Business Leadership Today

14 Employee Engagement Strategies for a Winning Culture


Matt Tenney, Author of Inspire Greatness: How to Motivate Employees with a Simple, Repeatable, Scalable Process

As we continue to navigate the post-pandemic world of work with its shifting worker needs and declines in engagement, employee engagement will remain a challenge for many organizations. 

And it’s clear that organizations that want to sustainably improve engagement will need to go beyond office perks (such as volleyball, ping-pong tables, and snacks in the breakroom) that focus more on employee satisfaction than employee engagement. 

This means focusing on the full employee lifecycle, or “employee experience,” because a positive employee experience improves not only engagement but also morale, productivity, performance, retention, and a host of other factors. The idea is to create a culture that supports employees throughout their journey with the organization so that they stay highly engaged and thrive in the work environment. 

The key to creating and sustaining a winning organizational culture that helps employees thrive both professionally and personally is to identify the universal needs that people have for thriving and forge employee engagement strategies that are informed by these 14 universal needs and focused on creating a winning culture. 

Here are 14 employee engagement strategies for a winning culture: maintain clarity, provide needed tools, leverage strengths, recognize work, commit to growth, listen, emphasize purpose, foster excellence, create belonging, exchange feedback, offer autonomy, build trust, support well-being, and demonstrate care. 

These are actional strategies leaders can implement in their organizations to create a workplace culture that keeps employees engaged, energized, and motivated to consistently produce great work.

In this article, you’ll discover the following:

Let’s begin with some background on employee engagement.

What Is Employee Engagement?

Employee engagement is the degree to which an employee is motivated to do great work, passionate about their work, and committed to the organization and its mission. 

Workers fall into three categories of engagement: engaged, not engaged, and actively disengaged. 


The emotional commitment engaged workers have to their jobs helps them feel a deep sense of purpose and meaning in the work they do. It also makes them more likely to care about their co-workers and inspires a dedication to the organization’s mission and vision.

While compensation certainly plays an important role in engagement, we know that real engagement is achieved when employees are working for something more than salaries. 

Engaged employees do not just show up for the paycheck—they truly care about the organization’s mission, vision, and values. They are invested in the organizations they work for and are aware of the important role they play in making them successful. 

Not Engaged

Employees who are not engaged exhibit little commitment to or enthusiasm for the work they do. While they may do what they are asked, because they aren’t fully invested in the organization’s success or aligned with its vision, they will not go the extra mile for customers or their co-workers.

Employees who are not engaged may miss deadlines repeatedly, which will adversely affect productivity and client relations. They may also communicate poorly with their leaders and co-workers, have poor collaborative skills, lack accountability, and avoid taking ownership of their duties. 

Most workers currently fall into the not-engaged category.

Actively Disengaged

When employees are actively disengaged, the results can do significant damage to an organization’s bottom line.

Disengaged employees lack the commitment engaged employees demonstrate. These employees aren’t just unhappy in their roles, they can make their co-workers unhappy in their roles by spreading negativity that ends up causing them to disengage. 

Workers who are disengaged will not be interested in problem-solving, process improvement, collaboration, or innovation and may even sabotage the efforts of others. 

What Are the Benefits of High Employee Engagement?

Engagement is a critical metric for organizations because it can have a tremendous impact on so many aspects of a business and can significantly affect its overall profitability.

Gallup’s research routinely finds that organizations with high levels of employee engagement realize the following outcomes when compared to organizations with low levels of employee engagement:

  • Roughly 40% lower absenteeism
  • Roughly 50% better employee retention
  • 10–20% better customer ratings
  • Roughly 20% better sales 
  • Roughly 20% higher profits

When employees are engaged, they are self-motivated, clearly understand their roles, feel a strong sense of purpose in their work, view what they do as impactful and important, develop a continuous improvement mindset, and feel a strong sense of belonging within their team and within the organization. 

When considering the financial impact of engagement, we need to look at the ways in which it can improve profitability when there is a high level of employee engagement.

