Business Management / Culture

How to Keep Your Employees Happy and Engaged

Lee Frederiksen, Jessica Mehring, Sujan Patel, Justyna Polaczyk

Updated: Jun 08, 2021 · 23 min read

Toolkit for download in this article

ways to boost morale in the workplace

"Employee engagement" might read like an HR buzzword, and the concept of "how to keep your employees happy" might sound foreign to workers raised with a "put your head down and do your work" mentality.

But there's a substantial business case to be made for improving employee satisfaction in the workplace. Data gathered by a Gallup meta-analysis on the subject of employee engagement and subsequent performance outcomes illustrates these bottom-line benefits.

Basing their work on 263 research studies across 192 organizations, researchers found that "those scoring in the top half on employee engagement nearly doubled their odds of success compared with those in the bottom half. Those at the 99th percentile had four times the success rate of those at the first percentile." More engaged workers consistently scored higher on customer ratings, profitability, and productivity, among other measures of organizational success.

employee engagement graph

There are common-sense steps you can take to increase employee engagement. In fact, Glassdoor's list of the Top 50 Best Small and Medium Companies to Work for in 2017 is a great source of inspiration.

But while employee engagement is a critical factor, it's not the only factor of overall employee happiness. You must also consider boosting employee morale, improving employer branding, reducing employee turnover, and addressing the employee hierarchy of needs.

In this post, we're going to tackle the challenge of how to keep employees happy from every angle.

9 Ways the best small and medium companies are keeping their employees happy

These nine timeless and creative ideas for increasing employee happiness are drawn from Glassdoor's Top 50 Best Small and Medium Companies of 2017.

You can use these as jumping-off points for your own employee engagement programs or better yet, engage your employees in the process by setting up a poll and letting them vote for their favorite idea!

1. Think beyond free snacks

Free snacks, meals, and coffee are all great employee happiness boosters and we certainly aren't suggesting you abandon them. However, as Glassdoor's Top 50 SMBs demonstrate, there's more to supporting employees than plying them with food and drinks.

LaSalle Network considers its HR department a "human concierge." HR staff go above and beyond to help employees coordinate relocations, find daycare options, and more. Their belief is that, for employees to perform effectively, their home lives need to be in order. By facilitating these needs, their workers are less stressed and better able to focus on their jobs.

Everybody wins!

2. Attend to employees' health holistically

Your employees' health and well-being are the very foundation of their happiness at work and in their personal lives. On-site gyms or gym membership reimbursements are becoming commonplace for small and medium businesses, but some companies are differentiating themselves and keeping their employees happier with perks like on-site massages, yoga classes, and meditation breaks.

Jessica Gladden of Predictive Technologies reports that her Glassdoor-recognized company embraces holistic health perks:

"APT encourages team members to lead a healthy lifestyle. To support those actively investing in and seeking a healthy lifestyle, APT will reimburse team members for individual, personal health-related activities. We also bring wellness initiatives into the office, such as annual flu shots, ergonomic seating, and massage therapists."

3. Onboard comprehensively

Too many onboarding programs drop the ball on employee engagement from day one. Rather than asking new employees to spend their first day filling out paperwork, consider the following suggestions from Glassdoor Top 50 companies:

  • Handle paperwork ahead of time so that the first day can be spent interacting with new team members.
  • Send ahead a "Getting to Know You" survey that asks for brief information on the employee's interests, hobbies and activities. This will give current team members conversational jumping-off points to build team bonds right away.
  • Don't just cover job requirements in your onboarding cover team culture as well. Fill in new hires on inside jokes, workplace rituals, and other culture cues that'll prevent new employees from feeling left out of the loop.

4. Offer flexible work options

More and more of today's employers are recognizing how limiting the traditional 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. workday really is. The response? Flexible work options, encompassing everything from remote work to flexible daily hours to unlimited vacation.

Bamboo HR offers many of these options in concert, according to Kelsie Davis:

"To encourage work-life balance, we are flexible with our employees to make sure they can participate in meaningful activities that don't always fit outside an 8-5 schedule. We also allow employees to work from home, sometimes as a permanent work arrangement and other times we allow it occasionally to accommodate life situations. To make sure employees aren't overworked, we encourage employees to only work 40 hours each week."

