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If you run a startup or a small team, you might run into a problem even the biggest companies struggle with: employee engagement. While you may not have the resources of a Fortune 500 company to get your employees excited, small business leaders certainly have a few options up their sleeves to keep employees engaged and excited. Employee engagement can make or break a business, so don’t overlook this important opportunity for your business leadership skills to shine.

Profit sharing

There is little more motivating than cash. Giving your employees a share in the profits might motivate them to help the company succeed. This is a logical method to encourage your staff to pay attention to the bottom line.

When employees are paid hourly or salary, they will earn the same regardless of how the business performs. But when they have a little skin in the game, employees are motivated to make you more money. If they earn more at the same time you do, it is a big win-win.

For a small business, a well-designed profit sharing plan gives a percentage of total profits to a pool for employee distributions. Payments are often made quarterly or annually and are based on things like tenure, position, and overall contribution to the organization.

Creative time off

Startups in Silicon Valley have led the charge to unlimited vacation days and other methods to get employees out of the office. Work-life balance is key to happy employees. While your business may not be the best for unlimited vacation, there are some fun ideas you can use to be creative with time off.

One small business gives employees days off on their birthday. Another gives employees Friday off when Ohio State has a game on Saturday. There is no limit to what you can do in terms of time off for your workers.

The worst situation is when employees do not use up their vacation days or feel like they can’t take the time off they’ve earned. To avoid burnout, enforce rules that require your employees to take at least a minimum number of days off throughout the year. When they return from a break, they will be more productive and engaged.

Feed them

Another page from the Silicon Valley playbook is to regularly feed employees. Sure, many companies have on-site cafeterias and dining options, but giving employees meals rather than charging can keep them engaged at work.

At Google, for example, employees can walk to an onsite café and get amazing quality lunches and quickly go back to work. Keeping employees on campus and offering breakfast and dinner can stretch workdays out a little further, and free food makes pretty much everyone happier.

A fun alternative if you can’t afford to feed your staff regularly is to order in for staff on busy days or arrange for a food truck or food cart to park out front a day or two per week.

Turn the mundane into benefits

95 percent of Americans have a cell phone and nearly 80 percent have a smartphone. Some employers offer the ability to use a work phone, but this often just leads to having to carry around two phones. Many employees give in and use their personal phone for work purposes, but this is not an ideal situation either. The best option, particularly for small businesses, is to offer a stipend to share a personal phone for work. It is a relatively small expense that employees greatly appreciate.

Another potential subsidy is for internet use. Many employees take laptops home at the end of the day and helping out with the cost of internet may make employees smile. About half of workers can work at home at least part-time, and these workers are happier on average than full-time office workers.

If you can turn a small cost into something employees greatly value, you are making a smart decision to improve employee engagement.


One of the most frustrating issues for employees is when they have an idea to make their job better or easier and they can’t implement it. Employees should be empowered to help customers, fix problems, and improve their workflow without getting several approvals.

Of course, empowerment needs to come with reasonable expectations and limits, but just giving your customer service representatives the ability to say yes and fix a customer issue will yield both a happy customer and a happy employee.

Keeping good workers is tough

Large and small companies alike struggle to recruit and retain the best talent. While paychecks are a great way to keep employees doing their jobs, going a little bit beyond can have a huge impact on morale and retention.

Finding and training new workers is a lot more expensive than keeping the ones you already have. With an engaged and excited workforce, it is a lot easier to keep them around.