The Ultimate List of Innovative Employee Engagement Ideas

November 1, 2021

As companies emerge out of Covid and into the Great Attrition/Resignation, low or falling engagement scores are being seen as a possible reason or manifestation for so many people looking to change employers. 

As a result, companies are trying to ‘fix’ engagement using ad hoc, stand-alone, quick-fix solutions that merely paper over the cracks.

It’s important to acknowledge that employee engagement is not a panacea for all problems. It is only part of the puzzle but a very important one. 

Employee engagement will help unlock your peoples’ ability to do great work. But building human connection and community combined with employee engagement will supercharge your organisation for success.

When it comes to thinking about employee engagement ideas, we cannot lapse into thinking about what we did in 2019 or before Covid sent most of us home. We know employee engagement pre-Covid wasn’t exactly booming. 

We need new ideas and fresh thinking. And we can start that process by building better human connections at work.

“Too many are asking whether we will go back to normal. To me, the problematic word is ‘back.’ There is no going back to pre-Covid times. There is only forward—to a new and uncertain future that is currently presenting us with an opportunity for thoughtful design.”
- Amy C. Edmondson, Author And Novartis Professor Of Leadership, Harvard Business School

23 Examples of employee engagement activities  

Innovative employee engagement ideas

1. Creating human connections

Building connection virtually is probably going to be one of the most difficult things you will do as a leader.

In a shared location, it’s obviously much easier to create connections walking the corridors, waiting in line at the coffee machine or kettle or chatting about your weekends as you wait for the team meeting to start. 

These social connections are harder to recreate when working remotely or in a hybrid fashion. Therefore, you need to work at creating this connection and community while you are all based in different locations. But there's a real connection and buzz when someone you work with has gone out of their way to really get to know you as a person.

One of our recent blog posts on building connection and community in remote teams will give you some great ideas on how to create human connection within your team.

2. Values Led Recognition

Most recognition in the workplace will be centred on the tasks people completed, and/or if something went really well and exceeded expectations. But there are plenty of other opportunities you can use for recognition. 

However, the SHRM/Globoforce Employee Recognition Survey has shown that values-based recognition is more effective at 

  1. empowering for employees
  2. reinforcing business goals
  3. creating a positive brand

If your team or organisation has values they strongly believe in, then you can recognise employees who have excelled in this area. 

A common value in organisations is ‘put people first’. Recognition could be given to any employee that showed empathy, compassion, gave extra help to anyone whether they are in your team or elsewhere in the organisation.

If this is recognition is happening at the team level, to make it count, the senior leadership should be made aware of it.

3. Using Appreciation instead of Recognition

Recognition is generally applied when the outcome goes as planned or even better, really well. 

Appreciation is linked to the input and effort rather than the outcome. 

In the podcast episode of Work’s Broken with Mike Robbins, Mike describes how when a pitcher in baseball is taken out of the game, it means he’s playing terrible. There’s an unwritten rule that nobody will go near the pitcher in the dugout. 

MIke argues (as a former pitcher) this is the exact moment we need to use appreciation. 

Not recognition, he played terribly. Just a little appreciation... 

‘Hey Mike, you tried, we know that. Don’t worry, we see you. You’re an important part of the team and we’ve got your back.’

This scenario plays out at work every day. People are trying hard and maybe things aren’t going to plan or they haven’t reached out for help. A little appreciation and support would go a long way.

4. What’s your passion?

There’s more to each person than their professional skills and workload. You probably work with actors, athletes, artists, and many other types of talented people.  

At one point in time, I was working in a large office building with over 1,000 people in it. I was travelling around Europe covering MMA events for large media outlets in Ireland and nobody at work knew. I never had a conversation with anyone at work about something I was incredibly passionate about. I’m sure there were a few people I could have connected with that were also passionate about MMA.

Find out what your team members are passionate about. Ask them to share a little about what they do outside of work. You could even schedule some time each week/month to hear about what people have going on.

You might even find that you have something in common.

Team engagement ideas

5. Open Communication

It’s never been easier to connect with people online. Most organisations will have a dedicated communication software tool like Slack or Teams. These will be largely for work chatter.

It’s always worth having a communication channel completely separate for ‘idle chatter’. Rather than fill up the project Slack channel with Netflix recommendations, have a separate messaging group for your team or department.

At PepTalk we have a Day2Day space in Google Chat that can sometimes be used for ‘shooting the breeze’. We also have a group on Signal for purely social messaging.

6. Start a newsletter for your team or department

This is less about work updates and more about the informal, fun stuff. You could use this to schedule and update on a team or department activities - nights out, challenges, walking/running groups.

You could also use your team newsletter to share Netflix recommendations, Spotify playlists, podcast series recommendations, book reviews, the sky is the limit.

By rotating the editor and contributors it means it’ll never be a massive burden for one person.

7. Team lunches

This is a really easy one to implement. 

If your office is has catering on site it could be as easy as organising a lunch for the team in the boardroom.

Ideally, there’ll be somewhere local that will allow your team to get offsite.

The budget doesn’t have to be huge but you will need a budget. It also should be equal across the teams. 

Engagement ideas for work

The whole idea behind employee engagement is to improve your peoples’ connections with each other and to the organisation. 

One of the superpowers of human beings is that we are intensely social. Things that we do together communally are more effective than a collective of individuals.

The same applies to work. If you have people that care about what they’re doing and who they do it with, you have a group of people that will go the extra mile and won’t have to be asked.

Any activity aimed at improving engagement must think in terms of sociability first not productivity, that will follow. 

8. Know your company culture

If you want to attract a certain type of employee, make sure you have a culture that supports this. 

