Time for a New Approach to Employee Engagement Programs

Traditional employee engagement programs are failing.

Despite the estimated $1.5 billion being spent on employee engagement programs every year – the latest research on employee engagement shows that less than ⅓ of employees are highly engaged with their jobs. And that hasn’t changed in more than a decade.

Yet engagement has never been more critical to business success. More than 69% of companies rate employee retention as one of their biggest concerns, and Gallup has shown that employee engagement lowers employee turnover.

So it’s no wonder that companies are searching for effective employee engagement programs. We have the answer.

Proven Employee Engagement Programs

A third-party research firm measured the ROI of investing in the YouEarnedIt Employee Experience platform. Their findings? By putting their employee engagement programs on the platform -- 100% of YouEarnedIt customers reported higher employee engagement.

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Why employee engagement programs fail

Traditional employee engagement programs rely on manual, scattershot approaches to engagement that run off a carrot/stick approach to motivation.
What are some examples?
  • The employee of the month award that feels more like a popularity contest than something tied to actual work accomplishments.
  • Sales or customer service incentives that highlight accomplishments in the front office, while the back office support team’s work goes unrecognized.
  • A “peer nomination” program, where any recognition takes weeks or months to filter to the nominee.
  • A survey (or set of surveys) that don’t result in action plans.
  • A ping pong table in the break room.

These approaches fail for a few simple reasons. They take a lot of time to administer and don’t resonate with employees. Not all employees engage the same way. So, often, these disparate employee engagement programs become an extra thing for your already overwhelmed employees to do, rather than something that builds their excitement about their job. So, even if participation is great at the beginning, the programs lose steam over time.

What does work? Running your employee engagement programs through one powerful, easy-to-use employee experience platform.

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Blueprint for Employee Engagement

Employee engagement doesn't just happen on its own. Building successful employee engagement programs takes more than a scattershot set of rewards or incentives. Effective employee engagement programs take structured support. Our guide shows you how to build that structure. You’ll learn how to set up a program that:

  • Provides employees a foundation of meaning
  • Applies appreciation to motivate employees
  • Maximizes connections so employees work efficiently
  • Gives employees a voice and a sense of impact
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employee engagement programs using real-time recognition

Building Effective Employee Engagement Programs

The best way to build long-term employee engagement is by creating an employee experience that invites employees to engage in the ways that resonate with them. This type of holistic employee-driven approach to engagement results in employee engagement programs that employees want to take part in.

What does that look like?

Make Meaning a Part of Your Foundation

Employees, particularly millennials, want to have a voice in their job. And increasingly, they want to feel like they can have a positive impact on the world around them. A Cone Communications study found that ¾ of millennials would take a pay cut to work at a company that showed corporate social responsibility.

Showing employees that their work has meaning – both to the company and the community – is a key part of effective employee engagement programs. Here are a few ideas for building that sense of meaning.

  • Communicate your Core Values Every Day.Core values matter. Our research on the Employee Experience optimized showed that employees that work at companies with clearly communicated core values have a dramatically better employee experience than those that don’t. The YouEarnedIt platform makes this easy by tying every piece of recognition to a core value.
  • Reach Out to the Community.In our own office, we’ve seen how giving together bonds us together. Our customers agree. And the data agrees: People want to give back. Making group donations, volunteer time, or mentoring a part of your employee engagement programs builds their effectiveness.
  • Career Growth Opportunities. Career growth is one of the most powerful job motivators. In a survey of highly engaged top performers, 45% said that professional or skill development was a top motivator, and another 13% said advancement opportunities for advancement. But learning doesn’t have to come from high-cost formal programs – offering a mentorship lunch with an executive or rewards for taking an online class can encourage growth organically.

Setting Appreciation as a Framework

Who doesn’t like to be appreciated? A Glassdoor study found that employees who feel appreciated are 50% more likely to stay in their jobs. But getting appreciation isn’t the whole story. The act of showing appreciation for someone else also builds engagement.

  • Tie Rewards to Spontaneous Recognition. Behavior science shows that doing work just to get an expected reward can send employees’ motivation into the tank. Yet our brains crave unexpected thank yous. Offering spontaneous recognition reinforces positive behavior and engagement – and tying a spot bonus or small amount of rewards points can cement the value of the recognition.
  • Say “Thank You” Early and Often. Regular recognition for work well done builds engagement. Routine feedback for behavior that builds the business helps employees know not just that their work is appreciated – but what they can and should do more of. As a bonus, the power of recognition goes far beyond the person who gets the recognition. New York-based software company Return Path discovered that their executive that doled out the most cross-departmental recognition also had the highest performing team.
  • Recognize the Whole Team. Team recognition amplifies individual recognition. It builds connections across your team – but also when you reward the whole team, it makes the individuals perform better. See 11 Effective Team Rewards for more ideas on team rewards.

Creating Doorways for Connection

As human beings, we seek connection. Gallup has shown that having a best friend at work is a critical part of engagement. Our research for the Employee Experience Quantified has shown that employees report that they will show up to work more often, be more productive, provide a better customer experience, and deliver higher profits if they feel connected to coworkers and their managers.

While you can’t force employees to be best friends, there are ways you can build connection into your employee engagement programs.

  • Encourage employees to back each other up.Your employees spend hours and hours at work, then they need some time to recharge. We’ve found (and so has Harvard Business Review) that giving an employee predictable time off – and having the team work together to make sure all the critical work is covered — improves the entire team’s performance.
  • Let employees reward each other. Studies show that most employees get more out of spending $20 on a coworker than on themselves. We’ve seen this play out in our own customer base. Across industries, one of the most popular rewards has been turning in earned points to buy more points to give to other coworkers.
  • Group volunteering. Either give – or let teams earn – time to volunteer as a team. Not only does giving back together build employees’ connections, but many people see participation in volunteer activities as a true measure of employee engagement. If employees show up to volunteer as a team, it gives you a gauge of the effectiveness of your employee engagement programs.

Cap it Off With Impact

Gallup’s Performance Management Study showed that employees who strongly agree that they can link their goals to the organization’s goals are 3.5 times more likely to be engaged.

In other words, making sure an employee knows that their work impacts on the company’s success is a strong part of any employee engagement program. Here are a few ways to do that.


  • Let Employees Lead. Whether it’s leading a project that’s part of their day-to-day work or something else in the employee culture – giving a chance to take the lead gives employees a sense of their impact. If it doesn’t make sense to lead a work project – there are other needed leadership opportunities like designing a team-building activity, getting a group together to exercise or creating an office book club.
  • Give Frequent and Specific Feedback. Many companies, like Adobe and GE are offering regular, forward-looking coaching sessions in place of the annual performance review. More frequent feedback gives employees a stronger direction, makes it easier for them to perform well, and gives them a better sense of meaning. See our webinar on a manager’s guide to effective 1-on-1’s for more tips.
  • Involve Leadership. When corporate leadership and management are involved with recognition and engagement, employees are more connected to the corporate purpose. When the CEO gives recognition to employees or teams that live out the corporate values at a company meeting, for example, it shows employees that the whole company is working towards the same purpose – and that those employees are having a big impact.

By focusing on these four pillars of the employee experience and automating them in one easy-to-use platform, you can ensure that you will create employee engagement programs that everyone in your company will want to take part in.