5 Barriers to Employee Engagement (And How to Overcome Them)

Stuart Sinclair - June 2, 2021

When it comes to striving for success in your business, one crucial area to get right is employee engagement. Research tells us that harnessing and implementing a solid employee engagement strategy offers significant benefits for all parties. Workers are more motivated and driven to achieve their working goals, and businesses reap the benefits of this enthusiasm through boosted performance and better results.

The Covid-19 crisis has thrown many businesses across the world into chaos. Remote working has become the standard practice, and this looks set to continue long after the final restrictions have been lifted. Not only does this situation pose massive logistical issues, but it also has a significant detrimental impact on overall employee engagement. A Bloomberg report revealed that 45% of workers consider themselves ‘burned out’, feeling overworked, stressed and keen to get back into the office. Keeping remote workers engaged can be a challenge in a normal situation, and the issue is intensified by the long-term confusion and uncertainty we are all facing.

In this blog, we explore the five key barriers to employee engagement that have been exacerbated by the pandemic. We discuss how we can overcome these challenges to improve employee engagement and put your business back on track.

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Two types of employee engagement

Before we consider problems with employee engagement, it’s worth making the distinction between the types of engagement. Employee engagement theory suggests there are two main aspects involved in employee engagement: work engagement and organisational engagement.

1. Work engagement

Work engagement explores the relationship of the individual employee to his or her own role - are they motivated, do they see their work as adding value, do they consider themselves to be an essential element of the overall working hierarchy, and so on. If an individual does not assign a value to the role they are performing on a daily basis, the chances are high that they are not feeling engaged at work.

Employers can take a number of steps to manage work engagement, such as offering flexibility in working hours, ensuring a transparent, accessible reward system, and creating a culture of inclusivity, where every role’s value is acknowledged recognised. Here again, however, we hit a barrier when it comes to remote and homeworkers. The chances are that their remote position offers them the flexibility they need, and they may find themselves cut off from internal rewards, such as office treats or verbal praise delivered to the whole organisation.

2. Organisational engagement

On the other hand, organisational engagement focuses on “the emotional commitment the employee has to the organisation and its goals.” Essentially, this ensures that every member of the company, from the office cleaner to the CEO, is singing from the same hymn sheet. Everyone needs to be equally committed to the broader goals, values and ethos of the organisation. They need to see it as something larger than their individual selves.

Implementing employee engagement initiatives to increase and emphasise the importance of internal communication is often popular, along with a focus on employee advocacy and employee voice. While these are important, they do not always consider the additional challenges faced by remote and home workers; there are specific barriers that need to be recognised and addressed if you are seeking to increase employee engagement across every area of your business.

30 ideas to engage your employees and transform your business.

Five barriers to employee engagement

So what are the employee engagement challenges faced by businesses in today’s uncertain world? We take a look at the five barriers that might be preventing your employees from being actively engaged in their roles, both on a work and organisational level.

Barrier #1 Lack of Information

When employees are working away from the main hub of central office, there is a danger that they can fall out of the loop on communications. This information deficit has a direct impact on employee engagement and motivation. It’s not just news and updates they’ll be missing out on either. Many businesses will try to boost engagement by curating a company ethos or culture and ensuring that this is embedded in communications, training, branding, and marketing.

This is an essential element of organisational engagement, but you need to make sure that any employee engagement ideas also work for those who spend most of their time off-site. It is easy for these workers to feel isolated and out of the loop, and regular, relevant communication is essential in negating this. Research from Trade Press Services reveals that 85% of employees say they’re most motivated when management offers regular updates on company news and insights.

Scheduling regular updates are the key to overcoming employee engagement problems. According to research by Harvard Business Review, when it comes to the pandemic, more than 90% of employees said they wanted at least weekly communication from their company; 29% said they prefer daily communication. An employee engagement app will set you on the right path to regular, scheduled messaging. In-built modules make it easy to plan and deliver a wide range of communications, ensuring no one falls out of the loop.



Barrier #2 Lack of Alignment

One of the major issues in building and retaining employee engagement with remote workers comes from the inevitable isolation that their job involves. When you are looking at creating a sense of belonging, it is all too easy for business leaders to focus primarily on what is right in front of them; the employees and workers they see every day.

Missing out on work culture is a genuine concern. Employees need to understand how and why their efforts are relevant to the organisation as a whole. An alignment with company goals is one of the critical drivers of employee engagement. Without it, there is a particular risk for remote workers that they feel they are working in isolation rather than being part of a bigger drive for success.

Your goal should be to create a community that exists outside of the office walls. Make sure everyone has a chance to get their thoughts and ideas heard. Aim to build a team spirit that isn’t dependent on daily physical interaction. Employee engagement software will help you to launch this community concept. It offers a platform for employees to meet socially, share their ideas, and exchange information. It won’t matter whether they’re working from home or based in the office – everyone has a chance to be heard.

Barrier #3 Lack of Recognition

Feeling underappreciated is one of the key employee engagement issues you need to consider with a remote employee base. You need to ensure that your reward system is a good fit for all workers. An early Friday finish and company drinks will be hugely appealing to your in-house team but can leave remote workers feeling left out and isolated. This can affect employee engagement and retention in a big way. Work hard to ensure that any reward system offers visible, tangible benefits for every member of the team, no matter where they are.

In addition to a transparent reward system, it is also important to make regular recognition an everyday part of your working culture. With in-house workers, this can be easily achieved with verbal praise, perhaps a comment in the hallway, a daily briefing to the workers, or acknowledgement of a job well done at the time.

With remote workers, however, a little more effort needs to be applied. Written recognition can be helpful here, perhaps a weekly email rounding up staff achievements or a formal program such as ‘Employee of the Month.’ This means that those off-site are still a part of the team, and their achievements and accomplishments are actively acknowledged and recognised.

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Barrier #4 Lack of Balance

A poor work-life balance is a precursor to poor engagement levels. While it has always been a challenge to ensure employees manage their working life in a healthy manner, it is even more of an issue for remote workers. If you can help your home workers navigate these employee engagement conceptual issues, you’ll be going a long way towards increasing motivation and productivity levels.

Remote working is not proving conducive to a healthy work-life balance. According to Buffer, 22% of remote employees say that they struggle to unplug after work. And research from Forbes suggests that a full week of virtual meetings leaves 38% of employees feeling exhausted while 30% felt stressed.

Consider allowing more flexibility in terms of where and when the work is completed. Allowing for some personal freedom is one of the essential employee engagement best practices. You could offer the option of compressed hours, a flexible schedule or some breathing space in clocking on and off for the day. It’s a great way to build trust and show you care.

Barrier #5 Lack of Direction

The impact of leadership on employee engagement is well documented, and this is a situation where you really need to lead from the front. It’s becoming clear that strong, effective leadership is even more crucial for remote workers. A report from Perceptyx suggests that only 42% of employees strongly agree that leadership is effectively leading their organisation through the crisis. This means the majority don’t feel that they have a capable leader at the helm. This lack of confidence will act as a significant barrier to employee engagement.

Your interaction and communication with remote workers will set the bar for the rest of your employees, and so you need to model active collaboration across the company. This may include making the most of technology such as Zoom or Teams to allow real-life collaboration in meetings and allow employers to work on projects together regardless of where they are working.

In addition to offering plenty of chances for staff to make their voices heard, the leadership team must be able to communicate effectively with staff using a recognised, central system, such as an employee app. Effective two-way communication is essential if you want your employees to remain engaged and alert. Remember, silence can be interpreted in several ways - not all of them good. So make sure that every employee’s voice is heard, acknowledged and recognised, no matter where in the world they are

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