Increased Productivity    

Engaged employees are motivated to consistently perform well, resulting in greater productivity. 

Decreased Burnout/Stress 

Engaged employees are less likely to experience stress and burnout, which can help them perform better, miss less work, and make them less likely to seek another job.

Lower Absenteeism  

Engaged employees miss fewer days of work because they experience less job-related stress and better mental health.

Less Turnover 

High engagement can boost employees’ respect for one another and improve co-worker relationships, which can help organizations eliminate toxic behaviors, reduce turnover, and retain talent since workers are more likely to stay in a work environment where they feel supported.

Stronger Workplace Culture

Healthy work environments lead to healthy relationships, which strengthen culture and increase a sense of purpose at work that reinforces the vision and core values.

Improved Collaboration

Engaged employees share a sense of purpose that helps them work more effectively with their co-workers. 

Better Customer Service

Highly engaged employees are more motivated to provide a great customer experience.  

Employee Advocacy

Engaged employees will advocate for their organizations and share their positive views (through social media, Glassdoor, etc.), which can attract top talent and improve recruitment efforts.

Next, I’ll discuss a simple but effective approach to employee engagement that can help leaders create winning employee engagement strategies and a winning workplace culture. 

An Innovative Approach to Employee Engagement That Will Dramatically Improve Results

Here are four simple steps you can follow to quickly and dramatically improve employee engagement on your team, or in your organization.

Step 1: Frequently Remind Leaders That Their Primary Job Is To Inspire Greatness—To Inspire Engagement

The first step is to shift one’s mindset away from seeing employee engagement as an “initiative” or “project” that is the responsibility of human resources. It should be the top priority for the organization, tied with an effective strategy for accomplishing its mission. 

Employee engagement is the best predictor of an organization’s ability to effectively execute its strategy. Organizations with high levels of employee engagement are roughly 20% more productive and 20% more profitable than organizations with low levels of employee engagement.

Employee engagement is something that everyone should be thinking about, all year. Leaders at all levels need to be reminded regularly that their top priority is to inspire greatness in their team members, so that they prioritize activities that drive and remove obstacles to engagement, instead of over-focusing on tasks and short-term metrics.

A simple process for achieving this is to have all managers print a document that reminds them of what their primary job is:

My primary job is to inspire greatness in my team by serving as a coach who helps people to be happy, great human beings, who do great work.

Once leaders have this printed, they should create a calendar event that reminds them to read this document several times a day for at least 30 days. Every time leaders read this, they’ll be more likely to take some action that helps bring out the best in their team members, and team members will feel more cared for as a result. 

Remember that organizational culture should be intentional: Culture determines the efficacy of any employee engagement strategy, and leaders guide the development of culture. Because a winning organizational culture is foundational to the success of all our business strategies and for providing a great employee experience, we should be intentional in creating and maintaining the kind of workplace culture in which all team members can thrive.

Step 2: Identify the Universal Needs People Have for Thriving at Work

The second step to creating and sustaining an environment that helps employees to thrive both professionally and personally is to identify the universal needs that people have for thriving.

According to Gallup, 70% of employee engagement is driven by direct supervisors. Employee engagement is driven by how well leaders, and, most importantly, direct managers, meet the 14 universal needs people have for thriving and being engaged at work

We have identified the 14 needs for thriving that are very strongly correlated with employee engagement and retention, supported by decades of research. And these needs are essentially universal. Almost everyone shares these needs for thriving at work and being engaged.

14 Universal Needs

1. Clarity of Expectations

A lack of clarity can cause significant frustration on a daily basis, hurt confidence, and hinder engagement.

2. Having the Tools Required To Do One’s Job

Lacking the tools to do one’s job can profoundly affect engagement, and, as a result, performance.

3. Doing Work That Leverages One’s Strengths

The more time people spend doing work they enjoy and are good at, the more likely they are to be engaged.

4. Appreciation / Recognition

People need to feel recognized and/or appreciated for their contributions.

5. Growth

People need to be continuously growing to continuously improve.

