Cool Ideas to Attract and Engage Employees

One of the best aspects of my job is that I am asked to speak before audiences of diverse sizes and industries on topics relating to people management.  For many years, and to this day, I am asked to speak about how to hire top talent.  For quite a while, millennials in the workplace was a hot topic.  Last year, the subject of how to avoid and address sexual harassment in the workplace was a major theme.  This year, the subject everyone wants to talk about is how to attract and retain employees.  So this month I’m going to give you five cool ideas for doing just that. 

But before I do, I want to offer one of the best resources that I know of for improving employee engagement.  It comes from the Gallup Organization.  For more than 30 years, Gallup has studied the key elements that highly-engaged employees say are most important to them at work.  This resulted in the Q12 index – the 12 elements of a job that are tied most closely to engagement and business performance.  These elements are listed below in order of importance, with the first being the most important element:

  1. I know what’s expected of me at work.
  2. I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.
  3. At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
  4. In the last 7 days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.
  5. My supervisor or someone at work seems to care about me as a person.
  6. There is someone at work who encourages my development.
  7. At work, my opinions seem to count.
  8. The mission or purpose of my organization makes me feel my job is important.
  9. My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing good quality work.
  10. I have a best friend at work.
  11. In the last 6 months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.
  12. This last year, I have had opportunities to learn and grow.

What I love about this list is what’s not on the list: pay.  Bottom line – compensation does not improve employee engagement. What is on this list are factors that, with the expense of just time and effort from leadership, can truly transform a corporate culture.  If you focus on communicating expectations and direction, celebrating relationships, providing opportunities for growth, and listening and providing feedback, employees will be engaged.  Spend some time with this list.  What could you do better?

But what about those potential employees who you are trying to entice to join your company?  Here are some ideas on how to attract them:

  1. Ask your employees what matters most to them. You already have amazing employees.  What do they love most about their jobs?  Is it the autonomy? Is it the delish food you put out in the lunch room?  Is it the wonderful clients you have?  Promote what makes yours a great company and get your employees engaged in recruiting more talent just like them. And if you offer an employee referral program (and you should), make it meaningful.  By that I mean $500 to $1000 if the hire lasts a year. Buy swag – promote your employees and candidates like a university promotes prospective students – give them the mug and the hat and the t-shirt.  Make them feel a part of the team before you’ve even hired them! 
  2. Help your talent alleviate their debt. Whether it’s an entry-level blue-collar worker or a recent grad with an MBA, young workers today are saddled with incredible debt, either in the form of credit card debt or student loans.  They also question whether Social Security will be there for them when it’s their time to retire.  Offer to help pay for their debt once they meet certain milestones such as length of service or performance level. You may even be able to offer a little less in salary for that huge piece of mind.  There are companies to help you structure the benefit such as,, and Vault.  And if you offer a retirement plan, teach your young workers about it and the massive benefits of compound interest.  Chances are, they may not know how it works. 
  3. Offer flexibility. Study after study show that employees truly value the ability to work from home on occasion and most would like to be able to do so one day a week.  Offer this as a perk. For your service workers such as car wash technicians and cleaning staff, sometimes life happens.  A child gets sick or a family emergency arises.  Workers facing these situations often become a no-call, no-show because they know there are no benefits allowing them to take time to take care of what’s happening in their life.  Reach out to them.  Let them know you understand and that if their situation changes, you would like to have them back.
  4. Remember the Dream Manager. In his wonderful book entitled, The Dream Manager, Matthew Kelly describes a real-life situation where a janitorial company dramatically reduced the turnover of its cleaning crew simply by hiring someone to listen to the dreams of employees and helping them develop a strategy to make those dreams a reality. The act of listening is a powerful tool that can truly transform lives and your corporate culture.  Ask your prospective employees what their dreams are and help them to achieve those dreams.  They may leave you in the end, but they will appreciate you forever, and you’ll have no trouble attracting new employees with fresh dreams.
  5. Offer Sabbaticals. I know, I know.  I get grief every time I raise this, but hear me out.  What if, after five years of service, you were offered the opportunity to take some time off, say a month or six weeks, to do anything you want.  To travel, to study painting, to visit long-lost family, to write that book! You’d stay with that company!  With no added cost to you (you’ll still have the same payroll and will only have to realign duties for a period of time), you can create loyalty and memories for a lifetime!  Who doesn’t want that? 

I’m sorry if you thought I was going to talk about zip lines in the warehouse or baristas in the break room.  But really, when it comes to attracting and retaining employees, it starts with you.  It starts with the Q12 and listening to your employees.  Today talent can get any job.  Make them want yours.  Your commitment to them and their dreams and needs will do just that.

By Claudia St. John, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, President Affinity HR Group

Claudia St. John is president of Affinity HR Group, Inc., NAWLA’s affiliated human resources partner.  Affinity HR Group specializes in providing human resources assistance to associations such as NAWLA and their member companies.  To learn more, visit

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