I don’t have to explain that employee satisfaction and engagement are one of the keys to building a successful business and ensuring longevity. At the end of the day, the employees are the ones that do the work. And without them, there is no company.

Often, though, the importance of employee engagement is overlooked by busy business owners who fail to look at the bigger picture. If continued, this oversight quickly becomes one of the biggest contributors to the demise of a business.

Related: Are you an inspiring leader? Take the quiz to find out!

So, what can small business owners do to increase employee engagement and satisfaction?

It all starts with simple steps.


how to increase employee engagement infographic


#1. Know their names.

In a business under 50 employees, there is absolutely no excuse why you shouldn’t know everyone by their name. Even in a department where there is generally a high turnover rate (like a call centre), it doesn’t mean that you can’t keep up.

Learn your employees’ names and greet them every time you see them. Employees are more often than not intimidated by the higher-ups, and appreciate it when you’ve taken the time to learn and remember simple things like their names.


#2. Know what they’re working on.

The more employees you have in a business, the more dissociated you become with their daily duties. That’s quite understandable and normal. But as a business owner, you need to have a pretty good idea of the roles that each of your employees hold. It doesn’t mean you need to know what they’re doing every minute of the day. It does, however, require that you know their position descriptions and general duties.

With that said, it doesn’t just stop at knowing what they’re doing. From time to time, ask them how a project is going and show interest in their work. They’ll feel like you actually pay attention and care about their individual work.


#3. Know what else is going on.

Try to keep up with the big events that are happening with your employees. Whether they’re positive events (e.g. engagement, marriage, graduation, etc.) or negative events (e.g. funeral, divorce, etc.), employees will appreciate that you know what’s going on in their lives. Congratulate them or show your condolences with genuine care. This is one of the quickest ways to increase employee engagement and earn their loyalty.

And don’t be afraid to mention the small things! Comment on a new hairstyle, nice nail polish, a great outfit or a funky bag. It’ll make you seem more human and approachable.


#4. Give them authority.

While knowing their work and life events are important, remember that there is a fine line between caring and micromanaging. Instead of hovering over them to make sure they’re doing good work, give them the room and space to get their work done.

Employees who are given freedom feel like they’re trusted to work independently. If balanced right with resources and support, it’s likely to increase their productivity and creativity.


#5. Ask for feedback and take them.

Giving employees authority doesn’t just stop at letting them work without disruption. It also means you need to show genuine curiosity about their experiences.

Many stubborn business owners fail to embrace employee feedback and end up losing the dedicated workers who could have made positive changes if given the opportunity. Ask what’s going well and what isn’t. And ask why. Show that you’re taking their suggestions seriously and taking steps to streamline their work processes.


#6. Compliment in public and criticise in private.

When is the last time you said “thank you” to an employee? Build trust and energise the work mood by acknowledging their work and accomplishments. Even better, show your gratitude in a group setting. Recognition among peers and higher-ups is one of the most important ways to increase employee engagement and ensure that they feel valued.

Not everything your employees do is always going to hit the mark, though. If you have to evaluate their performance, do it in private and constructively. They’ll appreciate that you’ve given them a chance to explain themselves in a safe setting where they don’t feel exposed.


#7. Hold group events and workshops.

Teamwork in an organisation helps to increase job satisfaction. Facilitate a collaborative environment where teamwork is encouraged. This could be (inter-)departmental group meetings, an internal workshop or training session. In an unhealthy work environment, many low-level employees feel like their opinions aren’t valued and that they’re just required to clock in and clock out. The truth is that there are some roles where that might really be the case. However, it’s your job as the business owner or team leader to create a cooperative environment where their skills can shine.


#8. Invest time and money in them.

Following the previous point, invest your time and funds to support and develop your employees. Send them to a seminar, financially support their education, or organise an expert to hold company-wide workshops. This could be as simple as a Microsoft Excel training session.

Even in a struggling business where money is tight, you can still offer something of value. Offer your time by having regular 1-on-1 meetings or hold small birthday celebrations for each of your employees.


#9. Let them know what’s going on with the company.

Just like your employees appreciate you knowing what’s going on with them, they also appreciate you sharing what’s going on with the business. Keeping your team up-to-date on the big movements of the business is the surest way to help them feel included. Let them know about the high-level projects that are happening, and how their work is relevant.

Employees who know the big picture feel like they’re part of something meaningful, and work harder to achieve the company goals and targets. This in turn increases employee engagement and ensures positive company culture.


#10. Lead the way with your ethical behaviour.

Set an example of good professional behaviour by “walking the walk” first. If your employees feel like you’re not trustworthy, they’ll lose respect and the sense of belonging. People like to be part of something good and valuable.

Celebrate good work ethics and follow the rules that you set for them. This is the foundation of a safe work environment where your employees are encouraged to meet your standards and call out unprofessional behaviour like lying, bullying and harassment.