Brian Anderson is an HR copywriter, with work exploring the intersection between employee engagement, total rewards, and HR software. He’s lucky enough to write about people topics in his day job with
What does it mean to feel welcome? While everyone has a different answer to this question, feeling welcome boils down to feeling understood—that others recognize you, empower you, and accept your place in the group.
When your organization helps employees feel welcome during the onboarding process, you’re creating conditions that can lead to deep emotional connections. These connections help form a foundation of trust that can improve employee engagement levels, remove barriers to collaboration, and lead employees to a long and productive tenure with your company.
The importance of first impressions
One of the biggest barriers to a mutual understanding is how our brains are wired to form first impressions. Research from Princeton University psychologist Alex Todorov found that we form first impressions about trustworthiness, likeability, and even competence mere milliseconds after seeing someone’s face for the first time. He explained this phenomenon by noting that the brain treats first impressions like a fear response, processing it in the amygdala (threat center) instead of the frontal lobe (rational thought).
In other words, the same impression mechanisms that helped our ancestors avoid leopards now lead us to avoid job candidates in leopard print.
Of course, the same mechanics determine the impressions employees form during the recruitment process. They decide whether your workplace environment is welcoming, indifferent, or hostile. These first impressions are one of the reasons that hiring is the first step to effective onboarding.
Completing the new employee welcome
Thankfully, first impressions aren’t the only impression. The first few days and weeks send a powerful message about what new employees will experience with your company—not only through the messaging of the official welcome meeting, but what they see, hear, and do during working hours. These experiences either confirm or undermine the impressions new hires form during the hiring process, and can determine the strength of your employee welcome.
- They didn't get enough training
- The work wasn't clear
- They felt underappreciated
- They felt neglected
- They felt overwhelmed
These employees accepted a job that gave them the right impression—a workplace that offered fulfilling work they were qualified to do with competent management, complete training processes, and the chance for recognition and advancement. When the onboarding process didn’t confirm these impressions, they left.
How do you avoid this outcome in your onboarding process? The first step is to understand the two types of impressions your new hires want to confirm during their first days and weeks with your company.
Two important impressions for your new employee welcome
Harvard Psychologist Amy Cuddy studied first impressions for more than 15 years. She found that people judge you on spectrums that she labeled warmth and competence:
Warmth: This impression determines how much new employees feel they can trust the people in your company, including their manager, co-workers, and company leadership.
Competence: This impression determines how much new employees respect the capabilities of their new company and the people in it.
Cuddy’s findings show that while both of these impressions are important, they also need to happen in order. An impression of warmth leads to an impression of confidence. As she put it in an interview with Business Insider:
If someone you're trying to influence doesn't trust you, you're not going to get very far; in fact, you might even elicit suspicion because you come across as manipulative. A warm, trustworthy person who is also strong elicits admiration, but only after you've established trust does your strength become a gift rather than a threat.
Put simply, the welcome comes first. Any company can say that they’re competent. But for employees to believe that your company is competent, their experience needs match expectations. A powerful impression of warmth opens the door for your organization to continue demonstrating your competence and meet these expectations.
Employees may never have all the information on the company’s strategy, and even the best-connected company can’t fully understand all the nuances of each employee’s daily experience. However, when the company recognizes new employees’ potential and provides them with the support they need to become completely competent in their new role, it paves the way for mutual trust, improved engagement, and better results.
Here are a few strategies for creating these two key impressions in your new employee welcome:
Providing a warm employee welcome
Remember what it’s like
When you’ve been with a company for years, it can be hard to remember what new employees go through on their first day. There are several pieces of information your current employees take for granted that are essential to transmit to new employees to keep them from feeling like outsiders.
- Team vocabulary terms—names of regular meetings, software programs, employee groups, conference rooms, etc.
- Your company’s neighborhood—as you put together your welcome packet, be sure to include a guide to the local area with suggestions on nearby restaurants, cafés, banks, and gas stations.
- An outline of the first day—guide new hires through what they’ll learn, who they’ll meet, and what they should expect to accomplish.
Connect with culture
Leaving a new employee with empty hours after an impressive welcome presentation is a little like creating a Potemkin Village: a good show with nothing behind it. While work can’t stop every time a new employee comes onboard, it’s important to provide time and resources for their new team to introduce your culture in full—demonstrating how you work, interact, succeed, and celebrate.
Consider the following ideas for connecting new employees with your culture:
- Introduce your company values—reemphasize how your company lives its values during day to day operations.
- Auto-enroll in recognition software—including a bonus from a peer-to-peer recognition program (like Bonusly) on the first day can provide a first-hand demonstration of how important recognition is to your organization.
- Go to lunch—facilitating a team lunch with a new employee gives them time to break the ice without worrying about interrupting important work.
- Celebrate on the company level—recognizing all new employees during a company-wide meeting, happy hour, or initiation helps broaden new employees’ connections.
Providing a competent employee welcome
Do the prep work
A new employee won’t be enjoying the new culture or diving into new responsibilities if they’re standing at an empty desk waiting for IT to come with their computer and chair. Creating and following through on a new employee checklist removes distractions from the important trust-building activities of a new employee’s first day.
Here are some important entries on this checklist:
- Compliance pre-boarding
- e-Signatures collected before first day
- Provide new hires with start time and directions
- Workstation prep
- Internet connection
- Computer/computer accessories
- Software and permissions
- Auto-enroll in recognition software
- HRIS information
- Confirm correct personal information
- Provide self-service benefits information
- Guide to financial/health benefits—invite your providers to monthly (or quarterly) meetings to give new employees expert advice on these often-complicated benefits.
- Guide to social media—in a connected world, teaching your new employees how to represent your company on social media sets clear expectations and provides further development for your employer brand.
- Company culture follow-up—after your new employees have experienced your culture, give them a chance to ask for any clarifications on your values or their processes
Take your time
Completing the onboarding process will take more than an employee welcome meeting on first day. New employees will need additional context to fully understand how things work in your organization, and that context comes after their first few days on the job. One software company recently expanded their onboarding process from a single meeting to four weekly meetings held throughout the first month, based on employee feedback.
Consider including these in-depth topics in your long-term onboarding process:
- Guide to financial/health benefits—invite your providers to monthly (or quarterly) meetings to give new employees expert advice on these often-complicated benefits.
- Guide to social media—in a connected world, teaching your new employees how to represent your company on social media sets clear expectations and provides further development for your employer brand.
- Company culture follow-up—after your new employees have experienced your culture, give them a chance to ask for any clarifications on your values or their processes
Throughout the onboarding process, managers need to have the time and support to provide new employees with regular one-on-one meetings. Developing open communication during this process gives employees a psychologically safe space to ask questions without feeling incompetent or that their job is at risk. Managers can also establish a pattern of performance management and verbal recognition as they continue these conversations.
Make your company a welcoming place
Welcoming new employees with effective, extended onboarding processes shows them that your organization trusts and respects them. When you give new employees the knowledge, training, and recognition they need to do their best work, you confirm their positive impression of your organization, paving the way for employee engagement and success.
How do you welcome your new employees?
Winter is here. ❄️ Some may say it’s their favorite season, but we have a hard time agreeing—they call it winter blues for a reason! It’s widely reported and very understandable: Employee morale falls during winter.
Maybe your tree or menorah is still up, your gifts might still be laying around the house, or you just can’t seem to let go of holiday music just yet—we get it. The winter months can create a roller coaster of emotions with the highs of seeing loved ones, celebrating and relaxing ... and all of a sudden you’re back into work mode.
If you catch yourself feeling the winter blues and your concentration is a little cloudy after PTO, you’re not the only one. Various studies have shown that January and February are consistently the least productive months.
On the plus side, companies that prioritize employee morale, engagement, and well-being are more resilient. So, how do teams bounce back quickly and get excited about the workday again? It’s probably a nice in-between of Scrooge and Buddy the Elf. Give yourself some room to accept that the holidays were great, but have come and gone. There will be more moments for rest and relaxation, but now it’s time to start working toward your goals!
5 surefire ways to beat the winter blues
1. Celebrate company wins to boost employee morale
A great way to jumpstart employee motivation in January and February is to take into account what you accomplished last year. Did you hit your goals? Were there rocks or big accomplishments you achieved? Take the time to recognize the efforts you made and the ones that helped make it possible.
The early months of winter can require some extra positivity, and looking back can provide motivation for employees to know where they’ve been and where they want to go next. Establishing a space for them to feel appreciated for their hard work can produce a jolt of encouragement to dream big with goals and put them into practice faster.
While you’re at it, why not get your game plan together with each team member? A recent study concluded that 65% of employees want more feedback 👥. You might have spent Q4 planning out the upcoming year already, but take some extra time to meet individually and ensure coworkers feel informed, confident, and prepared for the quarter ahead.
If your company is making some structural changes, introducing a new service, or improving benefits and perks, it’s a good time to review these. Employee morale can be improved when changes are coming up at your company with new incentives and ways of working.
🎁 Want a free gift?
2. Create better routines and new habits
It’s a new year, but your leadership might not quite be feeling like a new version of themselves yet—and that’s okay. We don't need to mention resolutions, but getting back to good habits, or setting up better routines, can help break the post-holiday slump.
Many leaders are looking to reduce meetings, or at least the ones that could just be a Slack message 😉 . Employees have been on virtual meetings and conferences for a LONG time since 2020. We’ve all been zapped by the occasional “do you have 10 mins?” message that turns into a full hour, or 10 people on a call when it could have been just two.
A meeting fatigue study showed that 89% of workers agree that they would benefit from at least one day free from scheduled calls and meetings. Are your leaders mindful of how they are scheduling their time and what they require of each team member? It’s important that each person’s independence be respected to use time wisely, avoid employee fatigue and burnout, and ultimately get stuff done ✅.
Psst: The Bonusly marketing team has no meetings every Thursday!
New routines don’t just have to be about meetings, and not all meetings are bad. Maybe you need a new 15-minute standup every other day to stay motivated and communicate better. The main goal is to be considerate of value-added events and activities. Nothing takes away more from employee morale than a recurring event or theme that seems unnecessary to the majority of participants. Managers should ask what their employees want more of, and what should be ✂ to be more productive and satisfied with their work.
Some new leadership routines could be trying out a time management platform, creating a dashboard to track what’s important, setting an accountability flowchart and sticking to it, or just taking 30 minutes of the day to unwind and prepare for the next.
3. Assign mentors to new employees
Are there new employees being onboarded at your company? The start of the year is a popular time for new coworkers to enter your Zoom room and meet you for the first time. Having certain individuals own parts of the onboarding process can keep them motivated to bring their best to each interaction with that new employee.
While the winter months can seem a bit sluggish as everyone is getting back to normal, remember that someone new is experiencing a fresh start! If a new teammate joins, partnering them up can inspire someone who may have been at your organization for years. They'll experience what it’s like to start at your company all over again, even though it may be totally different now.
Also, a study from Degreed found that 55% of workers first turn to their peers other than their boss or the internet when looking for ways to learn. Peer-to-peer learning is powerful and meaningful for all coworkers.
This exchange can help spark new friendships and it is always good to know that your company continues to grow and bring in great people 󠅓💯. This can really empower veteran employee behavior as they are getting back into the swing of things. Showing your workers that you trust them to teach others can emphasize your commitment to their personal development and hone in leadership qualities.
🎁 Want a free gift?
4. Mix work and personal goals with your team
Speaking of personal development: does your organization allow your team to communicate both personal and work goals for the year? This could be paying off student debt, saving to buy a house, getting a new dog, or starting a side hustle. You never know!
Coworkers want to feel heard by their peers and find natural ways to connect. And that’s the fun of it when you bring in personal goals with ones that you are hoping to achieve at work.
5. Kick off a team or company-wide project in Q1
There’s no time like the present to jump into a quarter or half-year project that involves your whole team or more than a few individuals. Let’s say you are looking to design a new website or launch a new product. Whatever the case may be, there’s probably some big thing that you need to work on fast 📊!
It’s important to be mindful of how big a project you take on during this time, because the flipside could be an overwhelmed staff. Prioritize what you think can be done and set realistic goals, all the while providing open communication for updates and adjustments.