6. Feeling Like Opinion Matters / Is Heard

People need to feel like they’re making a contribution with ideas that are at least considered.

7. Meaningful Work

The average person would give up roughly 23% of their income to do consistently meaningful work.

8. Excellence

People inherently want to do a great job and achieve excellence.

9. Belonging

Having a good friend at work is one of the strongest predictors of retention.

10. Feedback

People need regular, helpful feedback to grow.

11. Autonomy

People need to feel that they have as much control as possible over their lives.

12. Trust

People need to trust their coworkers and, most importantly, their leaders.

1.3 Well-Being

Negatively impacting well-being is strongly negatively correlated with engagement and retention.

14. Feeling Cared for by Supervisor

This is, perhaps, the most powerful driver of engagement and the foundation for meeting all other needs.

In addition to the 14 universal needs above, each individual has needs for thriving that are unique to them and which can be best identified by employees’ direct supervisors through meaningful, 1-1 conversations and coaching sessions.

Remember to set S.M.A.R.T. goals: S.M.A.R.T. goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Setting goals in this way can ensure our strategies are more focused, our progress is measurable, our goals are directly linked to the outcomes we desire, and we take action to reach these goals as soon as possible. 

Step 3: Get Regular Feedback (in Small Digestible Bits) on How Well Direct Supervisors Are Meeting the Universal Needs People Have for Being Engaged at Work

The focus of this step is to figure out where your team is on the engagement spectrum and where it needs to go. This can be done by measuring how well you are meeting employees’ needs. This will give you an accurate and current assessment of how engaged your team is.

Once you’ve identified the universal needs of employees for thriving at work, managers need to get regular feedback from their direct reports on how well they’re meeting those universal needs.

Although large, broad surveys do have their place later on, they are generally not the best way to start your efforts to consistently drive high levels of employee engagement. To successfully help employees thrive and thereby drive high levels of engagement, you should start with one, small survey, with just one or two questions that are focused on meeting just one element of the 14 universal needs.

To make the most impact the fastest, spend the first six months to a year only asking how well supervisors are meeting the needs of their direct reports.

Because 70% of employee engagement is driven by direct supervisors, this helps make the biggest impact the fastest. We can get feedback on organization-wide issues later; by getting feedback in small, digestible bits, it’s easier for employees to provide feedback.

This allows employees to see action taken on their feedback within days of completing the survey. Surveys should only be open for two to three days.

You may not get responses from every employee on every survey, but the speed with which you take action on the feedback is much more important.

When leaders focus on universal needs first, engagement efforts are most highly leveraged. After addressing the universal needs with sound engagement strategies, you can then uncover and meet unique needs.

There are several survey and non-survey approaches you can utilize at different points to gather feedback and measure engagement:

Survey Approaches: Annual employee engagement surveys, pulse surveys, and employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS) surveys.

Non-Survey Approaches: 1:1 meetings, stay interviews, exit interviews, retention rates

Remember to monitor progress closely: To ensure our strategies are successful, putting metrics in place to track progress is essential. By tracking progress, we get a better idea of where we are starting from, where we need to go, and where to make changes to get there.

Step 4: Help Managers Quickly Respond to Feedback by Synchronizing Feedback With Training in Bite-Size Bits

Perhaps the most important secret to quickly and consistently improving employee engagement is to ensure that employees see meaningful action being taken on their feedback, as fast as possible.

Ideally, direct supervisors should take at least some action within three to five business days of the survey closing to improve their ability to meet the needs addressed. Although this may sound impossible, there’s a simple hack that will allow you to easily respond to feedback almost immediately.

Rather than getting feedback from employees and then spending time coming up with a plan for addressing deficiencies after the feedback comes in, you should have a brief video training ready to go that helps managers more consistently meet the needs of their employees before a survey even goes out.

For instance, if you know you’re going to send out a survey on appreciation, you should have a brief video training ready that is focused on a simple habit for better showing appreciation, so that managers can watch and take action on the training as soon as they get the feedback from their team members.

