The national employee engagement rate currently hovers around 30 percent. This low engagement rate is detrimental to U.S. employers. In fact, according to a Dale Carnegie Training study, the Bureau of National Affairs reported that $11 billion is lost annually due to employee turnover.

Why is this the case? And how can companies increase employee engagement? I recently spoke with six executives about the role company culture plays in employee engagement. We discussed specific strategies each leader uses to engage their team. Here is what they had to say:

Prioritize Self-Actualization

Abraham Maslow, one of the most famous psychologists, is known for his hierarchy of needs--a tiered pyramid topped with self-actualization. Self-actualization occurs when a person is able to reach their full potential. According to Dave Weisbeck, Chief Strategy Officer of Visier, a workforce analytics provider, self-actualization is central to employee engagement.

"We know that employees who feel part of a team and have a sense of purpose are more engaged," says Weisbeck. "To be truly engaged we have to make self-fulfillment possible. We need to give our employees the ability to grow." A 2017 Deloitte study confirms that companies need to provide learning opportunities that allow employees to build skills quickly, easily, and on their own terms.

Integrate Play

Many leaders avoid being playful because they believe it will diminish their credibility. Anytime Fitness CEO and Co-founder, Chuck Runyon, disagrees. In fact, his motto demonstrates this belief: "Let's take work seriously, but not ourselves." Anytime Fitness participates in mud runs, local 5ks, and holiday parties. And get this: hundreds of people have gotten tattoos of the Anytime Fitness logo (i.e. the running man). The company not only has a tattoo artist working with them, but they reimburse these tattoos.

Happy employees are 12% more productive than unhappy employees. It is important to incorporate playful elements into the culture of a company. "If you think of the job search like dating, most people look for someone with a sense of humor. You wouldn't want to work for a company that lacks a sense of humor," says Runyon.

Understand and Account for Diverse Learning Styles

People have different learning styles--visual learners benefit from images, while verbal learners prefer using words. Understanding and accounting for these preferences can aid in employee engagement. Mika Kuikka, Co-founder of a Finnish company, Arcusys, and President of Arcusys US, Arcusys, believes that companies must understand and engage the individual learning habits of their employees.

"We can personalize the employee onboarding," says Kuikka. "If an employee prefers watching videos to learn, we integrate that into our digital workplace initiative. If our analytics reveal that employees learn more effectively through social learning, we incorporate that it into our company culture."

Innovate and Recognize Employee Contributions

Jim Ryan, CEO of Flexera, worked his way up through the company over the past 19 years. Since becoming the company's CEO two years ago, Ryan has implemented big changes. Two of these changes include fostering innovation and celebrating failure. "We created an innovation contest a few years ago and awarded two winning teams $25,000 each. The Flexera team was excited to present their ideas--we had 49 entries," says Ryan.

Flexera not only fosters innovation, the company recognizes employee contributions. Publicly valuing employee ideas and expressing sincere appreciation is an effective way to increase employee engagement. In fact, according to a study conducted by Oracle, employees believe "recognizing [employee] achievements" should be the biggest priority for management.
Cultivate Coworker Friendships

FunCorp, the largest "fun dealer" in the world, believes friendships between colleagues are key to a healthy workplace. A Gallup study found that close work friendships are an important part of company culture. Shawn D. Madden, CEO of FunCorp says his company helps other companies foster relationships among their employees. FunCorp specializes in helping other companies with friend building."We help break down the silos in an organization.. A deck of cards and a mini golf hole can shift the culture of company."

Cultivating friendly relationships in the workplace is a key component of employee engagement. FunCorp believes the social health of a company may impact the bottom line as much as physical health. "Happy hours don't do enough to change the culture of an office," says Madden. "On the other hand, games minimize the cliquey-ness of company events and the social barrier that often results from vertical relationships."

Recognize the Multigenerational Workforce

A report from Robert Half and Happiness Works revealed that happy workers are more engaged, motivated, and productive employees. When I spoke with Senior Executive Director at Robert Half, Paul McDonald, he posed the question: "How do you operationalize culture?" Robert Half understands the challenges of a multigenerational workforce.

"Today's employees want to know where they stand," says McDonald, "A decade ago, this transparency was perceived as a chore, but now it is a necessity," says McDonald. Relying on generational stereotypes to understand employees is dangerous. Managers need to overcome unconscious bias as it relates to generational differences. To achieve this, it can be helpful to transition from an annual review structure to a system of real-time feedback. Companies like Accenture have already overhauled performance reviews, citing the fluidity of performance and the desire for more timely feedback.

How Company Culture Influences Employee Engagement

Employee turnover is costly to companies. From overworked staff to lost knowledge, interviewing costs to training expenses, losing employees is expensive.

Luckily, organizations can minimize employee turnover by focusing on company culture and increasing employee engagement: make self-actualization possible, integrate play, understand and account for diverse learning styles, innovate and celebrate failure, cultivate coworker friendships, and recognize the varying needs of different generations.

Improving the employee experience is critical for companies that operate in a competitive global economy. Providing an engaging experience will help companies attract and retain the best employees.