Hopefully, these suggestions are helpful for boosting morale with your employees during the winter months. Remember…coffee always helps too. 😆Have a great start to the year and celebrate your wins often and openly!
To boost employee retention and plan for a successful year:
Originally published on January 03, 2023 → Last updated January 4, 2023
Stop and Go: The Fascinating Psychology of Workplace Motivation
Understanding how to motivate employees to be productive has always been an enduring topic. In the business world, leaders have spent decades experimenting with rewards and penalties, trying different combinations of carrot and stick based on instinct, trend, or tradition. 🥕🤔
However, neuroscience has found vastly different brain activity when people receive incentives or are threatened with disincentives. Understanding this psychological difference can help you tailor your rewards program to inspire action and increase employee satisfaction.
Hitting the rewards accelerator
If you want your employee to step on the gas and be more productive, rewards are the way to go. Because of our evolutionary history, the promise of a reward encourages action.
While we’re not racing to hunt and gather anymore, acting fast still has a host of benefits, whether it’s getting the corner slice of the birthday cake or being the first to volunteer for a meaningful project.
The human brain recognizes rewards with a surge of dopamine from deep in the midbrain that travels to the motor cortex along a channel that promotes action. This dopamine surge helps prioritize acting to get the reward above other mental processes.
If you want to see an example of this phenomenon, put a piece of candy in front of a young child. Unless they’ve had lots of training in manners (otherwise known as disincentives from Mom and Dad), they’re going to act the way their previous experiences have taught them to: grab that candy, unwrap it, and pop it in their mouth.
This action surge completely outpaces their decision-making frontal lobe, so it takes a second to justify what they just did if you ask.
How can you apply this principle to your workplace? For jobs where more activity often translates to more success, such as sales positions or taking support calls, having a regular framework of rewards and recognition can encourage employee momentum.
A friendly competition for a reward can also encourage employees on any team to act in changing a work habit or adopting a new policy. One such program at BambooHR is called the Rafferral: every qualified candidate an employee refers earns them one ticket for a raffle with cash or experience-based rewards. We get a lot more action with prizes than we do from duty alone.
The brains brake pedal: Demotivation
An opposite effect happens when the brain perceives something it wants to avoid. In the midbrain, the dopamine surge activates a different path of receptors that repress action. This process frequently precedes the fight-or-flight response—imagine your legs locking up on the edge of a bungee jumping platform, or a soldier who freezes in battle.
Here’s a vivid story of this effect in action: when I was 12, I was crossing a local road with a friend. Traffic was heavy and there was only one stoplight in my town at the time, so when there was a small break, my friend encouraged me to book it. My freeze reaction kicked in when I was in the middle of a lane with an oncoming bus.
Me, pointing: “But there’s a bus!”
My friend: “That’s why I said to run!”
Me, a second later: “...Oh!”
It was a near miss. I probably went right under the rearview mirrors as I lurched out of the way. In this case, my demotivation slammed the brakes at the worst possible time.
Here’s the question, though: do your employees feel like a bus is coming? The implied threats of the working world are much less noticeable than public transport barreling toward you, but uncertainty can ramp up the stress and leave your employees overwhelmed.
The natural response to do nothing until the invisible danger passes can lead to analysis paralysis, or, when facing long-term job stress and uncertainty, burnout.
Without clarity on what’s expected of them, employees can get stuck in a mental freeze with the fight-or-flight response coming too little, too late.
This can happen at times of huge change—like a company acquisition, new management, or navigating a global pandemic. There are many change management frameworks developed specifically to address this very human response!
Putting employee motivation strategies to action
Of course, motivation and demotivation are much more sophisticated than a teenager alternating between pedals and getting whiplash while learning to drive.
For every reward-based action, the brain suppresses other actions and thoughts, like a professional driver tapping the brake to drift around a hairpin turn.
Recognizing the right blend of stop and go for each role helps you tailor your incentives and disincentives to the results you want. For example, you might want to reward a sales rep for increasing sales, but only focusing on personal incentives can encourage unhealthy competition between employees or cutting corners to reach the reward. In extreme cases, unregulated rewards plans can crash through the guardrails for disastrous results.
On the other hand, roles like managing compliance, processing payroll, or running quality assurance on a product involve acting to respond to the possibility of future dangers to the company. But even though these employees can’t improve their action score by fixing problems that don’t exist, their motivation doesn’t need to be limited to avoiding a mistake-based firing. You can still use recognition to encourage them to engage with your company.
Need some guidance on employee recognition best practices?
Download our Guide to Modern Employee Recognition!
One example of this is my employer BambooHR’s value of Lead From Where You Are. It encourages employees to own their decisions and share their insights into making processes better, whether it’s beating a sales record or finding a better way to coordinate between departments.
This contrasts with a demotivating culture where employees freeze, fearing that their actions or ideas are overstepping their authority.
Tips for balancing incentives and disincentives
- Make performance management a consistent process. No news isn’t always good news, not when employees start second-guessing the reasons why they’re left to drive blind. Regular one-on-one meetings give managers opportunities to recognize employees, apply timely course corrections, and connect them with the resources they need for their projects and progression.
- Make a distinction between rewards and regular compensation. Few people see paying their mortgage as a rewarding activity. But all too often, that’s what they do with their cash rewards. You’ll want to make sure your employees aren’t relying on your reward structure to meet their financial necessities, because desperation can lead to unethical behavior.
But when compensation is taken care of, switching to closed-loop gift cards can help ensure that your employees get that habit-strengthening dopamine boost from a real reward—even if it’s a DoorDash lunch instead of a team lunch.
- Improve your employees’ quality of life. When employees know your organization considers their daily experience, both at the office and at home, it helps ease their foot off the brake. These considerations don’t have to break the bank—offering flexible remote work scheduling or making improvements to employees’ office space can demonstrate your organization’s willingness to invest in their success, especially when paired with meaningful career development.
Get employees back in the driver's seat
Understanding how incentives and disincentives affect employees lets you build a workplace experience that puts them back in the driver’s seat: ready to act, grow, and progress. Developing this active, engaging culture is one of the first steps to building a vibrant, thriving business.
