5 Ways To Keep Employees Engaged

In our society, we tend to view money as the answer to a lot of questions and the solution to many problems. When you’re trying to keep your business union free, giving raises is often the first strategy that comes to mind. This is especially true when unions are working to convince employees they’ll be much better off financially by unionizing. What if you simply have no money for raises? What about other ways to keep employees engaged?

Wages and benefits are just a couple of elements in an overall employee engagement strategy. Successfully retaining and motivating employees is directly correlated to the level of employee engagement in your business. It’s well known that engaged employees are more productive, satisfied and loyal to their employers. Here is the kicker: Money only goes so far as an employee motivator. 


Money brings some satisfaction, of course, because your employees want to earn a fair wage and support their families. However, they also want things like time with family. In fact, it could be argued that time, not money, is the key engagement element today. This is especially true for millennials and Gen Z. Money engages up to the point that people earn a living wage and can afford a decent lifestyle. Even if you could afford to give a small raise, giving a 2-3 percent wage increase is going to have a minimal impact. Giving your employees time will have a much greater impact.

Unions often talk about the fact that union employees are paid more than non-unionized employees. However, they aren’t fully informing employees about the impact of higher wages and costlier benefits on job availability and hiring practices. Unions don’t focus only on wages and benefits. They know that money is only one element of employee dissatisfaction or engagement. Instead, they focus on things like paid time-off for vacation, just cause terminations, workplace safety, employee “voice” in the workplace and training. These are all employee engagement elements.


As the saying goes, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. Increasing employee engagement doesn’t depend on you giving them a small raise that they’ll quickly take for granted. Instead, you can put some of the other engagement elements into play. Following is a list of optional ways to engage employees and increase loyalty to your business.


The tech-based workforce appreciates having more control of their work. Younger employees want options like the ability to move around and do work that builds their capabilities. They want to make decisions about their work without needing manager approval all the time. Gallup research found that job autonomy increases employee performance and engagement. Give your employees job autonomy, and they feel more valued.


The Robert Half staffing firm conducted a study of 12,000 employees. They found that employees are happiest when they feel accomplished, get positive reinforcement, like their co-workers, and are proud of their employers. Give your employees opportunities to work on interesting projects and project teams. Union employees don’t get these kinds of opportunities because they are only allowed to do the duties described in their union-management approved job descriptions.


Gallup research also found that the most meaningful relationship employees have in the workplace is with their supervisors. Managers account for a minimum of 70 percent of employee engagement score variances.

Supervisor Training from UnionProof

In the modern workforce, you need skilled leaders who can coach employees. They need to encourage employee development and growth, engage people in a shared vision, make sound decisions and build trust. Union contracts create rigid workforce policies and limit management’s flexibility. 


Time is at a premium in today’s complex, hectic world. Giving your employees time to do what is important to them is a powerful strategy for engaging and motivating employees. There are many approaches, but the goal is to be as flexible as possible. Allow people time to get their work done and to network, and time to enjoy what is important to them when not working. Strategies include:

  • Allowing employees to work flexible work schedules.
  • Giving employees paid hours to volunteer with a favorite charity.
  • Adding extended maternity leave time or giving new fathers maternity leave.
  • Rewarding high performers with additional vacation time.
  • Giving employees opportunities to socially network (i.e. group lunch, social events, recognition events, etc.).


Employee retention has become more complicated due to the ability to look for jobs online and globally. To keep high potential employees, help them progress in their careers. You can pay for them to attend a workshop, class, or conference; offer tuition assistance to attend a college or university; or provide career coaching, mentorship, or sponsorship opportunities

This approach demonstrates a commitment to rewarding the people who strive for personal and work success. Unionized workplaces don’t have the flexibility of a non-unionized workplace because events like promotions, training and development, and job assignments are limited by the union contract.


One of the important points to keep in mind is that transparency rules. The PayScale Raise Anatomy found that communicating the rationale for not giving raises is critical to employee satisfaction. Of the employees surveyed, only 23 percent of employees believed their employer’s explanation of “no budget,” the most common explanation given workers. 

This explains why unions almost always claim business leaders pay themselves high salaries out of the “no budget” and ignore the “little guy or gal.” If you’re not sure how to present your rationale without upsetting the workforce, get the advice of an experienced labor consultant. It could save you from ending up unionized.

Even if you have no money for raises, there are other ways to keep employees engaged so that you can be more effective at retaining them. Don’t wait until your employees start asking “where’s the money” and contact unions. Work now on engaging your employees and staying union free by giving them the things that are more important to them than a raise.

About the Author Walter Orechwa

Walter is IRI's Director of Digital Solutions and the founder of UnionProof & A Better Leader. As the creator of Union Proof Certification, Walter provides expert advice, highly effective employee communication resources and ongoing learning opportunities for Human Resources and Labor Relations professionals.

follow me on: