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How can you boost employee engagement?

All employers want engaged team members. Here are six conversations that we have to boost employee engagement.

Published on

October 24, 2022


All employers want engaged team members—people who are passionate about what they do, keen to contribute, and excited about meeting (and even exceeding) targets. High engagement drives better business outcomes, boosts company culture and increases retention of top talent.

In a nutshell: more engaged employees = a healthier business.  

This is why recent global surveys on employee engagement are so alarming. No matter the workplace model—hybrid, remote or onsite—Gallup recently reported a full 69% of workers in Canada and the US are disengaged these days.  How can employers fix it?

What does engagement mean?

Before you can “fix” engagement, it’s important to consider what it is. For some of us, the first thing we think about when we hear “engagement” is… surveys. Though part of it, engagement is so much broader than asking for input. It’s about how your team meaningfully shows up to their work and how the workplace shows up for them every day, whether you’re a new hire or a longstanding employee. Consider the following questions: 

  • Does everyone ask and care about the company vision? 
  • Do team members actively contribute in meetings? 
  • Does everyone embody the culture and values of the organization? 
  • How do leaders and their direct reports interact? 

All of this is engagement. And since it’s so broad, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to “fix” it.

Our “engagement menu”

Like most organizations, when the pandemic hit, we shifted to a remote work model and were more intentional about connecting our team members, sharing our company vision and being more transparent, so everyone was on the same page. Our engagement went into overdrive—we connected more and shared more than ever before. We developed new programs, shifted to a Remote-By-Choice model and offered a range of fun, online activities, ranging from fitness to financial planning. Today, we’ve since learned that not everyone is engaged by the same things (some prefer book clubs to fitness classes) or wants to engage at the same rate (some thought we were offering too many choices too often). To account for our diversity of needs, we decided to create an “engagement menu,” of sorts, that will help us engage everyone in the ways that work best for everyone. And we’re still changing and evolving because we’ve also learned there is no such thing as ‘perfect’ when it comes to engagement.

Six key conversations

One of the adjustments we made was to create greater clarity and structure around our “key touchpoints”— six key conversations we have throughout the year with our team members to see how they’re doing:

  1. One-on-Ones 
  2. Semi-Annual Check-Ins 
  3. Performance Assessments 
  4. Anniversary Celebrations 
  5. Stay Interviews 
  6. Exit Interviews 

These meaningful conversations go a long way when it comes to boosting engagement because they help uncover how someone’s feeling in their job and the company. Why is this important? According to Salesforce, employees who feel their voice is heard are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work.


These casual, regular conversations between a leader and each team member help uncover insights into how team members are feeling about day-to-day work, so you can address issues in the moment rather than allowing them to grow into more serious challenges. They can help reveal frustrations, team issues (communication that didn’t land well), feelings of being overworked or bored, issues with priorities, etc.

Pro Tips: 

  • Leaders should empower their team members to book these meetings as a recurring weekly, bi-weekly or monthly invite in the calendar, so both team members and leaders know when they’re occurring 
  • These are friendly, two-way conversations, rather than being leader driven. Instead of starting with a list of agenda items or a decision already made on a specific issue (especially when related to performance), we encourage our leaders to start their conversations with “awareness questions” like these: What went well this week? What was the biggest challenge? What’s something on your mind that you’re unsure how to address? Did you feel you had enough time to get everything done that was on your plate? Where could you use more support? Do you require clarity on anything specific that’s underway?  

Semi-annual check-ins

These conversations are akin to stay interviews and happen between each team member and their leader twice a year, with the team member doing a lot of the talking. We focus on four areas:

  • Goals 
  • Emotional wellness 
  • Engagement/connectedness 
  • Skills development and career trajectory 

How do they differ from performance assessments?

  • They offer an opportunity to focus on the person in the seat, rather than their responsibilities 
  • We intentionally created them to learn more about how our team members are doing and feeling. And since they’re not about metrics, KPIs and performance, team members are more inclined to open up.

Performance assessments

Most organizations conduct a performance assessment of some kind, and they’re often dry at the best of times and dreaded most of the time. How can you make them more engaging and fruitful, and use them to ignite your team members? The first time we’ve ever conducted a formal performance assessment process was this year! Here are some of our tips and takeaways:

Pro Tips: 

  • We have both the team member and leader answer a series of questions in BambooHR. Neither one sees the other person’s feedback until both of them submit their answers, so they’re not influenced by the other person’s note. 
  • We wanted our team to find the experience interesting and even inspiring, rather than something they dread, so we created a fairly simple, friendly and fast process. It’s not complex and doesn’t require weighting, metrics or percentages. So far, the feedback is very positive! 
  • We also coach leaders on how to approach the performance review conversation, including written and body language, and communication after the review. 
  • We look for alignment between what the team member and their leader each see as strengths and areas of improvement. If there is misalignment, we look for ways to address it. For example, we discovered there were high performers who only “sometimes” felt valued, so we became more intentional about shouting out good work.  
  • It’s a good opportunity to gain insight into how the team member sees themself (on top of ensuring alignment between team member and the leader’s views on performance) and how self-reflective they are willing and able to be. If approached with care and enthusiasm, these conversations can really boost a team member’s morale and ability and willingness to face the next challenge.