For more employee engagement resources, check out:
But how they’re asked (and who is doing the asking) is just as essential. It takes more than sending employees a link to survey questions and expecting them to bare their souls for employees to believe in the power of feedback the way you do.
Employees need to feel like their opinions are heard and understand how their feedback affects your company’s direction—and whether or not their opinions will lead to change.
Let’s go over the what, how, when, who, and why of employee engagement survey questions to see how the right perspective can change a simple assessment into a sign that your company recognizes and values every employee.
Addressing the four principles of employee engagement
For more than two decades, polling giant Gallup has asked employees worldwide the same 12 proprietary questions and tracked the aggregate results. Employees who score highly on all twelve questions are marked as actively engaged, employees who score poorly are marked as actively disengaged, and those in the middle are marked as neutral.
Gallup’s Q12 questions are currently the gold standard, but if that’s not something that can fit into your budget right now, that doesn’t mean your survey questions can’t have the same impact. Your questions should address the same four principles of employee engagement:
- Do employees understand the company’s mission?
- Does the company understand what each employee does best?
- Do employees have personal and professional ties to their team members and the company’s values?
- Do employees feel that their work is recognized and supported?
- Do employees receive and recognize opportunities for personal and professional development?
Employee engagement surveys have the potential to address all four of these principles. Clear questions and clearly recorded responses help keep leadership on the same page as employees, connecting everyone with actionable feedback and highlighting opportunities for recognition and development.
Let’s nerd out a little bit: in Bonusly’s 2019 Employee Engagement & Modern Workplace Report, more than 1,000 respondents answered this question: “Does your organization take your feedback seriously?”
While 95% of the respondents who reported high engagement answered that their organization valued their opinion, only 31% of disengaged employees felt the same way.
So how can you help your employees feel like your organization values their opinion? While having great teams and good management is a start, employees will need indicators that upper leadership is listening to employees to unlock the full engagement potential of employee engagement surveys.
Asking the right questions at every level and putting mechanisms in place to communicate the results can prove that your organization wants to make the right decisions for everyone.
Managerial-level employee feedback strategy
Managers can have the most direct insight into employee engagement as they interact with employees. It’s hard to find an employee engagement survey question that can replicate a manager noticing an employee’s slumped posture and withdrawal from their co-workers and asking them what’s going on.
Informal feedback between managers and employees can solve many of the day-to-day struggles employees face. Holding one-on-one meetings between employees and their managers also provide a chance to touch base and quickly resolve issues that don’t require upper-level input.
In fact, we recommend team-level engagement surveys to really dial down how your team is doing.
Employee engagement questions don’t necessarily have to come from a company-wide survey to be effective. While managers may wish to keep notes from their one-on-ones, it’s not necessary for upper-level management to hear the results of every managerial question for every employee.
But while regular conversations can smooth out an employee’s experience on the team, managers don’t always have the authority to immediately solve every problem or fulfill every employee request. And as direct managers don’t always make decisions about compensation and employee career trajectory, employees need to know that their hopes and concerns will be recorded and shared with the people who make these decisions.
Spacing more formal employee engagement surveys between one-on-one meetings and team-level surveys shows that the company pays attention to the employee experience. And when the company follows up with decisions and feedback, it shows the employee that their experience matters.
Consider asking these team-level employee engagement survey questions:
Managerial-level employee engagement survey questions
- What would you change about our team culture?
- Does our team culture align with our company culture?
- How well does our organization recognize my value? (Five-Point Scale)
There’s nothing like the direct approach for identifying where more recognition is due.
- What would have the most impact on my ability to do my best work more often?
Instead of having this be an open-ended question, provide employees with specific and actionable ideas or options. BambooHR uses options like “Getting the materials or information I need” and “The company direction was better defined”.
- Is there a problem on the team that management doesn’t see?
- Do you feel challenged, comfortable, bored, or stressed out with the type of projects you’ve been handling lately?
- Is there anything we can do to help with work/life balance?
- Have you been getting the support you need from the team?
- Do you have any shout-outs you’d like me to deliver?
- What are some things I do well?
This question is a chance for self-reflection and for employees to emphasize what they view as their strengths. It’s also a solid question for manager and peer reviews. Providing employees with their manager’s perspective helps employees and managers align expectations for giving and receiving recognition.
- What is one thing I would like to focus on in the next six months to help me grow and develop?
This question helps employees set a personal performance goal to track while giving managers a framework to support that goal with informal and formal feedback.
Be open to questions—giving feedback is hard! These questions are crafted in a way that's empathetic, but your employee may need some additional guidance in how to communicate feedback in a way that's useful, constructive, and empathetic to the receiver, as well.
Company-level feedback strategy: eNPS®
Employee feedback is essential in the planning process. But as your company grows and employees stop literally rubbing elbows with founders and executives in a tiny office suite (or a single Zoom meeting), it takes more to gather this feedback and spot the high-level trends.
The little e stands for employee. 😉
eNPS surveys ask employees two simple questions with the assurance that their responses will remain anonymous:
- How much would you recommend working here? (Scale of 1-10)
- Tell us why you feel this way. (Open response question)
Responses are then compiled into three groups:
- Promoters (9-10): These employees love their jobs and your company, and they’re not afraid to let other people know that they’ve given you an A grade.
- Neutrals (7-8): These employees aren’t enthusiastic, but they don’t have any complaints strong enough to make them take action. They give your organization an average C grade.
- Detractors (6 and lower): With the natural tendency to inflate ratings in online surveys taken into account, these employees give your organization a failing grade. These are the employees who are likely to damage your organization through negligence (or actively sabotage their hated workplace).
After results are in, the Net Promoter System takes the percentage of each group compared to the total employee count, then subtracts the detractor percentage from the promoter percentage to give you a Net Promoter Score®. This score ranges from -100 (every response wouldn't recommend you) to 100 (every response loves you).
As an example: if your company had 30% of responding employees as promoters, 50 percent neutral, and 20 percent as detractors, then your eNPS would be 10. This score would indicate that you have decent support, but room to improve engagement among neutrals (possibly by addressing issues caused or brought up by detractors.)
