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HR Leader’s Guide to Employee Engagement

A Holistic View of the Employee Experience

Employee engagement is more than giving occasional recognition or a pin at a five-year service anniversary. It's about emotional connection. People have experiences in the workplace that affect their engagement. When those experiences are positive, employee satisfaction and employee engagement levels rise and cultures thrive, positively impacting business outcomes like productivity and profitability.

Our 100-page research-based eBook draws on decades of experience to take a holistic view of the employee experience. It covers a range of topics every HR leader needs to know, including:

  • How Recognition Boosts Employee Retention
  • The Importance of Peer-to-Peer Recognition
  • How to Reduce Employee Turnover
  • Making the Business Case for an Employee Engagement Program
  • Creating a More Inclusive Culture
  • Fostering Multigenerational Collaboration
  • How to Build Community in your Workplace
  • Empowering Employees to Recognize and Be Recognized
  • Building a Positive Team Culture Through Trust
  • Motivation You Can Measure: How to Calculate ROI
...and so much more!

Access the full guide by filling out this form.

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Welcome to the HR Leader’s Guide to Employee Engagement. With ongoing economic uncertainties, a hybrid work environment and ever-present employee recruitment and retention struggles, keeping employees engaged, motivated and loyal is challenging. This guide was designed with the HR leader in mind, offering a steady stream of fresh insights, tips, best practices and actionable strategies.  

We hope you find this guide useful, and as always, we’re here to help if you need to speak to a Specialist about how to increase employee engagement, build a positive workplace culture, or even if you have a particular challenge within your recognition program or organization. 

This guide has nine sections and 100 pages —  too much to post here. Below we've published the first section, Strategy, with these four chapters: 

2022 ManagersGuide_Section1 Strategy


Download the entire HR Leader's Guide, free of charge, and get all nine sections of content-rich articles and actionable insights — see the chapter titles listed below. Plus, the Guide contains two bonuses: 10 Best Practices for Employee Service Awards Programs, and a budgeting worksheet you can share with program administrators. Complete the form to download your copy today.

Happy reading!

The Inspirus Team

Below are the additional chapters within the guide, providing more insight and help to improve employee engagement and build a thriving culture.

2022 ManagersGuide_Section2 Leadership

  • Chapter 5 How Recognition Boosts Employee Retention
  • Chapter 6 Cultivating Community and Inspiring Loyalty Post-Pandemic
  • Chapter 7 How to Reduce Employee Turnover
  • Chapter 8 Best Practices for Employees’ Return to the Office
2022 ManagersGuide_Section3 WorkforceSeg
Workforce Segmentation
  • Chapter 9 How Healthy Conversations Create a Stronger, Inclusive Culture
  • Chapter 10 Fostering Multigenerational Collaboration
  • Chapter 11 Making Your Remote Employees Feel Included
  • Chapter 12 Building a More Inclusive Leadership Pipeline
2022 ManagersGuide_Section4 TrainingEducation
Training & Education
  • Chapter 13 Adding Recognition Into Your Onboarding Process
  • Chapter 14 Pitfalls to Avoid when Implementing a Recognition Program
  • Chapter 15 Investing in Employee Training to Fill Skill Gaps
  • Chapter 16 Creating a More Inclusive Workplace
2022 ManagersGuide_Section5 Technology
  • Chapter 17 Making Sense of Engagement Technology
  • Chapter 18 Technology Builds Community in Your Workplace and Beyond
  • Chapter 19 Empowering Employees to Recognize and Be Recognized
  • Chapter 20 Supporting a Hybrid Workforce through Technology
2022 ManagersGuide_Section6 DataReporting
Data & Reporting
  • Chapter 21 Making the Business Case for an Employee Engagement Program
  • Chapter 22 Getting the Most Out of Your Employee Recognition Platform
  • Chapter 23 Optimizing Your Rewards and Recognition Program
2022 ManagersGuide_Section7 Communication
  • Chapter 24 Crafting a Successful Recognition Program Communication Plan
  • Chapter 25 How to Measure the Effectiveness of Your Communication Plan
  • Chapter 26 Communication Tools to Promote Your Recognition Program
  • Chapter 27 Effective Communication During Onboarding Begins Engagement
2022 ManagersGuide_Section8 Engagement
Engagement & Measurement
  • Chapter 28 What is Company Culture — and Why is it So Important?
  • Chapter 29 Building a Positive Team Culture Through Trust
  • Chapter 30 How Mentorship Can Improve the Employee Experience
  • Chapter 31 How Employee Wellness Contributes to a Positive Team Culture
2022 ManagersGuide_Sections9 BudgetFinance
Budget and Finance
  • Chapter 32 Budgeting for a Successful Employee Rewards and Recognition Program
  • Chapter 33 Connecting Return on Recognition (ROR) to Vision
  • Chapter 34 Employee Motivation You Can Measure: How to Calculate ROI
  • Chapter 35 Measuring the True ROI of Your Employee Recognition Program


Read more employee engagement strategies by downloading the guide.


