7 Staff Engagement Tips for Start-Ups & SMEs

employee engagement in new business

Small businesses and start-ups often provide a more flexible approach to work. That might be working from home a couple of days a week, working remotely, flexitime on core hours, flexibility for parenting duties and perhaps a more relaxed working environment.

As smaller businesses don’t have the corporate structure, there are many possibilities to ensure your team is engaged. Being leaner, and perhaps meaner, there is much more flexibility to include every employee.

Individuals sometimes choose SME’s over larger corporations as they feel they are making a bigger difference to the overall business.  This means having a clear role definition and expectations, knowing what impact they are making and their value add, and avoids the lack of clarify referred to as “role ambiguity”.

For SME’s to keep individuals engaged it would be advantageous not to rely just on clear role definitions. We are social beings. We can work best by understanding and knowing more about the people we work with whilst having fun.

Shared interests, hobbies, entertainment preferences, books read, films, sport, even family… whichever the subject, it is the conversation and human contact face to face that makes us all feel a sense of belonging.

Here are seven ideas for increasing engagement in your startup or small business: 

1. Encourage social connections

It would be fair to assume that the smaller the number of employees working in a company the easier and the more they are likely to be connected, socially.

This isn’t always the case as we are all individuals and have the same daily responsibilities / routines, homelife, worklife, social interests, technology like smart phones / social media and ourselves to look after.

It might be easier to round up most of a small company for a beer / wine on a Friday but usually after the first one or two, the trend is to show your face, have some polite conversation, leave and get on with your weekend.

For start-up company’s getting to know your colleagues would have to be high on the priority list of engagement, building stronger and trusting relationships creates community feel and long-term increases productivity and loyalty.

You’ll be more likely to engage individuals with fun experiences and activities that they’d choose for themselves. Imagine offering them a day out they would really enjoy? The sort of thing that they’d be happy to pay for and organise at the weekends?

Imagine how much more impact that would have than something that felt like a ‘work’ day? The interest, excitement and commitment are already there as it is something they actually want to do and/or experience.

Clearly not everyone will have the same interest for every event / activity that is chosen. Perfect! This gives the employer an opportunity to engage different individuals from across the business who share the same interests, creating a common ground that’s ripe for breaking the ice.

Engaging your staff socially out of the office on inspiring and engaging events centred around wellbeing is a sure way to improve morale and in turn productivity for the company.

2. Lead by example

It would be prudent in a start-up or small business to lead by how you would like to be led. In smaller groups actions are magnified and are much more visible and known across the company.

A trusting (showing autonomy) diligent and honest leader with clarity will create a belief in senior leadership, this is the No.1 factor in creating positive employee engagement.

58% of employees say they would start a job with a lower salary if they worked for a great boss.

Don’t tell them about your great leadership – show them through your own actions. The best way is always to lead by example.

If you make a mistake; take responsibility. If you say you will do something; make sure you do it. If you set a deadline; meet it.

3. Offer flexible working conditions

As we discussed in the introduction, start-ups and smaller businesses benefit with more flexibility – 75% of employees say they experience greater productivity when they are working from home.

Being at home has the advantage of cutting commuting time and the cost of travel. It means less daily stress and a being in comfortable surroundings.

The downside can be isolation; employees risk losing connection with their colleagues / peers, especially if they are spending the majority of the week working from home with no human contact.

However, arranging social engagements can help to mitigate this by building relationships and ensuring that the people you are dealing with remotely on a day-to-day basis are not just faceless emails, but real people whose personalities you know.

It’s much easier to build a relationship and trust when you share a common interest in an event or activity.

4. Show empathy

Showing empathy is important. People want to see that you genuinely value them. So, get to know them, find out what matters to each employee personally as well as professionally. Who’s their favourite film star? Who broke a world record? What are their career aspirations? Ask them questions, listen and remember!

You will be interested to know that research has shown that 83% of engaged staff say “my supervisor cares about me as a person” compared to just 3% of disengaged workers. (Source: Glintinc)

5. Role ambiguity

Role ambiguity is often cited as a cause of stress at work. If you don’t handle this issue is means that you’ll be wasting resources as more than one person think it’s their job to do a particular task.

Recent research by Gallup show that ‘clear expectations’ as the most ‘foundational’ factor for employee engagement. Setting SMART goals, KPIs and expectations allows team members to plan their days and also measure progress more effectively.

With the right tools, information, training and feedback everyone will be able to do their jobs well and contribute to the success of your business.

6. Training for career progression

Nowadays people are motivated by doing work they feel is valuable and they want to have opportunities to progress their careers.  This means you should provide training and development that meets their particular needs.

When staff see that you are taking a personalised approach and helping them achieve their goals it is particularly motivating.

Developing people and increasing their skills and expertise will be good for productivity and the business overall as well as for engagement.

7. Fun at work

Studies show 90% of people say a fun work environment is very or extremely motivating. 84% of executives thought that employees with a sense of humour do better job than employees with little or no sense of humour.

I am sure you can think of ways to introduce some light heartedness and fun at work. One idea is to organise an away day. An exciting, engaging event will build connections and trust within your business especially if you centre it around a Wellbeing theme.


Keeping your team engaged doesn’t have to be complicated.  Those magic pairs of works “Thank you” and “Well done” should not be underestimated.

We are social beings and we like to receive and to give praise, so it is good to celebrate successes large and small. By celebrating business-wide achievements you will motivate your team and help develop a supportive culture.

About the author

This article has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Craig Bulow, the founder of Corporate Away Days, a corporate wellbeing events company delivering engaging, inspiring and exciting events focussed on Wellbeing and Reward activities. Corporate Away Days also creates, designs and builds corporate wellbeing policies and provides leading experts for interactive workshops, seminars and talks on improving wellbeing.

More from ByteStart

ByteStart is packed with help and tips on all aspects of starting and running your own business. Check out some of our most popular guides;

Leading a business

Starting Up

Motivating your team

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