20 Employee Engagement Activities That Will Inspire and Energize

Blog 54 - Hero - Final
  • November 30, 2018

Employee engagement is a hot topic among employers lately, and for good reason—it’s a critical component of retaining talent. Turnover is bad for productivity, kills morale, and diminishes organizational trust. And, bottom line, it’s expensive. Engagement is a powerful tool to counter this problem, as well as a viable strategy for greatly improving workplace experiences with employees who do stay.

Employee engagement doesn’t require a magic formula or gimmicks, but rather, active communication, recognition, and creating opportunity. Here are 20 employee engagement activities, divided into three general categories, that will inspire and energize your workforce.


The annual review is considered a basic employee engagement activity, but it often does more harm than good. It’s also incredibly outdated and can discourage employees from feeling as though their experience is geared toward growth and purpose. In her book How Performance Management Is Killing Performance—and What to Do About It, author M. Tamra Chandler writes, “In order to create an agile, involved, and dedicated workforce, we must shift how we’ve been taught to look at our people. And our people must shift their own habits and views on the role they play in their personal development and careers.” With this in mind, here are some engagement activities and strategies that rethink employee assessment:

  1. Transparency: Don’t shut out employees from the discussions and machinations that assess their performance and their future. Invite them to conversations about them, and be honest.

  2. Let employees chart their own path: Encourage workers to think about their future with the organization and share their goals, no matter how pie-in-the-sky those goals may be.

  3. Focus on the future: Stop dwelling on past performance and work with employees to develop a vision on what lies ahead for them and for the organization as a whole.

  4. Customize engagement: Not every employee or department defines engagement the same way. Customize activities that are tailored to your workplace culture and the human relationships you have with your employees, making them feel seen, heard, and valued.

  5. Rich input: Be as detailed with assessment as possible, and invite others to sing your employees’ praises and offer encouragement. If there are considerable responsibilities and workplace attitudes the employee needs to work on, frame the conversation positively and develop a way forward, as opposed to focusing on the criticism.

  6. Reimagine rewards: Rewards shouldn’t be so metric-based that they reduce employees to numbers. Initiate and welcome honest discussions about compensation, benefits, and bonuses, and work with employees to establish a plan for what you want them to deliver and what they can expect in return.


Successful employee engagement management is about balancing their past accomplishments with their current situation and encouraging future growth. Career development goes a long way toward giving employees a purpose that keeps them engaged. As Beverly Kaye and Julie Winkle Giulioni write in Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Organizations Need and Employees Want, “Career development is as important as it’s ever been (maybe more). In today’s business environment, talent is the major differentiator. And developing that talent is one of the most significant drivers of employee engagement, which in turn is the key to the business outcomes you seek: revenue, profitability, innovation, productivity, customer loyalty, quality, and cycle time reduction.”

This responsibility falls upon the manager, who must encourage and support employees’ vision of the future, help them realize and embrace purpose and value in their jobs, and empower them to find joy and satisfaction in their work. Some employee engagement activities tied to development include:

  1. Honest, insightful conversations: Annual reviews aren’t the only time a manager can talk about career development. Honest conversations, even when not necessarily work-related, build and establish trust and make employees feel valued by their leaders.

  2. Encourage meaningful interaction: More than formal conversations during the review process, ongoing and meaningful interactions stimulate thought, challenge both parties, and foster deeper communication. A simple “What do you think of this idea?” unearths the employee’s interests and gives them a voice in the decision-making process, while pushing leaders to see their people as whole rather than just cogs in a machine.

  3. Bring employees into the planning process: Your plans and your organization’s plans are also ultimately your employees’ plans. Including them in the planning process can make them feel like part of the future—they contribute to a larger vision.

  4. Offer opportunities for advancement: Employee development should not just be empty promises. Managers are also responsible for providing continued attention to the growth of their employees and working with them to create space in the organization for pursuing their passions and interests.

  5. Get creative: Not every employee is looking for a promotion and increased responsibilities, but they still crave fresh challenges. Rethinking alternative forms of development that are nonlinear can bring employees into their own development plans and inspire both of you to think creatively.


Everyone appreciates recognition for a job well done. Strategically, this recognition can be a cornerstone for employee engagement. In Make Their Day! Employee Recognition That Works, author Cindy Ventrice bluntly describes what recognition should mean: “Find ways to make recognition part of every employee interaction. When you delegate, add a little praise of past accomplishments. When you receive project updates, thank employees for their promptness, thoroughness, or accuracy. When you hold a team meeting to talk about a new challenge, express confidence in the group’s ability to meet that challenge.” Here are some activities that bring these concepts to life:

  1. Make improvement a habit: Prioritize highlighting great results—you can even incorporate it into team-building as a weekly routine—and describe how each result is an improvement over past performance.

  2. Recognize purpose and quality: Today’s workers, especially millennial employees, put a high premium on purpose-driven work. Their jobs are more than jobs; they want to know that their hard work provides value to the company they work for and the customers they serve, and sometimes even a greater social mission. Acknowledge that purpose, and praise employees for quality work that contributes to their goals as well as the company’s overall mission.

  3. Trust your people: Employees who are constantly micromanaged are prone to disengage because they never feel comfortable or trusted. Leaders who trust their teams to deliver good work without constant supervision often see positive results. Empowering employees to use their best judgment establishes feelings of mutual trust and ultimately benefits the employee, the leader, and the organization as a whole.  

  4. Recognize individual value: Although teams deserve recognition for jobs well done, you should also make an effort to recognize individual achievement. This action can take many forms, from something public to a little note of thanks. It also demonstrates that as a leader, you’re paying attention to the unique contributions of each person, and not only what they deliver to the company’s bottom line.

  5. Set people up for success: If employees don’t feel like they have the resources necessary to be successful, they can feel like they’re being hung out to dry. Each day becomes a tug-of-war between trying to do good work and lacking the tools to do so. Listen to their needs, and provide the resources that will set them up for success. Soliciting their input in what those resources should be will also help you better understand how you can help them.

  6. Let employees have their say: Employees bring strong opinions to their jobs and need an outlet to offer their thoughts when the time arises. Valid and constructive concerns deserve an avenue to be voiced respectfully. Give them a platform as needed, keep your door open, and invite them to help solve problems, if applicable.

  7. Win as a team: Contests are sometimes used to drive engagement, but often fail to strengthen the team as intended. Forcing competition actually undermines team building and leads to opposition among members. A better approach is to focus on the collective efforts of everyone on the team and reinforce that success wouldn’t be possible without each person’s contributions.

Engaged Employees, Engaged Results

Ventrice titles one of the sections of Make Their Day! “Employees Want to Love Their Work.” This is more than a snappy chapter title—it gets to the heart of employee engagement. People who love their jobs, have a sense of purpose, and feel valued are energized and contribute thoughtfully to the success of their teams and organization. She writes that “employees are looking for meaning, not things. Part of the responsibility of managers and leaders alike is to see and hear each employee’s unique purpose and values, help them develop a plan to achieve their goals, and foster relationships built on trust and honest feedback. When leaders accomplish this and see their employees as whole people, employee engagement becomes more than a trite feedback loop, but instead an enrichment of the human experience of people in the workplace.

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