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9 Terrific Ways To Increase Employee Engagement For Small Businesses In 2024

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Over the past few decades, employee engagement has taken center stage by becoming a top priority for global organizations. But what often goes unnoticed (and unsaid) is how impactful employee engagement can be for small companies that are looking to retain their human capital, especially in this economy.

But first:

What Is Employee Engagement?

Although the term "employee engagement" may appear ambiguous, it truly refers to doing things that make an employee feel happy, fulfilled, and safe at work. Employees who are more engaged are more likely to maximize productivity and performance and go above and beyond to do a great job.

The Need For Employee Engagement

The need for an engaged workforce will be even more essential in this decade and beyond. With every company's bottom line suffering as a result of the pandemic, better employee loyalty levels could be the parameter that determines whether or not a company's profit margins are maintained.

But over the past few years of running an employee engagement company out there, one thing has become clear to me. Corporates and leaders are just as clueless about employee engagement as they were a decade ago.

And it makes sense why. Engaging your employees can seem like an expensive, complex, and fool-hardy task. When it comes to small businesses, these roadblocks seem even more vast.

But, believe it or not, engaging your employees is not the mammoth task that it is made out to be. In this article, I'll take you through some easy but effective strategies to help small business owners enhance their employee engagement levels.

9 Employee Engagement Strategies That Small Business Owners Can Use

When Sequoia Capital in Silicon Valley dubbed the coronavirus the "Black Swan of 2020," it reminded founders and CEOs that "those who survive are not the strongest or the most intelligent, but the most adaptable to change."

In the pandemic, small companies were undoubtedly one of the worst-hit sectors.

Despite these challenges, many businesses managed to survive and even flourish. Moreover, in a stroke of happy incidence, many new small businesses also got the green light during the pandemic.

However, in the post-pandemic era, don't make the mistake of assuming that you won't face another such big crisis. The first step toward crisis preparedness is ensuring that your employees understand and are trained on what to expect and how to behave in the event of a future crisis.

1. Be an active listener.


The majority of employee engagement strategies are geared toward being tactical or sophisticated. However, it's often the simplest ones that have the greatest influence.

For example, consider the art of listening.

Great active listeners can pick up on meanings and hints that "talkers" miss. However, despite its simplicity, it alleviated one main problem that bad leaders exhibit— commanding people to do their jobs.

Here's the deal.

Leaders are often more concerned with the results than with the process itself. It usually means that employees' problems and issues— arising from achieving the desired outcome— are not heard or addressed. When you start commanding people to do things, you lose their respect and set them on the path to disengagement.

Thus, a leader must cultivate a very critical habit. Begin actively communicating with your team.

Make it a cultural norm for managers and senior leaders to inquire, "What can I do to assist you in overcoming this problem?" Your job as a leader is to understand what is required, listen to new perspectives, and determine the best way forward.

One of the biggest advantages of being an active listener is the insights and viewpoints that people share with you. Simply put, certain employees are aware of the nitty-gritty details of the business that even the most senior executive may be unaware of.

Although some of those suggestions may not be feasible, they will make that person feel gratified that you took the time to sit and listen to their ideas. Employees are more likely to be confident in their jobs if you show them that their opinions matter.

2. Conversations. Not Debates.

For employees, being respected influences how engaged they truly feel.

Leaders must recognize the importance of cultivating a culture in which multiple points of view are discussed without anyone feeling obligated to "win" a debate by imposing their conclusion. This is also a major prerequisite for building an inclusive workplace.

Debates only focus on "being right" rather than doing what is best for the team and the organization. A leader should ensure that everyone on the team participates in a civil and equal discussion to reach a consensus on the best course of action.

A leader should ensure that there is a respectful and equal conversation that takes into account all of the team members' perspectives and leads to a collective consensus on what is best.

A leader should guarantee that there is a respectful and equal conversation that takes into account everyone on the team's viewpoints and leads to a collective consensus about what is best.

Conducting round-robin meetings is one of the most effective strategies to do so. In a round-robin meeting, each participant is given a set amount of time to discuss their ideas and opinions. It not only lowers the risk of getting distracted but also promotes inclusivity.

3. Don’t Ditch Recognition

The state of employee engagement is very different than the one from two decades back. Millennials and Gen Z workers are motivated by more than just a paycheck. They want to make a difference.

According to an SHRM study, 79 percent of millennial and Gen Z respondents agreed that greater rewards and recognition would boost their loyalty to their job.

Today's workforce expects to be recognized, valued, and rewarded for their efforts. Their job satisfaction levels are influenced by being rewarded for exceptional performance through bonuses, benefits, and employee appreciation.

Meanwhile, Harvard Business Review research on the Fresh Start effect suggests recognizing your employees can be especially effective at key temporal milestones. That is if you want to make your employees' accomplishments more meaningful, make sure to reward and recognize them when they achieve their objectives.

Now, if you want your employee recognition process to be truly effective, you must ensure that it is done frequently, on time, and in a value-based manner.

