What is an employee engagement action plan?
Before we get into an employee engagement action plan, let’s make sure we understand what employee engagement is.
An employee engagement plan is a collection of actions and techniques designed to increase employees' sense of ownership over their job. These initiatives may focus on career development plans, providing managers with employee feedback, fostering teamwork and pleasant customer encounters, establishing flexible work schedules, offering awards and recognition programs, or organizing team-building exercises.
Organizations can create a culture of trust, creativity, loyalty, and productivity that can support business success through involving people in meaningful ways that satisfy their needs. Use an employee engagement action plan to take control of your employees' motivation.
Employee engagement is typically used as a catch-all metric to describe workplace culture.
The annual engagement survey is the most common way companies assess how engaged their employees are.
Gallup defines engaged employees
“as those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace.”
An employee engagement plan is a tool to help you address any issues or double down on activities that impact the level of engagement in your organisation.
Don’t have time to build an employee engagement plan? Don’t worry, we’ve created an employee engagement plan template for you! Stay tuned to download the template.
We’re all familiar with the saying “garbage in, garbage out”. The same applies to your employee action plan.
If you’re setting your action plan based on the annual survey, you need to make sure the results are telling you something meaningful.
We’ve all seen glowing survey results for companies that can’t hold on to staff.
- Did you ask the right questions?
- Did you ask leading questions to get the answer you wanted?
It’s a good rule of thumb to write questions so a non-native speaker could understand the essence of the question. For example, if you say 'Senior Leadership' who exactly or what group exactly does this refer to? Even someone with a good grasp of English might be confused - is this director level or the department heads?
Road testing questions with employees first is a great idea, particularly for organisational wide surveys.
It’s important to have the right context and data before sitting down to create an employee engagement strategy template.
Once you have a proper starting point, your employee engagement plan will help you
- Identify the areas that need to be improved or amplified to foster engagement
- Identify the owners and leaders that will execute the engagement plan
- Set goals and milestones to measure your engagement efforts
- Bring purpose into employees day to day that improves business outcomes
I’ll outline a little more on each of these points in this article.
Why is an employee engagement plan important?
When anyone mentions a plan of any kind I usually think of the saying “a goal without a plan is just a wish”. So, having a plan is a good way to keep us focused on what it is we are trying to achieve.
But I also love the Simon Sinek quote, accepting he probably wasn’t the first person to say or think this but…
“Always plan for the fact that no plan ever goes according to plan.”
Both of these hold true for employee engagement.
We definitely need a plan to keep us focused, move the dial and most importantly bring clarity to the purpose and thereby engagement of our people in work.
We also definitely need to accept that we are dealing with lots of different people, in different teams, with different priorities and different stuff going on in their personal lives.
For an engagement plan to be effective it should be adaptable to all teams in the organisation. This will require regular opportunities to review progress and adjust accordingly. We mustn’t default to the one size fits all mentality [which we also outlined in our blog on Team Culture].
Gallup has over 50 years of employee engagement research that highlights more engaged employees produce better business outcomes regardless of industry, company size, nationality, and in good economic times and bad.
You can see clearly from the graphic below that a more engaged workforce
Reduces negative business outcomes
- Reduces absenteeism
- Reduces staff turnover
- Reduces theft
- Reduces accidents
- Reduces output errors
Increases positive business outcomes
- Increases customer loyalty
- Increase in productivity
- Increases in sales
And gives you more chance of greater organisational success
- Higher profitability
- Higher organisational wellbeing
- Higher participation across teams
If you’re looking for more evidence that increasing engagement is worth the effort…
- This British study of 755 employees from the retail banking division of a large bank, nested in 34 business units, for the period of 2005–2008 found that job attitude (engagement) comes before job performance.
- The Harvard Business Review looked at 568 companies with 500 or more employees. They found that 71% of managers feel employee engagement is one of the most important factors in overall organisational success.
- Gallup estimates that just 35% of U.S. managers are engaged, while 51% are not engaged and 14% are actively disengaged. The "not engaged" group costs the U.S. economy $77 billion to $96 billion annually through their impact (or lack of) on those they manage.
What are examples of employee engagement?
Our mantra at PepTalk is that engagement and wellbeing activities and initiatives must be focused on the team, not the individual.
Team > Individual
If I asked you to remember a time when you played on a great team or worked with a great team... you’d probably tell me about the shared belief you all had, or the feeling everyone had each other’s backs or the way everyone just gelled and knew what the other was going to do.
According to Yuval Noah Harari in his book Sapiens, one of our uniquely human traits is the ability to co-operate in small or large groups. It is credited as being the advantage we have over every other species on the planet… why would that be any different in work?
Experience > Location
Whether you work remote, hybrid or on location, shared experiences will always create more engagement than simply being in a shared location. Lazy organisations will rely on the watercooler chats, or the walks between meetings to create some connection between employees.
But what happens when we’re online?
When we think of engagement we cannot default to the company-sponsored happy hour on a Friday evening. For starters, what about your employees that don’t drink or can’t drink alcohol?
Shared experiences don’t have to take place in person.
The emergence of the “second screen”, using a connected device while watching TV, confirms the hypothesis that a remote shared experience enhances engagement for everyone.
A study by the University of Texas supports prior research on the general influence of engagement across technology media, with fresh evidence of added engagement rather than a distraction when it comes to sports.
It makes total sense. If there are 100,000 people at a game, there might be 10,000,000 watching at home on the TV, alone. But their engagement is enhanced by joining the Twitter conversation by using a hashtag.
In 2016, 68% of Americans used a second screen while watching TV. According to Statista, that number has risen to 91% of internet users are on a second screen.
Culture, engagement and safety performance in the new workplace will be created through shared experiences not shared environments.
How to build an effective employee engagement action plan
The easy default here is to rely on stand-alone events and trinkets.
The lunch and learn on mindfulness and happy hour drinks on Friday evening are just paper over the cracks.
If improving employee engagement is a race, stand-alone events are a pitstop, not progress.
We go to the event, we enjoy the content and feel energised by the attendance and then the next day it’s over. All the energy is gone and we are back in the same place we were before the event.
Again if we think about our race analogy, progress is what keeps us moving towards the finish line, not a pitstop.
All activities, whether they are to improve engagement or win a race, should be designed to get you closer to your destination or goal. This is why the one-off approach fails time and time again. These events are not building towards something. They are the once-off moon-shot that will hopefully fix a big problem.
In the powerful book “The 1% Rule: How to Fall in Love with the Process and Achieve Your Wildest Dreams” by Tommy Baker, he talks about how nothing will drive people forward more than the feeling they are making progress
“... there’s one undeniable motivational force unlike any other: Progress - even the perception of it. When we feel we’re moving the needle forward in life, even a seemingly insignificant amount, we stay motivated. Progress keeps us inspired and on track.”
James Clear is another big proponent of the 1% Rule. In his best-seller, “Atomic Habits” he gave the example of the professor at the University of Florida who divided photography students into two groups
- the “quantity” group.
- This group was only marked on the volume of pictures they produced. 100 pictures got an A, 90 pictures got a B, 80 got a C, and so on.
- the “quality” group.
- This group was only marked on the excellence of their work. They would only need to produce one stunning picture during the semester, but to get an A, it had to be a nearly perfect image.
Quality over quantity is what we usually hear. However, to get quality there is a quantity of work required to refine the process.
At the end of the term, the professor was surprised to find that all the best photos were produced by the quantity group.
By consistently taking photos these students were honing their skills and becoming better photographers. They gradually got better at understanding composition, lighting, darkroom developing, and learning from their mistakes. In the process of creating hundreds of photos, they become better photographers.
The quality group were cripled by the concept of perfection. They took far fewer photos and obsessed over the theory of taking the perfect picture.