5. Invest in leadership development

According to data gathered by Quadrant1 International:

"Employees generally want to be good at their job and the vast majority, some 76 percent according to statistics, are looking for some kind of career growth and development."

Beyond engaging employees and keeping them happy, investing in leadership development benefits your organization. Leadership development can take a number of forms, from complex, involved mentorship programs, to the relatively simple undertaking of organizing a Toastmasters chapter on-site (like Classy did in their workplace).

6. Let employees know their voices are heard

It's a simple premise: when employees feel their contributions aren't valued, they naturally tend to disengage.

Too often, however, companies struggle to find the time needed to objectively evaluate employee feedback or act on that feedback in concrete ways. This is a mistake that can have significantly negative impacts on employee morale.

To avoid this, take a page out of The Goodway Group's playbook. According to Jay Friedman:

"[W]e have the Goodway Council. This is one representative from each department who meets with senior leadership twice per year. This meeting is professionally facilitated to make sure all feedback is provided and commitments are made by leadership to act on the feedback presented."

7. Cultivate employee relationships

Which sounds more appealing to you: arriving in the morning at an office full of "workplace-proximity associates" (thanks, Ron Swanson!) or starting your day with a group of people you genuinely like and whose relationships you appreciate?

Happy employees are engaged employees; and let's face it, we're all happier when we like the people we work with. Building these relationships takes time, and it can't always be forced. However, as an employer, you can increase the odds that your employees will form positive relationships with each other by freeing up time for enjoyable team-building activities (think more happy hours and fewer forced icebreakers).

8. Allow employees to pursue passion projects

Though Google has since moved away from its pioneering "20 percent time" program, you can still take a note from their playbook and experience the employee engagement benefits.

You may not be able to allow team members an entire day to work on their best ideas, but you can set aside a three-day block for a team "hackathon" (as Predictive Technologies does), or create a system for employees at any level to submit ideas that can then be prioritized and put into development.

9. Focus on diversity and inclusion

Diversity and inclusion can be tricky buzzwords these days, but don't get caught up in the politics. Think of it simply: Employees who feel their viewpoints aren't represented (for whatever reason) will struggle to feel engaged (or happy).

Blaine Gorman of Presence Learning reports that his company has a formal diversity and inclusion policy. You may not find that taking such a step is necessary, but you should be on the lookout for signs that employees are feeling unrecognized, and opportunities to raise up voices that aren't always heard from.

7 Ways to boost morale in the workplace

A Gallup study has found that only 13 percent of employees actually like going to work and want to help their organization improve. One of the primary causes of disengagement is low employee morale that is, negative emotions or attitude in regard to their workplace environment.

Boost employee morale, and you boost employee happiness. It's a pretty simple equation.

Here are seven office morale boosters to get your gears turning.

1. Instill the mindset that work is more than just a job

Every person wants to feel that their work has a purposebut sometimes that purpose gets lost in the day-to-day grind. Find ways to show your employees that they are vital and play a role in the success of your business.

2. Take time to celebrate accomplishments

We humans often look forward but rarely take the time to look back. But it's critical to reflect on achievements and celebrate them before diving right into the next goal.

Show your employees you are thankful for how much they have done. There are many reasons why you should recognize greatness, and a big one is to show your team that they are valued.

carlton dance

3. Encourage positive attitudes

Employee morale has a domino effect. A few negative employees can bring down the entire office. The good news is, it works the same way with positive attitudes, too. Positive team members spread their cheer around the office.

Share inspiring stories with your team to keep employees looking on the bright side. Keep an ear open especially for stories of your own team members displaying friendly attitudes or tackling tough challenges with grace.

4. Set aside time for community service

Nothing makes people feel better about themselves than helping others. Build morale and camaraderie through community service.

Consider giving your employees a specific number of paid hours each month to volunteer for a philanthropic organization of their choice. Along with building employee morale, you also prove that you, as a business owner, care about the world we live in.

5. Provide family-fun discounts

The top priority for each of your employees will always be their family. Support them at work by supporting them at home: Partner with local gyms, movie theaters, and bowling alleys to offer discounts to your employees.

