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5 ways to boost your employee engagement and motivation


February 2, 2022

It took just six months for 20 million US workers to up and leave their jobs last year. That’s 110,000 people a day saying ‘thank you and goodbye’. A gruelling pandemic has turned what we thought we wanted and needed from life on its head. I look back at my daily commute and meeting merry-go-round and wonder how I did it. I’m in good company: a McKinsey study across five countries showed 40% of people will leave their jobs in the next three to six months.

What’s going on? As it happens, a lot of good stuff. Smart companies such as Microsoft have put serious effort into improving their employee engagement and motivation – they know that people who feel some sort of emotional commitment to their job will go the extra mile to do well.

Here’s how to use employee engagement to increase motivation levels:

1. Give communications a fresh, new look

We’ve bonded by having fought the common enemy that is Covid. Now we want an adult conversation with the people we work with and for. We’ve moved on from scripted, polished, rehearsed communications. The best employee engagement is now consistently open, transparent, flexible and fast. It’s sometimes flawed. And that’s OK. Because it builds trust and credibility. It reminds us that we’re all in this together. The best companies have switched out of pre-prepared, ‘transmit’ mode. They’ve got comfortable with live communications (but recorded and available on playback, just like all good Netflix content), online chats with thousands of people (numbers we’d have thought impossible pre-pandemic) and hearing from a range of amazing voices, not just the folks at the top.

These companies genuinely treat engagement like a two-way conversation, not a show and tell. My favourite engagement plans are also now short term. Because who can see beyond the next three to six months?

2. Remind leaders: we’re looking at you

‘Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm’ – Publilius Syrus

Edelman’s 2021 trust barometer research taught us that business is one of the most trusted sources out there, trumping government, media and NGOs. In today’s brave new world, 86% of people are looking for the people at the top to lead on issues big and small. Unveiling sales performance in Asia? Not enough. They also want to see leaders tackling Covid, climate change and racial injustice. Today’s leader or founder needs to be like a Marvel superhero, managing uncertainty, enjoying infinite energy, inspiring people, showing vulnerability and driving performance. Unilever CEO Alan Jope believes a new leadership model is emerging in response to the pandemic, one that starts with an inward focus on purpose, emotion and energy levels, before moving onto the stuff we’d expect, like strategy and performance.

Leaders need help to engage people as – to be fair – it doesn’t always come naturally. So, the best engagement teams are assisting them with learning and development (yep, no room for egos here, especially when the data on how they’re doing is shared). Leaders are also learning to loosen their grip on message control. Employee engagement and motivation flourish when leaders tell stories, information flows, everyone has a voice and success is celebrated. I’ve loved it when a leader simply asks, ‘What’s on your mind?’ and sits back to watch what floods in. Or shares a view on a business challenge and asks for people’s thoughts, responding with enthusiasm and without judgement. Hoxby’s regular ‘Founder Q&A’ with associates is a great example of living the engagement dream.

Read about why it’s time to reinvent organisational culture and employee engagement.

3. Be a talent magnet

There’s a reason why we’re thriving at Hoxby. We’ve found a place where we can live our best #Workstyle, whatever that means for each and every associate. We work at anytime, in any place and you’ll regularly hear us talk about #RespectTheWorkstyle (whereby we all work differently and respect everyone’s choices). We want the world to follow suit. Because why not? If the mass work exodus of the last 12+ months has taught us anything, it’s that people care more deeply than ever before about who they work for and with. We expect businesses to think about our whole lives, whether that’s family, health and wellbeing, interests, growth, beliefs or identity. And values like sustainability and the environment are deal breakers in switching seats – we want to feel proud when we chat to friends and family about our work. The people around me won’t give a second glance to a business that isn’t into remote working and making life more practical for everyone.

Technology has made it possible to crack even the toughest of nuts, such as collaboration, innovation and creativity. People expect the fresh mindsets and ways of working that a collective such as Hoxby was founded on. How cool is this: lifestyle and travel company Saga (whose customers are the over 50s) gives new grandparents a week of paid time off to celebrate? Adios tiredness and tedium, hello #Workstyle.

4. Put those listening ears on

When the pandemic arrived, global drinks company Diageo switched from its annual employee survey to a new model – quarterly ‘pulse checks’ to hear how people were feeling and share what they needed to thrive at work and home. Swift action followed. That’s how trust is built. There’s a fear in some quarters that listening means having to change. But the best folks leap right in and explore (how can you fix what you don’t know?).

Forbes says that people who feel their voice is heard are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work. Award of the week goes to Indra Nooyi, formerly a big boss at PepsiCo (291,000 employees) and Amazon (1.3 million employees). Indra quotes Greek philosopher Epictetus on her LinkedIn: ‘We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak’. She credits her success at PepsiCo to creating a culture of recognition and diversity, unleashing the power of workers by actively listening to them. (This Sideways 6 article has great nuggets on leaders who listen.)

Covid continues to throw a ton of challenges our way and no-one has all the answers. Great businesses are turning over obstacles and just-out-of-reach opportunities to their employees. Whether that’s everyone working on a key question or putting together amazingly diverse ‘sprint teams’ to shape something new, it teases out broad, deep and different thinking. It’s exactly how we work here at Hoxby, with hundreds of talented associates on hand to offer crisp ideas and solutions. We call it collective intelligence and our clients love the refreshing perspectives and richness it brings to our work.

5. Remember, we all just want to belong

I’m lucky. Over the last year and a half, I’ve shared my home with my family who’ve supported me, made me laugh when I needed it and let me rant at the news on a regular basis. It’s been intense and, at times, infuriating (‘Yes, it really is time to turn the PlayStation off’). But more than anything, they’ve made me feel like I belong. Increasingly, that’s what we’re looking for at work, a way to help us understand the changing world we live in, and to connect and feel valued. As Unilever’s Alan Jope says, ‘There’s a price to pay for failing to create a culture in which people feel they belong’.

It’s the task of employee engagement to represent everyone who makes up a community by making sure there’s a diversity of focus and a chance for everyone to use their voice. I’ve seen companies such as Vodafone and John Lewis encourage employees to tell the story of company strategy in their own words, and it’s so much more meaningful and accessible. Drinks company Diageo puts extra effort into hearing from production teams each time it runs an employee survey, installing iPads in breweries and distilleries for people who don’t work with a computer and giving out QR codes for people to take part remotely. Leaning into technology and using it creatively can really help people to connect.

At Hoxby, we’ve used technology as the engine that helps us work anywhere, at any time, since day zero. We use Slack to help us collaborate and build our collective intelligence. No question is too big or small for the community – we fling out challenges, trade our expertise and do creative mind dumps, all online. Two of our values are #BetterTogether and #PlayYourPart, both of which we live loud and proud every day.

‘People are the fuel that will power the next industrial revolution’ – McKinsey, January 2022

Contact Hoxby to learn more

Hoxby is a purposefully diverse network that gives you access to the collective brainpower and diverse insight of hundreds of professional and creative experts in 40+ countries around the world. We draw on the unique diversity within our community to uncover insights and create refreshing solutions to your brief. Our Communications, Creative, Futureproofing, HR, Innovation, Marketing and Operations teams can solve almost any business challenge.

Do you want to look at things differently? Find out how Hoxby PR can help with creating an effective strategy for improving employee engagement and how Hoxby Futureproofing can help you prepare for the future of work. Or simply get in touch at

Kate Blakeley is a corporate communications leader with a passion for employee engagement and the magic it can create. She’s a member of the Hoxby community.

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