As Clear outlines “It is easy to get bogged down trying to find the optimal plan for change: the fastest way to lose weight, the best program to build muscle, the perfect idea for a side hustle. We are so focused on figuring out the best approach that we never get around to taking action. As Voltaire once wrote, ‘The best is the enemy of the good.’”
If your organisation is serious about improving engagement then it needs to take a consistent approach to the activities and initiatives designed to achieve this.
Progress, not pitstops.
You will need an employee engagement project plan and buy-in from key stakeholders who will execute the plan. These are the people who will drive your plan at every level of the organisation.
High Performance = Standards + Culture + Habits
How do you write an employee action plan?
So, now that we know what it is, why we need it, and how it works… it’s time to start thinking about how we create an employee engagement action plan template. I say template because we may need to have variations on the overall plan.
There won’t be big deviations from the overall plan but there could be a need to reflect that different teams within the organisation may have different levels of engagement and different aspects of engagement to work on. By having a template we can iterate and tweak the overall plan without getting too far away from how everyone else is operating.
Here’s how you can get started.
One - Assemble the team
This is a little trickier than you would imagine. Typically, these types of initiatives are left to either the HR department or the people that are already highly engaged.
It has to go a little deeper to take hold. You will need not only buy-in but participation from the top, the C-suite. Not just attending the meetings and signing off the budget, real participation.
You will need to recruit the influencers at every level of the organisation for the launch, rollout and ongoing delivery of the programme. Again, you need to think beyond the people you always turn up at things and get involved. This is all about expanding the engagement across the organisation not doubling down on those already engaged.
Two - Decide on a budget
Any upgrade comes with a cost. One of the biggest downfalls to culture and engagement initiatives is the cost is usually not supported by the company.
In the “Why is an employee engagement plan important?” section above we outlined (and supported with data from Gallup) that employee engagement is vitally important to the success of the company.
It stands to reason that anything this important should receive a budget in addition to time and resources.
You can start small and build. It won’t be obvious what will work so there will be an element of testing and iterating.
Three - Analyse the data
if you don’t have any go and get it. Start with your annual survey. As I said earlier, make sure you’re asking the right questions.
If you’ve no survey data, maybe start with a team survey or department survey to allow you to refine the questions. Then you can expand your survey company-wide.
Naturally, you’ll want to double down on the areas that are showing opportunities and good results.
Areas that are showing up as problems or friction points should not be ignored. These need to be remedied through your engagement strategy template.
Four - Develop clear objectives
Spoiler alert - one size fits all won’t work.
Once you get your data together you should be able to identify the things to start, do more of or maybe stop altogether. Again, make sure the whole organisation is covered by your objectives both from an impact and participation point of view.
You may need to tweak things for different areas of the business. It might be worth starting your plan in a particular team or department rather than the whole company. Just be clear about why you’re doing it.
The benefit of having a template means you can have different engaged employees plan for different teams and departments. The template should keep everyone working towards similar or complementary goals and values.
Five - Decide on measures and reviews
An annual survey won’t cut it.
You need regular review methods or pulsing to assess how engaged your people are. It’s not enough just to have a broad review of the year. You’ll never find out what are the things that affect your peoples’ engagement week to week and month to month.
Problems in January will be forgotten or replaced by something else in subsequent months. You need to be aware of these issues when they happen, not hope they get captured at an end of year survey.
Frequency and method will come down to the team you’ve picked, the budget they’ve been allocated and the objectives they have decided to go after.
Six - Initiate a comms area
An employee engagement template is designed for use by the whole organisation. Some teams might start earlier than others but this should be an organisation-wide initiative. To keep interest and momentum behind the efforts, there should be regular updates on the engagement efforts.
Again, this can depend on the team and budget. Some more tech-savvy members of an engagement team might favour creating a website on a subdomain, or use a wiki from opensource online tools. If budget and tech resources are limited it may be a monthly email or time at the company all-hands or town hall.
The more you can communicate the vision, values and progress behind your employee engagement strategy the more likely you are to have employees participate.
A ‘one size fits all’ approach will not work so you need to be able to test, iterate and evolve across the whole organisation.