  • Frequent recognition implies that recognition should be consistent rather than a once-in-a-blue-moon occurrence.
  • Recognizing a good performance or effort as soon as it is accomplished is known as timely recognition.
  • When you want to create an appreciation-based culture and define what behaviors are reward-worthy to your employees, value-based recognition is the way to go.

Employee recognition may appear difficult, expensive, and time-consuming, but it does not have to be. Appreciating your employees will be easier and more convenient if you use a digital reward and recognition platform.

Many of these digital rewards and recognition platforms are reasonably priced and suitable for businesses of all sizes. So, even if you are a small business, there is almost certainly a low-cost platform for you out there.

Vantage Rewards is a powerful reward and recognition platform that is simple to use, SaaS-based, and makes employee recognition simple, fun, and accessible.

Vantage Rewards was created to make the recognition process more impactful, as well as easier to do, manage, and run. Vantage Rewards— with features such as automated rewarding, budgeting and allocation, on-the-spot recognition, a management dashboard, and detailed analytics— enables organizations to recognize their workforces in a meaningful yet seamless manner.

4. Prioritize Employee Well-Being


It is a well-known fact that happy, healthy employees are far more productive. This is further supported by a Gallup study that found engagement and well-being are mutually reinforcing, i.e., each affects the other's future condition.

Since 2020, prioritizing one's health has been on the rise, and for a good reason.

According to Deloitte's report, while 80 percent of organizations stated employee well-being would be critical or very important for their success over the next 12-18 months, only 12 percent claimed they were prepared to cope with the issue.

It's vital to recognize that a lack of physical wellness isn't the only factor affecting your employees' productivity. It's also about their mental wellness.

Many businesses still heavily emphasize physical health in their corporate wellness program, despite the fact that mental health is essential for an employee's ability to perform and prevent burnout.

It is not necessary to spend a lot of money to help employees be their healthiest selves.

You can hold small wellness contests as a small business owner to encourage your employees to get up and move. To ensure that your employees actually participate, you can offer incentives such as an extra day off to those who walk the most number of steps.

5. Foster Meaningful Peer Relationships

Another common mistake made by most small businesses is to prioritize top-down or manager-only recognition while completely disregarding the importance of peer-to-peer appreciation.

The majority of people place great value on what their peers think of them. When employees share a sense of camaraderie and connect with their coworkers, they look forward to going to work every day.

A positive and healthy culture is one in which coworkers appreciate each other on a job well done.

According to research from SHRM and Globoforce, 57 percent of HR professionals in companies who used peer-to-peer recognition programs said that employee engagement was higher. Additionally, retention increased in 28 percent of corporations that started using peer recognition systems against 21 percent of businesses that didn't.

Peer-to-peer recognition will therefore continue to be one of the most successful and potent engagement tactics as long as you are leading a people-first company.

As a small business owner, here are some tips for fostering a culture of peer recognition at your workplace:

  • Publicly showcasing your employees' accomplishments allows others to join in on the appreciating, discussing, and celebrating of that particular milestone, whether it's through a social media post or a "wall of fame" (either physical or digital).
  • Whether you're celebrating a significant achievement or a work anniversary, encourage employees to take the initiative to plan and carry out a peer recognition moment.
  • Encourage staff members to collaborate, learn from, and interact with one another to develop new ideas. Cross-functional teams can be incredibly effective in teaching your staff how to collaborate more effectively.
  • A great approach for peers to work together and negotiate the complexities of a new project or task is through mentoring or buddy programs.
  • Leaders must continuously remind their teams of the importance of praising exceptional work. Keep it relevant and give it a top priority. Set a good example for your staff in terms of what to acknowledge and how to express gratitude.

6. Help Build Deeper Relationships With Managers


According to an MIT SMR study, employees who said they completely trusted their team leader were 14 times more likely to be fully engaged. Meanwhile, according to a 2019 survey by the staffing company Robert Half, nearly half of the workers surveyed left their jobs because of a bad boss.

A popular saying can sum up the statistics presented above:

People don't leave jobs. They leave their managers.

In numerous online discussions, employees have expressed the belief that they would rather work for a terrible company with a wonderful manager than a fantastic company with a bad manager.

As a result, it is crucial that businesses evaluate and measure managers' performance in the same manner they do their employees.

Managers serve as a link between a company and its employees. If the manager is not a team player, the employees will have a harder time achieving their full potential, even if the company invests millions in resources and employee engagement programs.

Thus, investing in and devoting time to finding a good manager can boost morale, motivate employees to do their best work, serve as ideal mentors, and produce exceptional results.

A team led by an effective manager will be more productive, less distracted, and exhibit higher levels of teamwork. In a nutshell, they will become more engaged.

7. Establish A Culture That Prioritizes Empathy

If there is one thing you must do right now to increase engagement, it is to become more empathetic. To optimal functioning, today's small business requires empathy.

