Employee Engagement Isn't a Ping-Pong Table

Written by
George Dickson
George Dickson

Free lunches, yoga classes and ping-pong tables are just a few perks companies provide in an effort to engage their employees. Despite often making headlines, perks are only one element of an effective employee engagement strategy.

You don’t have to hire an on-site chef to motivate your employees. Increased engagement starts with understanding. Let's look at a few needs employees routinely express, the creative approaches some companies have taken to fulfill them, and some proven employee engagement strategies you can use right now to achieve similar results:

1. Autonomy

Supporting autonomy is about freeing employees to become more awesome at what they do.

Daniel Pink talks about this in his book, Drive. The secret to high employee performance and satisfaction lies in satisfying the need to “create new things, and do better by ourselves and our world.”

Automattic, makers of the ubiquitous web publishing platform WordPress, excel beyond simply offering perks by creating a sense of autonomy and freedom with their open vacation policy. Their website states, “We encourage our employees to take the time they need to take vacation, develop interests, and spend time with friends and family.”

Automattic's open vacation policy is a great example of a perk that speaks to employee's deeper needs, but it is only one of many ways to cultivate autonomy in the workplace. Providing helpful feedback, encouragement, and freedom to choose how to approach tasks is a great place to start.

2. Recognition and rewards

You don’t need to dish out expensive annual bonus checks or grand rewards to make your employees feel recognized. Annual rewards provide a brief burst of recognition that wears off over time. The keys to effective recognition are frequency, timeliness, authenticity, and consistency.

Dan Ariely talks about this phenomenon in his TEDTalk, What Makes Us Feel Good About Our Work? In order for people to care about what they are doing consistently, they need to feel like their work is being recognized. Ariely discusses an experiment that found motivation drops almost as low when one’s work is ignored, as when the same work is destroyed.

Zappos cleverly crowdsources employee recognition by allowing colleagues to recognize one another through their Zollar, and Coworker Bonus programs.

Consider providing small rewards or small bonuses regularly. More importantly, say “thank you” more often. You’d be surprised how much a few genuine, kind words can help an employee feel recognized and valued.

3. Significance, camaraderie, and voice

Employees need a way to express their individuality, connect with their peers, and feel like they have a voice in what goes on. It’s derived from the need to feel significant or special — which, at its core, stems from purpose. No one wants to feel replaceable.

AirBnB hosts theme days, where employees took on the persona of their favorite characters from Mad Men. Events like these inspire compliments, conversations about shared interests, and other meaningful interactions. You can help infuse camaraderie into your company culture by encouraging employees to recognize and compliment one another’s performance and unique skills regularly.

Google, Facebook, and many other companies adopted unique perks as part of an effective employee engagement strategy. But to build a sustainable employee engagement plan, it's crucial to understand employee needs, and offer perks that satisfy those consistently. Only then can your strategy transcend trends and become successful.

Employee Engagement Handbook

Originally published on February 23, 2015 → Last updated April 1, 2019

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George Dickson

George is dedicated to strengthening organizational cultures with thoughtful leadership and frequent recognition. George formerly managed content and community at Bonusly.


Bonusly is a fun, personal employee recognition and rewards program that helps people feel engaged and successful at work. ✨