10th November, 2021.

The 15 most common problems with employee engagement and how to fix them

Employee engagement is a huge job. Not only do you need to engage your employees, but you also need to keep abreast of any changes and manage your internal processes.

With so many plates to spin it is no surprise that only 22% of companies know what’s driving employee disengagement.

But when employee engagement has been proven to reduce staff turnover rates, improve productivity and increase profits it is essential that you iron out any issues quickly. If you needed any further motivation, a study by Bain found that an employee who feels engaged and inspired is 125% more productive than an employee who is just ‘satisfied.

With so many gains available when employee engagement rates increase let’s explore what prevents improvements in employee engagement and the solutions for overcoming those problems. When considering the most common problems, they can be categorised into three groups:

1) Your employees

Your employees work differently and think differently. With such an array of different minds, it can be very difficult to engage with everybody. But for those who are less engaged, there are a number of reasons that directly impact how they feel that could be holding them back.

2) Your business

The nature of your business and the managerial team leading the business all impact your employee engagement efforts. It is here that there will be numerous variables, such as a managerial change or a business acquisition, that could rock your perfectly aligned employee engagement boat at any time.

3) Your way of working

How you deliver your employee engagement strategy is often overshadowed by the two points above. But your processes and tools are just as important to the smooth running of your employee engagement strategy than the other two points.

This blog explores the five most common employee engagement problems for each category and how to fix them.

Your employees

Your employees are the very reason that you have an employee engagement strategy. They are the driving force of your organisation but inevitably there will always be stumbling blocks. Here are the most common challenges and how to overcome them.

1) A lack of recognition or development opportunities

If an employee doesn’t feel appreciated, they will rapidly become disengaged. Everyone needs to feel like they are contributing to the overall success of a company and 37% of employees state recognition as the most important motivator.

Recognition will come in various forms ranging from a simple “thank you” to a bonus scheme or benefits package. While you may already have some of these in place, are you consistent with your recognition?

Closely linked to recognition is the opportunity for progression. Career development is the number one reason why employees leave their job. If they cannot see an avenue for growth, whether that is a different job or training to improve their skills, they will become unmotivated and disengaged.

The solution: Your resolution to this problem will depend upon the extent of your existing approach. If you already have recognition and training & development programmes in place you may need to focus more on communication. If you do not yet have anything official, your first step will be to create recognition and development strategies. The list below will act as a checklist to ensure you have everything in place to give your employees the recognition and progression they need to feel engaged.

  • A clear recognition policy – all line managers need to know when recognition is warranted because any inconsistencies will cause frustration. Linking recognition with company values could be a good way of ensuring this consistency.
  • A culture of acknowledgement – a simple “thank you” goes a long way. With the right company culture, employees and line managers will naturally show their appreciation for a colleague who has helped them or gone above and beyond.
  • A training & development programme – if you don’t have a formal programme in place this should be your first port of call. A clear process for employees and line managers will be essential to support the growth of your employees.
  • Regular one-to-ones and annual reviews – it is important to set time aside for each employee to discuss their work. A study by Forbes found that 43% of highly engaged employees receive feedback at least once a week. A structured meeting to be able to discuss performance and to raise concerns or desires is key to encouraging employees to have these conversations.
  • Ensure awareness – some employees may simply not know about your recognition programmes and training and development schemes. Regular communication about what is available will act as a constant reminder of what employees have available to them.

2) Day-to-day frustrations

A standalone frustration is barely given a thought but a frustration experienced day-in-day-out soon becomes a barrier to employee engagement.

This could be a laborious process, a dirty work environment or a disrespectful colleague. No matter how severe the frustration, if nothing is done about it, in time, it will cause disengagement.

The solution: The first step is to know about the frustrations. Employees must have an outlet; a means in which they can share their frustrations. Line managers should always make themselves available but some employees may not feel comfortable discussing their frustration with their direct report. Suggestion boxes, employee surveys and staff forums are all good alternatives to give employees additional channels to raise their frustrations.