Using eNPS comments as a bird’s eye view
With results at such a large scale, eNPS isn’t designed to take the place of your managerial-level survey questions. But it can highlight feedback trends that might not make it up the chain of command to the people at the top, helping inform long-term decisions. The recommendation is to administer eNPS surveys every six months and track changes in score in response to your company’s previous decisions.
It’s also recommended to go through every employee’s response and categorize them—there are a lot of tools that can help with this. While your company can’t approve every request outright (there can be no end to the Office Thermostat War), it can spot major trends and address them in the company at large—whether or not there’s a change in policy.
I experienced this at BambooHR during two separate meetings highlighting major eNPS results. Both times, employees had requested more paid time off. In the first meeting, our director of HR explained the thought that went into crafting the leave plan and the challenges involved in making changes.
Here’s what most of us didn’t know: increasing the amount of unused PTO would lead to larger payouts when employees left for a new job. Based on usage and other factors, increased PTO wasn’t the right decision at that time. But as things changed in the next few months, and (after a generally-unknown amount of behind-the-scenes work) soon BambooHR was able to offer a more generous leave policy.
There is no perfect template of employee engagement survey questions that can convince every employee at every company that their leaders are listening to employees. As with all other communication, effective listening means taking steps to continue the conversation after it starts.
But starting with questions that demonstrate your company’s interest in that conversation and following up with appropriate transparency and real changes can show your employees the true impact of their feedback.
As you take change slowly—one step at a time, overcoming issues and helping employees grow—your company will earn their gratitude and engagement in return.
For a deeper dive into increasing employee engagement at your organization, check out our guide:
Net Promoter, Net Promoter System, Net Promoter Score, NPS and the NPS-related emoticons are registered trademarks of Bain & Company, Inc., Fred Reichheld and Satmetrix Systems, Inc.
When you think about employee experience at your organization, consider this: employees want experiences that continue to invigorate them—not just by fulfilling their basic needs, but by offering career growth and expansion opportunities to look forward to.
That’s where Total Rewards come in. Total Rewards encompasses everything that an employee needs for a positive employee experience, rather than just focusing solely on compensation.
Abraham Maslow categorized these needs in his famous pyramid, where each need must be met before moving on to the next. Later, Frederick Herzberg found that not all of these motivators were created equal. While meeting basic needs would reduce dissatisfaction, additional support in the same areas wouldn’t necessarily produce satisfaction.
This means your organization can offer high salary and gold-standard benefits, but still have a stream of disengaged employees heading out the door.
Instead of starting and ending with compensation, the concept of Total Rewards addresses the full spectrum of employee engagement and employee motivation, covering what your employees need today and what they want tomorrow. An effective Total Rewards program covers the short-term, mid-term, and long-term needs of an employee for a comprehensive employee experience.
Compensation forms the base of the motivational pyramid.
For the most part, compensation and benefits relieve the dissatisfaction that comes from physiological or safety concerns. Your current paycheck lets you eat for the day, the continuity of paychecks reassures you that your standard of life is secure, and your benefits protect you from unforeseen disasters. But is this enough for a positive employee experience?
Your employees will ask themselves the same question: what is the money for? Is it an implied trade-off for long hours away from their loved ones? Is it a measurement of their bargaining ability come the annual review? Or is it a true reflection of their value as a contributing member of your organization?
Before you can develop satisfaction with the other areas of your Total Rewards program, you need to lock down your compensation and benefits plans and ensure that you communicate them to your employees.
Consider the following when reviewing your compensation and benefits as part of your Total Rewards strategy:
- Compensation: whether it’s an annual salary or regular hourly wages, fixed compensation gives employees a benchmark for building their lives. Developing a standardized compensation plan for each position helps prevent unfavorable pay comparisons among your employees (such as a salary compression scenario).
- Variable compensation: in a variable compensation plan, the same basic needs still apply. Do employees with variable compensation regularly earn enough to support their standard of living? Does everyone have the support to succeed and earn more than the bare minimum?
- Incentives: Adding incentive-pay as part of a short-term project or yearly performance measurement can help employees know that you recognize when they go above and beyond. But it’s important to set and clarify expectations for any incentive pay to avoid having the opposite effect.
- Benefits: Empower your employees to be experts in their basic benefits, and monitor utilization statistics. BambooHR, before the next open enrollment, our HR team helped educate the team on their benefits, with great results. One employee said, “Let me get this straight—I can save $4,000 this year by switching plans?” Making efforts to help employees understand and make good benefits choices shows that your company’s concern doesn’t stop with a signature on an open enrollment form.
Benefits don’t have to stop at the base of the motivation pyramid: after you shore up the foundation with preventive benefits like medical, dental, and retirement funds, you can add proactive benefits in several different areas:
- Employee wellness programs: incentivizing healthy behaviors can lead to improvement in employees’ physical health.
- Mental health care: emphasizing and de-stigmatizing gives employees the mental space to appreciate their workplace
- Financial health: Holding and reimbursing the cost of financial health classes from a finance professional shows that you care about your employees’ future.
- Perks: Perks are often a reflection of company culture, and can encompass anything from gym memberships to free lunch to a daycare on the premise. Offering great perks can five your company a competitive advantage to attracting the best talent!
The key thing about Total Rewards is that it's not all about the money! Check out this example from Mad Men episode The Suitcase. After working together to meet a difficult deadline, Peggy confronts Don about taking credit for her successful ad idea.
The confrontation ensues:
Don't be a Don. It's not all about the money, and it shouldn't be. After your employee signs the offer letter, you should be thinking about how to make sure your employees are engaged throughout their tenure.
Recognizing an employees' contributions builds stronger teams, cultivates richer company culture, and motivates employees to do their best work. When executed successfully, recognition provides positive peer influence and communicates the notion that good work is valued by everyone in the company.
Looking at the bottom line, companies that score highest for building a "recognition-rich culture" have 31% lower turnover rates than their peers. What’s more, employees who don’t feel recognized are twice as likely to quit within a year.
The traditional concept of work-life balance implies that employees balance time at a thankless job with hours at home doing things that inspire them. Spend eight hours a day at the base of the pyramid, then use the rest for more motivating pursuits.
