How to Engage Employees in the New Year

by Katie Sawyer, 8 minutes read
HOME blog how to engage employees in the new year

With dramatic changes in the workplace, managers are asking how to engage employees in the new year. 

It’s the perfect time to re-evaluate and implement new goals into your workplace. Not sure how? 

Read on to learn actionable steps you can take today to boost employee morale in the new year. 

Source: Unsplash - Mimi Thian

Why Employee Engagement Matters for Business

You may have heard the phrase, “The Great Resignation.” This phrase was coined as the American workforce watched over 4 million employees quit their jobs in September 2021 alone. Resignation rates are the highest they’ve ever been, leaving thousands of businesses short-staffed and struggling to hire. 

While “The Great Resignation” is putting stress on the workforce, it points to a problem entry to mid-level employees have faced for decades. The only difference is that now, employees are less willing to put up with it. The workplace is getting more competitive, and employees are searching for better benefits and a healthier work-life balance. 

What is employee engagement?

Sometimes you hear the terms employee engagement and employee satisfaction used interchangeably. While they are connected, employee engagement has more to do with instilling a sense of purpose in one’s work to produce better workplace results. When employee engagement is improved, so is employee satisfaction.

Employee engagement improves employee retention

Sure, some employees are “replaceable,” but it’s time to ditch that old hiring philosophy. The average cost of hiring a new employee starts at $1,500 and increases depending on the company’s size. And that only covers the cost of training, not to mention the time you spent interviewing them, along with the toll it can take on the rest of your staff.

Great managers proactively look for ways to boost employee engagement because they know it increases employee retention. While you might be one of the many short-staffed companies, now is time to focus on retaining your workforce and building up great leaders.

Employee engagement reduces staff burnout

Neglecting employee engagement can lead to a vicious cycle of staff burnout. When employees don’t feel connected to their work and resign, it puts a strain on the rest of the staff team. This strain can lead to burnout, more resignations, therefore continuing the cycle. It's easy for managers to ignore early signs of stress and burnout, but prioritizing engagement strategies will increase job satisfaction and, consequently, employee retention. 

Employee engagement Increases tenure in your organization

"The Great Resignation" has led to millions of employees voluntarily leaving their jobs searching for flexibility, better pay, and improved work conditions. With the new year approaching, now is the time to focus on strategies to increase tenure and avoid turnover.

Source: Unsplash - J. Kelly Brito

A Manager's Checklist for Employee Engagement

Now’s the good part — how to engage employees. Here are nine employee engagement ideas to start with.

Connect work to what matters

In the grind of daily responsibilities, it’s easy to get stuck in the details and lose sight of the bigger picture. But this is a sure-fire path to complacency or an unfulfilling work environment. 

Research shows that today’s modern employees need a connection between their day-to-day work and the organization’s greater purpose. A connection to a greater purpose drives passion and innovation into the workplace. 

You don’t need to overthink the greater purpose either. It can be as simple as a connection to company purpose, vision, or individual contribution through job roles and responsibilities. Don’t assume your employees will discover this connection on their own; take the time to communicate it with intentions and sincerity. 

Bring fun into work

It’s time to ditch the traditional belief that in a work day, “play is play, fun is fun, and work is work.” Ironically, having fun at work can increase workplace productivity. Research from the Associate for Psychological Science found that play at work helps prevent employee burnout, stress, and fatigue. More specifically, having fun with colleagues contributes to a friendlier work environment with a higher commitment to the hard work at hand. 

Here are some ideas of how to engage employees with more fun at work:

  • Start a Slack channel devoted to sharing memes

  • Designate funds for each department to decorate their work area

  • Create company traditions like holiday parties, Friday happy hours, gift exchanges, and annual retreats

Implement rewards and incentives

Employees perform at a higher level when they feel appreciated. So, designate part of the budget for incentives and look for opportunities to reward good work. Your rewards can range from additional time off to small gift cards — the important part is making sure your employees feel valued without overdoing it. 

Show employees “the inside”

Since the beginning of time, humans have felt a need to belong. There’s no better way to satisfy this deep-rooted desire than to include employees on “the inside.” 

The inside can include opportunities as simple as meeting the Founder, offering ideas for a new company logo design, or being part of a new hire’s interview process. 

You can also offer feedback on the mission and vision and how their work aligns with the organization’s long-term goals.