Once you know the frustrations it will be important to take action. If those frustrations are likely to have impacted others in the organisation communicate the solution to them too.

There may be some instances where a resolution cannot be found. If that is the case communication is more important than ever. The moment employees think their employer isn’t listening is the moment you start to see a decline in employee engagement.

3) A lack of collaboration

If your employees lack interaction with colleagues this not only impacts how well they can do their job, it may also prevent innovation.

The more you can connect your employees the more they will take accountability, the more they will learn and the more they will achieve.

Ultimately, a collaborative way of working drives empowerment. An empowered workforce will feel able to make their own decisions, contribute more and achieve more. All of which breeds satisfaction and, in turn, employee engagement.

The solution: No matter how your employees work, it is essential that you find ways for them to collaborate. Whether that is an employee directory which people can search to find a colleague to help them, regular social events to encourage interactions or a central location to find forms and documents.

If you don’t have the processes in place to connect people, you may want to explore a software option to help you. Many employee engagement platforms include employee directories and document libraries to bring all your information and people together. You also have the added bonus of being able to send your internal communications and employee surveys through the same platform which will help you consolidate the number of systems you use.

4) Poor direction

The leadership experienced by your employees is a major influence on their engagement. If they do not have a clear direction, they will lose faith in their leadership and the business as a whole.

Employees need to know what is expected of them and those expectations need to be realistic, clear, and concise. They need to witness their manager displaying the same behaviours that are expected of them and they need confidence that their manager makes the right decisions.

Employees also require their managers to be consistent. Any fluctuations in their interactions will cause distrust.

The solution: Ultimately each of your managers should successfully carry out these duties:

  • Maintain the smooth running of their business function
  • Communicate transparently and effectively
  • Translate business goals into functional individual goals
  • Plan set goals and report on progress
  • Manage team projects and finances
  • Resolve problems and issues
  • Support employees on their growth aspirations
  • Ensure a safe and secure working environment for their staff

If you recognise gaps in any of your managerial team’s abilities these need to be addressed through training. This could be peer-to-peer training or through an external provider.

Even if your managers tick all these bullet points it may be worth exploring further training to maximise the way your managers interact with employees. The one thing that sets a good manager apart from an excellent manager is their ability to truly understand an employee. The exemplary managers identify what makes someone tick and what qualities they have and then convert this understanding into a way to harness their way of thinking and unique skills. This individualised approach harnesses what each person has to offer and uses it to drive business performance.

While this is a difficult skill to learn, if you are in the position to work with managers to develop the skill, you are likely to see a significant increase in employee engagement.

5) Not being heard

As much as employees want to hear relevant information relating to them, their jobs, and the business, they also want to be heard. Generally speaking, organisations have become very good at communicating out but often overlook how to effectively receive information.

One route often taken is employee surveys. But many confuse employee surveys with conversations. While they do a brilliant job of gathering opinions, the feedback received only relates to the questions asked and they don’t enable employees to discuss the topic. They also only represent a snapshot in time.

Gathering feedback in this way is now very alien to us. Societally we live in a world of immediacy in which we rarely have to wait. Therefore, within the workplace, if an employee has to wait to share their opinion it is likely to cause frustration and disengagement.

The solution: Give your employees a consistent voice. Find ways in which employees can share their ideas, opinions, and concerns.

Tools for employee engagement such as an employee communications platform often enable employees to like and comment on the internal communications that are shared. This constant opportunity to provide feedback means that thoughts are captured in the moment. Employees won’t forget to mention an idea or brew on a frustration.

While employee surveys are not the sole answer to two-way communications, they do still play a part. They enable you to drill deeper into specific topics and when used alongside other methods for gathering feedback, you will have a much more thorough and fluid two-way communication process.