6. Bring healthy food to the office

Is your team ever under pressure to deliver by a deadline? Get their lunches catered. Find a local sandwich shop that will bring in a variety of sandwiches. If you can swing it, pay for your employees' lunches yourself. If you can't, notify your team in advance that there will be food for sale in the breakroom.

7. Offer lunch-and-learn opportunities

Want to know how to boost morale in a small office? This is it: lunch and learns.

These learning opportunities are commonplace in larger organizations, but smaller companies don't tend to prioritize them quite as highly. Plan regular lunch-and-learn sessions and you'll not only differentiate yourself as an employer, you'll boost employee morale at the same time.

Find local experts who will come to the office and share their expertise about the subjects your employees are interested in.

Why your employer branding strategy should be a top priority

As an employer, you actually have two brands: Your firm brand and your employer brand.

Your firm brand is the combination of your reputation and visibility among potential clients and referral sources.

Your employer brand is your reputation and visibility among potential employees and talent referral sources.

Many small businesses don't give the latter nearly enough attention.

Your employer brand is one of the drivers of employee happiness in your workplace. Above and beyond that, it's also critical for generating revenue and related profits.

In fact, employer brand is so important, a recent study found that 41 percent of companies have formal employer branding initiatives. The figure is even higher in larger firms. Furthermore, 94 percent of firms plan to maintain or increase their investment. This commitment to employer brand-building is not surprising given that it has been shown to produce a number of measurable benefits.

An employer brand study from Hinge Marketing looked at employer branding and sought to answer questions surrounding the topic including what it is, what candidates look for, and marketing's role in employer branding. From that study, we've uncovered five areas a top-notch employer brand makes a huge difference in the workplace.


Recruiting is the area where you would expect to see the largest impact of your employer brand. A strong brand increases both the quality and quantity of applicants.

With that bigger and better applicant pool, you'll be able to attract better candidates and hire good people faster. These benefits are extremely helpful when you are looking for specialized skills and experience.

Talent retention

Retaining your best employees is an ongoing challenge for every business but especially small businesses. This is one area where a strong employer brand really pays off.

While offering more money is a time-honored strategy for luring away and retaining top professionals, it's not always about money. A strong employer brand can be a powerful incentive to stay with a firm. There is even research that suggests that many employees value a great workplace (and brand) over higher pay.

Employee satisfaction

Employees want to feel good about where they work. Accepting a position at a workplace with a poor reputation is rarely a wise move.

Companies with a positive, highly visible brand attract positive, highly visible talent. The kind that enjoys working in a supportive, can-do atmosphere and will make significant contributions to the bottom line.


One of the most important things your potential hires are considering is your firm's culture. And indeed, how your culture is perceived can be important in recruiting and retention.

But there is another reason culture is important.

Your firm's culture sets expectations about what behavior is valued and what is frowned upon. It affects employee interactions and how you treat your clients. Collectively, these factors reveal a positive or negative atmosphere and paint a pretty good picture of what it's like to work at a firm.

Financial performance

There are two ways an employer brand can improve a firm's finances.

  1. Cost reduction. The costs of hiring well-qualified team members are often lower over the long run because your employer brand will produce a higher quantity of quality applicants more quickly. These reduced costs should increase profitability.
  2. The positive financial impact of hiring is greater. Having top talent and retaining them over time can help improve revenue growth for the long run.

It's important to note that, regardless of your actions or lack thereof, your company has an employer brand, whether you like it or not. What you choose to do about it is key.

For a great example of employer branding strategy in action, take a look at how Elon Musk does it.

The importance of employer branding cannot be overstated. Developing and implementing an employer brand strategy will enable you to take charge of your brand and help ensure that grows into a strong, positive, and profitable one.

How to reduce employee turnover

You've begun implementing an employee engagement program, and you've made a concerted effort to boost employee morale in your workplace. You're actively crafting your employer brand and attracting better and better talent.

Yet after spending weeks looking for the right candidate, and another week onboarding, further training, and the workplace integration you're informed that your employee is transferring to another company.

You might feel anger. You might feel disappointed. But above all, you understand that such a transfer comes at a cost for your team and your company.

