3rd March 2020

The Best Employee Engagement Strategies for Small Businesses

Did you know that Gallup now conducts monthly rather than yearly employee engagement surveys? We are in an employee engagement crisis – and businesses both big and small crave solutions.

The truth: people no longer want work to simply provide a paycheck. They crave meaning and a sense of shared purpose.


Engagement Versus Disengagement

Engaged employees proactively strive to invest in a firm’s goals through leadership, creativity, loyalty, and accountability.

Disengaged employees are dissatisfied at work, underperform, and are unaligned with the overall purpose of the organization.

This matters for 2 reasons:

Disengagement costs U.S. businesses billions of dollars each year. It is critical leaders prioritize this issue now.


Engagement and Your Small Business

Small businesses make up a significant segment of the U.S. workforce. In 2016, they employed 59.9 million people – 47.3% of the labor pool.

As a small business owner, you are both advantaged and disadvantaged when it comes to employee engagement.

Limited in your ability to offer fat bonuses or expensive perks, you may feel unable to adequately reward your staff. As well, you may not have a dedicated HR team on staff to field employee concerns.

On the positive side, according to a Dale Carnegie study, people who work for small companies are generally happier than those at larger firms. People who work at small businesses tend to be more tightly knit, and healthy relationships at work lead to employee engagement. A lack of anonymity, of being a “cog in the wheel”, makes workers feel that their contributions matter. “The sense of being able to make a difference at work isn’t limited to small-business employees, but it’s a major driving factor for them,” said the 2017 Aflac Small Business Happiness report.


8 Easy Employee Engagement Strategies

Entrepreneurs often wear many hats, and a “soft” issue like engagement can take a back seat to more critical concerns like payroll and new business efforts. Don’t let it!

Implement these strategies TODAY:

1) Start at the beginning. Make the onboarding experience for new staff sing. Engagement from day one is worth the time invested as you explore your new hire’s expectations – and clarify your own.

2) Create opportunities for leaders and staff to interact. “Small businesses have flatter hierarchies, so you have more face time with senior business leaders than you might in a larger organization,” says Michelle Petrazzuolo, founder and CEO of career services firm Level Up Prep.

3) Offer flexibility. Employee engagement rises when your staff members feel “seen” as people, not just as workers. Everyone has unique work styles (find out your unique Productivity Style with my Productivity Style Assessment here ). Allow your employees to work early or late or from home – and leverage their distinctive work styles.

4) Ask for feedback from your staff about various initiatives – the best way to win customers, write marketing copy, create more followers on social media. People feel valued when you reach out and listen.

5) Show your appreciation often – the more personal the better. Examples include: thank you notes, birthday cards, and public (or private) acknowledgement of a job well done.

6) Be transparent about broad strategy and goals so employees understand their place within the organization. According to Gallup, only 50% of workers know what employers expect from them. Clarify this so your staff see how they fit into the wider purpose of your business.

7) Provide opportunities to learn and train. “The more the employee feels the company is investing in their future, the higher the level of engagement,” says Brad Shuck, an assistant professor at the University of Louisville who specializes in organizational development.

8) Have fun! Small businesses are a great environment to bond easily. Parties, dance contests, friendly competitions, potluck lunches – these all promote connection and teamwork.


Lead into Engagement

Does your leadership style promote employee engagement? A supportive, collaborative leadership model will invite creativity and innovation from your staff. Conversely, micromanagement, lack of recognition, and excessive workloads will inevitably lead to disengagement.

Exemplify a healthy work life. Your employees will model their work styles on the overall culture of engagement you create – especially in a small business setting. Let them see you work hard. And also let them see you go on mind-clearing walks (employees who take a break every 1.5 hours are 30% more focused and 50% more creative than those who keep their heads down), take vacations guilt-free, and prioritize the things you love outside of work.

“Small companies tend to be more nimble and decisive with fewer decision-making barriers,” says Cheryl Lynch Simpson, a career, job search and LinkedIn coach. “Less tied to ‘the way we’ve always done it,’ they are open to innovation and new ways of doing business.” As a small business leader, this means you can be bold as you strive to create an environment of stellar employee engagement.


Ready explore how we can help increase employee engagement in your small business?

Let’s talk. Schedule a 20-minute call to discuss your needs and determine whether a coaching or consulting program is right for you or your company.


Carson serves as a consultant to executives at Fortune 500 companies. The author of Work Simply: Embracing the Power of Your Personal Productivity Style, her views have been included in Bloomberg Businessweek, Fast Company, Forbes, Harvard Business Review blog, and The New York Times.