Chapter 1

How to Know When You're Ready for an Engagement Platform

If employee turnover, increasing engagement and improving company culture are major concerns for your organization, you are not alone. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) study places these among the top challenges HR professionals are facing today — and these issues are closely connected. A disengaged workforce negatively impacts both employee retention and company culture.

How can you plan for the future if a high turnover rate is demanding your constant attention?

Companies are turning to a variety of resources to encourage engagement, and advances in technology have made it easier to combine multiple employee programs — such as recognition, global rewards, well-being and learning — into one user-friendly engagement platform.

But technology is only as effective as the people and processes behind it. Using insights from employee surveys, rethinking processes and promoting the new platform are additional steps that contribute to the success of your engagement initiatives. To make the most of an engagement platform, consider whether or not your entire organization is truly prepared to support and sustain it, and if it will appeal to your employees. Here are five indicators that the time is right:

1) You recognize engagement as a business-level issue
Engagement isn’t just an HR issue; it’s a business issue, too. Engagement is an enormous factor in the trajectory of an organization. Gallup research tells us that highly engaged organizations are rewarded with 18% higher productivity, and 23% higher profitability. In organizations where engagement is already a top priority, CEOs are supporting more strategic engagement initiatives. Others may need to create buy-in from top leaders before they advance toward an engagement platform. Regardless, this vital first step is just the beginning.

2) Your company’s leadership understands its ability to improve engagement
Let’s say your leaders understand the business value of a highly engaged workforce. But they also must acknowledge their responsibility to encourage engagement. Aon Hewitt research shows that leadership can improve engagement by 70%. Companies ready to take that first step can start by looking at ways to promote engagement across their entire organization.

Positive shifts in the workforce start at the top with new processes and practices that require ongoing evaluation as they take hold throughout all levels of the organization.

3) Your organization has (or plans to acquire) technology and solutions that provide positive employee experiences and have a favorable impact on engagement
You probably already utilize tools that help engage your employees, such as rewards and recognition programs, learning technology and well-being initiatives. Technology is an integral component of employee engagement, but only if it’s designed with the end user in mind. Effective technology solutions lead to regular recognition and support from supervisors, which can result in as much as 67% higher employee engagement, according to The Energy Project. If your company hasn’t already done so, it may be the time to start investigating some of the innovative engagement technology solutions available, and how they can enhance your culture.

4) Your organization is struggling to reconcile multiple engagement initiatives
While a variety of initiatives are necessary to maximize employee engagement, these technologies are often spread across different areas of the organization — for example, rewards and recognition might be under compensation, well-being under benefits administration, and so on. This disjointed approach makes it less likely that each initiative will be strategically applied to its optimal objective, and more likely that employees will be left disengaged. The answer? A streamlined, cohesive employee engagement platform designed to be empathetic to the needs of employees. The global employee engagement software market reached $878M in 2020 and is projected to reach $1.90M by 2027.

Further, in an HR.com survey cited over three-quarters of respondents (78%) agree or strongly agree that their HR tech stack increases efficiency/productivity, and another 78% agree or strongly agree that their tech stack improves the employee experience within their organization.

5) Your organization is open to a fresh approach to employee engagement
Guiding an engagement strategy that gets results is no easy task. According to research from Edelman, just over half of organizations have an explicit employee engagement strategy. A well-designed platform that brings together your various engagement initiatives and technologies can be the foundation for a successful strategy that results in increased performance across the organization.

When you consider the impact of engagement on your people, your processes and your business, it’s worth investing in an employee engagement platform.

Read more employee engagement strategies by downloading the guide.


Chapter 2

Rewards and Recognition: When To Use What

Mandates can be daunting. When a mandate centers around something that is seemingly subjective or intangible — like “culture” — the challenge seems especially complex. After all, history show us great cultures don’t just happen overnight, they evolve over time (often long, long periods of time).

