Employee Engagement
5 min read

How to create workplace engagement on a budget


Josh Berman & Kevin Campbell

Culture Enablement Lead & Senior People Scientist, Culture Amp

Reading Time: 5 minutes

When asked to create initiatives that foster workplace engagement, where do you start?

Likely what comes to mind is implementing a recognition software platform, allocating bonuses, or handing out prizes. And many CHROs see a common go-to initiative that concerns them above all others: free lunches. These things can cost a lot (and taste delicious), but do they actually make a difference?

In 2018 we surveyed over 850,000 employees and we found that the highest correlation with engagement was not free lunch. It was making sure that we can drive costs down and be effective by simplifying an organization’s approach to working together. 

Recently, we hosted a webinar focused on new perspectives that can help you build workplace engagement on a budget. Particularly, how you can respond to lower-than-desired engagement scores without spending a fortune. You might be surprised to learn that free lunches weren’t recommended.

In this article we summarize the webinar and examine how to build meaningful engagement without breaking the bank. 

Two considerations for a new perspective on engagement

1. Employee engagement doesn’t have to cost a fortune

A tension that we hear a lot from customers is that there isn’t always a budget for expensive initiatives. While sometimes those big expensive projects can pay off, it’s often the low-cost, or no-cost actions that can have a bigger impact on how your employees feel.

For example, one consistently high driver of engagement is: my company “is a great company for me to make a contribution to my development”. High-cost L&D programs might be one option. But it can be highly effective to create an improved template and cadence for 1:1 conversations between managers and employees. 

2. Make employee engagement a shared responsibility

Ownership of your culture rests at every level, from leadership to individual contributors, and from your founders to new hires. You’ll achieve better results via authentic, shared buy-in if you can create a culture that doesn’t see engagement as extra work, but rather part of how the day-to-day work gets done. 

One example at Culture Amp was an ask we made of Campers coming out of our Wellbeing survey last year. We asked each Camper to use the results of the survey and our in-platform inspirations to identify two small actions they could take: one to improve their own wellbeing and one to support the wellbeing of a fellow Camper (i.e. not messaging them on Slack them after working hours). 


Watch the webinar


Three components of engagement initiatives

When it comes to driving engagement, there are three key components that can help you get the most out of your efforts: Care, time, and cost.

Care: Creating buy-in by acknowledging what matters to people

In today’s fast-paced and increasingly busy world of work, it’s hard to get people’s attention. It’s not enough to just say “engagement matters because it’s engagement”. It’s critical to frame the data, and your asks of others, through the lens of what matters most to them. 

Some questions to ask yourself include: 

  • Do you know what your stakeholders are held accountable to?
  • Do you know what their core challenges are?
  • How might not taking action impact their ability to be successful?

Building care creates buy-in for the actions you’re taking. It can create momentum and ownership around actions. For example, if you’re working with sales leaders, you might be aware that their ability to hit targets is hindered when there’s a dip in motivation for salespeople in a certain region. But if you help the leaders see why they should care about keeping their team motivated, your costs go down because you have to spend fewer resources on getting the salespeople engaged.

Time: Engagement efforts can be simple

If you’re an HR professional, no doubt you’ve got a lot on your plate, and so do your stakeholders. You need to find ways to help create time where often it feels like it doesn’t exist.

There are a few tactics that you might try: leverage for creating that time or helping to share that responsibility.

  • Use existing spaces and time: For example, if there’s already an All Hands meeting on the calendar leverage the time allotted in that space to drive meaningful action.
  • Distribute mutual accountability: Create an action plan that leverages both central, local, and even individual components. Have a clear ask of local leaders (by geography or by team), managers, and individuals so that the time commitment gets shared.
  • Keep your asks simple and clear: Even at the cost of being as detailed and specific as you think you need to be. 

Cost: Initiatives can be cheap, as long as you’re intentional in scoping the problem and solution 

One reason that engagement initiatives often end up with expensive solutions is because the problems that we’re trying to solve aren’t properly scoped, or actions are created in a vacuum.  

We recommend investing a little more time up-front specifying the problem or opportunity, (for example, through root causing and focus groups). Then come up with ideas that you feel find the right intersectionality between being feasible and having an impact. 

Typically, this might look like three basic steps:

  • Collaborate: Spend time unpacking your results and refining one problem you might try to solve
  • Ideate: Collectively work with a team to generate ideas for action
  • Activate: Act on your ideas and get some quick wins

Next steps in your employee engagement planning

To learn more about ways to structure your engagement planning around care, time, and cost, watch the webinar here.


Want to Culture Amp to enhance engagement on your team?

Schedule a demo