Employee engagement programs can sound overwhelming both in size and budget, but they don’t have to be. The simple fact is a successful engagement program is a program your employees respond to. A budget, while helpful depending on what you’d like to do, isn’t necessary.
There is a trade-off, though. What costs less in dollars will cost more in time. That doesn’t mean your no-budget approach will have you living at the office, longing for a few spare minutes to go home and get some sleep (and if you are doing that, please stop; that program isn’t worth it). Spending more time on a program means you get to experience from the very beginning the importance of caring about your engagement program and wanting it to be exciting and motivating from start to finish.
How To Get Started
Survey. Always start with a survey to gauge people’s interest in potential engagement activities. These surveys can be formal, like an email blast with a request to check off this box or that box, or informal, like simply asking people if they’re available on a certain day or if this idea sounds fun. Don’t give up if the survey results mislead you. We’ve all experienced an initial trepidation to an idea, only to fall head over heels for the tactile event or object when it’s actually front of us. Your employees are much the same: they can’t always imagine the options you’re suggesting. It may turn out they love something that seemed like a long shot, or aren’t that motivated by what you thought would be overwhelmingly popular. Just take it as learning. These programs are baby steps with lots of noodles to be thrown at the wall while employees begin to both trust the program and come to know their own likes and dislikes in the context of how engagement programs work in reality.
Know your “why” and your “yummy.” When employees show up, be sure you or someone who believes in the offering is there to act as a host. This person will share with them the purpose of the event in terms of how it’s relevant, make them feel welcome, and foster a good feeling about taking time to participate. This information doesn’t have to be monumental, but will go a long way towards fostering both a sense of ease and appreciation for the offering.
Go broader than HR. HR has an important role, but it can’t be the sole presence in getting employee engagement off the ground. No matter what best efforts organizations have made to reveal the business savvy and emotional importance of the HR role, there is a little bit of a hangover in all of us from the old days of HR as disciplinary and bean-counter, along the lines of “Oh, that’s the principal’s office.” Engagement programs need more support both in the planning and in the implementation than from HR.
Make your space safe. You can lay out all the coloring books or plan all the lunchtime bike rides you want, but an engagement event will never work if employees don’t feel safe enough to participate. To bring that level of security to your employees, an engagement program needs a strong presence from management. Whether this presence is shown by their participation in the actual event or in communications leading up to the event, having respected names from leadership associated will help assure employees that the programs are there for them to take advantage of, and they will be supported every step of the way.
Ask questions after. When you’ve finished an engagement event, ask your employees how they felt about it. Were they energized? Did they enjoy it? Is it something they’re interested in doing again? Learn from each engagement event what really resonated with your workforce.
The more time we spent implementing low- and no-cost engagement programs, the more we realized that what appeals to us as adults is what appealed to us as children: simplicity, fun, and human connection. There are an unlimited number of ways to boost engagement on a low- or no-cost budget. At Balance Integration, we’ve done a number of them, and we have some favorites.
Meditation lunch. Take ten minutes during your lunch break to meditate as a team.
Creativity lunch. Plan a lunch break that’s all about self-expression and celebration of creativity.
Play nice music, or ask employees to bring in their favorite play lists. Have adult coloring books. Encourage employees to take selfies of their coloring creations and share with one another.
Employee pot-luck. Encourage people to bring in their favorite foods. You won’t only get a feast; you’ll get to know your team that much better.
YouTube Club. Get a club together that regularly meets to discuss and share people’s favorite YouTube clips or TEDTalks.
DIY Truffle Station. When we did this project, we spent around $200 for everything, and needed a strong blender. Employees get to hand-make truffles to take home to a loved one.
Exercise Club. If the company has a gym membership, go as a group. Bike ride together. Bring a frisbee and check out the park a block over.
Programs like these help jump start the engagement muscles and show your employees that this is a “we” not a “me/them” organization. Hopefully, one day you’ll wake up and realize that engagement has been integrated so completely into your company’s fabric that it’ll be normalized. A pot-luck will happen one day, a bike ride the other, and work will continue in the office. Engagement doesn’t have to have bells and whistles to succeed; all it needs are people who care.