The fundamental rule to remember with all feedback that you gather is to listen and respond. Employees will be buoyed by the opportunity to share their feedback but if they feel that information is falling on deaf ears they will disengage.

Your business

Your business is the reason employees took the job in the first place. Whether it was the role itself, the culture, the business proposition, or the stage of growth; something about the business will have attracted that individual to pursue their career with your organisation. But the business and the way it is run is often the cause of a lot of employee dissatisfaction. Here are five problems that frequently hamper employee engagement:

1) Not having leadership buy-in

Your employee engagement strategy will only be successful if your leadership team believe in it. Our ‘State of UK Employee Engagement’ survey found that 17% of UK businesses state a lack of leadership buy-in as their greatest challenge when undertaking employee communications and engagement.

If your leadership team disagree on the route your strategy is taking or the effectiveness of employee engagement your success will be hampered.

The solution: If you are aware of sceptics within your organisation you may want to create (or reshare) your business case for employee engagement. Depending on the level of scepticism it may also be beneficial to get all your leaders together to discuss your strategy.

Until you have a unified leadership team who agree with your approach and live and breath your strategy, you will not be able to maximise engagement. It is worth persevering until you reach this point.

2) A non-inclusive strategy

A business is only successful because of its people. That includes everyone from a caretaker to the chief executive. Every individual needs to be considered when executing an employee engagement strategy. The famous John F Kennedy interaction with the NASA janitor is a perfect case in point. When asked what he did for NASA the janitor responded with “I’m helping put a man on the moon”.

This is an organisation that had very effectively communicated with the janitor. He knew his purpose and how he was contributing to the business goals.

For many businesses, while they have plans to include everyone, the logistics often get in the way. Depending on their job role some employees can be “hard to reach” and subsequently get forgotten about or receive information secondhand.

The solution: First of all ensure you have an inclusive employee engagement plan. Do you have communications that accommodate everyone? Will those communications resonate with everyone and help them understand how they contribute to the wider business goals?

The next step is to look at your processes for communicating? Do you reach all employees effectively? The word ‘effectively’ is key here. Does everyone receive information in a timely manner? Are you confident that messages aren’t lost in translation? So often the hard-to-reach employees, such as those on the frontline, receive information through a printed email put on a noticeboard or via a team briefing. These methods of communication do not guarantee a message has been received as you intended it.

Thankfully technology is now able to plug this gap, breaking down the barriers that have historically been in place. With an employee engagement platform, you can send communications directly to every single employee through the use of mobile apps. Where or when they work no longer needs to interfere with what information they receive and when they hear it.

3) A corporate culture that fights against your employee engagement strategy

The culture of a business can severely hamper employee engagement. Is there an expectation for employees to work beyond their contracted hours? Do some line managers struggle to instil open and honest communication channels? Is a lack of punctuality common?

The definition of company culture is the shared beliefs and behaviours that guide the actions of all team members. If your organisation has a dysfunctional culture that doesn’t emulate positive traits it will impact the levels of engagement you can achieve. Something as simple as not respecting an employee’s time and regularly turning up to meetings late will have an impact on that individual’s engagement.

The solution: Improving your company culture is a big task, but if you recognise downfalls in your culture you must tackle it if you want to see an increase in employee engagement. You need to create an environment of trust, alignment, collaboration and resilience.

Your starting point will need to be your leaders. You will need to have an open and honest conversation with them about your organisation’s culture. They will need to support you in understanding what is and isn’t working culturally before you can embark on remodelling your culture.

When you know what needs to change, once again this needs to start with your leaders. They need to become advocates who live and breathe the culture. Only once that example is set can you expect employees to adjust their behaviours.

Then it’s all down to communication. An effective communication strategy that outlines what you have done and why will help to accelerate the adoption of your new positive culture.

It won’t change overnight but your efforts will be worth it in the long term.

