5 Strategies for Inexpensive Employee Engagement Ideas

Discover 5 budget-friendly ways to boost employee engagement and achieve higher productivity in 2023. Our article reveals all.
Daan van Rossum
Daan van Rossum
Founder & CEO, FlexOS
I founded FlexOS because I believe in a happier future of work. I write and host "Future Work," I'm a 2024 LinkedIn Top Voice, and was featured in the NYT, HBR, Economist, CNBC, Insider, and FastCo.
October 28, 2023
min read

Will the downturn affect employee engagement? No. Or at least, it shouldn’t.

Employee engagement is critical as we work more fragmented than ever, and keeping a strong company culture becomes more challenging.

Beyond the transactional exchange of time for a paycheck, what binds employees to our companies? How do we ensure employees feel “emotionally committed” to our mission and vision?

Especially with budget cuts hitting many companies, the question is whether we can still deliver effective and impactful employee engagement. The answer is yes, as long as we focus on what matters and become resourceful in how we approach engagement.

In fact, especially in a downturn, employee engagement is critical as it leads to employee retention. As I shared in my interview with Jo Meunier at Allwork.Space.

“It’s incredibly costly to lose good people. Calculations show that losing an outstanding employee can cost $200,000. You not only have to rehire: all the knowledge, experience, and understanding of your company walks out of the door when someone leaves.”

And with more than 50% of employees working from home post-pandemic, employee engagement strategies look different than in the past few decades.

Why is Employee Engagement Important?  

What do you think makes employees stick to your company besides a paycheck? What makes them emotionally invested in and committed to a company’s mission? Yes, you got it right, employee engagement.

For those working daily, being engaged with their job, company, and colleagues plays a crucial role in their overall satisfaction and experience. It improves work culture, boosts productivity, and builds healthy work and customer relationships. Highly engaged organizations get an average of 20% higher sales than those that are disengaged.

In addition, employee engagement helps keep employee retention high and reduce employee turnover costs. Calculations show that losing an outstanding employee can cost a company up to $20,000. You don’t only have to go through the entire hiring process, but you actually lose a valuable asset of your company with all the experience and understanding of your company.

What Are the Best Inexpensive Employee Engagement Ideas?

In this article, we’ll show you five effective ways to do employee engagement on a budget in 2023 and achieve higher engagement rates and customer satisfaction.

Here’s how we can keep delivering employee engagement on a budget:

  • Focus on the Impactful Basics
  • Get Creative
  • Tap into Your Employees
  • Make Your Managers Community Managers
  • Share the Costs

Focus on the Impactful Basics

FlexOS favorite moments

A lot of great employee engagement comes from impactful basics that don’t cost anything beyond time and intention.

Just look at our team's favorite moments above – most of them cost us (next to) nothing. This is why intention is a common theme when it comes to great employee engagement: it costs nothing but can bring a lot.

As Priya Parker's The Art of Gathering discusses, it all starts with WHY. Why are we getting together? What is a dream outcome of our gathering?

And it doesn't always need to be HR's job either.

Employee engagement is a two-way street, empowering one-on-one conversations between managers and employees can propel engagement across the entire organization.

Culture Amp researched the link between employee engagement and performance. They did this based on data from 100,000 employees across 700+ companies. In a recent interview with Fresia Jackson, Lead Researcher at Culture Amp, Fresia shared that sometimes the best engagement comes down to simple basics.

In particular, conversations between managers and team members around key questions like “do I still see myself in this company two years from now?”

Another key finding from the data is the importance of job clarity and having everything an employee needs to succeed.  Role narratives, which “communicate the bigger goal we’re working on (helping companies put their people and culture first) and how each person will contribute to that goal,” drove an astounding +26% favorability for companies.

Get Creative

Gratitude is Free

Beyond the basics, many engagement ideas are entirely free. Some ideas that we love and don’t break the bank:

  • Back of the Napkin. This might sound like a code name for something obscure, but it’s literally sketching the solution to a problem on the back of a napkin. You’ll be surprised how many successful businesses started precisely this way! In this team-building activity, each team draws the solution to a question on the back of a napkin. Since you’ll be pairing people into teams, it’s a great way to break down communication barriers between team members from different departments!
  • Coworking Coffee. Planning a brainstorming session? Stuck in a creative rut? Do team members seem disengaged on video calls? Hint: They stop laughing at your hilarious jokes. You need a change of scenery – let’s organize a co-working coffee. Organizing a co-working coffee date is a great way to spark creativity, engage your team and increase productivity! It also helps your hybrid team get in that much-needed social interaction needed for their mental well-being.
  • Go to the Market. Are you looking for an easy, fun, and non-obvious team-building activity? If it’s been a week, and your tired is tired, but you still want to organize something for your team, we’ve got you! Check around for upcoming fairs, markets, or exciting expos, and plan to go together as a group! Seeing colleagues out of “work mode” will help team members bond with their teammates differently, leading to a better-connected team that approaches each other with empathy and respect in the workplace. This is a low-admin, maximum-impact activity that everyone can enjoy!

If you want to run something hybrid or fully online, look into Jennifer Dulski's Rising Team. Rising Team is one of the most amazing ways to bond your (leadership) teams at a fraction of the cost of hiring a professional coach. And lucky for us all, they currently provide their “Gratitude Kit” for free.

With the Gratitude Kit, your team will do a fun warmup and then do an exercise thinking about people you are grateful for at different levels of closeness to them. It helps your teams learn about their teammates and their concentric circles of gratitude.

Tap into Your Employees

As I wrote in the viral post “Employee Engagement isn't HR's job. It's everyone's,” everyone on your team should get involved in the shared mission of engagement.

Employees can drive more authentic engagement as “most employees only enjoy being in the office because of its social functions. They value relationships with their co-workers and team members more than "company expectations," especially as they, for example, combat the mental toll that hybrid work brings.”

Employees at all levels have things to share. Organize peer-to-peer Q&A’s, fire-side chats, and lunch and learns. They don’t cost anything, but they do drive engagement, connect people, and help break down silos in an organization.

Make Your Managers Community Managers

The same goes for managers. Managers play an important role because they “are more critical than ever for the Employee Experience. So much so that they can "make or break" it. Getting managers involved in crafting Employee Experience and Engagement will increase authenticity and uptake.”

Inspire managers to shift from simply “line managers” to “community managers” and play their part in engaging and retaining their employees. A great way to start is to sign up for our free weekly newsletters, which provides helpful tips that are timely and targeted at remote and hybrid companies.

Share the Costs

There are still topics that require some investment. Mental well-being is an example. A professional should lead these sessions. The same goes for training & development beyond ‘on the job’ and peer-to-peer learning.

Requiring qualified trainers and workshop hosts doesn’t mean, however, that you have to make that investment yourself.

For these sessions, more companies have started to tap into us at FlexOS. We help deliver employee engagement activities across social, well-being, and learning & development at a fraction of the cost of hiring your own trainers and hosts because we can share the cost across several companies with similar needs.

No matter what your situation, let us help

Many companies may be reducing engagement teams and efforts. We’re here to help, and always ready to jump in where resources, budget, and know-how are limited.

Have an budget-friendly engagement-centric rest of the week!


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Future Work

A weekly column and podcast on the remote, hybrid, and AI-driven future of work. By FlexOS founder Daan van Rossum.