Employee Engagement Ideas: 5 Proven Ways to Motivate Employees

The importance of employee engagement is no secret. Motivated employees put more effort into their work, which leads to better business outcomes. In fact, businesses with highly engaged employees achieve twice the annual net income of those who lag behind in engagement.

However, coming up with new and interesting ways to motivate employees is challenging. That's because we're trying to influence and sometimes even change the behavior of our entire staff. Recruitment is exhausting enough. Add scalable behavioral modification to the mix and our jobs can seem impossible!

Thankfully implementing an employee engagement strategy doesn't require an organizational overhaul. Rather, we can take baby steps and avoid catastrophic cultural or operational changes by looking at how other businesses motivate employees. Below we've outlined five employee engagement ideas that worked for other companies, and actions you can take right now to implement the engagement technique to your organization.

Motivating Employees Idea 1: Gamification

The use of games in the workplace to increase employee engagement is growing. In fact, the gamification market is expected to be worth $2.8 billion by 2016, according to M2 Research. But what is it?

Gamification uses game mechanics and design techniques in a non-gaming context to drive business performance. Much more than social networks, leaderboards, and badges, gamification is a unifying technique that helps employees of all levels connect with one another. It provides a system for recognizing and remembering things like employee cooperation, (friendly) competition, advancement, and success.

For example, utilities company EDF used gamification to crowdsource ideas for how their organization might innovate, generating five times as many ideas from employees than previous attempts. Pretty impressive.

Employees are more likely to succeed if they know their companies' goals, and gamification is a way of tangibly quantifying their contributions toward business objectives. Also, gamification lends itself to analytics, which can provide interesting insights into the impact of our motivational techniques.

How to implement gamification

The good news is we can start small. By thinking about our employees’ motivations and clearly identifying our business objectives, we can integrate game elements into existing processes.

“Something as simple as a scoring system can motivate employees to change their behavior,” says Elena Bertozzi, a professor of digital game design at Quinnipiac University, when talking to The Institute.

For example, at the University of California Benioff Children’s Hospital in San Francisco, nurses were given points for logging in their daily tasks as part of an effort to prevent hospital-acquired infections.

“It’s difficult to teach motivation,” says Bertozzi. “That’s what games can do. Game developers look at a situation and figure out how to persuade people to engage in a specific activity by turning the situation into a more competitive one.”

And competition in the workplace can be a good thing, as it boosts productivity when managed carefully. Keep things simple and entertaining to make sure employees buy in (low barriers of entry make games easily accessible to everyone), and offer real-time rewards and feedback. For more implementation ideas, check out this paper about getting started with a gamification process.

Motivating Employees Idea 2: Peer-to-Peer Bonus Programs

Rewards shouldn’t always come from the top. After all, those who are around us on a daily basis really notice when we’re putting in the extra effort.

Zappo’s recognizes this, and uses a peer-to-peer employee rewards program that allows its staff to acknowledge those who are an excellent example of company culture and who’ve been doing a fantastic job.

Peer-to-peer rewards not only improve engagement, but they also foster a positive team spirit. They’re a great way of showing employees that the things they do make a big difference, and they’re not going unappreciated.

How to implement a peer-to-peer rewards program

Set up a process whereby employees submit nominations with brief explanations to a designated team or individual. Make it so that each employee can nominate one person a month, then pick winners on a qualitative or quantitative basis.

Rewards don’t have to be expensive. One of Zappo’s core values is “do more with less” and this means it works hard to keep its reward program affordable and scalable. For example, give awesome parking spots, free lunch for a week, or small cash prizes. To give peer-to-peer rewards an extra boost, monitor them over time and hold an awards ceremony at the end of the year to recognize the employee who earned the most.

Motivating Employees Idea 3: Funded Social Events

Beyond salary, psychological and social fulfilment can determine whether employees are motivated to stay, perform, and contribute to an organization, says Sylvia Vorhauser Smith for Forbes. In other words, employees who have their basic human needs met by their employer are more likely to be engaged.

UK-based Peninsula Business Services came third in the Sunday Times' "Best Companies to Work For" list in 2014, partly because it funds monthly socials for its employees. While this is just one of its many methods of boosting employee engagement (for example, its 759 staff receive a free breakfast every Monday morning to make the start of the week more palatable), hosting social events is something that even the smallest business can do.