But what if you’re an HR leader charged with “building a culture of recognition” or a “culture of performance” for your company? Is it really possible to “build” a workplace culture? Sure, we can influence culture, contribute to it and nurture it — but can we put all the pieces in place to build it?

Someone’s doing it.

Studies show that organizations with a culture of recognition benefit on several levels. Employees who are recognized and rewarded for a job well done are more engaged.

Studies show one of the most important drivers of great work, is to be recognized. Engaged employees who feel valued and respected are happier and more productive — which has a direct impact on the company’s customer satisfaction, efficiency, profitability, and tons of other business outcomes. Engaged employees are less likely to search for a better job, staying put in their current position. Companies that have higher retention rates spend less time looking for new people and save a bundle on the costs associated with training new employees. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Google the phrase “culture of recognition” and 587,000,000 entries pop up — all of them offering a link to someone’s opinion or advice about what to do and what not to do. Similarly, “culture of performance” displays over 1.37 billion entries. That’s a lot of reading.

To save you time, we’ve complied a “cheat sheet” of employee rewards and recognition — and when to use them. Together, they lay a powerful foundation that you can put into action that will help you recognize, engage and inspire your people in strategic and targeted ways — employee engagement strategies that can boost your company’s success.

This chapter covers four categories — service milestone recognition, employee recognition, “spot” recognition and performance rewards. Each category is designed to reach your workforce in a different way that drives either a culture of recognition or a culture of performance. Let’s look at each category and the award types included.

A culture of recognition

Want to make your people feel valued and appreciated? Service milestones and employee recognition awards are a powerful combo.

Service milestones
How does the company bid a fond farewell to Hank when he retires after 47 years of loyal service? How do you congratulate your boss on her 10th anniversary with the company? How do you encourage the account service newbie who just completed his first 90 days on the job?

Retirement, onboarding and service awards acknowledge significant or strategic milestones. “They are considered an important “first step” in building a culture of recognition” says Terri Moore, Senior Vice President of People and Culture, for Inspirus and Sodexo Benefits and Rewards Services, USA. “By thanking people for their service and tenure, you let them know how much they are appreciated and valued for the contribution they make to the overall success of the company.”

Never underestimate the powerful effect of recognition. The need to feel appreciated and to belong top Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs.

Employee anniversary recognition sends a powerful message to recipients, coworkers and the entire company: We respect your service, dedication and commitment. We value you and your work.

Employee recognition

How do you inspire and motivate employees to embody work behaviors that optimize productivity and performance? Employee recognition encourages and rewards the key behaviors your organization has identified as drivers for success.

Two types of recognition fall in this category — nomination and peer-to-peer recognition (for more on the latter, see Chapter 4).

Nomination awards are popular with many companies because they let exceptional employees know they are the “best of the best.” These awards are selective honors given to individuals who:

  • Best exemplify the spirit of the organization
  • Embody the qualities and characteristics of an ideal contributor within the organization
  • Consistently perform in a way that drives excellence

Whether they are given in only one category or several categories, these awards carry prestige within an organization. Executive leadership usually determines nomination criteria, deserving employees are nominated, and a selection committee chooses the winner(s).

Peer-to-peer recognition is less formal, but very powerful because employees are active participants in recognition. Want to thank the coworker who covered for you while you were on maternity leave? Want to let the graphic designer who always makes your proposals look flawless know you appreciate his help? Empowering your people to show how much they appreciate their colleagues does a lot to foster a culture of recognition.

A culture of performance

When you want to inspire people to be more productive, achieve new goals or exude behaviors aligned with business strategies, “on-the-spot” recognition and performance awards can do the trick.

Spot recognition

This award tactic uses an immediate, and mostly informal approach. When an employee demonstrates a desired behavior or excels in some way, he or she is rewarded right away. Spot rewards encourage employees to keep up the good work.

Maybe your customer service team worked over the weekend to meet an insane deadline, or your facilities manager just found a brilliant way to cut energy consumption by 25%! Spot recognition not only reinforces positive behavior in the recipient, but it also inspires other employees to step up their performance, too.

Our best practices show that recognition is most effective when it is given immediately (see bonus on page 14 of the Guide). On-the-spot awards are a spot-on way to build your culture of recognition.

