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Charlotte CrawfordFebruary 29, 202412 min read

Building employee engagement programs for 2024

avatar Charlotte Crawford

Charlotte is the Senior Content Marketing Manager at ZayZoon and has 5 years of B2B SaaS content marketing experience. Charlotte has won international awards for her research and currently does academic lecturing on her Master's thesis research on Amazon's communications around facial recognition technology, AI and racial bias.

Insights from survey results from 3250 employees across industries for employee engagement and retention

A good employee engagement program is like the attentive care of an experienced gardener. 

Just like plants, employees reach their full performance potential with personalized and attentive engagement initiatives. 

Employee engagement programs & employee financial empowerment programs

We gathered insights from 3250 employees just like yours so you can learn what you need for your garden to reach its full potential. 

We surveyed respondents that use ZayZoon’s financial empowerment platform that includes Earned Wage Access (EWA) and those that do not to determine what role financial empowerment  has in employee engagement.  

  • What is Earned Wage Access (EWA)? EWA gives your employees access to funds they've already earned, but have not yet been paid due to the traditional pay cycle (e.g. bi-weekly or monthly). 

Financial empowerment programs that include Earned Wage Access proved to not just be an add-on or benefit for today’s employees. But rather, an integral component of an employee engagement strategy that directly meets the needs of today’s workforce

What is employee engagement?

Think of employee engagement as the next step of employee satisfaction. It refers to the “involvement and enthusiasm of employees in their work and workplace.” 

Why is employee engagement important?

According to Gartner, companies with higher employee engagement levels experience: 

  • 81% decrease in absenteeism 
  • 18% drop in turnover rates
  • 18% improvement in productivity 
  • 23% improvement in overall profitability 

However, only 31% of employees report they are engaged, enthusiastic and energized by their work. There is a clear need for engagement for organizational success, and we’ll dive into how you can fill this gap. 

Research scope 

We surveyed just under 3250 employees between January - February 2024 who work in the following industries: 

  • Healthcare
  • Hospitality
  • Quick service restaurants
  • Technology
  • Finance
  • Retail
  • Manufacturing
  • Education

2700 respondents are employees who are ZayZoon customers* and 552 respondents do not use ZayZoon. 

*To be clear, ZayZoon “customers” are employees who currently use ZayZoon’s financial empowerment platform. The surveyed employees do not work at or have any other affiliation with ZayZoon. They are employees just like yours, a diverse group who work in various industries across the US. 

Reducing employee financial stress 

Your employees are stressed, and it impacts their engagement at work. Three out of four U.S. workers (75%) are financially stressed.As Forbes stated:

 “As leaders, we must recognize that financial stress is not just a personal problem but a critical business issue that affects productivity and engagement at work. Financially stressed employees are often less motivated and less productive.”

Forbes further reported that “48% of them (employees) have 8.1 hours of lost productivity per employee per week as a result of financial stress.”

Employees who use ZayZoon’s EWA report a 74% improvement in financial stress and 78% increase in motivation to perform at work. 

We wanted to see if this would ring true for those who don’t use ZayZoon.  

We asked employees who don’t use ZayZoon’s Earned Wage Access:

“Would having early access to your wages before payday decrease your financial stress?”

  • 29% selected "Yes"

We also asked...

"Would early access to your wages before payday motivate you to be more productive at work?

  •  22.46% selected "Yes"

We asked employees who use ZayZoon’s Earned Wage Access:

“Did you have more financial stress before using ZayZoon’s Earned Wage Access?”

  • 51% selected "Yes"

Job satisfaction

In order to get to the next level of engagement, employees have to first feel satisfied in their current roles.

Job satisfaction refers to an employee's feelings of fulfillment towards their role, including aspects like work conditions, salary, job security, and the work itself (BambooHR)

We start with satisfaction because a satisfied employee could not be engaged, but an engaged employee is always satisfied.

So we asked respondents: 

"Do you feel satisfied in your current role? Why or why not?"

Employees who use ZayZoon’s Earned Wage Access

  • 86.7% selected "Yes"
  • 13.3% selected "No"

Employees who don’t use ZayZoon’s Earned Wage Access

  • 69.75% selected "Yes"
  • 29.89% ​selected "No"

The amount of employees who use ZayZoon’s EWA who are satisfied at work is 17% higher than those who don’t than those who don’t. Further, the amount of employees who do use ZayZoon’s EWA who are dissatisfied with their roles is 16.59% lower than those who don’t. 

I don’t think that anyone would disagree that engaging 16-17% of your workforce has a significant impact on productivity and achieving organizational goals. 

