Engaged employees are the most valuable asset a business can have. Engaged staff are highly productive, they'll stick with your business through thick and thin, and they'll act as important ambassadors for your brand.
To put it simply, these employees aren't just in it for the paycheque - they care about your business, too.
Update June 2016 - If you're after a more detailed guide to employee engagement, check out our comprehensive practical guide to employee engagement for SMEs.
Employee engagement is one of the areas of HR that can potentially add a huge amount of value to your business. By reducing staff turnover rates and retaining productive employees, hiring costs will plummet and you'll foster a positive working environment - to the benefit of both employer and employees.
To improve employee engagement, you must first recognise that staff members have different motivations. In many cases, money may not be their prime motivator - and a salary boost is only likely to increase engagement in the short term.
These quick employee engagement ideas can bring long term improvements in employee engagement even on the tightest budget.
#1 Listen (and learn)
Instead of sticking to the usual annual review with employees, start listening to their concerns all year round. This can be as formal or informal as you like - schedule a monthly meeting in the calendar for each staff member, or have managers chat to staff at their desks on a regular basis.
Discuss workload, what they're enjoying and if they're finding anything difficult. Talk about current projects or upcoming events and their contributions.
Company directors should also take part in this process, giving employees the chance to make suggestions about company processes to those at the very top.
An open, communicative working environment allows employees to contribute to the business in meaningful ways, giving them a sense of pride and ownership over their work - whilst making the office a much nicer place to do business in.
All too often CEOs and managers treat employees as children. Think about it - you must arrive at work at a certain time, you're allocated a specific period to take lunch, and you have to follow a set of strict rules and procedures - else you'll be punished.
Treating your staff as adults is a good start - give staff a little more freedom and trust them to complete tasks in the way that makes sense to them. You could do this by introducing some form of flexible working to your company, even if it's just letting staff shift their office hours forward or backwards an hour each day.
#3 Encourage personal development
Some office jobs offer little in the way of personal development opportunities. Ask employees about the skills they'd like to learn or if there are any personal projects they'd like to work on.
You may well have heard of Google's '20% time', where staff members supposedly have one day a week to work on any project they like - Google News and Gmail started during '20% time'.
Although Google have moved away from this concept in recent years, the idea remains sound - giving employees the chance to choose what they'd like to work on helps to drives creativity and innovation.
Employees who may be growing tired of their regular job will relish the chance to get stuck into another project that they'll enjoy more - and it could help the company too.
Additionally, encourage staff development by keeping a library of textbooks and learning resources. Perhaps some employees want to learn a new programming language or a staff member is working towards a professional qualification. They could then access these books at lunchtime or borrow them to study at home.
Teambuilding events don't have to cost a fortune. Enter a team into charity sporting events, set up a staff baking competition, or encourage teams to have lunch at a local restaurant once a month. These relatively low cost solutions can bring staff together and build a sense of camaraderie that's invaluable in business.
A close-knit team will know each other's strengths and weaknesses, making a more efficient unit. If your employees get along, they won't want to let each other down - they'll work hard to complete tasks on time and to a high standard.
#5 Recognise achievement and hard work
Recognition is important for all of us - if we've worked hard on something, seeing someone else take the credit is infuriating.
You don't need to hold a cheesy awards ceremony every month to recognise employee achievement. Instead, just email staff with a heartfelt 'thank you' if they've done a particularly good job with their work. The prizes and awards can come later, when your budget allows it.
In the end, we're all motivated by different factors at work - but a small shift in attitudes and behaviour by managers and directors can significantly improve employee engagement at a very low cost.
At your business, what changes have you made to keep employees engaged? Let us know in the comments below.