But work can be more than drudgery. Your Total Rewards program should help employees at your organization enjoy their quality of life—both in and out of the office. This means spending time on meaningful work when they’re at work, and then spending undistracted time on meaningful experiences at home.
Incorporating this into your company values will take coordination and effort. Here are some tips to help employees feel satisfied with how they use their time:
- Focus time: where applicable, encourage employees to set aside a two-hour block for focused work, and encourage managers and coworkers to respect this time. Often, interruptions (including official interruptions like meetings and shoulder taps) get in the way of employees doing fulfilling work.
- Well-defined office hours: after making a plan for workday expectations, help everyone stick to it. Offering unlimited PTO or telling everyone to leave right at the end of the shift is one thing; ensuring managers and employees don’t leverage the policy to promote work martyrs is another.
- Redefine urgency: part of curing work martyrdom comes in setting expectations for evening or weekend emergencies. How many late-night email responses are merely performative signals of hard work? Encourage everyone to turn on their Do Not Disturb!
Effective performance management is the counterpoint to effective work-life balance policies in your Total Rewards program. Making performance more than an annual conversation can help demonstrate that your company recognizes employees’ efforts and results (instead of looking for work-martyr signals like an 11:00 pm timestamp on yesterday’s email).
Here are some ideas for meaningful and regular performance evaluations:
- Keep it about performance: separating performance conversations from compensation review helps remove fear, pressure, and posturing.
- Hold regular 1:1s: making time for managers to meet with each employee, even for half an hour, lets them recognize what’s working well and offer suggestions for improvement.
- Connect employees with the company: answering employee questions about the company helps connect employees with the resources and information they need, whether it’s communication with another department or a response to the latest buyout rumors.
A Total Rewards program recognizes the full value of your employees’ time—both through performance management that recognizes their in-office contributions and through policies that respect their time away from the office.
It’s inevitable that your employees will move on from their current position. But giving them the capacity to take those steps shows that your company cares about developing each employee’s potential as much as its own potential. In a job market with online reviews for employers, your former employees’ gratitude can make all the difference in future recruiting efforts as an ironclad testimonial for your Total Rewards program.
Here are a few Total Rewards strategies that focus on growth:
- Career progression: talk about development opportunities regularly during performance conversations.
- Succession planning: decide on opportunities to hire from within, then make a clear program with requirements to support employees who want to move up and the managers who will have to replace them.
- Support all development: advancement doesn’t always have to mean the management track—a veteran employee can be valuable for their skills and their procedural knowledge.
Total Rewards programs aren’t a set-it-and-forget-it approach. It’s a holistic one!
Optimizing your company’s compensation, perks, performance, recognition, and career development policies takes care and monitoring to ensure that you’re truly enhancing the organization’s employee experience.
Your employees will reap the benefits, and your organization will, too! 🤗
It's fascinating to watch workplace trends shift in the modern economy. Where companies once focused on squeezing the most productivity out of employees, their focus has shifted to attracting and retaining employees in a market rife with opportunities.
Now, more than ever, managers and leaders need to optimize the employee experience—not just for this quarter or this year, but for the long term. Professional development is an excellent way to show your employees that you recognize and respect their future as much as their present efforts.
Defining professional development
According to Deloitte, only 34% of surveyed workers are satisfied with the level of skills development investment received from their organization and only 56% of respondents see a meaningful opportunity for themselves in the organization.
Wherever your employees are in their career, they’re looking at the next step. And this ambition is something that should be encouraged and celebrated! 🤓
Of course, it’s one thing for employees to say they want professional development and quite another for their companies to effectively provide it. Defining the goal of professional development in your workplace can help prevent the awkward silence when managers ask groups of employees how the company can help.
Professional development metrics to track
Firstly, how is your company doing in professional development? Monitoring these metrics will help you find out and can provide some enlightenment into the factors you should focus on.
Turnover rate: are your performance management and professional development efforts having an impact on your turnover?
Employee satisfaction surveys: these macro-level surveys, administered twice a year, give company leaders a bird's eye view of the issues employees care about. You can find trends in how employees comment on your professional development plan. Who is praising it? Who thinks it needs improvement? Are there patterns among departments?
Internal hiring statistics: what percentage of positions do you fill from within? How many current employees apply to new openings?
Once you have those insights to action, it’s time to create a plan for the future. When it comes to career development, there are three main categories where employees want to grow: procedural knowledge, hard skills, and soft skills.
Supporting employees in these three areas shows that your company wants to help them grow from good to great—whatever their definition of great is, whether that means moving up into a management position or becoming a highly-valued individual contributor.
Developing procedural knowledge
When companies consider professional development, most think about procedural knowledge—or how small tasks combine to create a desired result. Whether it’s riding a bike or proceeding through a support call, procedural knowledge makes the difference between a wobbly ride and a dynamic performance. 🚲
It takes time and training to develop procedural knowledge—in fact, training new employees in company procedures is one of the factors that contribute to the thousands of dollars it can cost to replace an employee. Even when new employees have similar skills as company veterans, it still takes time and training for them to integrate into your existing team structure. This time has a cost in manager productivity and man hours.
Employees notice how you approach procedural knowledge in your company, from their onboarding experience to the latest performance review. These are the questions you should be asking to assess how your company handles procedural knowledge:
- Does your recognition program tend to highlight employees who do best at sticking to procedure, or those that find ways to improve the process?
- Do new employees have enough time and structure during the onboarding process to comfortably grasp your procedures?
- Does your company provide regular reminders and refinements to your procedures through team lunch n’ learns or company offsite meetings?
Progression vs. stagnation
While procedural knowledge is important, it’s important to show how the procedures develop with the company and its employees. If nothing ever changes in your company, then how can you provide professional development for your employees?
At a previous employer, I had mastered the procedures. Draft, review, commentary, editing, captioning—I had it down. I might as well have been pushing a button in a content factory: Receive description of work. Beep. Formatted copy out. 🤖
But when the company stopped growing and it became clear that I wouldn’t be moving up into a management position, I had to ask myself how this procedural knowledge would translate into my job hunt.
Employees will move on from even the best of companies as their lives change, whether it’s following a spouse to a medical residency, deciding to stay home with a new baby, or a good old-fashioned midlife crisis. If your employees want space to dream of their future, they need development in areas that mean something outside your company.