This does not suggest ZayZoon’s Earned Wage Access is the only reason employees are satisfied.  However, EWA is a critical piece in the puzzle of comprehensive financial wellness tools that addresses the immediate needs of your employees.

EWA provides your employees with a sense of control over their finances, reducing stress. This plays a role in greater job satisfaction as it helps employees feel more secure, focused and valued by their employers. 


Respondents on job satisfaction 

We also asked respondents why they were or were not satisfied with their current roles.

 Selected quotes in this section include sentiments that came up at least five times in survey results. 

Here is what they (both ZayZoon customers and not) had to say: 

Support and employee recognition

  • "The management team is so supportive and helpful it gives me confidence."
  • "My manager and team respects me."
  • "Support from staff and leadership makes a big difference."
  • “My team is extremely supportive and hard working."

Professional growth and learning

  • "I’m continuing to improve my management skills."
  • "I still have a lot to learn in my current role."
  • "The leadership skills I'm gaining will help me go further in my career."
  • “My team is extremely supportive and hard working."
  • "There are opportunities for growth and development and my manager is proactive in supporting that."

Work-life balance

  • "I have flexibility in my hours and I enjoy the work I do."
  • "Flexibility allows me to manage work alongside personal life efficiently."
  • "I feel well supported by management and I have a good work-life balance."

ZayZoon customers: financial empowerment and flexibility

  • "My company provides decent pay, great benefits, flexible out of office requests, remote opportunity and a great team."
  • "If I need money I can use it."
  • "Having access to my money when needed really helps."
  • "I just love having access to my money all the time."

What drives engagement?

We asked respondents: 

“What factors positively contribute to your engagement and satisfaction at work?”

The top four employee engagement initiatives for positive contribution to increase employee engagement and employee satisfaction selected by all 3250 employees: 

  1. Work-life balance: 27.52% (756 respondent)
  2. Salary & wage: 25.72% (707 respondents)

  3. Career development opportunities: 21.33% (586 respondents)
  4. Workplace culture: 17.47% (480 respondents)

So, what do the top four motivators have in common? Employee empowerment.

What is employee empowerment?  

Focuses on autonomy, active participation for employees, and giving employees more control over how they complete their day-to-day responsibilities. This leads to a key factor in your employee’s success: ownership. 

Employee empowerment also puts the focus on the individual employee experience. This takes into account what each employee values. And, acknowledges how life stage, personal circumstances, and even personality type make different factors engaging for different people. 

Let’s dive a bit deeper into our top factors for employee engagement and satisfaction. 

Work-life balance

When employees feel that their well-being is cared for, valued and respected at work they are more likely to reciprocate that respect by going above and beyond in their work

Work-life balance is also a direct path to increased productivity on your team as it decreases employee stress.

Action items

  1. Consider introducing policies that support work-life balance, such as flexible work (see #4), remote work options, or compressed workweeks.
  2. Let your employees know you value their feedback, and will actually apply it. Build a SOP (standard operating procedure) to regularly gather employee feedback across teams (at least monthly) to gauge employee well-being (in addition to regular employee engagement surveys).
  3. Consistently adjust policies and manager training based on collected insights and feedback.
  4. Ensure team members know they can take time during their work day to complete personal commitments like medical appointments, childcare and mental health care. 

Salary & wage

Compensation directly impacts an employee's sense of value and worth at work— this then directly impacts their motivation and productivity at work. 

Adequate salary and wage also reduces stress. And, allows employees to focus on their work rather than financial concerns. Reduced financial stress can have a big impact on your team’s output as currently: 

  • 84% of employees spend time thinking or worrying about finances at work (Visa, 2023).

Action items

  1. Regularly conduct market salary research to ensure your employee’s compensation packages are at least fair and at best competitive. 
  2. Implement performance-related bonuses or profit-sharing to make sure your employees understand the direct line between their own individual performance and organizational goals. 
  3. Consider a financial wellness and empowerment program with Earned Wage Access so employees can utilize their full wage when unexpected expenses come up. 


Career development opportunities

Feeling appreciated and recognized for hard work leads to employee engagement as it adds to an employee’s feeling of purpose at work. As Gallup states:

“They (employees) want to be known for what makes them unique.”

Employees want to be noticed and rewarded for their contributions. 

Action items 

  1. Your employees hold the answers. Regularly check in with them to get feedback on what development opportunities they want and what gaps they have. 
  2. Invest in development programs that address those gaps. Regularly check in to determine growth and improvement in these areas.
  3. When considering which employee gets that manager promotion. Remember high performers don’t always = great managers. Your next great manager may not always be your highest performer.