Statistically speaking, you're not alone in your frustration. One-third of new hires quit their job after about 6 months. Finding and training a new employee can cost up to six to nine months' of salary on average!

But it's not only about money. Sure, the process of looking for other employees, interviewing, and hiring takes both time and money. There's also a high cost involved in onboarding (including training and management time).

So what's the problem, and how do you fix it? How do you reduce employee turnover when you feel like you're already using best-practices?

You take notes from the greatest leaders.

Yup. Employee turnover is often a leadership problem.

Employees quit their jobs for many reasons. They might be unhappy with their pay, be bored with their job, or feel that their skills are not used well. But the truth is that the majority of reasons why employees quit their job are potentially under the control of the employer.

Thoughtful leadership can turn unhappy employees into happy ones. It's all about the work environment and culture.

Here's how the greatest leaders manage their teams, and why people love working with them.

Invest in your employees' professional development

This can be a scary proposition, knowing that the employee might still leave your company. But it's a risk you must be willing to take.

Employees each have their own motivation for work. It can be money, ambition, or a desire to learn and participate in other projects. But regardless of these motivations, employees want to feel that they're important to the company.

Did you know that 74 percent of workers feel that they don't use their full potential at work and one out of three leave the company within a year? In the meantime, seven out of ten people claim that training and development opportunities influence their decision to stay with a company.

By training your employees, you not only care about the quality of your customer service, you also show that you're ready to invest in their professional development. This investment will pay back with improved employee happiness, higher productivity, and fewer unhappy customers.

Share your enthusiasm

Pass your work enthusiasm on to your employees. Make sure that people in your team know your mission and why it's important. Also, the simple fact that you care about your work can be inspirational for your employees and make them proud of what they do.

Encourage your team to choose a positive attitude. Focus on building good relations between people and show them that although good results are important, so is teamwork, communication, and helping each other.

You'll build a great work environment your employees won't want to leave!

Put a premium on trust

When people trust their leader, they're not afraid to talk honestly with them. So when there is trust, it's much easier for you to identify employees' pain-points and solve them.

Other benefits of building trust include more effective communication, improved employee engagement, and better job performance.

To build trust between you and your employees, you need to start with yourself.

Be as transparent as you can with your employees, and don't twist the facts (even if you have to say something to your disadvantage). Be consistent in your words and behaviors: show up on time, stay a reasonable number of hours, do your job, and fulfill your promises.

It's said that people leave bosses, not organizations, but if you treat your employees the way you'd like to be treated, you can be sure that they won't leave because of you.

Praise your employees

A whopping 78 percent of U.S. workers say that being recognized motivates them doing their job. That means employee appreciation is essential if you want to have a well motivated, efficient team.

So how exactly should you praise your employees?

Praise the person by name, in front of others, and be specific about what they did well. Point out the value added to the team by the actions they took. You can also reward them with a gift (for example, a dinner or a ticket to the cinema).

Most importantly, when praising an employee, eliminate the "feedback sandwich" that is, praise followed by constructive criticism, followed by more praise. It looks like this: "I loved the way that you've managed to deal with this difficult customer, but next time you might " This is not praising, this is coaching. Praising has no "buts." The "feedback sandwich" leadership technique is so ingrained in workplace culture now, it's all but automatic so fight the urge to use it.

The employee hierarchy of needs

The best work environments are those that are able to provide a space where all of our fundamental needs are met. This is the essence of a great work culture and when we don't provide that culture, human nature will push our employees out the door looking for better opportunities.

In other words, if you're ignoring your employees' fundamental needs, you'll never keep your employees happy.

In the 1940s, Abraham Maslow taught that every human being has five basic human needs:

  1. Physiological: We need to eat, breathe, and sleep. The physiological need is survival. It is powerful and foundational.
  2. Safety: Though we are willing to sacrifice safety to meet our physiological needs, once those needs are met our next goal is to establish a secure environment. Do we have what we need for sustainable personal and financial security?
  3. Love and belonging: It isn't until we have our first two needs met that we can give adequate attention to our need to be loved. We all need friends and family. We want to feel a part of a group with whom we share a common set of beliefs and values. We all long to feel connected.
  4. Esteem: After we have a place in a group, we next sought to find a valuable place within the group, to earn the respect of those around us. Not only do we seek the respect of others but we also long for a healthy self-respect as well.
  5. Self-actualization: Our final desire is to achieve our potential, to push back our personal horizons to see what is possible. This is the part of us that wants to create a work of art, become a better parent, or start a non-profit. At some level, we all want to leave a more lasting legacy and to find a unique meaning in our life.

