Engaged employees work harder and bring more enthusiasm to their tasks, creating a 43% reduction in turnover and a 23% increase in profitability.
But boosting employee engagement won’t be achieved with a single survey.
It’s not a switch you can just turn ‘on’ or an initiative you can roll out overnight.
Employee engagement is an outcome of the employee experience — a cumulative impact of daily positive interactions and ways of working that work for employees.
This guide looks at the best employee engagement tools available to organizations. These tools help maintain satisfying, supportive experiences and leave every employee feeling enabled, engaged, and understood.
What is an employee engagement tool?
An employee engagement tool is any technology or platform designed to improve the engagement of your employees.
Company intranets, communication or feedback platforms, and employee recognition programs are all examples of employee engagement tools. Each plays a role in delivering a positive employee experience, but not all tools are helpful for the entirety of the workforce.
Employee engagement tools for desk-based workers
As the first businesses to benefit from workplace digital transformation, desk-based teams have had access to employee engagement tools for many years. These tools played a significant role during the shift to hybrid working, allowing HR and People teams to stay connected to their distributed workforce and read ‘the pulse’ of employee experience.
Some of the most widely used engagement tools for desk-based workers include Slack and MS Teams (for internal communications), Culture Amp (for feedback), and Kudos (for employee recognition).
Employee engagement tools for frontline teams
Engaging frontline, or deskless, workers requires a different tooling strategy. These teams may not have immediate access to a computer while at work and many employees will not even have a company email address.
This means that frontline employee engagement tools must be mobile-optimized and, in best practice, a single platform should perform as many useful functions as possible. This saves frontline workers from wasted time logging in and out of multiple tools on shared devices — and helps HR and People teams to get ROI on their employee engagement spend.
What happens when you get employee engagement tooling right?
Leaders of both desk-based and frontline teams can expect big benefits from a successful deployment of employee engagement tools.
- Increased employee engagement: By providing an easy way for employees to interact with co-workers, stay connected with company news and events, and give feedback, businesses can ensure that their staff feel valued, engaged, and supported throughout the employee experience.
- An uptick in employee satisfaction scores: When employees are better connected to each other and their organization, they tend to feel more appreciated and satisfied with their jobs.
- Better retention and recruitment: 52% of frontline workers say they’d leave their job over disappointing tech tools, so investing in employee engagement software can help retain your best staff and make your organization more attractive to future hires.
- Improved performance: With satisfaction, motivation, and engagement comes greater productivity. By providing employees with the tools they need to do their best work and stay engaged, companies can expect to see stronger performance across the board.
Comparing employee engagement tools: what’s your winning combination?
Employee engagement tools fall into a number of different categories with each type of tool looking to perform a particular role or roles.
Which tool, or combination of tools, is right for your organization will depend on your specific needs and goals. But with a little research and planning, you can land on a winning solution for your organization.
Chat and communication tools
Outside of email, two main apps dominate real-time communication in the working world — or the desk-based working world, at least.
- MS Teams is a free add-on for businesses with a Microsoft 365 license
- Co-workers can use group/individual chat, video call, and project management features to collaborate
- Microsoft’s Sharepoint intranet can be used to pass files around as needed
- Some users complain that Teams takes up too much space on their devices
- Best for?
- Desk-based teams looking for a meetings and chat tool rolled into one
- Channel- and group-based instant messaging for business teams
- Users can message and video/voice call from within the app
- No ‘feed’ functionality; users must be added to a group or channel to broadcast updates to a wider group of people
- Channels can proliferate and make it hard for employees to keep track of what they need to focus on
- Best for?
- Organizations who need a simple and effective way to message synchronously and asynchronously (and who probably aren’t using Microsoft as their software/hardware provider of choice)
Company intranets provide a secure platform for employees to access documents. They also can be used to share information about company news, benefits, policies, and procedures.
- Staffbase intranet is part of its wider employee app offer (the company acquired its intranet capabilities through the purchase of Valo)
- Integrates successfully with MS 365 and Google Drive
- The ‘mobile magazine’ is a nice touch to encourage employee engagement in a visual way
- Lacks other integrations out-of-the-box
- Best for?