Workplace culture

Company culture improves employee engagement because of creating an environment where employees feel valued, supported, and motivated. 

 A good workplace culture further encapsulates many of the other top engagement factors like work-life balance, recognition, and being properly compensated for your work. 

Action items 

  1. Encourage flexibility with a results-oriented work environment rather than a strictly time-bound one. Focus on outcomes and project completion.
  2. Develop wellness programs that address the immediate needs of your employees. This includes both their mental and financial health. 
  3. Celebrate employees for productivity, impact and excellence in their work, rather than time spent at work or work tasks. 
  4. Establish channels for regular feedback where employees feel comfortable sharing their ideas, feedback, and concerns. 
  5. Encourage two-way communication with employees, beyond a pulse survey, exit interviews or even a stay interview

By focusing on these four driving factors of employee engagement you give your employees a sense of purpose and sense of belonging. This will create a culture that not only increases engagement but also retention.

Measuring engagement

Measuring engagement can be challenging as it can feel subjective. What engages one employee may not engage another. This is why Gallup argues it's important to look at the feelings behind engagement to measure it. 

Gallup states that engaged employees will feel like statements like the following are true:

  • “At work, my opinions seem to count.”
  • “At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.”
  • “In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.”

For this report, we asked respondents to answer “true” or “false” to these statements to determine if they were engaged at work, and why.

We then compared how ZayZoon customers answered these questions vs. employees who don’t use ZayZoon. 

Some results were similar. For example: 

“At work, my opinions seem to count.”

Employees who do use ZayZoon’s Earned Wage Access:

  • 76.1% selected "True"
  • 23.9% selected "False"

Employees who don’t use ZayZoon’s Earned Wage Access:

  • 77.54% selected "True"
  • 21.92% ​selected "False"

However, there were some differences in results in some key areas. 

“At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.”

Employees who do use ZayZoon’s Earned Wage Access

  • 88.6% selected "True"
  • 11.4% selected "False"

Employees who don’t use ZayZoon’s Earned Wage Access

  • 77.54% selected "True"
  • 21.74% ​selected "False"

The amount of employees who use ZayZoon who feel like they have the opportunity to do their best everyday is more than 10% higher. 

These results suggest that reduced financial stress can help employees have more room to bring their best to work everyday. 

“In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.”

Employees who do use ZayZoon’s Earned Wage Acces

  • 63.8% selected "True"
  • 36.2% selected "False"

Employees who don’t use ZayZoon’s Earned Wage Access

  • 53.80% selected "True"
  • 46.01% selected "False"

It is not just employees who experience financial stress in today’s economy, but also managers and leaders. This data suggests, leaders who have access to Earned Wage Access can have more mental room and capacity to give their team the recognition they deserve. 

Mental health and employee engagement 

It is no secret that employee wellbeing and mental health play a huge role in employee engagement. High levels of stress and poor mental health can lead to increased turnover. 

When employees leave, this impacts team morale and places additional stress on remaining team members. This can lead to further disengagement.

So, we asked respondents: 

“Have you experienced any mental health challenges in the workplace in the past year?”

Employees who do use ZayZoon’s Earned Wage Access 

  • 69.9% selected "No"
  • 30.1%  selected "Yes"

Employees who don’t  use ZayZoon’s Earned Wage Access

  • 51.63% selected "No"
  • 48.01% selected "Yes"

A whopping 18.27% more of respondents who don’t have access to ZayZoon’s Earned Wage Access experienced mental health issues this year. 

Of course, don’t think that Earned Wage Access is a silver magic bullet that will magically fix employee mental health challenges. 

However, as Harvard Business Review reported, employee financial stress in 2024 is at its highest since the recession.

Tools like ZayZoon’s EWA can make a real difference in how employees can handle financial stress and stay engaged at work. 

ZayZoon further gives your employees access to tools like financial educational resources, budgeting tools, debt management resources, and retirement planning to give employees a sense of control over their financial health. 

ZayZoon & employee engagement for SMBs

The data here tells a compelling story about the relationship between financial empowerment and enhanced employee engagement. Businesses are catching up the fact that they can engage their employees and spark high performance with financial empowerment tools like Earned Wage Access. 

If you simply want to talk to a real human being to learn more about how to empower your employees, financial wellness programs and Earned Wage Access or how ZayZoon can help improve your employee financial stress feel free to get in touch. We’re always happy to talk. 


Charlotte Crawford

Charlotte is the Senior Content Marketing Manager at ZayZoon and has 5 years of B2B SaaS content marketing experience. Charlotte has won international awards for her research and currently does academic lecturing on her Master's thesis research on Amazon's communications around facial recognition technology, AI and racial bias.