How to implement funded social events

From Friday afternoon beer o’clock to a holiday meal, funded socials are one of the easiest ways to improve employee engagement. Or try reward ceremonies, which are a great way to kill two birds with one stone — publicly recognize the efforts of high achievers and gather all employees in one place to bond. Just make sure that social events don't exclude certain employees — the last thing we want to do is to turn an employee engagement activity into an unintentional workplace discrimination suit waiting to happen!

Worried about actually funding social events? Compared to the cost of high staff turnover and poor engagement (disengaged employees are estimated to cost the U.S. economy $450 billion to $550 billion annually, according to a survey by Gallup), a monthly, or even quarterly social event isn’t a huge expenditure in the scheme of things. Review the books for discretionary budget and stick to small-scale events to keep costs down.

Motivating Employees Idea 4: Anniversary Celebrations

We know that employees who feel appreciated often go above and beyond what is expected of them, are more productive, and are less likely to leave a company. Well, celebrating employees’ workplace anniversaries is another way of letting them know that their commitment and loyalty haven’t gone unnoticed.

It’s another two birds, one stone situation. On the one hand, it improves the confidence and happiness of an individual employee. On the other, seeing another employee's achievements celebrated boosts morale across the whole office, because other employees know that their milestones will be met with similar rewards.

How to implement anniversary celebrations

This is another employee engagement technique that is extremely simple to set up. It only requires active management of a calendar to document employee start dates and some day-of preparations.

What's more, it doesn’t have to be organized from the top down. Setting up a celebration committee is a great way of sharing the work and fun; and it can improve the engagement of committee members since they'll have ownership of something that increases their peers' happiness.

What employees receive on their anniversary is limited only by our imagination. For example, employees celebrating their 20th anniversary with OhioHealth are rewarded with a shopping spree at an upscale mall before receiving a red carpet lunch with the CEO, while those reaching 10 years at Info-Tech Research Group get to join an exclusive veteran’s club and are given a $2,000 Air Canada gift certificate. From extra vacation days to simply an anniversary balloon, the options are endless.

Motivating Employees Idea 5: Offer Flextime

Flextime is a valuable tool for increasing employee satisfaction and engagement; considering it helps reduce absenteeism and staff turnover, improves the health of workers, and increases their productivity, according to a U.S. government study.

In fact, workers value flexibility over almost anything else — 66% of American millennials said they felt that an organization that adopts a flexible, mobile, and remote work model has a competitive edge over one that requires employees to be in the office from 9 am to 5 pm every weekday.

How to implement flextime

Allowing more personal days, flexible working hours, remote working options, compressed hours (where employees work longer hours over a shorter period of time), and half-day Fridays can all contribute to a more engaged workforce. It makes sense — employees love when employers are willing to contribute to a healthier work/life balance, and they work harder to ensure they can keep this optimal arrangement.

Adopt a formalized flextime policy rather than allowing an ad-hoc approach (which could get out of hand), and make sure all employees are aware of it. Some businesses do this by enforcing core hours, which means that regardless of start and finish time, all employees must be at their desks between, say, 10 am and 3 pm.

If it’s not realistic to implement this as standard, then why not take a leaf out of the Palo Alto-based law firm, Cooley’s, book? When its employees do a great job, they’re rewarded with “Snooze or Cruise” certificates, which allow them to come in two hours late or leave two hours early on a day of their choosing. The law firm's flexible initiative was featured in Fortune Magazine’s “10 Top Perks from Fortune’s Best Companies to Work For” and is an affordable way to motivate and reward employees.


Motivating employees isn't just about providing perks. Employees want to work for organizations that support and reward excellence, encourage honesty, and operate fairly. It’s our responsibility to provide them with this type of work environment as best we can; and in return we'll be rewarded with engaged employees.

Remember, we don’t have to make monumental organizational changes all at once. We can reduce risk by looking at the results achieved by other employers and adapting their initiatives to suit our own company objectives. We can also reduce the likelihood of internal resistance by starting small, measuring the impact of our employee engagement strategies, and collecting feedback before rolling things out on a larger scale.

This Information Is Not Legal Advice


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