Barriers to Employee Engagement

Most business founders do not set out to create unengaged company cultures. But a lack of deliberate attention paid to culture can have detrimental results.

A business that is growing very quickly will often find employees who join the company early develop a fierce loyalty to the founder – entrepreneurs tend to be big personalities. The feeling that they are all in it together – growing despite all the odds, working all night to meet impossible deadlines, surviving in over-crowded offices – is a very powerful bond, especially when it results in success.

But as their success leads to growth, there is a risk that this strong personality culture will begin to erode. A management layer will be created, often from among the longest serving employees, and they will often try to emulate the founder, putting pressure on new employees as they had pressure put on them, in what they think are similar ways. But their attempts to replicate his or her personality can often come across very differently, particularly to those who have not shared the same experiences.

‘leaders should re-examine everything the organisation does…and devise strategies to build genuine employee engagement’

In time, the company may begin to experience high staff turnover, mistakes will be made, customers that once were happy will begin to complain. The very culture that made the company successful in the first place could become its downfall.

Most disengaged workers didn’t start out that way either. They feel disconnected from the organisation and its culture, underutilised or overworked, not part of the ‘in’ crowd, and clearly is not getting what they want or need from their work. They may well become sceptical about the organisation, and their negativity could quite easily become contagious.

CIPD research in 2008, suggested several reasons for employees becoming disengaged:


  • reactive decision-making
  • inconsistent management styles based on the attitudes of individual managers
  • low levels of advocacy carrying the risk of creating employee resentment
  • rigid communication channels or cultural norms
  • poor work–life balance due to a long-hours culture
  • poor senior management visibility and quality of downward communication
  • incoherent communication channels
  • recruitment and retention practices that do not meet the needs of teams
  • inappropriate leadership styles, especially during organisational change or periods of low performance
  • lack of attention to leadership and management development.


Individuals cannot be held to blame for becoming disengaged. An organisation’s leaders should re-examine everything that the organisation does to understand what has happened that may have contributed to alienation, and devise strategies to build genuine employee engagement.

By doing so, leaders – and managers – will show their genuine commitment to engagement and will be effective role models for the rest of the organisation.

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