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Eight ways to boost employee engagement for free

Elizabeth Bromstein|

We all know that an engaged employee is a productive employee, but it can be difficult to devise ways to boost morale and motivation around the workplace, particularly if you’re on a tight budget.

If you’d love to throw parties, buy pool tables and offer free drinks on Friday afternoons but you just can’t afford it, don’t despair. There are ways to boost employee engagement without spending a dime.

Here are eight of them:

Offer praise: Too many workplaces work on the “No news is good news” policy. If you haven’t heard anything negative, you must be doing an OK job. Actually telling people when they’ve done a good job is a far better tactic. It’s worth the effort. Telling someone, in person or in an email, “I just wanted to let you know that you did a really good job on that presentation/report/closing” – if they actually did a good job, of course. Don’t lie – will boost that person’s morale and motivate them to be consistent.If someone has no idea whether their efforts are appreciated, they’ll start to wonder why they should bother.

Create friendly competition: It’s nice to have your accomplishments acknowledged in a public manner. In a twist on the “Employee of the Month” idea, I once heard about a manager who had a circulating bouquet of flowers that was sent each week to the highest performing employee to keep on his or her desk. So, the flowers aren’t free, unless you pick them. But you could use a statue of some kind, or your imagination and come up with something yourself.

Care about your employees: According to Mr. How to Make Friends and Influence People himself, Dale Carnegie, a study “revealed that a ‘caring’ manager is one of the key elements that drives employee engagement. That is, employees want their managers to care about their personal lives, to take an interest in them as people, to care about how they feel and support their health and well-being. A manager’s ability to build strong relationships with employees, build strong team interaction and lead in a ‘person-centered’ way creates an engaging environment in which employees can perform at the highest possible level.”

This is pretty easy to accomplish. Listen to your employees, take an interest in what they have to say, and make them feel heard. Take an interest in their outside lives and interests. If your employees feel like you are a friend, they will not want to let you down. Nobody wants to let a friend down.

Encourage friendships: Research by Gallup Consulting reportedly found that co-worker friendships increase employee satisfaction in U.S. companies by 50 per cent, and that employees who had a best friend at work are seven times more likely to be fully engaged in their jobs. (via

Challenge people: Stephen Lynch of writes in his book Business Execution for Results, “People are more likely to become motivated if they do challenging work. Assigning KPIs and responsibility for Projects make the work challenging for most people. The other way that work is challenging is if people are always learning more.”

Make people feel like they’re making progress: Lynch writes, “People want to grow, develop, and make progress. If you arrange their work so that they can do that, even a little bit every day, they are more likely to become motivated. Research documented in the book The Progress Principle found that that the best way to motivate people, day in and day out, is by facilitating progress – even small wins.”

Allow autonomy: Lynch says, “People want as much control as possible over their work life. They want to make choices about how to do their work. When you allow them to make those choices, they’re more likely to become motivated.”

Introduce them to the people who benefit from their work: Fast Company reported on a study of the training given to new call center employees of software firm. One group of trainees was chosen to meet an “internal customer” (an employee of another department whose salary depends on the new hires’ sales) during their training, in combination with some inspirational words from the CEO. Another group got just the inspirational words. The group that met the internal customer showed a 20 per cent improvement in revenue per shift over seven weeks, while the group that got just the inspirational words saw no such improvement. Show employees how their work impacts others. Give them a purpose.

It’s nice to get paid. But people also want to feel useful and appreciated. If you show that appreciation, you’ll likely find that a little goes a long way.