Performance rewards

It’s no secret that incentives are very effective when it comes to motivating people to achieve goals. How do you inspire your sales team to exceed their quarterly goal by 25%? How do you encourage Emma to keep up the good work when she goes 90 days without a cigarette? How do you reward Jordan for dropping 20 pounds and lowering his blood pressure in the process? It’s easy to inspire success with coveted rewards that employees appreciate and want.

Whether you want to build a culture of recognition, a culture of performance or both, employee rewards and recognition not only engage your workforce, but drive better business performance.

Read more employee engagement strategies by downloading the guide.


Chapter 3

Rewarding Employees in Different Types of Company Culture

As a leader in your organization, you likely know just how advantageous it can be to reward and recognize the efforts of your employees. These measures can improve team morale, employee engagement, and even your bottom line. But did you know that you can reap even greater benefits by tailoring your rewards and recognition system to your company’s specific culture?

That’s right, the values, goals, and practices that your organization shares can very well predict how you can best engage your employees through rewarding their efforts and acknowledging their accomplishments. For example, suppose your culture centers around results and the environment is a competitive one. In that case, you can potentially create a lot of engagement by having a monthly award that recognizes the employee who has made the most significant contribution to achieving your organizational goals.

Identifying your specific organizational culture and using it to shape your rewards and recognition system is a simple but effective way to fine-tune your efforts to maximize employee engagement and increase productivity. If you’re interested in learning how to do this, read on...

The different types of organizational cultures

According to Robert E. Quinn and Kim S. Cameron, professors at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, there are at least four types of organizational culture: Clan, hierarchy, adhocracy, and market.

Many factors help determine which team culture your organization may have, including beliefs, values, practices, and the company’s industry and size. To better understand each of these cultures and the rewards and recognition systems that best suit them, let’s take a closer look.

Clan culture

As the name suggests, a clan culture is primarily focused on teamwork and collaboration. Much effort is made within these organizations to give each individual employee their due. Clan cultures strive to maintain open lines of communication, promote mentorship, and avoid any sense of rigid hierarchical structure. This sort of culture is best suited for smaller companies and startups where there isn’t much opportunity for hierarchy, anyway. The larger a company grows, the harder it is to maintain the horizontal structure, which is often characteristic of clan culture.

Rewards and recognition within a clan culture should revolve around soliciting feedback from employees on ideas they have and changes they’d like to see. This gives them the opportunity to engage in organizational problem solving and recognizes teams or groups for their contributions to achieving company goals.

Hierarchy culture

A hierarchy culture is in many ways the opposite of clan culture. Rather than breaking down the chain of command to create a level ground for communication, hierarchy cultures stick to the more old-school way of doing things.

These cultures keep a tightly organized and well-defined structure that allows for excellent stability, focus, and control. Hierarchy culture certainly lends itself to larger companies more than clan culture does.

It only makes sense that a tightly structured organization should have tightly structured rewards and recognition programs, right? Hierarchical cultures have many options for incentivizing employees. For example, they can use a company newsletter or employee recognition software to regularly acknowledge an individual or group’s achievements or provide a clearly detailed rewards system that your workforce can engage with.

Adhocracy culture

An adhocracy culture focuses on staying one step ahead of the competition. Adhocratic companies are always striving for innovation while attempting to achieve and maintain a role as an industry leader. That means creative out-of-the-box thinking is a tremendous value for these companies. The employees who bring the freshest, most inventive ideas to the table are the most rewarded in these settings.

The companies you’ll most often find embracing this culture are in the tech industry, where remaining on the cutting-edge is not only effective, it’s vital.

To reward and recognize individuals within an adhocracy culture, allow them to share their ideas in brainstorming sessions. That is not only an opportunity for them to express their thoughts and make a mark on the company, it’s also one of the best ways to inspire organizational innovation.

Rewards in this system should be unique and creative, such as trendy gifts and experiences. Schedule fun shared occasions outside of the office, such as team dinners or an afternoon hike. A change of scenery is always an excellent way to stimulate innovative thinking.

Market culture

Profit is king within a market culture. That means that the complex numbers often determine what and whom the organization considers most valuable. A company that embraces market culture always strives to be the top dog in their industry, and as a result, competition within the workforce itself is fierce. That may sound as if it makes for a tense work environment, but the personality types that gravitate towards this culture tend to be those who not only embrace competition but also thrive on it.