Offer more flexibility

Offering more flexibility pays companies back with satisfied employees who want to work efficiently. Because no one wants to feel constricted. Whether it’s flexibility with an employee’s schedule or personal time off, you’ll notice a positive difference across the workplace.

If your company already has a flexible schedule and time off policies, consider allowing time for side projects to keep staff engaged and wanting to learn more.

Encourage autonomy

Similar to offering more flexibility in the workplace, encouraging autonomy can also benefit employee motivation. According to an observation of Netflix by the Harvard Business Review, their “ culture of freedom and responsibility not only allows employees to pursue ideas they find enjoyable and fun — increasing intrinsic motivation.” The autonomous culture is an essential part of Netflix’s success in rapid company growth and innovation. 

A few ways to engage employees by encouraging autonomy: 

  • Hire employees you can trust (so you can stop micromanaging)

  • Set the expectation of regular communication

  • Encourage employees to speak up

  • Leave room to make mistakes and learn from them

  • Let employees set their own deadlines

Source: Unsplash - Priscilla Du Preez

Hold small group meetings or town hall sessions

Research by McKinsey suggests that town hall meetings and immersive, small-group sessions are effective at helping employees align their day-to-day work with the organization’s broader mission. Remember, connecting work to a greater purpose increases employee passion and innovation in the workplace.

However, keep in mind that too many meetings are also not a good thing, so don’t overdo it. If you have no ideas where to start, ask your employees what frequency of meetings they would benefit from and use their feedback to start the schedule.

Avoid going into a meeting without an agenda. It’s okay to keep a meeting agenda loose, but you don’t want employees to feel like they’re wasting their time. Wasting time hinders morale and wastes company money. Set a reasonable agenda and send it out before the meeting starts to maximize the meeting’s productivity.

Encourage employees to speak up

Engage your employees by encouraging them to speak up. Unavoidable workplace concerns grow into bigger issues when left unaddressed. There are always confident employees who have no problem speaking up. But there are also others who feel too anxious to speak up, therefore perpetuating their challenges.

The key here is to create a workplace culture where everyone feels comfortable speaking up. A few ways Forbes suggests encouraging speaking up is by proving it’s worthwhile, avoiding making employees feel wrong, asking for feedback, implementing the feedback you get, and working to create relationships built on trust. 

Boost employee confidence

A great way to boost employee confidence is by executing a mentorship program. Mentorship programs have proven to be successful in larger organizations. If you manage a smaller company, consider connecting employees with mentors from other companies in your network. 

Highlighting strong performance in a group setting is another good way to let employees know they’re a valued team member. This also points back to the topic of implementing incentives and rewards to engage employees.

Source: Unsplash -

How to measure engagement

Without using any metrics, you’ll notice improved employee engagement by a more positive and productive work environment. But since these qualities tend to be a bit variable, here are three ways to measure your engagement efforts. 

Schedule one-on-ones

The best way to check the pulse of your employee engagement is by meeting with each employee one-on-one. Since you’re probably juggling an already-busy schedule, rest assured that this isn’t something you need to commit to every month. Try to have an honest conversation with your employees quarterly, bi-annually, or at the very least, once a year. If you’ve made a genuine effort to increase employee engagement, your staff should feel comfortable being honest with you. 

Send out a survey

We know what you might be thinking: not another survey! Don’t worry; there are ways to make a survey more successful (and less annoying.)

First, keep it short and sweet — there’s no need to overcomplicate it. Next, offer an incentive to those who are willing to fill it out. Perhaps their name could be entered in a raffle to win an extra hour for lunch or a coffee gift card. And finally, make a really clear deadline. Employees are more likely to accomplish a task when given a due date. 

Conduct exit interviews

Despite your best efforts, you’ll still probably have employees resign due to unforeseen circumstances. In the case that this happens, always conduct an exit interview and ask questions to learn how the workplace environment can be improved. 

Track your employee acquisition rate

Track your employee acquisition rate, or as others call it, employee turnover rate. Your human resources likely tracks this for all departments, so be sure to check in with the rate every quarter. But if it’s not being tracked, you can calculate it by taking the number of employees who quit, divided by the number of current employees, multiplied by 100. 

LinkedIn found that the average acquisition rate in the United States is about 12%. If your rate falls above this average, use the data to shift your employee engagement efforts. 

Start the New Year off right

Taking the time to increase employee engagement will pay you back with a happier, more productive team. We’re sending you best wishes as you implement these strategies over the new year. 

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