Employee engagement is viewed, and rightly so, as a vital ingredient in a company’s success. The ability to innovate, adapt and grow may originate with the CEO, but it is the employees that execute their leadership’s initiatives and will ultimately determine the company’s outcome.

There has been a great deal of research and discussion about the value of engaged employees. You may ask, what is an engaged employee? Engaged employees are loosely defined as those that are passionate about their employer, believe their own contributions are important and valued and actively support management’s strategies.

You can see the inherent advantages of a deeply engaged workforce. The agreed upon strategies set forth by management are adopted and executed more rapidly. There is greater productivity. If industry issues present difficulties, the workforce is more flexible and more likely to innovate. Engaged employees will not only be cheerleaders with prospective customers, but they are an excellent resource for finding like-minded future employees.

However, Gallup, the polling and analytics organization, released a study in late-2013, showing that employee engagement in organizations was incredibly low. Some of the numbers seem difficult to fathom — of U.S. and Canadian employees only 29% are actively engaged and 54% are not engaged at all. Even worse, 18% are actively disengaged — meaning that they are likely to spread their negativity to coworkers and customers. Even if we were to double the positive figures, the results should be seen as a red flag. Perhaps the biggest for companies.

So, if employees are so important, why aren’t companies doing more to engage them?

Leaving aside pay and benefits — and perhaps some apathy — what are the factors inhibiting leadership from grooming an engaged employee workforce?

We believe there are a five key challenges organizations must address to successfully implement employee engagement programs:

  • Current Communications Vehicles — Email, newsletters, Intranets and pamphlets are not effective. These vehicles can’t reach every employee in an organization — nor can they quickly convey important content. The tools are cumbersome to use and the content is often not very timely. In fact these tools are often ignored by those with easy access to a computer.
  • Top-Down Communication / Thinking — This could be listed as an issue with the current tools, but it is also partly philosophical. Today’s employee communication is primarily top-down in nature. Employees need to be able to engage in a timely manner with peers, subordinates and superiors. Sharing innovation, resources and ideas is cumbersome today given the current tools, but impossible if the company does not actively implement ways for employees to share ideas and enthusiasm.
  • Non-White Collar Employees — Not everyone in a company has ready access to a computer. Organizations face serious challenges reaching and engaging their non-white collar workers with strategic content — which can be significant for companies like retailers, manufacturers and package delivery companies, among many others. If you want to engage your workforce, you must be able to reach all of your employees.
  • Geography & Language Barriers — Employees are not homogenous in today’s multinational workforces. Enterprises face significant challenges in sharing information and concepts between employees that speak another language or are based in other countries. A shared goal or initiative that works well in one geographic region is often hampered in another due to language and cultural issues.
  • Employee Communications Needs a Leader — The planning and implementation for these programs is usually centered in one of two places — Human Resources or Internal Communications. While workforce communications and internal communications teams are great places to start, both should be working together more cohesively. Each brings strengths the other lacks. Additionally, in order for these two groups to work effectively, they will need to draw on other resources that include the IT, marketing, social media and public relations teams.

If companies want to increase their performance and competitiveness, they need to improve how they engage with employees. If they can build employee engagement programs that, as a first step, address these five challenges, the content they curate and communicate will be more quickly consumed and ultimately deliver a higher return-on-investment.

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