A market culture company is likely to get the most out of a rewards and recognition program that capitalizes on the competitive nature of their team members. When top performers get acknowledged within this sort of organization, engagement and productivity increase. And as you might guess, monetary compensation is the most incentivizing in a market culture.


Read more employee engagement strategies by downloading the guide.


Chapter 4

The Importance of Peer-to-Peer Recognition

If you look at a typical organizational chart, it can appear that communication — and feedback — flows from the top down in most companies. Employees look primarily, if not exclusively, to their leaders or managers for feedback and support — or, at least, to others in manager-level or more senior roles.

That can be a flawed assumption, though, that also results in organizations missing out on the real power that recognition can provide for employees regardless of their job, their organization, the organization’s size, or the industry they work in: the power of peer-to-peer recognition.

Although feedback from direct supervisors and managers is clearly important, feedback from peers can be equally and sometimes even more powerful.

Peer-to-peer feedback strengthens relationships between team members which can build team culture, while improving morale and productivity. And, because employees work most closely and most often with their direct peers, this feedback can pack more power because peers know exactly what the employee does to make a difference. This kind of peer recognition is especially important to Millennials and members of Gen X as it taps into their need to have their voices heard.

Big benefits from peer-to-peer recognition

Organizations report big benefits from focusing on and encouraging peer-to-peer recognition. It fosters a stronger team culture and creates community and belonging. It motivates employees to do better work, to have more positive attitudes, and to exhibit team-supportive behaviors. It promotes open lines of communication and transparency.

Southwest Airlines is one great example of an organization that has built a strong culture that supports peer-to-peer recognition. Southwest is also known for their strong customer service which, they recognize, requires a supportive employee environment. Southwest Airline’s recognition program is accessible to all employees — used by 95% of them — and allows employees to reward each other SWAG (Southwest Airlines Gratitude) points that can be redeemed for meaningful rewards.

One outcome of the global pandemic is that many employees are now working from a wide range of locations. This makes it an especially critical time to unite your workforce and focus on peer-to-peer support.

Remote and hybrid environments prime for peer-to-peer recognition

With work environments increasingly more remote or hybrid, employees have less face-to-face interactions with their peers. A focus on peer-to-peer recognition and a process making it easy for employees to recognize each other can yield big benefits. Employees working from their homes don’t have the advantage of connecting with each other in the hallway or breakrooms and having “great job” or “thanks for your help” conversations. Without these face-to-face reminders it can be easy for recognition between peers to suffer.

That’s unfortunate.

Peer-to-peer recognition can boost a sense of community and offer opportunities for proactive and meaningful interactions between employees. Those connections can help to build bonds, and especially in a dispersed workforce, strengthen relationships.

Recognition feels good. Those good feelings can help to boost employee engagement and commitment — and the likelihood that employees will feel positive about the work they do and the company they work for.

When they do, they can serve as important ambassadors.

Peer-to-peer recognition builds brand ambassadors

Employees can be strong brand ambassadors for organizations. This is especially true when they feel valued and recognized. As we noted in our 2021 Trends Report, “There are plenty of ways to paint a picture of what working for your organization might be like, but an employee doing it will more than likely resonate a lot more strongly, and connect with a wide audience, than any other way."

Helping employees recognize their peers

There are a wide range of ways that employees might recognize each other and their efforts. These can take a variety of forms and focus on both work (e.g., appreciation for a collaborative team efforts) and personal (e.g., recognizing anniversaries, birthdays, and other life moments) recognition events.

While some peer-to-peer recognition likely occurs organically in most organizations, it’s not something that should be left to chance. Being proactive in encouraging employees to recognize each other and providing them the avenues to do so easily and seamlessly can produce real benefits. In fact, progressive companies have found that building and nurturing a climate that supports and enables peer-to-peer recognition can have many positive impacts — including a positive impact on ROI.

Automating these processes is the best way to boost recognition between peers as well as to monitor and measure the use and impact of these efforts. Using a technology platform, like Inspirus Connects, puts the ability to recognize their peers literally at their fingertips — whether their fingers are on their desktop or laptop keyboard, or their smartphones. Keep recognition top-of-mind and make it easy to share positive reinforcement widely, regardless of where colleagues may be located.

Feedback matters. Facilitating feedback between peers can be a great way to build teamwork, camaraderie and a sense of engagement that will lead to satisfaction, loyalty, and longevity.

Read more employee engagement strategies by downloading the guide.