4) Poor alignment to company objectives

If your employees are disconnected from your company objectives it is often due to a lack of understanding. While company objectives are discussed heavily within the boardroom, the passion and belief displayed behind closed doors are often lost by the time it is communicated to the rest of the workforce.

Another common downfall is that employees understand the objectives but do not think they are achievable. This can be more damaging than if the objectives have been miscommunicated because of the negative connotations. Negativity spreads quicker than positivity so one person’s opinion can quickly spread to become the opinion of many.

The solution: Your employees need to not just understand the reason behind the objectives but also what part they play in meeting those objectives. When communicating your objectives, rather than doing a mass communication to everyone, break it down into different teams and explain specifically what it means to them.

It’s also important to remember that while objectives are set once a year, they last for that entire 12-month period. Communicating with them at the beginning of the year isn’t enough. Your employees need to know progress along the way which will also act as a gentle reminder of the objectives. By keeping employees connected to your objectives throughout the year they are far more likely to buy into them, and to your company as a whole.

5) Significant change

As businesses grow and develop change will always happen. That could be a change in the management team, a change of business direction, an acquisition, or the introduction of a new system. Whatever the change it is likely to unsettle some of your employees. It is human nature to resist change so this is to be expected. Therefore, during any period of change, we must work particularly hard to maintain employee engagement.

The solution: it’s important to understand the reasons behind people’s fear of change. This article neatly summarises the emotions people may be feeling and helps to put their reactions into perspective. By taking a moment to appreciate how your employees may feel during a time of change you can then create a communication plan that supports them step-by-step through the change.

For every change communication you create remember to include information about what is changing, how that change will affect them, what is expected of them and what the next steps will be. By following this pattern with every communication you will help your employees adjust quicker and reduce the risk of disengaging them.

Your way of working

The way your employees feel and perceive things and the way your business functions will directly influence employee engagement. However, there are also a number of aspects within the HR/communications team that could be inhibiting your employee engagement efforts. When you are working so hard to drive up employee engagement you need to ensure that your ship is sailing at full throttle. The most common challenges our customers come to us with are:

1) Unrealistic expectations

These unrealistic expectations could be on yourself or your team.

Often this is an unrealistic expectation of time; trying to squeeze too many tasks into not enough time. This is a very common challenge with 38% of employee engagement professionals stating time as their biggest challenge in our recent State of UK Employee Engagement survey.

The survey also found that over half of those responsible for employee engagement spend less than 25% of their time on this function. With so many plates to spin at any given time, it is easy to see how expectations can increase beyond capability.

The solution: If you and/or your team carry out employee engagement activities as part of another role it would be advisable to have a discussion with the relevant managers to discuss the balance. You may want to create a business case to increase the hours spent on employee engagement. Or you may just need to define the lines between the roles more clearly.

You may also find value in reviewing everyone’s roles within your team. Does everyone understand the part they play? Do they know what their responsibilities are and the deadlines that sit alongside their duties? Do they agree that these are attainable? Are you utilising all their skills effectively or would it be beneficial to switch some of the responsibilities?

If time is particularly tight with no immediate solution, could you recruit some advocates from the wider business? Even if it is to help promote a single engagement initiative, their passion for what you do could be really beneficial.

2) Silo working

Silos are very common within employee engagement teams. They are often caused because of a dispersed workforce or individuals having multiple job roles.

As such, tasks may be owned by just one individual or data may only be accessible by a single team that has multiple other priorities that sit above your request.

Whatever the silo you experience, it will be causing inefficiencies, frustrations and open you up to risk.

The solution: Collaboration! By introducing a more collaborative way of working you will no longer have a need for silos.

If multiple people work on different tasks consider adopting a task management system in which everyone in the team can view all of the tasks and who is responsible for them. This will give you a single source of truth that will provide confidence and a more efficient way of working.

If certain skills sit with just one employee explore training and development opportunities for other individuals so you always have at least two people capable of any given task.

