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Helen Wright

Great Place to Work

Marketing And Communications Manager

Read more about Helen Wright

Top 10 excuses for failing to engage with engagement


Over the 25 years or so Great Place to Work® has worked with thousands of organisations across the globe we’ve heard virtually every rationale as to why they’ve not yet engaged with engagement. Whilst we fully understand these barriers or obstacles our experience shows that they are not insurmountable; they may be hurdles but not brick walls.  

Engagement is all about building a culture where people have pride and trust in the organisation and are committed to working together and individually to achieving the organisation’s objectives.

With the potential rewards so high – the most engaged organisations enjoying up to double annual net profits[1] – there must be compelling reasons why some organisations have not yet taken those first steps.

Here are the top 10…

‘It can’t be done.’

Often the biggest hurdle is the belief that real challenges – like market and economic problems -can’t be overcome, so it’s not possible to create a great workplace. Good leaders believe that they can influence the workplace and make it better. The role of a leader is to help people face up to the challenges of change – e.g. new ways of operating, new ways of working together that will help customers, new ways of becoming more effective. Good leaders understand their organisation’s identity, set realistic goals and objectives and constantly challenge the organisation to be even better. So, in their book, there are no excuses…

It’s just not the right time’

You may be going through upsizing, downsizing, leadership changes, mergers or just difficult trading conditions and the logic may be to wait until the dust has settled before embarking on any trust-building, engagement efforts. But business is always changing and it is precisely at critical times like this that a high trust, highly engaged workforce can provide support and help mitigate any fall-out. It can also help ensure staff understand the changes and are equipped to handle them. So just when you think it’s not the right time, it probably is.

‘My industry is different’

The concepts and practices of engagement are adaptable and know no cultural, geographic or industrial boundaries. And the most diverse organisations can learn from each other – e.g: manufacturers who operate 24/7 can learn from hospitals where leaders also face the problem of communicating with employees who work nights; not-for-profits have concerns over ‘doing more with less’ and burnout, which are also the kind of problems facing many companies in the private sector. So your industry may be different but the issues facing your organisation and how they may be addressed are not.

‘We don’t have the time, energy or skills’

Time can indeed be a big hurdle but investing time in building relationships will pay off in the long run in productivity and loyalty. As for energy and skills, results can still be achieved -not by changing what you do but how. This may mean breaking habits. Do fewer things, but well. Whatever environment you wish to create, there is likely to be a key practice or two that can spark a larger culture change.

Too many competing priorities’

The demands of meeting financial targets, strategic priorities and building trust and engagement all at once can be overwhelming. As well as tension between workplace and business goals, often the goals themselves are unclear, or shift. This can lead to confusion, frustration and/or disengagement. How to approach?

  • Recognise that priorities shift – organisations need to be flexible.
  • Make sure staff understand the goals and how their role supports their achievement.
  • Keep goals and strategy clear and simple – there is less chance of confusion.
  • Communicate to staff – frequently and honestly. That in itself will enhance trust

I’d be a great people manager if it weren’t for all the people…’

Build trust in your organisation and engagement  will follow. But whilst people are the solution they can also be the problem. You may have inherited a team; they may be immune to new ideas; they may be part time, temporary or work from home. All these present challenges – managers need to work harder to earn their staff’s trust and leverage their talent and commitment. Whatever the challenges, it doesn’t mean you don’t have the power to create a great work environment with and for them.  How to approach?:

  • Listen to their experiences and concerns. The more you know and understand, the better you can support them.
  • Be open and honest. Whilst some practices may need to change to respond to external environments, fundamental values and beliefs are unlikely to change.
  • Diverse groups (such as different generations) bring their own special skills and new perspectives to the workplace and can help you look at things differently.

‘It’s just not my job’

In the interests of achieving strategic and operational goals it is ‘everyone’s job’ to create a great workplace – even if there is a formal HR function and/or employee engagement is ‘owned’ by the CEO and leadership team.  The managerial role is critical – so much so that it’s often said that people join companies but leave managers. At the end of the day it is the direct manager who has the biggest impact on employees’ engagement and satisfaction. So whatever your operational goals and responsibilities, your role as people manager is a critical one. Managers wear many hats and when there are competing priorities, it is often the ‘create a great workplace’ hat that gets dropped. However, in highly engaged workplaces, managing people takes priority. This has two benefits:

  • Organisational goals are delivered through the work of individuals. Focus on them and there is more chance of goals being achieved;
  • Focusing on people to create a highly engaged workplace will make some of your other managerial challenges easier to achieve.

‘We’re too big’

McDonald’s employs nearly 2 million people across the world yet still wins awards for its people practices and engaged workforce. This surely demonstrates that an organisation cannot be too big (or too geographically widespread) to have a workforce that is committed to delivering the company’s goals and is proud to work there.

You may not be on the scale of Mcdonald’s but once the size and reach of an organisation increases, so do the advantages. There is greater and more diverse experience and perspective and greater opportunities for creativity and innovation.

'We're too small'

You can never be too small either – in fact this is often an advantage. Communication and decision making is easier as structures are flatter and people know each other better. It is also easier to create the team or family atmosphere that helps foster collaborative working. Lack of funds can be a catalyst to promote efficient and creative work habits as well as a true spirit of camaraderie. Generally once an organsiation gets to around 20 employees is the time to think about it formally.

‘I can’t get buy in from the top’

We’ve yet to see an organisation reach its potential as a high trust, high engagement  workplace without the buy-in of the CEO and senior management team. it is difficult to imagine a leader today who is not aware of the business benefits of an engaged workplace but may well have used all of the rationales explored here as to why this is not a good time for their business to be embarking on a programme of engagement. Perhaps viewed from the highest position the task seems unsurmountable, but when seen from a more local perspective not so.

But there is much that others can do to build trust at the department, divisional or team level Therefore one of the ways of getting buy-in from the top is to create ‘great workplaces’ at the local level and lead from the bottom up.

So whilst top leadership buy-in is critical, so is delivery at local levels. That could be you. Focus on the things you can influence, and your sphere of influence will expand.

[1] Employee Engagement – The Evidence, Rayton, Dodge and D’Analeze, November 2012

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Helen Wright

Marketing And Communications Manager

Read more from Helen Wright

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