Organizations with a highly engaged workforce are, according to Gallup research, more likely to experience higher sales and happier customers. Fostering a work environment that creates happy, productive employees is good for your brand and your bottom line.

As organizations discover the connection between talent and profitability, emerging research and new studies are revealing more about the fundamentals of a highly-engaged workplace. At Corporate Essentials, we’re dedicated to using these cutting-edge insights to shape our core values and culture.

Deloitte describes culture and engagement as “foundational business issues.” Taking steps on a daily basis toward a more positive office culture could result in a noticeable impact on your HR metrics, including happier employees and fewer voluntary resignations.

Fortunately, highly effective approaches to creative morale boosters don’t need to be incredibly high-cost. Your employees may simply need to know that you value their happiness, relationships and desire for work-life balance.

Read on for data-insight, case studies, and research that’s shaped how Corporate Essentials promotes employee happiness.

The 5 Components of Superior Company Culture That Actually Matter

It may come as a surprise, but there are no major studies that reveal your organization needs a massive budget or dedicated Chief Culture Officer for better engagement and productivity.

A major international study of workplace culture and people by Bersin and Deloitte did uncover the five core pillars of an effective engagement strategy, which are:

  • Meaningful work, including time on the job to rest and think.
  • Great managers, including impromptu recognition and an encouraging culture.
  • Flexibility and inclusivity, which may include concepts like flex-time for parents or occasional sabbaticals.
  • Opportunities for growth, such as a mentoring program or on-site learning opportunities.
  • Vision-driven leadership who are willing to invest in people and inspire their talent to action.

In other words, there’s little evidence that the price tag associated with perks is what matters. Most likely, a culture that supports people’s need to feel like they matter, they’re noticed and they’re working toward a common goal is what’s going to make an impact.

Your organization can provide opportunities and space to rest on the job on a minimal budget. Chances are, you can also afford every other pillar of Deloitte’s five engagement factors. Read on to learn how eight real-life organizations, including a number of startups, are making serious waves with creative morale boosters that don’t cost an obscene amount of cash:

1. Employee Fitness

Employees who sweat at work may have lower stress levels and fewer health risks. Plus, the rush of exercise endorphins from swinging a kettlebell a few hundred times could make a real difference in employee mood.

Corporate Wellness Magazine reveals that, in addition to lower healthcare costs, fit employees take fewer sick days and perform better at their jobs. Group fitness opportunities encourage a culture of teamwork that spills over and helps you create a collaborative environment.

Even if your organization can’t afford to have an on-site gym or daily yoga classes, you can still encourage your talent to pursue a healthy lifestyle. Telecommunications company Bandwidth offers a “fitness lunch,” or their option for their employees to take up to 90 minutes at lunch to go jogging with their colleagues or play sports. 

A focus on fitness is budget well spent — with a positive impact on productivity and morale. There’s no shortage of ways to support a low-cost wellness culture, including starting meetings with a little “stretch break” or working with vendors who provide healthier office snack options than standard vending machine fare.

2. Giving Back

While many organizations offer employees opportunities to volunteer on the clock, there are ways to give back to your community that won’t hurt your budget. Many workplace culture experts propose that opportunities to volunteer or give back can enable employees to feel more connected to their work.

Employees at NuStar energy work together to organize an annual charity golf tournament, including securing local sponsorships. On a smaller scale, you could also organize on-site opportunities to donate blood or provide ways for employees to donate to your local food bank.

Even occasional group volunteering, such as one Saturday a month spent cleaning a local park or helping build housing, can have a massive impact on your community.

Every hour donated can be worth over $20 in value to your community. Just 10 of your employees giving back locally could result in massive benefits for nonprofits that need your help.

3. Stock Your Breakroom

Some of the rumors of truly outrageous on-site perks are true — one tech company really offers a full-scale bowling alley on-site. However, while there’s definitely benefit to having a well-designed break room space, your organization doesn’t need to worry about competing on cost investment.

Why are break rooms crucial? Well, their primary function is the fact they encourage people to actually take breaks, which doesn’t always occur in an office setting. While 85 percent of employees think they’re more productive when they take a break, only 20 percent actually stop working.

Providing refreshments in the break room can show your employees that you encourage them to take a balanced approach to work and build relationships with their colleagues. Full-service break room options, such as coffee, tea, water, healthy snacks and paper supplies, can be a highly affordable creative morale booster.

Truth be told, your employees are going to need snacks at times at work, and offering a rotation of sugar and chips could hurt more than you think. Healthy snacking really can have a positive impact on mood, brain power and the ability to solve problems.

4. Offer a Little (or a Lot) of Flexibility

Your organization probably can’t afford to offer most of your staff months of paid vacation time. However, allowing your employees to pursue outside interests and catch a much-needed break could allow them to return to work refreshed and ready to engage with their work.

For one staff member, a month unpaid could allow them to pursue a life-changing hike along the Appalachian Trail. For another, this time away from their desk could be used for a dream European vacation.

It’s the idea of encouraging employees to balance work, life and adventure that led Chicago-based Red Frog Events to provide a one-month sabbatical once every five years.

According to the founder Joe Reynolds, allowing employees to travel internationally and really challenge themselves is a crucial component of their culture. He states “Those trips bring home game-changing ideas.”

