Group of happy employees smiling during a meeting.
Data from MetLife shows that employees who report feeling cared for by their employers are two times more likely to feel engaged at work. — Getty Images/jacoblund

Employee engagement keeps individual team members satisfied and benefits the organization as a whole. Engaged employees feel valued, both as individuals and as part of the team, and work to contribute to the overall success of the company.

According to Cynthia Smith, Senior Vice President of U.S. Regional Business at MetLife, improving employee engagement begins with one important factor: care.

“Feeling cared for is a critical driver for employers to have a successful workplace, as well as for employees to have a successful work life,” explained Smith.

According to MetLife’s 2023 Employee Benefit Trends Study (EBTS), burnout is up and job satisfaction is down among small business employees. However, employees who reported feeling cared for are two times more likely to feel engaged at work. This feeling was also correlated with higher rates of job loyalty and productivity.

Employee engagement tactics for growing successful teams

To reverse recent trends of burnout and job dissatisfaction, employers must take an active role in engaging their workers and ensuring they feel truly cared for. The EBTS gave five recommendations for actions employers can take to support the whole employee, demonstrate greater employee care, and better engage their workforce to improve retention:

Promote purposeful work

Over half of surveyed small business employees considered purposeful work a “must-have” in any position; of those who did not have purposeful work, just 29% intended to stay in their current company within one year.

“If small business employers can only prioritize one of these five areas, I think promoting purposeful work should be at the top of the list to make an impact within their organization and workforce,” said Smith.

To promote purposeful work, align tasks to the company’s greater mission (as well as employees’ skills and interests), and build opportunities for growth and learning where possible.

Offer flexibility

Employees are increasingly seeking flexible work arrangements, including remote or hybrid work and less-rigidly-defined working hours, to achieve better work-life balance. Employers who can offer this not only open their talent pool to a wider range of candidates but are also more likely to attract and retain top talent.

Of course, incorporating flexible work requires trust. Communicate expectations openly with your employees, and encourage them to come to you for support in establishing a workflow that suits both their needs and those of the company.

If small business employers can only prioritize one of these five areas, I think promoting purposeful work should be at the top of the list to make an impact within their organization and workforce.

Cynthia Smith, Senior Vice President of U.S. Regional Business, MetLife

Build a supportive culture

Smith noted that managers, who serve as role models within the organization, are especially influential in creating a supportive company culture.

“By showing their teams that they are supported and committed to their well-being, managers will likely see an increase in their employees’ engagement,” she explained.

Some strategies for building a supportive workplace culture include:

  • Getting to know your employees.
  • Having open lines of communication and feedback.
  • Publicly recognizing employees for a job well done; this may include peer-to-peer recognition programs.
  • Encouraging employees’ well-being and work-life balance.

Prioritize training

Employees are more apt to remain engaged when they have opportunities for career growth and professional development. When employers invest in helping their teams develop relevant skills, employees can more clearly visualize a path for growth within the organization, making them feel cared for and valued.

Small business owners can organize internal training sessions, as well as provide reimbursement for conferences, professional development courses, and other external trainings.

Optimize benefits

Employee benefits are a crucial component of any compensation package, so optimizing those benefits can increase job satisfaction and keep employees from looking elsewhere.

“Consider how [your] current benefit offerings are supporting [your] employees’ entire well-being — including physical, financial, mental, and social health — and look for potential areas of improvement,” Smith recommended.

But which benefits should businesses offer? In short, it depends on your team members and their needs. Smith encouraged employers to have “frequent, open conversations with their employees” to highlight current offerings and seek insights on what additional benefits may be helpful in the future.

How benefits providers help small business owners provide a better work experience

According to Smith, workers’ expectations of their benefits packages continue to rise — and those who aren’t satisfied may begin looking elsewhere. To combat this, small business owners can partner with benefits providers to develop a comprehensive compensation package, thereby improving overall workplace satisfaction.

“The 2023 EBTS study found 65% of American small business employees are interested in customizable benefits to fit their personal needs,” Smith told CO—. “For employers, offering this flexibility reinforces their DEI commitments to value and support the entire workforce.”

Smith advised small business owners to offer a range of benefits, including traditional employer-paid offerings and supplemental or elective benefits chosen by the employee, to best meet individual needs. She also encouraged small business owners to turn to benefits providers like MetLife to help understand benefits communications, as well as how to communicate those details to employees.

Learn more about how MetLife can help your small business increase employee engagement through better benefits solutions.