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5 employee engagement tips that don't involve a bean bag

Employee engagement isn't all about novelty chairs and free fruit smoothies. Get back to basics, say Marc Bishop and Sharon Crooks.

by Marc Bishop and Sharon Crooks
Last Updated: 06 May 2016

It’s Monday morning. You walk into the office and everyone’s stone-faced, staring blankly at their computer screens. A fresh pile of paperwork sits on the desk edge and a cup of coffee rises mechanically from desktop to mouth and back again. Is that an all too familiar scenario?

Employee engagement doesn’t have to mean organised happy hours, bean bags instead of desks and all those other ‘out-of-the-box’ ideas you may have read about. Let’s brush all that aside for a minute and take a look at what employee engagement actually means.

Employee engagement is simply about how committed employees are to the organisation they work for, and how motivated they are to do their job. According to research from CIPD, only between 35% - 39% of UK employees are positively engaged at work.

Conversely, this means that the majority of employees in the UK are not engaged with their work. Disengagement brings major risks to organisations, negatively impacting employee performance, turnover and innovation. Disengaged employees can be detrimental to an organisation’s success.

So what can you do to drive employee engagement and save your workplace?


Don’t be an organisation that tries to quash employee personalities and colour everything corporate grey. Many organisations are either clueless about company culture, or try too hard and end up with the kind of cultural ideal that seems fake and awkward to employees.

Look at your employees’ personalities and interests and let them build a company culture around them. Let your employees be the voice of your company culture on your company blog and social media channels. Brainstorm ideas to improve work life as a team and roll the good ones out. Don’t forget it is OK to have fun and enjoy each other’s company at work. This starts with you as the leader….


Position employees in roles that make the best of their strengths. Employees will naturally feel motivated and be productive in roles where they can excel, and you’ll feel great for being able to reward them for their good performance.

Everyone has weaknesses but don’t brush them under the carpet. Work on them over time. Encourage employees to learn from one another and ask each other questions to improve in weaker areas. This can be a big step outside of many employees’ comfort zone, so be sure to praise employees who do take the leap.


‘Praise the slightest improvement and praise every improvement.’ – Dale Carnegie 

Be prepared to recognise improvement, however small, and don’t forget to say well done and thank you. Non-monetary recognition has been proven to be the most effective, rather than traditional reward monetary based recognition.

Find new ways to reward your team. It could simply be giving them a handwritten note, picking up a coffee on the way into work for a small job well done, giving them the afternoon off to see a film, or signing them and a friend up to a fun class.


Monday-to-Friday, nine-to-five doesn’t work for everyone and it certainly doesn’t equal workplace productivity. Let employees choose their own work schedules which fit around their lives and allow them to work at the time of day they feel most productive. 

Research has shown that employees who work from home are 30% more productive than their office-bound counterparts. On top of that, 70% office workers feel it’s important that businesses allow them to work remotely. Don’t ignore the remote working trend, embrace it and engagement will soar.


Giving back to the community is a way to increase positive energy in the workplace and drive employee engagement. Get employees involved with charities and projects that they’re passionate about — and get management teams involved too. This will be a huge boost to workplace morale.

Charity based activities don’t have to be a huge operation. You could do something as simple as have everyone wear jeans to the office on Jeans for Genes Day and donating a £1 to charity. It could be nominating a team to take part in a sponsored charity run, or giving the office a half-day off to all volunteer with a local community project.

Marc Bishop and Sharon Crooks specialise in HR consultancy for small businesses in London. They are the authors of the popular new HR handbook: HR for Small Business for Dummies

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