Employee Engagement: 7 Ways to Boost Morale

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A happy employee is a productive employee.  A happy team is an effective team.  That’s the way I like to look at employee engagement because it simplifies the guiding principles for managers.

In an ideal world, managers would let employees show up when they want,  do whatever they want, and get paid as much as they want.  But of course, that’s not the world we live in.  Thus, creating an engaging environment is not as simple as one might think, and can certainly frustrate even the most experienced of managers.

What Makes a Work Environment Engaging?

There are many views of what makes for an engaging work environment, but I’ll offer up my own definition:  An engaging work environment is:

  • One in which employees feel their work is important and valued by others
  • An environment where the work is interesting and stimulating
  • One in which employees are given opportunities to learn and grow at will
  • One in which people want to do their best because they feel part of something good
  • An environment which allows employees to balance their paid jobs with their jobs at home

Such a description conjures up images of just a handful of companies like Google, Apple and Southwest Airlines.

Creating such a work environment is difficult because managers and employees are always busy.  Taking precious minutes away from the next email can seem like a crime.  Further, managers are always battling resource gaps, which can make it even harder to create that optimal work environment.

But there are ways that managers can overcome these challenges that do not require they blow through their budgets.  While some of these tips can cost a little bit of money, many are entirely free and can be used at a manager’s discretion.  And the reason managers should want to create that high engagement environment is because when employees are happy and challenged, they will produce the best results.

7 Ways to Boost Morale

Here are some of the ways you can boost morale and engagement within your teams and organizations:

1.  Bring in Breakfast

Schedule your monthly department meetings around 9AM, to ensure all employees have reached the office and have had time to settle in.  Further, schedule them on Fridays, when people are typically going to be in a good mood.  Bring in breakfast – coffee and bagels – to let them snack as you run through your agenda.  Each month, when my employees walk into the board room they are always eager to see what refreshments are there for that particular meeting.  Between fresh pastries, fruit, and coffee, you typically spend less than $100.

The Impact:  Food is a great way to brighten your employees’ day.  It’s a simple way to give a treat to them to thank them for their hard work.  For my team, the few minutes of social time I afford them before we get into the agenda is a great way to take the edge off the normal workplace grind.  It’s also a quick and easy way to show your employees you care and are willing spend a little money on them.

2.  Spontaneous Lunch

Periodically, take a small group of employees out to lunch.  Maybe you just take one employee, other times you might want to invite a group of 4 or 5 for an informal discussion.  Whether they are planned a day or two in advance or just spontaneously on your way out the door, a simple lunch meal with your employees give you some time to talk to them without the distractions of phone calls and emails, and gives them some time to talk to you when you can give them your undivided attention.

The Impact:  Again, food is a great way to give employees a simple perk.  More importantly, it gives managers time with their employees out of the office, where they are naturally more relaxed and willing to talk about issues or bring up any concerns without others present.  From an employee perspective, it gives them a chance to socialize and get face-time with the boss.

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3.  Team Dinner

A team dinner is a great way to get the team out of the office to recognize and reward employees for their contributions.  In my case, I usually have one or two dinners a year, typically after a major project was completed, or just as a general thank you for the team’s dedication and continued efforts.

The Impact:  Still with the food theme, a team dinner at a place such as Dave and Busters or some place where the team can socialize and interact openly builds camaraderie and serves as a great way encourage people to spend time with one another outside the pressures of the office.  Your employees spend at least 40 hours a week together, so its important that they have strong relationships.  For these events, inviting spouses and providing for some recreation creates a sense of unity, family and leave the team members with great memories.

4.  Training Class

Every year when you plan your budget, put in $3,000 for each employee to attend a seminar or training class.  Don’t make training classes mandatory (although you should highly encourage it) because some employees may not want to take one.  However, should an employee expresses interest in taking a class or attending a conference to help develop their skills, you want to be in a position to simply say ‘No problem.’

The Impact:  A key element of employee engagement stems from the fact that most people want their careers to be fulfilling.  They want to feel valued and that they have the opportunity to hone their skills.  Employees want a workplace and a boss that will encourage and support those interests.  From a manager’s perspective, outside training is also a great way to develop your employees.

5.  Public Acknowledgement

During your monthly department meetings, take a few minutes at the onset of the discussion to recognize people individually in front of the rest of the team for some recent contributions.  Public praise of a job well done is one of the most powerful ways a manager can make employees feel valued.  Be sure to keep a record of who you acknowledged so you can make sure to give each employee a shout out over time, and not consistently recognize your high performers.

The Impact:  Not everyone likes the spot light, but a brief high-five from the boss from time to time in front of peers is a great morale booster.  Further, it helps you as the manager reinforce (and broadcast) the behavior you seek from your team.  If you really liked how Suzie stayed late on a Friday to make sure the report was issued on time, state that.  Tell people in your recognition of Suzie that it was her dedication and hard work to meet a deadline that earned her your appreciation.

6.  Friday Afternoon Recognition Reminder

We are all guilty of inconsistency when it comes recognition.  Someone did something great, but you’re tied up in a meeting. When you get back to your desk, you’re on to the next thing and forget to respond to that email or swing by that person’s desk to say thank you. To help carve out a few minutes, set up a Friday afternoon reminder on your calendar to spend a few minutes reflecting on the week and use the time to recognize performance of your staff. If you wait until Monday, you’ll forget and be too focused on the week ahead.  Perhaps it’s a simple email as a ‘thank you,’ or maybe an old-fashioned hand written note. Some companies have reward programs for cash awards or points that can be used in exchange for merchandise. Regardless, by finding a time slot to do this every week, you can become more consistent with recognition of employees.

The Impact: Let’s face it, we’re all busy – managers, employees, peers, etc.  When an employee has a great success or achieves a major milestone and it goes unnoticed by the boss, it can be disheartening.  A phrase I often hear from clients is ‘I work very hard, but don’t feel that my work or efforts are recognized by management.’  By taking a few minutes to improve the consistency with which you recognize employees, you can help ensure you do not forget the little things that are worth some praise each week. When employees feel their work is valued and appreciated, it goes a long way towards employee retention.

7.  Core Work Hours

It’s not 1957 anymore.  In most offices these days, there is no firm 8 to 5 policy as there once was (unless of course you have specific shift times).  Unless your company or organization has a specific policy for working hours, be flexible.  Even if you like to be in your office by 6AM, don’t demand your employees do the same.  Some employees may want to come in early and leave a little early to spend time with kids before they go to bed.  Other people may want to come in a little later and work later to avoid a nasty rush hour.   Instead of strict working hours, you can help build morale and engagement among your staff by offering flexible working hours and affording them some convenience.  So instead of focusing on specific hours, set up ‘core’ hours.  In my office, I require employees to be in by 9AM and to be there until 3PM, but if they want to come in early or stay later, they are welcome to do so.  They are there between those hours to ensure our customers can reach them and I know when I can find them, but beyond that, it’s up to them.

The Impact:  Every employee has their own life and lifestyle.  Perhaps someone needs to drop a child off at day care, or wants to be home when the kids get home from school.  Either way, in today’s work environment people value employers who give the employee latitude and flexibility.  Particularly if the work is redundant, or if you have financial constraints that limit the number of financial perks you can offer, work hour flexibility is a great alternative to combat such difficulties.


What other ways do you build morale and engagement?





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