- Businesses who already have an employee communications app (for inter- and intra- team messaging) and now want an easier way to share information across the company
- Strong mobile app experience that can be further mobile optimized if needed
- Offers company intranet plus communication and recognition features
- Integrates with MS 365 (but not Viva Connections) and Google Workspace
- Common complaints include lack of technical documentation and irritating bugs
- Some issues with the Unily/Sharepoint integration have been reported
- High price point unless you get value from all of the features included
- Best for?
- Unily positions itself as an ‘enterprise’ employee engagement tool
Enterprise social networks (ESNs)
It’s no surprise to see one of the biggest names in social media, Meta, behind an enterprise social network. Software in this category brings together the news ‘feed’ format we’re all familiar with from platforms like Facebook and allows businesses to ‘pin’ company updates and key information to make sure they get seen.
You can think of an ESN as sitting somewhere between an intranet and a communications tool.
- Yammer, soon to be Viva Engage, is part of the Microsoft Engage suite and so is a free add-on for businesses with an MS 365 license
- Designed specifically as a news feed to keep desk-based and frontline workers informed of company updates
- Includes some employee onboarding functionality, as well as a company portal and teamwork hubs
- The mobile app misses a few key functions, including search
- Higher starting price point vs Workplace by Meta
- Best for?
- Businesses who want to separate social updates and essential company news from daily email messaging
- Familiar, mobile-optimized, and easy to use: “Like Facebook, but for your company”
- Like Viva Engage, businesses can use Workplace to store documents in the ‘Knowledge library’
- Lacks some core communication features including video meetings and the ‘chat’ app — which sits separately from Workplace — has been called unreliable
- Does not integrate with any competitor software, such as Slack
- Knowledge library only provides basic ways of sharing key content to your employees
- Best for?
- Organizations looking to broadcast and stream important updates without an integrated communications tool
Survey tools can be used to measure employee satisfaction levels, identify areas of improvement in the workplace, and gain insights into how to increase engagement from employees.
- Promises “continuous listening” to replace “once-a-year monster surveys”
- Dynamic dashboards and easy reporting
- Compare your survey results against industry benchmarks and competitors
- Follow up with employees to learn more about their survey answers
- No free trial/freemium subscription
- Customization is only available on the higher-priced packages
- Best for?
- Established mid-size businesses that use other Workday tools
- User-friendly with insightful comparisons and benchmarking
- A good emphasis on individual 1-to-1s as well as understanding the team’s engagement as a whole
- Integrates well with Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Chrome
- Lack of customization
- Low functionality from the performance management and goals side of the platform
- Some users reference issues with HRIS integration and friction in the process, i.e. having to log back in every time the browser is opened
- Best for?
- Organizations with an HR or People team big enough to gain value from Culture Amp’s team-wide and individual-level feature sets
Employee recognition platforms
The power of employee recognition has been proven time and time again. Workers who feel acknowledged for their contributions are more engaged, more productive, and less likely to leave.
Could these employee engagement tools with an emphasis on recognition and rewards help unlock further value from your teams?
- Celebrate daily successes through peer-to-peer recognition and manager-led rewards
- Employees can cash in their rewards as experiences, retail items, travel opportunities, company swag, and more
- Also facilitates employee benefits and discounts at certain retail businesses (less to do with specific rewards and recognition, but could help with retention)
- Risks placing too much emphasis on extrinsic reward vs intrinsic motivation
- Best for?
- Companies who want to lean into material rewards as a way of encouraging performance
Achievers and Perkbox are two alternatives to Reward Gateway offering very similar features and benefits.
- Advanced analytics track the impact of rewards and recognition on company culture
- Kudos’ built-in surveys and “Culture accelerator” help People teams to build on positive cultural cues
- Making use of the Kudos’ value-added features requires time and effort
- Best for?
- Businesses with People/HR teams who can dedicate time to extracting all of Kudos’ interesting insights
Human capital management (HCM) tools are designed to help manage employee data, such as salary information and performance reviews. They can also be used to track time off, benefits, and training programs.
These types of platforms can help improve employee engagement by delivering an altogether smooth and streamlined employee experience.
- A comprehensive software that combines talent management programs and processes (i.e. employee benefits), with key back-office workflows including payroll, time and leave, and even recruitment
- Users complain of a lack of integrations
- Requires onboarding training to use
- High price point (can cost $40-60 per employee per month)
- Best for?
- HR teams looking for a total solution for all their talent management workflows, including the key activities that create a better employee experience (you’d want to use all of the features to make the price worthwhile)
Frontline employee engagement
For organizations with a frontline workforce, the winning combination of employee engagement tools can be found in just one application: Blink.