If you experience silos within your processes, such as a bottleneck when accessing data, is there another way this could be done? Are there alternative systems or integration options that would simplify the process? Are there other teams or colleagues that could support with the project? Or do you just need a formalised process to ensure you receive the information in a timely fashion?

3) Limited budget

Employee engagement is often last to receive a budget. It’s a relatively new business function and as such, often goes unmissed during budget planning. Instead, those responsible for employee engagement often put forward a business case for specific expenditure as it is needed rather than having their own budget to manage throughout the year.

In other situations, the budget simply doesn’t match aspirations restricting what is achievable.

The solution: Push hard to get an allotted budget for employee engagement. As is the case for any ‘new’ budget, this will be a difficult task. Anyone in finance will be reluctant to hand money over when there is no hard proof that there will be a Return on Investment (ROI)!

Use as much evidence as you can to prove your case. Whether that is an initiative that previously had funding that has had a positive impact or a use case from another business that is representative of your aspirations. The more figures you can provide to evidence the benefits gained from having the budget the more likely you are to be successful. You may find our guide on ‘Building the business case for employee engagement’ useful during this process.

If you feel a larger budget is required, once again evidence is your answer. Use the budget you have but ensure you measure the success of that investment every step of the way. Once you can show the ROI you are far more likely to be able to negotiate a larger budget.

Whilst you work to increase your funding you will become very skilled at making the most of what you have! But there are many others in exactly the same boat so build connections with these people. Explore what communities you could join to exchange ideas and tips.

4) The wrong tools for the job

Due to the resource implication and fear of change, it can be easy to stick with a tool even if it isn’t meeting all your needs. You may customise the system to get it doing what you need but there are inevitably always workarounds or compromises. These workarounds open greater possibilities for human error and over time the workarounds become more and more cumbersome.

If you have an established employee engagement strategy you may also be suffering from having too many solutions. Jumping from one system to another will have a knock-on effect on productivity. You may also find it difficult to compare data from two systems because of the way the information is collated or displayed.

The solution: As a team, audit your processes and systems. It’s important to take this step back from your day-to-day roles and consider if the systems you use are providing the best outcome. While they may have been the best tools for the job two years ago there may be better solutions available to you now. Likewise, two years ago one of your solutions may not have had the same level of capability it has now. Upon review, you may find that you could easily consolidate your systems.

Once you have carried out an evaluation, schedule in the next one. By keeping these review sessions regular you will keep on top of your needs and encourage your team to stay curious, always exploring how improvements could be achieved.

5) A lack of valuable insight

Our recent study found that 48% of UK businesses do not monitor the effectiveness of their internal comms. Further to this, another study identified that only 55% of companies regularly diagnose their employee engagement data.

That’s approximately half of UK businesses that are running employee engagement tactics without any insight into to how effective they are. If you too lack useful insight, this is a quick win that could transform your employee engagement efforts.

The solution: If you have unused data your first step is to study that information to identify what it tells you. Based on this research you can identify any data gaps; considering what information would really help inform your strategy.

If the data you have available is limited you may want to look at a software tool that could help you collate and interpret more information. Tools such as employee engagement software will enable you to send internal communications and employee surveys whilst also collating data from each activity you undertake. Many of these software solutions analyse the data for you, automatically providing comparisons and key performance measures. This could save you significant time and give you greater confidence in your decision making.

However, you choose to record and analyse your data, as a bare minimum we recommend you measure the following:

  • Open rates, and preferably engagement rates, for each internal communication that you send.
  • Employee engagement levels per team and company over time.
  • Employee absenteeism and staff turnover rates.

With this information at your fingertips you will not only be able to better inform your future actions, but also help to evidence your success. This evidence can then help to drive future initiatives and funding.

daniel wright

Daniel Wright

Marketing Assistant

With a desire to grow personally and a wish to improve working lives through employee engagement, I am thrilled to be part of building an internal comms system that connects everyone.

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