Showing Gratitude to Employees with a thank you note
Published January 10, 2023

7 Simple Ways to Build Employee Engagement

Showing Recognition for Employees Can Increase Satisfaction and Engagement

“A little thanks goes a long way” may sound trite, but there’s a reason it’s such a common saying. Everyone likes to be recognized for their efforts, including employees. A study cited in HR Dive noted that morale tanks when bosses don’t express gratitude for employees’ work. Another article in Fast Company points out that offering public thanks actually increased the amount of work employees put in and made them more likely to volunteer to take on extra work.

As to why employees leave a company, it’s not typically because of money. Rather, it’s due to lack of engagement, poor communication, under-recognition, failure to listen, and lack of a shared vision and/or meaningful work all acting as contributing factors. 

FBR’s Franchising at Work study, which measured employee engagement and compensation within the franchise sector, found that satisfaction and engagement among corporate franchise employees was high overall, yet a quarter of all employees (25%) don’t feel that they receive the recognition they deserve. 

Moving the Needle on Employee Engagement

It all starts with culture. Culture is a hot topic in franchising these days. And for good reason. Brands with a positive culture experience increased engagement, increased performance, and are more likely to have compliance and consistent behavior across the organization. 

Franchise leaders who “get it” survey their franchisees regularly, and include questions about the culture of the system, but far fewer have a strategy in place to cultivate a positive culture among corporate staff, and even fewer make it a KPI.

To retain your top employees—and attract the best new employees—leaders and managers need to set the expectation that meeting the needs of staff, developing their potential, and creating an environment that emphasizes passion and teamwork is of the utmost priority. But just saying it in a staff meeting, putting a ping pong table in the office, or offering free bagels isn’t enough—you have to show your employees you mean it.

Fortunately, it’s not hard! It just takes a commitment to putting your people first, removing roadblocks,  and remembering that the little things matter. These seven simple ideas can help you show your employees you care, and increase their enthusiasm and engagement.

7 Things You Can Do to Increase Employee Engagement

1. Say thank you (and mean it). It seems so obvious, but everyone likes to be recognized for a job well done or going above and beyond. One company thanked a customer service team member in a staff meeting with a call out and presented him with a gift card for jumping in to help clean up a flooded bathroom. It was obviously not part of his job—and something no one wants to do—but he never hesitated to pitch in.

2. Create an environment of learning. Providing employees with opportunities to learn demonstrates you care about their growth and development. It’s great and highly valuable to send employees to a conference, pay for membership in an association, or cover the cost of a professional certification, but equally important is creating an environment where employees can stretch their minds. Provide opportunities to cross-train, test new products, or be part of a committee that recognizes and utilizes their talents. It’s also a nice gesture to publicly congratulate employees for continuing education achievement, such as a certification or completing a course.

Wild Birds Unlimited has a “How did I do?” culture that promotes ongoing learning and improvement, both at the employee level and the organization level. Amy Moore, Director of Retail Operations, describes it like this, “We’re constantly saying, ‘How did I do?’, whether it was a presentation we gave to our franchisees, or it was a site visit. It could also be internally, me with my team. ‘What can I do better? How did I do with that piece of it? Could I have handled it differently?’”

3. Support a cause that matters to your employees. Encourage employees to give back and provide opportunities to make it easy. Consider giving employees paid days off to volunteer; do service projects as a team, for example, the United Way’s Day of Caring; or find a cause that has a personal connection. Another company recognizes the tenth work anniversary of each of their employees by donating $1,000 to the charity of the employee’s choice.

4. Write a note. We give this advice to franchisors all the time when it comes to making your franchisees feel loved. Why not do the same for your corporate employees? A handwritten note of thanks from the CEO or a manager is much more personal than an email. Think about sending cards with a note inside for birthdays, anniversaries, and other important events.

5. Provide flexibility, especially in times of crisis. Pre-pandemic, most employees expected some level of flexibility to be able to work remotely on occasion or adjust their schedules to fit in other commitments—whether that meant working from home when they have a sick child, leaving early on occasion to catch their kid’s soccer game or dance recital, or taking a longer lunch to fit in a yoga class. Today, it’s more likely that employees need flexibility to work from home full-time or work alternative hours in order to manage caregiving or assist kids with remote learning. When employees feel their employer trusts them to manage their work commitments without being at their desk eight hours a day, they are more likely to be engaged and loyal.

6. Acknowledge the mental toll. The effects of COVID-19 have taken a tremendous mental toll on employees—stress, isolation, burnout. (Parents in particular are not okay.) Recognizing the burden your employees are under, encouraging them to take needed time off or closing the office for a day “just because”, and if possible, providing access to mental health resources can really make employees feel you support them and appreciate all they are doing despite the challenges.

7. Ask for feedback. Everyone wants to be heard, and giving employees a forum to share their feedback goes a long way to making them feel valued; however, it can feel overwhelming when it comes time to execute, and even more difficult to act on what you hear. Most likely, you have some sort of annual review process for each individual employee where you give feedback on their performance (and hopefully) ask for feedback from them. That type of feedback is valuable, but there are several issues. One, employees may not be comfortable being totally honest in a face-to-face situation, and two, the feedback may not make it back to leadership, especially in a larger organization. Finally, there’s no way to benchmark your progress year over year, or against other franchise systems.

Implementing a formal employee engagement survey enables you to gather feedback across your system. Just like franchisee satisfaction surveys, you’ll be able to identify areas of risk, quantify employee engagement, and understand what you need to work on in order to improve retention and minimize costs to your business.

Franchise Business Review conducts employee engagement surveys for franchise companies as well as industry-wide research on employee engagement and compensation among franchise professionals through our annual Franchising at Work research. The research benchmarks employee engagement compensation in the franchise sector and recognizes the companies that are doing an outstanding job supporting their employees. If you are interested in learning how your company compares, and getting feedback from your employees to help you identify areas of risk and opportunity, register here or contact me at [email protected] to learn more.


Related Content:

Franchising at Work Report: Employee Engagement StudyFranchising at Work Report

Read the full report to learn the detailed findings of the latest study, including:

  • The state of employee well-being
  • The top workforce trends impacting employee recruitment
  • Which benefits employees crave most
  • How employees rate diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives
  • Navigating the hybrid work environment


About the Author: Michelle Rowan

Michelle is the president of FBR, the former Chair of the International Franchise Association’s Women’s Franchise Committee. and a Certified Franchise Executive. She is the recipient of the 2022 Crystal Compass Award, has facilitated CEO Performance Groups and Executive Networking Groups and is also a mentor of UNH college students. When she is not at work she is usually reading, playing outside, or hanging out with her husband and daughter.
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