If not, a sense of stagnation soon sets in, and they start looking for opportunities where they have a better chance to progress toward their life goals.
Relying on employees who feel trapped in their jobs isn’t healthy for employees or the companies who are trying to engage them.
Developing hard skills and soft skills
A professional development program needs to provide meaningful experience, letting employees develop hard skills and soft skills alongside the procedures that keep your company running smoothly.
Hard skills include education, vocational training, physical training, technological proficiencies, and other employee experiences. Most hard skills are developed outside the workplace as a prerequisite for the position, as the time required for deep learning often takes a backseat to core job responsibilities.
This doesn’t mean that employers can’t offer opportunities for employees to build their hard skills. Here are a few examples:
- Tuition reimbursement and flexible hours for classes and homework
- Seminars from professionals on other teams
- Training on new technologies as they’re applied in the workplace
- Apprenticeships and internships
Soft skills focus on how employees make decisions and interact with each other. These skills comprise 90% of the factors companies look for in future leaders. Traits like communication skills, self-motivation, leadership, empathy, and emotional intelligence reduce the friction between employees so they can work well together.
Often, these skills develop as employees put them into practice during the unique circumstances of each workday, whether it’s figuring out how to gently tell a colleague that their work isn’t up to standard, pushing back against an executive decision they disagree with, or discussing their own weaknesses during a project retrospective.
Here are a few ideas for developing soft skills at your company:
- Lightning talks to help become confident with presenting and communication
- Formalized goal setting to practice time management and accountability
- Frequent one-on-one meetings to refine management style
- Providing and receiving Radical Candor to develop emotional intelligence
Putting it into practice
Professional development doesn’t have to come with trumpets and fanfare. If managers and employees practice regular performance management, they have an opportunity to recognize how their work meets all three professional development categories.
Let’s break down a one-on-one meeting with these categories in mind.
- By asking what employees need from the company, the manager can provide access to other departments and pass down feedback from other parts of the organization.
- Managers can also inform employees of shifts in procedure and the rationale behind them.
- After developing trust, the manager and employee can discuss and resolve procedural breakdowns.
- With an establishment of trust, an open one-on-one meeting provides a safe space to discuss technical issues and provide mentoring opportunities.
- Employees can make recommendations for tools and resources to help them practice their craft.
- Managers can pass on their experience and answer employee questions.
- Discussing goals helps employees decide the best ways to improve and provides an opportunity to practice accountability, instead of defensiveness or blame shifting.
- Developing a regular pattern of conversation helps employees be forthcoming about life changes and how this might affect their work performance.
- Developing a relationship that's comfortable with asking employees about long-term goals can help your company identify internal candidates when new positions open up.
Providing professional development opportunities for your employees through daily interactions, frequent recognition, and special events shows that you see their full potential and that you want to grow together.
Don’t stop here—find even more information on day-to-day employee evaluation in our Guide to Modern Employee Performance Management.
On my drive to work, I pass a billboard for a venue with “Be that boss!” emblazoned over a businessman in a suit and tie on a surfboard. It makes me picture myself in a swimsuit in front of my coworkers, and wonder if that’s appropriate for a company retreat. 🙃
This begs the question: what is it that makes an offsite meeting productive and memorable?
The key to an effective offsite is to learn, communicate, bond, and grow in a way that promotes your culture. But while the concept is simple, achieving these goals becomes a more complex logistical challenge as you add more people to your organization.
Offsite meetings give your organization one of its biggest chances to confirm its culture. When the way you spend time and resources on an offsite activity confirms what you value, it can strengthen how your employees feel about your culture. Let’s explore how your organization can develop an effective strategy for employee offsite meetings, and then cover some practical considerations to help make that strategy a reality.
Table of contents
A note on culture
Just to make sure we’re on the same page, here’s the definition of company culture we’ll be working with in this article:
Company culture is the total effect of all decisions and interactions between employees in a given organization.
There are many other definitions of culture, but most of them refer to an ideal culture instead of an actual culture. While it’s good to have a vision for the culture your organization wants to build, it takes time before your efforts start to change employee perception, behavior, and attitudes.
Employee offsite meetings are one of the best chances to let employees interact with the leadership level of the organization. When the culture message leadership sends out aligns with their regular efforts to improve company culture, it shows that leadership is in touch with the realities of working life. This alignment is the first step toward giving employees authentic recognition from leadership—even when your organization grows past the point where everyone works on the same floor or in the same building.
Developing your employee offsite strategy
Before you pick a caterer or search for relay races, take stock of your current culture. It helps to start with the most important question:
What are our mission, vision, and values?
These three facets of your organization should play a part in every decision your organization makes, and that includes the scope and content of an employee offsite meetings. Like culture, these three abstract terms need a solid definition.
- Mission: What is your organization’s main reason for existing? Is it to produce a product? To serve a community? To take investment money and provide a return for investors? Defining and communicating your mission is the first step to moving beyond operational concerns.
- Vision: What is your primary goal for your organization? A specific goal provides a checkpoint to measure your progress. Are you looking to be the number one software in your field? Are you expanding your outreach to serve 20,000 people in need?
- Values: If the mission is the engine and the vision the destination, then your values are your fuel. How are you going to get from here to there? Are you going to build a high-octane sales team that takes no prisoners? Are you encouraging people to be friendly at work, or are they polite rivals who fight each other to climb the ladder?
How you answer these questions about your mission, vision, and values matters immensely—both to your employees and to your clients. A global survey of 30,000 people from Accenture found that 62% of consumers want companies to take a stand on issues like sustainability, transparency, or fair employment practices. And in the age of Glassdoor and other employer review sites, your employees can post their workday experience where any consumer or candidate can find it, shaping your employer brand and cementing your reputation.
Ideas for your company offsite meetings need to align with your mission, vision, and values before any other consideration. While ice sculptures, a big-ticket raffle, and deluxe accommodations wouldn’t be out of place at a corporate retreat for a successful business, a nonprofit that receives grant money would have a hard time justifying the expense.
Aligning employee offsite meetings with employee recognition
Again, your company offsite should prove that the leadership of your organization is in touch with your employees. What do your employees care about at work? At home?