It is imperative for us to understand that our lack of empathy for your people, especially as leaders, simply invites future business loss. An employee's mental health, productivity, and performance may suffer as a result of the management's (and their peers') lack of compassion. In such a scenario, engagement suffers a serious loss.

In this new era, leaders need to be able to relate to the plight of the workforce. Empathy enables you to respond to the needs of your team with openness rather than skepticism.

Empathy can demonstrate to your team that you care about their happiness and well-being. But remember to draw a line to prevent them from misinterpreting your compassion as a weakness.

Employees become more committed to the company when they understand they are more than just a cog in the machine. In times of change and crisis, employees require a leader with whom they can connect on a human level.

The key is to strike a balance between your compassionate and managerial sides. Here's how:

  • No matter how tiny, genuine appreciation could have a significant effect on the mood of your staff. Even a small gesture of gratitude from the heart, especially during trying times, can give your staff the boost they require.
  • Schedule at least 5 minutes of one-on-one time with each employee on your schedule. Encourage your staff to discuss their highs and lows from the prior week to make these sessions more personalized. Make sure these conversations cover both the personal and professional aspects of your employees' lives to gain a complete picture of their mental health.
  • As a leader, it is your duty to create an environment where people feel satisfied and optimistic and believe they don't have to exert themselves to the point of exhaustion in order to accomplish their targets. To start, you can guide your team through a SMART goals goal-setting process to identify which objectives are realistic.

8. Focus On Recruiting People From Underrepresented Groups


Not prioritizing DE&I may have a far greater impact on your company than you realize.

According to a recent McKinsey study, 39% of all respondents have rejected or decided not to pursue a job because of a perceived lack of inclusion at the company.

This is something you absolutely do not want to happen in a talent war. Leaders must recognize that in order to foster a culture of inclusion, they must begin by implementing better recruitment strategies that appeal to a diverse audience.

Here are some steps you can take to start hiring more candidates from underrepresented groups (URGs):

  • Implement outreach initiatives for diversity. Focus on enhancing your sourcing and leveraging a larger variety of job sites to increase the diversity of your top-of-funnel candidates.
  • To encourage a wider range of applicants, you may also work on enhancing your referral programs and supporting ERGs.
  • By agreeing to include at least two underrepresented minority candidates in the last stage of the interview process, you can easily make DE&I recruitment a priority.

9. Track Performance. Not Time Spent At The Office.


The post-pandemic hybrid world bought to light a new discriminatory practice that may not only be affecting your remote workers but also your regular office workers.

In one study, researchers concluded that remote workers and office workers were promoted at the same rate but found that remote workers' salaries grew more slowly.

This incites some new questions.

Are productivity and performance equivalent to the output your present? Or is it simply a question of being more "present" and "seen" doing work rather than actually being productive?

Such prejudice and unconscious biases encourage a culture where an employee's genuine performance is disregarded. Because they aren't the first to come and the last to leave the office, it fosters a culture where the actual top performers aren't noticed and aren't given the credit they deserve.

It is how you, as a leader, focus on your employees' performance and retain your best employees:

  • Change the way you measure success. Instead of micromanaging your employees to complete a task, set up a structure where everyone is responsible for their own goals. The secret to efficient yet bias-free performance management is utilizing SMART goal setting, OKRs, KPIs, scrums, and sprint planning.
  • Track every promotion and pay raise for the next 12 to 18 months and look for a relationship between it and time spent in the office. It will help you determine whether time spent working increases or decreases an employee's likelihood of career development.
  • Specify the expectations for both you and the staff. Transparency and trust are the foundation of a good working relationship. Make sure that you and your staff have outlined their expectations in advance.
  • If there was no structure before, build one. Implementing very clear SOPs, frequent meetings, check-ins, or straightforward goal-setting will help you maintain high productivity levels even in a flexible work environment.

Summing Up

A Deloitte report addressed that while 90 percent of executives understand the importance of increasing employee engagement, fewer than 50 percent understand how to address this issue.

A big part of this problem lies in how drastically different the organizational hierarchy is compared to yesteryears. Younger employees are more inclined to seek work in an atmosphere with solid leadership, role change, and a culturally appropriate workplace.

Also, if we account for the drastic shift in work arrangements since 2020 and the eventual digitalization of entire work processes, the barriers between leaders and employee engagement are more complex than ever.

Employee engagement is by no means an easy task to accomplish. But the business ROIs that an engaged workforce brings to the table is well worth the effort. With the right employee engagement strategies, you'll just be one (huge) step closer to having an engaged, productive, and happier workforce.

This article is written by Barasha Medhi, who is a part of the marketing team at Vantage Circle. Barasha can be found either searching for interesting HR buzzwords to write about or looking at pictures of cozy Bel Air mansions. For any related queries, contact editor@vantagecircle.com.

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The Ultimate Guide to Employee Rewards and Recognition

The Ultimate Guide to Employee Rewards and Recognition