5 Barriers to Employee Engagement – and 5 Fixes

Employee engagement is a key measure, and a hallmark of Top Workplaces. It’s essential for the long-term health of an organization to have employees that are committed, motivated and on board with the mission. Top Workplace research shows common barriers to getting there as well as common fixes.


First, here is a look at what prevents employers from developing and nurturing an engaged workforce.

  • No alignment or direction: While senior leaders may agree that workplace culture and employee engagement are valuable, many struggle to understand how it impacts business goals or how to begin employee engagement initiatives. The first challenge is setting it as a priority at the senior team level. Moving on to more tangible and tactical issues is sometimes easier than sustaining a leadership focus on engagement.
  • Lack of stakeholder support: Even when senior leaders are aligned and committed to a focus on workplace culture, getting support from other stakeholders — especially owners and investors — can be a hard sell. Finding a balance between investing and short-term returns can be challenging.
  • Saturated communication channels: Improving engagement requires high levels of communication. That is not always easy. Getting the attention of employees can be challenging, and soliciting input creates vast amounts of feedback that can overwhelm the engagement team.
  • Counterintuitive leadership norms: Leaders must proactively engage employees on individual and group levels. That requires a sustained commitment. Many of these behaviors may challenge conventional leadership training and old habits executives have about how organizations work.
  • Including everyone in the process: Even if 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. This approach is less important than gaining managers’ commitment to adopt a mind shift. Managers will benefit from formal training only if they are committed to the goals and in investing time in their people.

So, how do you fix those challenges? Here are five suggestions.

  1. Align your senior team: It takes effort to align leadership around a unified strategy. Leaders need to see eye-to-eye on employee engagement. They need to understand current culture strengths and weaknesses. They need to know how to gather input and track progress.
  2. Connect employee engagement to results: Once senior leaders are committed to employee engagement, articulate this to stakeholders. Build your case around the connections between higher engagement and company goals. Show how the organization benefits from a more committed and energized workforce, and employees benefit from purposeful, enjoyable work.
  3. Establish two-way communication: Two-way communication facilitates trust, collaboration, and feedback, creating a culture of open dialogue and empowerment. It’s the best way for leaders to gain valuable insights into employee needs, concerns, and aspirations. It aligns organizational goals with employee expectations. It promotes teamwork, and it enhances employee morale, productivity, and satisfaction.
  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. This requires regular communication and feedback. It also requires fostering a supportive and inclusive work environment that values diversity and encourages collaboration. By making employee engagement a habit, companies can nurture a motivated and committed workforce.
  5. Involve managers in the employee engagement strategy: Managers can 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 are in positions of trust. It’s important that managers recognize the impact of employee engagement on business outcomes.

Bob Helbig is media partnerships director at Energage, a Philadelphia-based employee survey firm. Energage is The Washington Post’s survey partner for Top Workplaces.

The trusted source for DC's Employers

Sign up and post a job now

Post a job today

Back to listing

The Washington Post Jobs Newsletter

Subscribe to the latest news about DC's jobs market