7 Ways to Increase Employee Retention: Boost Employee Engagement

Employee engagement is a crucial piece of the recruiting and retaining top talent puzzle. When it comes to employee engagement, few people in Nextep can speak more authoritatively on the subject than our very own Director of Happiness, Tracey Hixon. To help you get started, Tracey answers some questions about how to retain employees by engaging employees!

Why does employee engagement matter?

We all know it’s easy to come to work when you love your job, who you work with, and who you work for! When it comes to employee engagement, you have to know there is a massive difference between low and high engagement. With low engagement, employees don’t care about outcomes, absences are high, and there isn’t a high degree of investment or responsibility. Those employees could also actively tear down what the company is trying to build, which breeds further distrust in the organization. 

With high employee engagement, you get the opposite! You’ll have employees giving discretionary effort – and that’s the difference-maker. They are doing things to make the workplace better and make experiences better for coworkers and customers. Most importantly, they care, have an owner mentality, and often see the bigger picture. 

Overall, there are three core pillars of employee engagement. You have to have all three of the following elements intact to drive employee engagement:

  1. First, I can trust my leader.
  2. Additionally, I feel valued by the company (often through pay, benefits, and mutual trust).
  3. Finally, I experience job fulfillment (I love what I do and enjoy who I work with).

You’ll have low employee engagement and high turnover if employees don’t have those three things. Leaders with highly engaged employees are free to do their jobs without refereeing drama, micromanaging, or spinning their wheels in hiring. Leaders can empower their people to be high performers, which creates a sense of pride and accomplishment in their work and fuels the high employee engagement cycle. And that’s why it matters!

How have the last few years changed how we think about employee engagement?

We’ve always been a people-centric company. Our focus has always been on being a great place to work, and it’s therefore central to who we are. In the last few years, we’ve realized it’s never been more important for employers to think about the whole person. 

To figure out what our employees need, we ask for feedback to understand what they’re worried about or taking home from work. We focus on providing support, communicating effectively, and creating space for conversations about mental wellness. As a leadership team at Nextep, we’ve decided, if nothing else, that we want to normalize people getting the professional help they need and provide flexibility to do so during the workday. We have open conversations about seeking professional help, taking care of ourselves, balancing work and life, and managing stress during challenging times. 

Which Nextep employee engagement tool, initiative, or strategy are you most proud of?

I have to say Bonusly, our employee recognition platform! It is one of the best things we could’ve done to empower our people to recognize the good works of others in our organization. When they see someone going above and beyond to help a coworker or client, they can recognize and reward them! They have a monthly budget that allows them to give recognition.

The platform shows just how much camaraderie there is at Nextep. It’s also tied to our value system, so we can see our values lived out in real-time. It’s been a powerful tool to aid in employee engagement because it lets our people celebrate one another.

Can you give us some fun employee engagement ideas anyone could use?

I will break these into three areas: No-cost, wow-factor, and making-life-easier ideas!

No-cost options

  • Search obscure national holidays and find one or two a month that are fun! Whichever ones make you giggle, pick those. Like National Guacamole day! Maybe you have a guac off and pick some judges. There could be prizes, or perhaps just bragging rights with a ribbon. You can get many ideas from holidays, with the ultimate goal: to do things to make people laugh, allow them to have fun and blow off some steam, and connect with their coworkers! As they release stress and build those social connections in the organization, they will be able to grow deeper roots and flourish in their job.
  • Use social media like GroupMe or an employee intranet to let employees share what’s happening in their lives and connect! Let people post their fur babies on National Pet Day or share Halloween pictures as they trick-or-treat. It’s usually free, and it shows you care about people’s lives while allowing the opportunity to connect. 
  • Throw a back-to-school party in August. Start by having people bring their favorite photo from grade school and have a contest to figure out who’s who. Throw a class party while you’re at it! Warning: we did that one year, and after juice boxes, Rice Krispies Treats, and Moon Pies, we were all sick. So do that at your own risk, but it was memorable!

Wow-factor ideas

  • It’s affordable to get a snow cone truck to come by one afternoon, and it’s a ton of fun! You can surprise everyone mid-afternoon on a Friday to boost morale or on a Monday to get people excited about the workweek. 
  • Coordinate the community ice cream truck to swing by your office. You don’t have to pay for anything, and (at least at Nextep) people love when the ice cream truck comes around!
  • Have a food truck come out over lunch. You can control the menu and tailor it to your budget! 

Make life as easy as possible

If you know you’re coming up on a hard day or workweek for your employees, do something to make their lives easier. Let them wear casual attire, stock the pantry, or have lunch on-site, so they don’t have to think about it. It doesn’t obligate you to do it all year long, and employees will be so grateful that you are making life easier for them! Little things like that show you’re paying attention and you care.

What advice would you give to leaders who want to boost employee morale or engagement in their workplace?

You have to remember the three elements of employee engagement: trusting your leader, knowing you matter to the company, and job fulfillment. You have to get your hiring practices right and hire passionate people naturally suited for their roles. Find good job fits that you can trust! There’s gotta be flexibility in there – when you give your people flexibility, you’re telling them, “You matter, and I trust you to handle your job,” which is essential to building trust. 

If you have any overly critical leaders, bring the ship down, gossipers, or are toxic, you’ll most likely not be able to turn that around. You can do some coaching, but at the end of the day, if they’re unwilling to change, it may be on you to remove them from the team. It is particularly on you to make sure your leadership team embodies those three pillars of employee engagement. If I had to boil it down:

  1. Firstly, get the three pillars of employee engagement working in your favor
  2. Following up, culture is a team sport – let employees help you make things happen! 
  3. Finally, start small! Start with one thing a month to create opportunities for your people to connect.


At Nextep, we’re here to help you recruit and retain top talent. To learn more about how to be a part of the Great Retention, check out our previous retention topics!








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