Five Employee Engagement Barriers and How to Overcome Them

After decades of debate about the merits of employee engagement, even the most critical executives admit that employee engagement is a tremendous asset to an organization — perhaps even a strategic advantage.

Five barriers to employee engagement

Top Workplaces has studied organizations with highly-engaged cultures for well over a decade. Through that research, we’ve learned the common stumbling blocks and distilled the best practices used to overcome these challenges:

1. No alignment or direction 

While senior leaders may agree that workplace culture and employee engagement are valuable, many need help tying it directly to the business goals or knowing how to begin employee engagement initiatives.

The first challenge is the mindset and the priority setting at the senior team level. Everybody is busy, so moving on to more tangible issues is sometimes easier than sustaining a leadership focus on engagement.

2. Lack of stakeholder support

Even when the senior executives are aligned and committed to making culture part of their strategy for driving the bottom line, getting support from other stakeholders — especially investors — can be a hard sell.

While boards of directors are close to the business and may be more likely to appreciate the need to build an engaged workforce, finding the right balance between investing and short-term returns can be challenging. Executive teams think twice before taking actions that might shake investor confidence.

3. Saturated communication channels

Improving engagement requires high levels of communication. And in our information-saturated world, cutting through the noise is difficult. Trying to get employees’ attention can be challenging, and soliciting input creates vast amounts of feedback that can overwhelm the engagement team.

4. Counterintuitive leadership norms

Leaders must proactively engage employees on individual and collective levels, which requires a sustained commitment. Many of these behaviors may challenge conventional leadership training and the instinctual tendencies executives develop while advancing in the organizational hierarchy.

5. Including everyone in the process

While organizational leaders are aligned, bringing along managers and employees takes tremendous effort. Many look to formal training, investing large budgets and hundreds of people-hours into instructor-led classes. Yet this approach is less important than gaining managers’ commitment to adopt a mind shift. Managers will only benefit from formal training if they are committed to investing time in their people.

Five ways to eliminate employee engagement barriers

1. Align your senior team

It takes effort to align leadership around a unified strategy. The executive team checklist should include the following:

  • Do senior leaders see eye-to-eye on employee engagement? 
  • What behaviors should team members foster?
  • What are the current culture strengths and weaknesses?
  • Are company values being lived to their fullest? 
  • How will you gather input and track progress? 

An aligned senior team with a clear strategy is ready for the next step. Start with a reliable employee engagement survey to measure the workplace experience, gain valuable insights, and create an action plan. Data-driven people decisions are critical to improving workplace culture.

Learn More: How to Improve Company Culture

2. Connect employee engagement to results

Once senior leaders are committed to employee engagement, articulate this to stakeholders in a way that is consistent with your mission and values. Board members and investors should see the logic of this effort, as they would for any major investment of time and resources.

Build your case around the connections between higher engagement and company goals. Focus on the metrics closest to your strategy. These may include:

Building on data and results, create a narrative explaining why focusing on employee engagement is a win-win. The organization benefits from a more committed and energized workforce, and employees benefit from purposeful, enjoyable work.

Learn More: 15 Ways to Improve Employee Engagement

3. Establish two-way communication 

Two-way communication plays a pivotal role in successful employee engagement strategies. It facilitates trust, collaboration, and feedback, creating a culture of open dialogue and empowerment. Key benefits of prioritizing two-way communication include:

  • Fostering a sense of value and recognition among employees.
  • Gaining valuable insights into employee needs, concerns, and aspirations.
  • Aligning organizational goals with employee expectations.
  • Promoting collaboration and teamwork.
  • Enhancing employee morale, productivity, and satisfaction.

By embracing and nurturing two-way communication channels, organizations can establish an environment conducive to meaningful employee engagement and achieve mutual growth and success.

4. Make employee engagement a habit 

Companies can create a positive and inclusive work culture that fosters motivation, loyalty, and productivity by consistently prioritizing and investing in employee engagement efforts. To make employee engagement a habit, organizations should:

  • Regularly communicate the importance of employee engagement to all levels of the organization.
  • Provide ongoing opportunities for feedback, recognition, and professional growth.
  • Foster a supportive and inclusive work environment that values diversity and encourages collaboration.
  • Empower employees by involving them in decision-making processes.
  • Continuously evaluate and adjust engagement strategies based on feedback and evolving needs.

By ingraining employee engagement as a habitual practice, companies can nurture a motivated and committed workforce, leading to improved performance, employee satisfaction, and overall organizational success.

5. Involve managers in the employee engagement strategy

While senior leadership team buy-in is critical to an employee engagement strategy, manager support is vital too. They are in a position to bring the skills and focus of team members into alignment with the organization’s goals. And because they hold a privileged position working directly with team members, they typically hold higher trust than distant executives. This requires a few key factors: 

  • How managers view employee engagement in achieving business outcomes.
  • How they view their role and accountabilities in fueling engagement.
  • Recognizing common leadership pitfalls that can undermine efforts.
  • A willingness to modify their behaviors to benefit teams and the organization.

Start by measuring employee engagement

Employee engagement is a proven competitive differentiator, yet getting there remains a challenge for many organizations. Take the first step and commit to measuring employee engagement levels at your workplace. 

Learn More: 10 Companies With Great Work Cultures


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