Anniversary celebrations

This two-part, annual conversation and celebration is one of our most fun touchpoints. The Anniversary Celebration enables the entire team to recognize and reward each team member’s unique contributions and accomplishments over the last year. In our remote-by-choice environment, with team members dispersed across the country, it’s been a bit more challenging to come up with creative ways to celebrate our valued team members. Here are our tips and takeaways:

Pro Tips:

  • It’s important to be equitable for all team members and celebrate them equally, regardless of where they work (onsite or at home). In our remote-by-choice environment, we’ve had to be very thoughtful about being equitable, especially when in-person meetings aren’t possible.  
  • We also try to factor in the personal preferences of each team member. For example, is it best to do an in-person lunch and team member celebration or a virtual lunch and games? Offering a custom celebration is a key part of our retention strategy because it shows our team members that we care about what they actually WANT rather than using a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. 
  • We offer our leaders a list of meaningful reflection questions that they can ask the team member during their lunch if they want. These questions remind our team members of all the amazing things they accomplished over the year and help them see how much we value their contributions to the organization. 
  • We recommend thinking outside the box when it comes to recognition and trying to be adaptable. 

Stay interviews & exit interviews

Often, there’s a tendency to downplay these two conversations, but we find them useful for gaining clarity and key insights into your company culture and practices. They also help boost engagement and retention.

Pro Tips: 

  • Stay Interviews are ad-hoc, 1:1 conversations that typically occur between HR and select team members a maximum of once per year. They help build trust, gauge job satisfaction and offer the opportunity to gather and implement feedback, with the goal of retaining top performers. 
  • Both types of conversations enable you to collect data that you can then use to adjust your current people practices or policies. Once implemented, communicate to the team that these changes are in direct response to feedback received in Exit or Stay interviews. This will help strengthen employee trust and also measurably demonstrate to the broader team why engagement matters and how it can act as a catalyst for the organization’s growth.  
  • Keep in mind, Exit Interviews can help create lifelong ambassadors for your organization, which is key for hiring and retaining talent in the future.  

Surveying & measuring engagement

How do you know you’re improving something intangible like engagement? Yes, surveys! The key question—beyond the questions themselves—is how often should you survey? You want to get a pulse on your team without overdoing it. And very importantly, you also need to ensure you have time between surveys to take action on the feedback received before launching the next one.

Pro Tips: 

  • We recommend building an annual schedule. We conduct some type of survey at least quarterly because with things changing so quickly, we want a fairly constant pulse on how our team is feeling.  
  • Ask questions that tie into your overall HR strategy and share the data and actions with your team. 
  • Do pulse check-ins by individual groups so you can see issues at a more granular level and correct them in the moment. 
  • Our surveys vary from short, casual and optional check-ins (where we aim for a 65% response rate) to longer, deeper dives on important topics and short pulses like our eNPS (where we try to get as near to 100% as possible). 
  • They can help you uncover what is actually important to your team members, rather than guessing. For example, we asked our team to rank our Total Rewards (flexibility, recognition, compensation, vacation, benefits, parental leave, mental health supports etc.) and learned that flexibility is the most desired total reward (“the ability to work remotely and have flexibility”), followed by compensation. This helped us put emphasis on things that support flexibility such as “Flex Days,” flexible schedules and remaining a remote-by-choice company. We also reviewed our compensation plans and put less focus on education and courses, which were actually the lowest ranked of all rewards. 

Example – wellbeing survey

Every quarter, we conduct a short, anonymous Wellbeing survey that offers a quick pulse-check on how our team is feeling by asking them to rank their agreement with four statements, one each on:

  • Happiness (e.g., “I am excited about my job”);  
  • Relationships (e.g., “I have positive relationships at work”);  
  • Recognition (e.g., “I receive recognition and praise for my work”); and 
  • Motivators/engagement (e.g., “I am proud of the work I do”).  

Findings: In our last survey, we noticed a slight drop in our relationships category, so we did a follow-up survey on Events + Building Connections. Through this survey, we learned that our team wants to meet in person more often, so we’re creating more custom, in-person events led by team members who express an interest in the activity. For example, someone to lead team members on a weekend hike or organize a meet-up with other parents in a nearby park.

Example - eNPS survey

The Net Promoter Score rates your company based on two short, easy-to-answer questions: “How likely would you be to recommend our company as a great place to work?” and “What could the company do better?” It’s very simplistic and offers a great way for benchmarking from one year to the next, so you can see the impact of your HR and people strategies and make adjustments as needed to keep your team engaged. For example, we found that some people feel disconnected and even lonely at times, so we’re looking into new ways of connecting in persona and virtually.

Engagement is always evolving

Engagement is multi-faceted, always evolving and difficult to measure. However, it’s also a critical part of company culture and retention, so it’s a good idea to dedicate time and resources to building engagement through conversations and connections, measuring it through surveys, and acting on feedback to keep your team members engaged and on track. Questions? Contact us today:

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