for serious engagement issues. Instead, think of food freebies as useful perks for maintaining happiness within a team that is already healthy and collaborative.

Asset 69i12. Launch "Think Tank" innovation sessions

Giving your employees paid time to work on special projects that matter to them is a great way to show your workforce your support initiative, learning, innovation, and creativity.

You can also host a quarterly or monthly "think tank" meetings, and make sure to invite everyone. Anyone in the company (regardless of their official title) should be invited to share and brainstorm ideas. Hosting a Think Tank communicates to all your employees that you value them and trust their input and expertise. Your employees can only thank you for it.

13. Support employee wellness by subsidizing outside fitness classes

On-site fitness classes and in-office gym are costly. And, realistically, only a small fraction of your employees may take advantage of them.

However, SMBs have other options to support employee wellness. For example, you can offer employees a monthly credit of $20 to go towards partially paying for gym memberships, yoga classes, or any other health and wellness activities. Offering wellness credits is not only a great perk; it gives employees total flexibility. For instance--instead of making employees workout at the office gym (which might not be comfortable for everyone), they can choose the activity of their choice. This initiative will surely be an attractive benefit for employees who are already into fitness. And it will maybe even entice some others to begin adopting healthier lifestyle choices.

14. Create employee engagement initiatives

Time to get creative! Think of all the ways you could help your employees like their professional environment and be happy at work. In the end, you’re the one who knows your employees best!

Final Thoughts

Surface-level perks are not the magic solution to boost employee engagement. No matter how many articles claim this to be true.

The truth is: extravagant perks won't fix a broken environment. When employees feel unsafe, neglected, and dis-empowered, they will underperform and eventually leave.

The most critical drivers of engagement are intangible. This means you should work to execute ideas that support basic human needs.

For instance: gratitude, connection, flexibility, openness, and autonomy. These are the essential elements of an employee engagement program. And fortunately, they are also the most affordable.