Low-cost employee engagement initiatives may sound like an oxymoron. So many of the approaches used by top employers can be expensive to develop, implement and maintain. In our recent South African Company Culture Health Index survey, we asked respondents to tell us which engagement initiatives really matter to them, and guess what? It wasn’t the gamified feedback systems or expensive social events that came out on top.



Flexible work schedules and being able to work from home were by far the most valued benefits, at 81% and 75% respectively. Yet only 60% of South African companies offer flexible schedules and only 46% allow their employees to work from home.


The benefits of these types of arrangements are well documented. They allow employees to find some balance between their work and the rest of their lives, reducing stress and increasing productivity. Employees on flexible schedules tend to be healthier and take less sick leave, achieve more, work longer hours voluntarily, are less likely to leave and are happier at work. The benefits to employers are not difficult to extrapolate. Businesses get better quality work from their people and save on absenteeism and staff turnover costs.


For SMMEs, incorporating flexibility and work-from-home options into their culture is, therefore, a great opportunity to increase their employee engagement. And it doesn’t have to cost anything extra, especially if the business is already paying for mobile data or wifi through expense claims.


Going green

Though a Green Star Rated, environmentally friendly office space may not always an option for small- to medium-sized businesses who need to keep rental costs low, taking environmental issues seriously goes a long way towards engaging employees. Working in an environmentally friendly workplace was important to 57% of our survey respondents, and only 38% of employers are providing this kind of workspace.


Green star rated office space is becoming more and more prevalent in South Africa as property owners and developers start to see the financial benefits of green building. But if moving offices doesn’t make sense for your business, there are other inexpensive ways to go green. Go paperless, invite employees to form a Green Committee to brainstorm and implement eco-friendly practices, make sure you’re recycling, encourage your employees to bring a desk plant to the office.


This low-cost employee engagement initiative works wonderfully because it demonstrates you are a responsible employer and enables your employees to get involved and form a community around a cause that matters.


Rewards, Recognition and Awards

54% of our respondents rated rewards, recognition and awards as highly valued, yet only 33% of employers offer these programmes. Of course, the sky is the limit on rewards and recognition. From huge bonuses to lavish events, businesses can go all out here if they have the funds available. But lavish doesn’t automatically equal meaningful, and lack of funds doesn’t mean recognition can stop happening.


The truth is, recognition can be as simple as thanking someone for their effort, remembering to wish them a happy birthday, or congratulating them publicly on a particularly difficult piece of work well done. A reward can be as simple as a free Monday off after a weekend’s worth of overtime, and awards can take the form of a simple floating trophy or a certificate issued in a staff meeting.


Yes, the big gestures will be important to some. And if your business can afford to make them, it should. But often the little things make all the difference because they show your sincerity.


Low-cost employee engagement goes back to basics

There can be no doubt that there is value in investing in employee engagement trends like gamified feedback systems that allow your business to better understand when and where disengagement is happening; training and development programmes that help your people keep up with the skills needed in a rapidly changing world; and actively developing your culture and employee experiences. But for SMMEs in South Africa, these initiatives can be simply too costly to consider.


Low-cost employee engagement exercises like the three listed here are also high-impact if we consider what employees value the most. Show your employees you trust them. Let them know you value them. And demonstrate that your business has a conscience. It will go a long way to engaging them.



Posted by:Elaine Porter

I am a strategic business consultant who is passionate about helping companies match their insides to their outsides. In other words, I believe that an authentic business is a successful one. This means aligning internal and external marketing and communications activity with the company’s culture, or vice versa.