In the workplace, these needs correspond with what Keap dream manager Dan Ralphs calls the "employee hierarchy of needs."

hierarchy of needs


Too often employers forget that in every interaction with employees their livelihood (their ability to eat food) is at stake. So the first obligation of creating a great workplace culture is to compensate your employees both adequately and predictably.

To be adequate, compensation needs to be enough to provide for the needs of individuals and their families. You might ask yourself: Does the compensation we offer provide for the basic needs of our employees? What is the level of financial stress in the lives of our employees?

It is extremely important that pay is predictable. Do paychecks always come out the same way and at the same time? Do bonus structures make sense to employees, and are they within their control? This predictability engenders trust, and only when there is nearly a perfect trust can employees leave the compensation question behind and move on to focus on their next need.


In a work environment, the next employee need is trusting the organization. Our minds long for certainty and consistency. Trust comes when we are able to predict with some level of accuracy what will come next. In other words, we want to feel safe that nothing bad will jump out at us.

Creating an environment of trust shows up in hundreds of moments, but there are some key things we can do to help our employees feel safe. We can ensure that employees:

  • Know what's expected of them and how it will be measured
  • Feel that they will be treated fairly and with respect
  • Work in a safe environment both physically and emotionally

When our employees don't feel safe, they will look to find a place where they can.

For generations, jobs were only intended to service the first two levels of the Employee Hierarchy. As long as people were compensated fairly and treated with decency, that was as much as they could expect. However, as competition for talent grew and employees now have more options, you have to continue up the pyramid to stay competitive.


More and more employees are searching not only for a place that pays well and that will be fair but also for a place that they can believe in and a group with a place with shared values. For example, at Keap, we pride ourselves being a company that has a clearly defined purpose, "To help small businesses succeed," and a well-entrenched set of values.

The result: We attract employees away from other companies that don't have that same advantage. In some cases, new hires have been willing to take a pay cut to join Keap because they wanted to be a part of something they believe in.

More business books that we can count talk about the importance of a company mission, purpose, and values. Before it was nice to have; now it is a necessity!


The particularly talented employees the ones that it would be the biggest blow to lose are looking for something more. They are not only searching for a place where they can belong, but also a place where they can contribute, where they can make a difference particularly in an area where they demonstrate native genius or ability.

Remember, esteem includes being valued both by the group and by yourself. This means employees need to not only discover a place where the company values their contribution but also where they feel like they are put to my highest and best use. They want their talents to be leveraged and even multiplied.


The final expression of evolved company culture is a shift in the relationship between employer and employee. No longer is the employee only there to serve the company, but the company also takes an interest in the dreams and aspirations of the employee.

As Shawn Vanderhoven calls it, they create "mutually transformative relationships." This is a relationship in which the company is benefited significantly by the employee's contributions, but also the employee experiences significant personal growth.

At Keap, one manifestation of this part of our culture is the dreaming program. We encourage employees to identify, articulate, and accomplish personal ambitions. Things like traveling to different parts of the world, purchasing a home, learning a language, or even starting their own business. Our hope is that employees at Keap find their work here not only enjoyable but also transformational.

Understanding this employee hierarchy of needs has given us an awesome lens through which we can see where our company culture is falling short and we encourage you to use it with abandon.

Take a moment and consider where some of the fundamental needs of your employees are not being met and you can quickly identify how to ramp up your culture and engagement.

Keep your employees happy and they'll keep your business thriving

You don't need a master's degree in psychology to know how to keep your employees happy. Much of it comes down to common sense and a healthy dose of empathy.

If you can focus on the five core areas from this article, you're in good shape: increase employee engagement, boost employee morale, improve employer branding, reduce employee turnover, and address the employee hierarchy of needs. Use the ideas here as starting points for those initiatives.

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