Blink: the world’s best frontline app
- Chat, feed, intranet, recognition, surveys, and more all rolled into one app, bringing employees within frontline organizations closer together
- Single sign-on means less friction in the experience
- Partnered with MS 365, so it’s not a case of ‘one or the other’
- Proven to deliver better employee engagement (companies using Blink see frontline attrition drop by up to 26%)
- Designed with the frontline engagement challenge in mind — but, that said, businesses with both frontline and desk-basked teams can benefit from using Bline
- Best for?
- Frontline teams who are struggling with a patchwork of different paper-based processes and digital tools with low adoption rates
See how Blink compares to other frontline-centric engagement tools here: Blink vs Staffbase and Blink vs Beekeeper.
How to select employee engagement tools: 4 best practices
Identify employee requirements
Understanding what your workers want and need is the essential first step in narrowing down your tools.
Do this before you start shortlisting any tools, because while a tool might look great on paper and boast an impressive list of clients, if it doesn’t work for your employees then it won’t deliver ROI.
We can look to the frontline engagement challenge as an example.
Frontline needs are often misunderstood and misread by employers. Desk-based decision-makers experience work in a completely different way than frontline teams.
From a frontline perspective, increasing engagement might mean company-wide recognition, but it might also mean having critical resources when out in the field.
- What causes of disengagement are we aware of today? (If you can’t answer this question, then you need to find out)
- What are the possible solutions for these issues?
- How can we hear from the employees themselves to better understand if this solution would improve the experience?
- Would using this tool require workers to spend more time moving in and out of apps and platforms or add friction to their workflows? (If so, then new tooling might not be the solution to this particular engagement challenge)
Go prepared to any platform demo meetings you book with your list of employee engagement challenges. A good potential partner will not be fazed when you ask how their particular solution will fit your particular needs.
Make sure you’re clear on the root disengagement challenge
Once your requirements are clear you can look toward a future with your employee engagement tools in place. It’s worth discussing what both success and failure would look like before investing in any software solutions.
How will we know that we’ve succeeded?
How will we know if nothing’s changed?
Spend extra time exploring what it would mean if you didn’t see the results you had hoped for. It’s here that root cause analysis and asking why can really reframe the context.
Let’s imagine you were considering an employee survey tool to help workers feel heard and valued. But after a year of monthly ‘Pulse’ surveys and ad-hoc insight gathering, your annual employee survey comes back saying people still don’t feel listened to. Why would that be?
- Why do people still not feel heard?
- Because we’re gathering their opinions and then not closing the feedback loop
- Why are we not closing the feedback loop?
- Because we have no way of communicating with everyone at the same time
- Why do we not have a way of communicating with everyone at the same time?
- Because not all of our employees have company email addresses
… so, really, the root solution to this disengagement risk isn’t just running more surveys. It’s about connecting all employees together, regardless of whether they have a company email address.
Now, it becomes clear that the best employee engagement tool for you is one that supports not only survey features but company-wide updates and messaging as well.
Pausing to identify your root challenge will stop you from wasting money on a new tool for a new tool’s sake. You can assess whether a tool is the best course of action for you and avoid a costly box-ticking initiative that could cause more harm than good.
You can also use this process to build a solid business case for employee engagement tooling. With direct data about the challenges and goals of your workforce, you can get that all-important buy-in from the C-Suite. Clearly define the financial, productivity, and morale gains that a new tool can bring to your organization and watch leadership get on board with the program.
Understand the cross-functional impact of a new digital tool
Implementing a new tool can change the employee experience for better or for worse. And you don’t want to fall into the trap of adding value for one department or team while making life more difficult for another.
For a digital engagement tool to be successfully adopted across your organization, it needs to improve the work experience of every user — even if it challenges the status quo today.
You might find that the HR team would benefit from an employee engagement tool that allows them to manage retention, performance reviews, and feedback. Meanwhile, the Operations or IT department might need a tool that simplifies task management or helps organize the workforce at a cost-effective price.
Can you achieve both with the same employee engagement tool?
Again, these are the questions you should ask during a demo. How will moving to your tool impact my Operations team? Does this change how we integrate with payroll or manage paid time off? And so on.
Remember, someone must take ownership of reviewing and assigning employee engagement strategies across departments (selection and implementation), but it will be a committee of different teams that support the execution (adoption).
