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30 low-cost ways to boost employee engagement

Just when organizations need an engaged workforce the most, many have slashed budgets for things that boost engagement

By Brian Kreissl

There’s been a lot of talk lately about declining employee engagement scores worldwide.

This is a real problem for organizations as the global economy recovers from the economic doldrums. But just when they need an engaged workforce the most, many organizations have cut their budgets for the types of things that typically engage employees.

Fortunately, there are many things an organization can do to engage its workforce that need not cost a great deal. But before we cover those, it's important to get a sense of what employee engagement actually is.

What is employee engagement?

While there is no universally accepted definition of employee engagement, we all know an engaged employee when we see one.

First of all, engagement is closely aligned with the concept of motivation.

Yet, while motivation is relevant to the discussion of employee engagement, it's only part of the picture. Someone who is motivated solely by fear of job loss or disciplinary sanctions can hardly be said to be engaged — even though there's definitely motivation there.

Another aspect of employee engagement is commitment. This includes commitment to the job, the employee's manager and the organization.

But, like motivation, commitment provides only part of the picture. For example, one could be highly committed to the job, but be committed for all the wrong reasons.

An organization with an extreme "country club" atmosphere could inspire this type of loyalty and commitment - along with an entitlement mentality.

Employees who are committed to their employers and their cushy jobs where few expectations are placed on them are hardly engaged. Instead, they're likely to be committed solely because of the lackadaisical environment and the gold-plated compensation and benefits packages. In a sense, this can act like a form of "golden handcuffs."

The third major factor separating the engaged from the disengaged is the willingness to put forward discretionary effort in the pursuit of organizational goals. However, this isn't about working unpaid overtime or being coerced into doing more with less.

An employee who is willing to put in extra effort does so because she really wants to. For such individuals, going above and beyond gives them increased satisfaction.

Some commentators have equated employee engagement with the 1990s buzzword "empowerment." Yet, I’d argue engagement goes beyond simply empowering employees.

Put another way, empowering employees is one thing an organization can do to help engage its workforce. But it isn’t the only thing.

Let’s examine some examples of things employers can do to foster increased engagement – particularly on a limited budget.

Improving employee engagement

•clearly communicate the organization’s vision, mission and values

•explain to employees how their jobs contribute to organizational goals

•encourage a healthy amount of risk taking

•communicate organizational changes to employees

•ensure senior management is available and approachable

•ensure managers take the time to get to know their teams

•ensure the workplace is physically pleasant, safe and secure

•provide employees with a reasonable degree of job security

•ensure employees have the resources needed to be successful

•develop and enforce policies dealing with a respectful workplace

•provide opportunities for employees to work collaboratively

•allow employees the opportunity to work on special projects or volunteer for charity

•provide stimulating work that isn’t boring or repetitive

•provide freedom to determine how employees complete their work

•provide opportunities for promotion and career advancement

•allow employees to innovate and excel in their jobs

•ensure the right employees are placed in the right roles

•involve employees in decision-making

•ensure the total rewards package is competitive and fair

•implement a pay-for-performance culture recognizing superior performance

•cascade clearly defined organizational goals to all employees; allow them to participate in setting their own goals and objectives

•let employees know what’s expected of them

•provide ongoing constructive feedback

•ensure employees have reasonable demands placed on them; avoid conflicting demands

•provide learning and development opportunities

•ensure proper work-life balance

•ensure employees take adequate vacation time

•provide compassion and emotional support during difficult times

•provide opportunities for employees to socialize and get to know one another

•conduct regular employee engagement surveys and report on their results; develop meaningful action items.

Brian Kreissl is the managing editor of Consult Carswell. He can be reached at For more information, visit

Brian Kreissl

Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Thomson Reuters Legal Canada's human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.
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