Flexibility doesn’t have to involve month-long trips away from the office, either. Consistent flex time, such as the option to take early release on Fridays during the summer, can fulfill your employees’ need to take care of their families and feel supported by their employer.

Startup Asana, who ranks in the 99th percentile for employee satisfaction, has an ongoing commitment to offering flex time. In their case, employees are allowed to create their own work schedule to accommodate outside interests or the needs of their children.

Asana simply requires that employees keep their job’s performance objectives in mind when they decide to head home early to watch their son play baseball.

5. Support Peer-to-Peer Recognition

Earning public recognition for hard work or a consistently positive attitude may have nearly the same impact on some staff as a cash bonus or another type of costly reward. Despite the fact that recognition has a measurable impact on employee engagement and happiness, 87 percent of existing corporate reward programs focus on tenure.

Shifting the way you think about recognition to include more than just five years of service could be a seriously creative morale booster. For digital agency Rockfish, launching a peer-to-peer recognition program was a ticket to better employee retention and culture.

A two-year study of their peer-driven program revealed that recognition had a statistically significant impact on performance among both high- and low-performing staff members. Rockfish’s program is heavily technology-driven.

Each staff member can view a running dashboard of their points received from their peers, and the company gives rewards to the most consistently thanked members of their workforce.

Driving success with a similar initiative doesn’t necessarily require software or any other formal structures — simple tokens or a humorous annual employee awards ceremony could provide an adequate platform for internal recognition.

6. After-Hours Fun Sessions

Fostering opportunities for your employees to connect, build relationships and have fun outside of work hours can build a high-energy, friendly culture that spills over into the work day. Supportive, trusting relationships between staff members can create a baseline for collaboration and creativity.

Talent who feel that they fit in and are an important part of the social framework may be a lot less likely to disengage, miss deadlines or quit their job. If you’re really lucky, like the San Diego branch of startup Houzz, you may even have a rooftop deck that makes your after-hours get-togethers incredibly exciting. The organization’s employees gather in the evenings to watch the San Diego Padres play baseball in adjacent Petco Park.

7. On-Site Learning

For 87 percent of millennials and 69 percent of the workforce as a whole, opportunities to learn and grow are crucial. Talent of all ages value opportunities to expand their professional skills and feel challenged.

Providing stimulation to your sharp staff members shows people that you value their abilities. Better yet, fostering opportunities for group learning is a low-cost, creative morale booster. The idea of the right approach to on-site learning can vary drastically between organizations.

For Boston Consulting Group, fostering employee development involves a commitment to apprenticeship opportunities to learn on the job. They’ve undergone serious initiatives to ensure that opportunities to apprentice and learn new skills are available by merit and do not exclude female or minority staff members.

For geekier staff members, on-site learning could involve chances to play with some seriously envy-inspiring gadgets. Booz Allen Hamilton technology offers a humorously named “petting zoo,” or a space dedicated to letting people test out the latest in technology and think about how it could change the way they work.

8. Support Group Gaming

There’s a reason why many organizations provide shuffleboard, a foosball table or even board games to their staff members. Gaming is a community-builder, but it’s also a remarkable productivity tool.

Psychology professor Chris Ferguson states that a break from work to focus on something entirely different can lead to passive problem-solving and creative thinking. For Sparta Systems, an organization that manages supply chain quality, this involves an “employee forum,” or epic game room.

Sparta staff members have complete access to both video and old-school gaming options, from Xbox systems to board games. Not only is it a creative morale booster, it’s a mark of their culture. CEO Eileen Martinson states, “We place a high value on collaboration.”

Even better, there are games that involve no use of electronics and could support other employee activities. Employees could combine fitness and fun with the help of smartphone apps for fitness training or healthy competition. Today’s fitness apps feature anything from immersive, zombie-based 5k training programs to point-based group steps competitions.

Driving a Return on Cultural Investment

Investing in corporate culture has become such an important concept that it’s even gained a term among HR experts: return on culture, or ROC. By all accounts, every dollar spent on creative morale boosters is a dollar well spent.

In the book “Corporate Culture and Performance,” authors John P. Kotter and James L. Heskett studied the investments and returns of several culture-focused enterprise organizations, including HP and Nissan.

Their research revealed that cultural initiatives can carry up to a 750 percent ROI when returns are measured by increases in company profitability. For organizations of all sizes, it’s completely possible to make a serious impact on a limited budget.

Letting your employees know they’re valued and that you support a well-balanced approach to work can take many forms. Investing in a break room redesign project can create a centralized cultural hub for your office, including impromptu daily breaks, gaming sessions or after-hours events.

Providing your employees with little signs of appreciation, like healthy snacks, can go a long way in improving your engagement and retention metrics. Fortunately, the most effective creative moral boosters don’t need to crush your budget.

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About Judson Kleinman

As the founder and CEO of Corporate Essentials, Judson set out with every intention of bringing a new meaning to the words "office culture". As leaders in the industry, his company constantly sets the bar by investing in, and improving their product offerings, technology, people and training. 20 years and 1500 clients later, Judson can proudly say that Corporate Essentials continues to positively fuel culture and allow over 150,000 employees to work happy.