Understanding how any new tool would impact each of your teams individually is a must when undergoing any digital transformation efforts.
From there, you can build a team of adoption allies from several departments who will help make your new tooling a success.
Assess and compare a shortlist of tools
By this stage, you will have a clear understanding of who will use your engagement tool, what their specific needs are, how the tool might be used across different departments, and the root disengagement challenge you’re looking to solve.
Now it’s time to assess the available tools against your engagement brief.
This will involve answering a few key questions:
How does it work with your existing tech stack?
An employee engagement platform will not get used if it doesn’t integrate easily with existing tools.
Employees throughout the business are already stretched enough, and seeking to solve your disengagement challenge by giving people more work to do is setting yourself up to fail.
The tool stack integrations you’ll want to check might include:
- Project management tools
- Data storage and documentation platforms
- Recruitment and HR systems
- Customer relationship management (CRM)
- Finance and accounting
You also want to avoid any duplication of features or additional friction for users. This could happen if the engagement tool has features that your existing systems already offer. Make sure to do a thorough review of the feature sets on each platform and determine what type of onboarding process is required for new users.
How easily can you implement and manage it?
Many engagement tools come with a variety of features, such as analytics, feedback loops, and customizable surveys — and these can take time to configure correctly.
A lack of time or resources to manage this internally could cause these features to fall flat. Consider the skills and experience you’ll need in your team: are you able to lead by example by taking this new engagement tool and running with it?
And what will the team behind the tool do to help you run a successful implementation?
What message will the engagement tool send?
It’s not all about technical integrations and practical workflows. Will this new employee engagement tool help instill the kind of culture you’d like to build?
- Employee communication tools can encourage a culture of transparency and openness
- Investing in recognition and rewards will help employees feel supported and valued
- An accessible and informative intranet could align workers more meaningfully with your organizational goals as well as safety, compliance, and regulations
The more you can achieve with one tool, the better.
So ask yourself: is there an engagement tool in your shortlist that ticks all the boxes?
How will you onboard users (and what support will you have)?
You shouldn’t be left on your own to implement an employee engagement tool. Rolling out a successful adoption won’t be easy and the partner you choose to work with should offer support.
Outside of this, you should also seek the support of your internal engagement and adoption allies — how can they spread the word within their teams and inspire users to get involved? Effective ideas you can split between you include:
- A company-wide announcement showing how excited you are about the implementation
- Sharing case studies and success stories from other similar businesses
- Being clear with all employees about what using the tool will mean for them and how they will benefit
- Providing incentives for early adopter users
- Establishing a dedicated onboarding program to get users up-to-speed quickly
Will the tool scale with you?
Where your business is today is not where it will be in a year or two from now. The challenges you face will change, the number of employees you have may grow, and you need to make sure that any tools you purchase will serve you in the future.
Investing in a scalable employee engagement tool will avoid you from having to switch tools further down the line.
What are the related costs?
Lastly, but equally importantly, there’s cost.
You’ll want to make sure the ticket price of the tool matches your budget, but there are other indirect costs to bear in mind as well.
When a system is hard to implement, hard to maintain (or both), it takes more time to manage — and that leads to added indirect costs for various areas of the business. Plus, you’ll probably see disappointing adoption rates that risk your ROI.
You don’t want to get to a place where the sunk cost of a tool far exceeds the value you’re getting from it, so don’t shy away from asking tool providers what the pay-off period will be.
Free employee engagement tools might start to look more attractive at this stage. But free software can often present UX or quality problems, making it difficult to use and hard or costly to maintain.
Consider the upfront costs, maintenance costs, and opportunity costs of each tool in your shortlist to find the best solution.
Do you need Blink?
Frontline organizations face unique engagement challenges. That’s why we built Blink — the world’s best frontline app.
At Blink, we believe that better employee engagement comes from a better employee experience, so our frontline employee app combines several key features that frontline workers need.
Users have access to secure team and individual chats, the Blink Feed for on-the-go news, a Hub for critical resources, and up-to-date paystubs, resulting in 7 app opens a day on average.
Plus, with comprehensive onboarding and support teams, easy integration with existing systems, dedicated internal resources, and regular reviews, we’ll stay by your side to keep improving the employee experience.
Blink can help you create an engaging environment — empowering staff and helping them stay connected and productive, wherever they work from.