This approach is extremely important for several reasons:

  • Managers are more open to learning with this process
  • It makes it easier to take action
  • There’s almost no interruption
  • Employees see action immediately

With this approach, you can build a virtuous cycle of employees sharing feedback, feeling heard, and quickly seeing action taken on their feedback. With each cycle of this simple yet powerful process, employees have more confidence and trust in their managers and in the leadership team.

As mentioned earlier, building trust alone can dramatically improve engagement. This is why research from Gallup suggests that engagement is nearly three times higher when employees strongly agree with the statement:

“My organization acts upon the results of surveys I complete.”

If you’d like to see the free video training program we created that will show you how to dramatically increase employee engagement in your organization in the next three months, just CLICK HERE for instant, free access.

Remember to be adaptable: Setting policies that work requires agility and adaptability as needs shift and change occurs. Regularly measuring employee engagement and listening to employee feedback can help organizations adjust their engagement strategies when necessary and make them more effective. 

14 Employee Engagement Strategies for a Winning Culture

Here are 14 strategies for a winning workplace culture and high engagement. These strategies are based on the 14 universal needs I outlined earlier. 

When you focus on meeting these 14 universal needs, you can address the most common drivers of engagement quickly before identifying other needs employees have.

1. Maintain Clarity

Accountability plays an important role in employee motivation. Employees who hold themselves accountable are motivated to meet deadlines, collaborate with teammates to achieve shared goals, and go the extra mile to get the job done. 

But to stay motivated and accountable, and for leadership to effectively measure an employee’s performance, employees need to have clear goals to work toward, and they also need to know what is expected of them as they work to achieve their goals.  

Providing clarity on goals and expectations makes it easier to increase alignment between an employee’s goals and the larger goals of the organization, helps employees focus more energy on achievement, and allows leaders to better manage an employee’s performance without micromanaging. 

Some ways that leaders can ensure they are providing the clarity employees need are through coaching and mentoring, setting S.M.A.R.T. goals together with employees so that they have a clear understanding of the context of their work and how their goals fit into the bigger picture, exchanging feedback regularly, and maintaining a strong system of communication so that employees stay informed as expectations change. 

2. Provide the Tools Team Members Need To Do Their Job

Equipping your employees with the tools they need to work with autonomy is just as important as giving them autonomy. This means not only trusting employees to work autonomously but also providing them with the technology and support they need to work autonomously and empowering them in ways that build confidence. 

To produce high-quality work, avoid delays that can cause setbacks, and avoid unnecessary stress, all workers need access to the right technological tools to do their jobs. This one may seem like a no-brainer, but when it is overlooked, it can cause serious productivity issues for remote workers and create confusion around expectations. 

One of the most important tools employees need to work with autonomy is empowerment. I recently sat down with Dr. Wanda T. Wallace, author of You Can’t Know It All: Leading in the Age of Deep Expertise,and talked about how empowerment helps employees build confidence in their abilities and allows them to learn for themselves and better understand the purpose of tasks:

YouTube video

3. Leverage Team Members’ Strengths

Leveraging strengths and supporting employees by helping them do the work they are good at and want to do can help them reach their full potential.

According to research from the Gallup organization, only one in three employees strongly agree that they have the opportunity to do what they do best every day. And, by doubling that ratio, organizations could realize a 6% increase in customer engagement scores, an 11% increase in profitability, a 30% reduction in turnover, and a 36% reduction in safety incidents.

After you have identified the areas where an employee is naturally strong, spend less time working on fixing weaknesses and more time finding ways to help them do more of what they are naturally good at. Leveraging employee strengths by putting team members with diverse strengths on a team can supercharge collaboration and boost individual team member engagement. 

4. Recognize Achievements and Contributions

There is strong evidence that suggests recognition is a great way to engage employees because it boosts self-esteem and personal competency. 

Recognition is so important because it meets a core human need for both the employee and the manager. Meeting this need is a key aspect of a strong company culture because it increases job satisfaction, employee engagement and retention, and the quality of work.

Acknowledging and celebrating the hard work, achievements, and successes of employees lets them know they are valued and the work they do has an impact. Recognition builds trust, boosts team morale, increases employee retention and loyalty, and improves performance.

5. Commit to Team Members’ Growth

A recent Pew Research Center survey found that a lack of opportunities for advancement was among the top reasons US workers quit their jobs last year. The survey also found that those who quit and are now employed elsewhere are more likely than not to say their current job has more opportunities for advancement.

To feel motivated in their roles, employees need to be able to grow and develop their skills, build new knowledge, and see a clear path to advancement. Growth can help employees feel more confident in their abilities, more committed to the vision, and more engaged with their work.

To keep employees motivated to perform well and committed enough to the organization to stay, you have to demonstrate that you are committed enough to them to invest in them. Creating a clear path to growth, development, and advancement for employees shows employees that you want them to succeed. 

In-person and online training, cross-training, tuition reimbursement, professional organization participation, and career pathing are just a few ways leaders can help their team members grow and support a positive employee experience.

6. Ensure That Team Members Feel Heard

Listening improves employee motivation by letting employees know they are heard and that their input matters. This creates a sense of belonging that helps them connect to their work. 

To build trust and establish a good system of communication, leaders need to really listen to their employees and respond to what they are saying in the moment to get the most out of these meetings. 

It’s easy for leaders to fall into the trap of asking the same questions or giving the same advice each time they exchange feedback with an employee, but active listening can be more motivating than any advice a leader can offer. 

Leaders can schedule regular team meetings, coaching sessions, and one-on-one meetings every day, but if they aren’t actively listening to employees, these tools will not help them connect to their work and stay motivated. 

7. Emphasize Purpose and Meaning

A vision statement is an essential part of strategic planning in any organization and provides direction, but it has to be more than just a sentence on your organization’s website. 

An organization’s vision is supported by its mission, provides purpose for employees, and gives them a goal beyond their day-to-day duties to aim for. To engage with and perform their work well, employees need to be invested in the mission that the organization’s founders set out to achieve and committed to a vision that helps the organization achieve the mission.

This is why it’s such an important responsibility of leadership to articulate and regularly reinforce the vision. 

Libby Gill, author of The Hope-Driven Leader, says it’s not enough for leaders to know the “why”; they have to be able to convey the “why” to their team: 

YouTube video

Leaders define and reinforce employees’ sense of purpose by tying it to the work employees do each day and the larger mission and vision of the organization. Leaders can help team members find purpose in their work by setting expectations that are tied to the organization’s larger vision and reflective of its culture and core values. 

8. Foster Excellence

People inherently want to do a great job. They also struggle at times to break the habits that impede excellence. 

Because bad habits are easy to form and hard to break, and good habits are hard to form and easy to break, most people struggle to break bad habits and form and maintain good habits on their own. But breaking bad habits is essential to achieving excellence. 

If leaders can make the shift to more consistently serving as a coach whose primary job is to inspire greatness, they can help their team members overcome bad habits and thus meet a very important human need (the need to be excellent) that is very difficult to meet on their own.

9. Create Belonging

A sense of belonging at work keeps morale high, improves cohesion, helps collaboration, and is linked to higher motivation. It also prevents work environments from becoming toxic because it supports open, honest communication and a psychologically safe work environment.

Employees need to feel psychologically safe at work. They need to feel comfortable bringing their authentic selves to work every day to build authentic connections with their co-workers. 

To support a sense of belonging in the workplace, organizations should be committed to policies that champion inclusion, foster diversity, support collaboration, recognize contributions, and encourage growth. They should also recruit carefully and hire for cultural fit and values alignment. 

10. Exchange Feedback (and Act on It)

In a feedback-rich culture, employees receive regular, helpful feedback from direct supervisors, and they are empowered and encouraged to provide meaningful feedback to co-workers and leadership. The goal of a culture of feedback should be to ensure a work environment’s channels of communication remain open, consistent, supportive, and honest. 