Once you have established your culture to need to hire by it. This is the easiest way to ensure the team culture will survive. Hiring people who don’t believe what you believe will lead to it evolving into something else. 

A good way to ensure the team/department/company culture will survive the hiring process is to get employees involved. Get two team members to meet the prospective new joiner for a coffee or a stroll.

9. Epic new-hire experience

Make sure new hires get to know the whole team, not just the manager and the person training them in. 

If your hire will be using different software or technology platform consider assigning them a tech buddy from outside their immediate team.

Another good way to ease your hire in is to assign them a coffee buddy or someone they can meet once a week for a period while they get used to things. Again this person doesn’t have to be on their immediate team.

If you wanted, you could push the boat out as SnackNation does in this epic new hire introduction.

10. Engage with Purpose

Virtually every job that people do can be seen as improving the lives of customers, even if only in small ways. 

Therefore, every job can be made meaningful by focusing on how it improves the lives of customers. 

Sharing this purpose will help employees understand how their job advances the company’s vision.

11. Engage with opportunity

Some knowledge-based or more administration heavy industries require minimum standard qualification for employees. 

This means people are more knowledgeable about roles in the company than just the job they do. In this scenario, employees could move laterally within the organization.

Departments and teams could create a transfer window where employees can express an interest in a lateral transfer to another team and managers can indicate where extra resources might be welcomed.

12. Have your CEO/senior leaders host a monthly Q&A

Following on from engaging with information, giving employees genuine access to your C-suite and senior leaders will also help people get more invested in the organisation.

How can these types of events help employees have their voices heard? 

Can they vote on what questions will be asked at all hands? 

Can they add their topics? 

 Can employee groups also be on the same platform/stage speaking on the topics they care about? 

We recently wrote a blog about how there is a growing trend to give employees opportunities to engage and ask questions of senior leaders. We also gave some suggestions about what you could ask them.

13. Pulse and sentiment surveys

In a recent blog post, we explored the idea of regular employee pulse surveys as an alternative to the annual engagement survey. If you’re wondering how to do this, check out the blog post, it comes complete with suggestions. 

14. Have teams create their own set of values

We’ve got a whole blog post on this one too - Team Culture Explained. Develop and Build a Strong Team Culture.

Staff engagement ideas

Movement

15. Walking meetings

In addition to the health benefits, research has shown that walking meetings increase creativity and talkativity. 

People are more likely to engage in divergent thinking while walking and convergent thinking if they stay sitting.

The weather may not allow this all year round, but if you have a basement car park, why not get in a few laps while you chat.

Sleep

16. Bedtime book club

Some people find reading a great way to unwind and even send them off to sleep. 

Why not start a book club so people can share titles, swap books and discuss books they’ve read together. Some of these could be non-fiction relating to work.

Knowledge

17. Productivity hacks

Even in a team where the role covers the same core responsibilities, there will be people who can do things more efficiently or have a productivity hack for the software being used. 

What harm is recording and sharing these productivity hacks with your team and to the wider department or company?

18. Start a learning club

In the same way, some people might have productivity hacks, equally, there could be people in your team or department who are ‘power users’ of a particular application. These people could be tasked with developing a learning program that raises the level of knowledge and therefore productivity.

In addition to training sessions, there could also be clinics held to help people deal with specific issues.

Money

19. Financial advice seminars

You could bring in experts not just to advise them on buying financial products but also to advise them on how these products work.

They could also advise on budgeting, being more cost-effective with spending habits, myth-busting, jargon breakdowns and trends that may help them get to grips with managing the household.

Mindset

20. Encourage personal projects

One of Google’s most rewarding initiatives is what became known as 20% Time. One day a week Google employees were allowed to work on anything they wanted that was Google-related. This included things that had nothing to do with their job or team or even things that Google as a company weren’t doing. 

What resulted was the creation of AdSense, Gmail, Google Maps, Google News, Google Talk and many other features within Google products.

Creativity is something that takes time and practice. Encouraging personal projects within work is a great way to develop this. 

And nothing is more empowering than being able to decide what it is you are working on, especially if it is contributing to the wider vision of the organisation in ways you might not be able to in your day job.

It also develops the idea within an organisation that everyone can innovate, not just the people with that in their job title.

21. Demonstrate genuine care

In a previous role, I spent a lot of time in my car travelling between towns and cities in Ireland giving presentations to financial advisors and sometimes their clients. 

The problem with the client presentations was they usually had to take place very early in the morning or late in the evening before or after people went to work. 

This was fine when I was young free and single. But when my children were born it meant time away from them. The demand for these events had also grown significantly.

In a conversation with the Managing Director at the coffee machine, he mentioned he’d heard I was on the road a lot. I made a throwaway comment about how the early starts and late finishes were different now I was a dad.

A few days later my line manager pulled me aside and said the MD had suggested I get some extra time off to make up for having to frequently overnight because of road trips. 

What could you do for someone to demonstrate genuine care?

Nourish

22. Share recipes and cooking hacks weekly

Sharing recipes is always popular. But even better is sharing cooking hacks that have been passed down through your family or that you might have spotted on Instagram over the weekend.

You could share these via videos in your open communication channel.

23. Regular cooking demos by/for staff

Given the popularity of cooking shows, there’s something about watching someone create a fascinating meal.

Similar to the motivational speaker engagement activity, you could share the stage between one of your people and an outside expert brought.

What to do now?

If you liked some of these 23 ideas, you can get another 27 by downloading the PDF below.


Gus Ryan
Head of Marketing. Runner of kms, watcher of rugby while drinking a beer.
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