My most memorable company offsite was a holiday party in my first real job after college. My wife and I drove downtown only to find that the validated parking in the hotel was already filled to capacity because of a Neil Diamond concert.
We ended up paying for parking so we could eat some decent food and listen to the CEO talk before presenting the big gift: a free subscription to the software the company sold. “We’re creating moments in time,” he said, “for the time of your life.” He then cued the 80’s pop hit, The Time of My Life.
The strongest takeaway from that experience: Neil Diamond still owes me $10. $10 was a lot back then, especially when (a few weeks later) the CEO and the other co-founders rented four luxury cars for a day and chatted excitedly about their afternoon as they walked past my small cubicle. Knowing the expense of their private offsite put our gift of free-to-provide-to-employees software in a less flattering perspective.
There is so much more to employee recognition than dollar amounts. An elaborate company meeting can strengthen your organization’s peer relationships, but it won’t replace them when it comes to keeping employees engaged. A generous giveaway can supplement an employee’s compensation, but it won’t provide security if their salary doesn’t.
Meaningful activities for company offsite meetings
As you plan out activities for your employee offsite meeting, keep your employees’ needs in mind. Here are some activity suggestions that can be meaningful for everyone attending:
- Games: It’s not often you get all your employees in one spot, so pick activities that are both fun and meaningful! Selecting a more involved, collaborative game like any of these from the Survival Simulation Series raises the stakes and provides an opportunity for bonding and learning about each other outside of work. A little friendly competition never hurt anyone, either—a company talent show gives employees a peek into the extracurricular passions of other team members.
- Service: There’s nothing to say the competition can’t be service-related. In previous company retreats, BambooHR participated with Rise Against Hunger to package meals to send to food-insecure locations worldwide. Many service organizations offer professional coordinators to help with setup, making it easier to mobilize your workforce for a good cause.
- Roundtables: Among all the learning that goes on during company offsite meetings, some of the best insights can come through feedback from coworkers. Setting structured time aside for open discussions on communication, leadership, successes, and failures can lead to personal and career growth. Being open is also an important step in building unity in your organization.
Team building is an every day possibility—find more ideas in our post, Seven Team Building Activities That Actually Build Stronger Teams.
- Inspirational: A presenter with an impressive life story can provide a human element to your company retreat and show your employees you care about their personal growth.
- Functional: A functional keynote speaker can take your employees through exercises designed to improve common working skills, such as communication. Consider what it means for your company to be radically candid, or have a session to develop your company's mission and values.
- Leadership: Where possible, have leaders speak directly and authentically to their employees. What questions do they get from employees? How is the organization progressing toward their vision?
- Musicians/Comedians: An entertaining afternoon can provide a welcome brain break following a morning of learning and a delicious lunch. Of course, all presentations should be safe for work.
- Have fun: Offsites shouldn't be all work—you left the office for a reason! In addition to cementing company goals and culture, offsite meetings should also be an opportunity to bond. Organize fun local activities, like a pottery class or zip-lining session, to blow off steam and have fun with team members. Don't forget about mealtimes, and throw a happy hour in the mix.
- Unstructured time: While it’s fun to mix with new people and participate in programs, it’s also important for employees to have some discretionary time. Planning time buffers in the program can give employees the chance to catch up with friends from work or to take a walk and decompress (for my fellow introverts out there.)
Logistics for a successful employee offsite meeting
Select a venue that can accommodate the groups that will be participating in the offsite. This includes connections and space for those who need to be on call, such as sales employees with scheduled client calls. Employees have less patience with an offsite if it costs them commissions for the day, or if attending an offsite is more inconvenient than it's worth.
Does the venue provide catering? Will you need to arrange this separately? How far is the venue? Can the venue handle parking for everyone who will attend, or would it be better to meet at the office and take a bus to the offsite location? While less "fun," these decisions can make or break your employees' perception of a relaxed, well-organized offsite meeting.
After selecting a venue, visit the venue before the event and measure some factors that will affect your employee offsite schedule.
- Scope out traveling times between areas where different activities are held during your venue visit.
- Ask your catering company approximate times for serving the number of employees you expect to attend.
- Provide buffers for technical difficulties (or police presence). Even if things go smoothly, your employees will be glad for a break to process.
- Will there be an evening portion? Will there be plus ones? Provide ample time for any travel and dress code changes between portions of the event.
Your offsite’s budget will be a primary concern for your organization’s decision-makers. Before presenting your recommendations, understand how possible choices affect the cost per head and be prepared to report them during the buy-in process. It’s also important to remember that offsite meetings set expectations that will need to be met in the future, so operating at the peak of the budget may lead to disappointment in the future.
While budget is important, it’s not the only concern. It’s important to address how your offsite event plans make productive use of employee time while providing a positive experience. Others in leadership positions may question the value of holding the event in the first place.
This need to find issues and respond to them is basic human behavior. You can take this into consideration when you ask for buy-in. Instead of presenting a completed plan, present a few carefully selected options, including at least one that is barely feasible. Providing leadership with options to reject makes them less likely to take apart your best ideas. The contrast between the options can also help illustrate the thought you put into the project.
As you get approvals, you’ll need to provide and explain firm deadlines. Depending on your company size and the scope of the event, your team may need to ask for additional resources from other departments to pull off a smooth event (and to prevent event-planner burnout in HR).
Here are a few important deadlines to consider:
- Deadline for booking the venue
- Repeated announcements to employees (who may also schedule their lives months in advance and don’t want to choose between vacation and the offsite their employer is pitching them)
- Confirming all participants: caterers, seminars, transportation
- Employee deadlines:
- Promotional messaging
- Leadership presentations
- Employee support
- Will teams be needed for setup?
- Is this cost-effective?
There is much to consider when planning a successful employee offsite meeting. But as with other types of recognition, it’s often the thought that counts long after the experience has ended. Employee offsites let your employees know that they are recognized, valued, and supported. As your organization demonstrates this high level of engagement, it encourages employees to respond in kind.
For more ideas on improving employee engagement, here's your next step:
What's been your most memorable offsite meeting? We're always open to ideas. 💚👇