What are the employee engagement activities?
A constant theme in this article is testing, iterating, and not using a one size fits all approach.
This means you’ll have to figure a lot of it out yourself. I can suggest some things to do, but we won’t know if they’ll work until we try them.
However, if you have an over-arching plan for your team, department or organisation built off data you’ve gathered and objectives you’re going after, then it’s easier to create a consistent set of activities that will help you achieve these objectives.
In PepTalk we have eight wellbeing pillars we build our activities and content around. Here they are with two examples of engagement activities.
- Show employees how their job advances the company’s vision. Every job in some way enhances the lives of its customers. Try and make this real for every team.
- Measure real-time employee engagement. Weekly or monthly questionnaires on sentiment and readiness to work will reveal a lot about how your employees feel.
- Engagement activities should be built into the workday if you want employees to take it seriously. Allow everyone to calendar time to send appreciation to a co-worker. This can be to a physical noticeboard, an online tool like Slack or Yammer or even just by sending emails.
- There’s more to each person than their professional skills and workload. You probably work with actors, athletes, artists, and many other types of talented people. Find out what your team members are passionate about. You will find that you have something in common.
- This can be the default as it is typically quite easy to do and measure through wearable tech. Having said that, step challenges are a great way to get people moving in teams with a little friendly competition added.
- Lots of studies support the idea that walking meetings (going for a stroll instead of sitting around a table) are better for both creativity, engagement and participation.
- To help your employees perform at their best it would help to understand how working hours affect their sleep. Things like the commute and having to be up really early or their living situation might cause disruption at night. Understandably not everyone will want to share.
- Some people like to read or listen to a podcast before falling asleep. A Bedtime book/podcast club could help share recommendations.
- Quite often work performance is not from a lack of knowledge or skills deficit. However, people always want to get better at what they do. Training days on anything related to doing a better job always go down well.
- It doesn’t always have to be work-related training. Soft skills (think communication, empathy, emotional intelligence) are fast becoming essential skills. You could start a learning club devoted to these essential skills and bring in guest speakers too.
- Financial pressures can be the biggest cause of distraction in an employees life. It’s hard to concentrate on the job when you’re worried about paying the bills. Anything that helps your people navigate everything from the basic to the complex financial products could improve their work/life. Savings habits, jargon-busting, and financial advice from experts will all help here.
- Any regionally supported government scheme's such as bike-to-work, travel passes, anything that provides relief directly or indirectly through reduced taxable income is worth pursuing.
- As we mentioned above, research proves that job attitude (engagement) comes before job performance. So, if people are in the right frame of mind they will achieve more. This could be as simple as encouraging or supporting personal projects or outside activities. Anything that makes ‘work’ seems a little nicer place to be.
- Are there ways to remove the “Sunday Scaries” with a Monday morning social event? This could be a simple quiz on an event or popular TV program over the weekend.
- Who doesn’t like to eat nice food… Everyone has a family or favourite recipe that would be proud to share. Equally, there are plenty of cooking and food preparation hacks that could make people’s lives easier.
- Whether it’s the dangers of white bread or the real nutritional value of kale, there’s probably a lot of misinformation about what is good and bad for us nutritionally. Food myth-busting could be a great way to bring your workplace together and eat more healthy.
The benefits of an employee engagement plan template
It’s natural to wonder whether all this effort will be worth it.
The data suggests it will be worth it and then some.
You can see from the graph below that global engagement has been rising but from ridiculously low levels. Organisations that have developed engagement plans based on best practices have engagement rates 3.5x higher than the global average.
Is an employee engagement plan template needed?
We would argue yes, for two main reasons.
- The hardest part of creating an engagement plan is getting started or even knowing where to start. A template can be a great starting point even if you end up changing most of it.
- If you are a large organisation scattered across regions, offices, departments and teams, you will need to tailor engagement to these different areas. A template will allow each area to differentiate its plan while staying aligned to the overall goals.
With both of those things in mind, we have created an employee engagement plan template for you to download and use in your organisation.