Whether it’s praising employee achievements, offering ideas about how to improve processes, or suggesting behavioral changes, in an organization where feedback is the norm, we see open, frequent dialog between employees at all levels of the organization and a high level of trust that supports employee motivation.

For employees who are not performing, exchanging feedback with them can help them determine where things are going wrong, where improvements can be made, and what those improvements should be. 

To successfully implement a culture of feedback, leaders can demonstrate a communication style that improves the organization and its employees by emphasizing listening, understanding, and deep reflection over focusing on or reacting to any one individual’s views. 

11. Offer Autonomy

The effectiveness of a leader depends on their ability to build influence beyond positional authority. Effective leaders do this by giving their employees autonomy, whether it’s through remote work and other flexible work schedules or by letting them design their own work processes. 

Research has shown that motivated employees are more oriented towards autonomy and independence and are more self-driven than less motivated employees. Autonomy meets an employee’s need to work in more self-directed ways when possible and gives them the chance to take ownership of their roles and responsibilities, which increases engagement. 

Great leaders don’t micromanage; they give their teams the tools they need to work well and then give them autonomy to reach their full potential. 

12. Build Trust

Trust improves communication, which, in turn, improves transparency, clarity of expectations, and performance, all of which help to reduce the anxiety that workers develop (and that can cause them to leave) when communication breaks down. It is essential for building engagement.

Compared with people at low-trust companies, people at high-trust companies experience the following:

  • 74% less stress
  • 106% more energy at work
  • 50% higher productivity
  • 13% fewer sick days
  • 29% more satisfaction with their lives
  • 40% less burnout
  • 76% more engagement

One of the main ways to build trust is to ensure the work environment, whether it is virtual or an on-site office, is psychologically safe for all employees. Psychological safety is necessary for experiencing a sense of belonging at work, team building, and forging meaningful, trusting relationships that supercharge collaborative efforts. 

13. Support Well-Being

When employees’ well-being is negatively impacted, so is employee engagement. Supporting well-being can improve work-life balance, which is correlated with improvements in performance, retention, and employee health.

Employee well-being often suffers in many organizations. Overwork, lack of recognition, and toxic work conditions can raise stress levels and lead to absenteeism and turnover. 

One of the leading drivers of employee engagement is whether or not employees feel their leaders care about them and are invested in their well-being. When leaders provide a positive work environment where employees are engaged in their work, it boosts employees’ mental and physical well-being.

By caring about employees and investing in their health and well-being, leaders are building a sustainable work environment that offers the flexibility employees need to perform well. 

14. Demonstrate Care Toward Team Members

It can be a challenge to unite employees with a shared mission and sense of purpose and create an environment where employees work together to produce a positive impact on people’s lives. 

This is why the most important employee engagement strategy is developing a culture of care that consistently demonstrates to employees that they are valuable members of the team.

A caring culture is an organizational culture in which leaders consistently act in ways that help team members thrive, and team members consistently act in ways that help other team members to thrive. As a result, the organization is able to care very well for customers.

Leadership that truly cares about employees and consistently demonstrates that care by putting people above profits will see the benefits of this approach in their organizations in higher engagement levels.

In a caring culture, leaders focus daily on helping teams thrive. Team members also help each other thrive. To create a culture where everyone on the team is committed to helping each other reach their fullest potential and experience real personal growth, leaders must consistently model caring behavior.

Matt Tenney has been working to help organizations develop leaders who improve employee engagement and performance since 2012. He is the author of three leadership books, including the groundbreaking, highly acclaimed book Inspire Greatness: How to Motivate Employees with a Simple, Repeatable, Scalable Process.

Matt’s ideas have been featured in major media outlets and his clients include numerous national associations and Fortune 500 companies.

He is often invited to deliver keynote speeches at conferences and leadership meetings, and is known for delivering valuable, actionable insights in a way that is memorable and deeply inspiring.

Others Recent Articles and Podcast Episodes