Many employers today are genuinely committed to delivering proactive engagement, recognising the positive impact this approach can bring to employee satisfaction, motivation and productivity. But as part of this strategic approach, employers should consider: what are the invisible barriers which are stopping employees from truly engaging with your company? And, more importantly, how can these barriers be overcome?


An obvious one, as in my experience, is care – and not just for parents. Increasingly grandparents are getting involved with looking after their grandchildren. And it’s not just about children – many people may be involved with the care of older relatives. This pull from outside the working environment will clearly have an impact on an individual’s desire and ability to engage with a company – both practically and mentally. Some ways in which companies can overcome this are through thinking about the timing of their events, through offering flexible and home working and perhaps even offering to pay for childcare expenses, in the same way they might cover mileage or refreshments for meetings or events.


But the barriers to engagement can begin even before an employee joins an organisation. There are costs associated with even applying for a role, such as, travel costs to an interview, or donning a smart suit or dress for the meeting itself – the latter which has been recognised brilliantly by Timsons who offer a free dry clean for those out of work. These costs might seem minute to someone who is already in paid employment – but what about a young person looking for their first job? I recall, albeit it many, many years ago now, feeling anxious about how much I would have to spend on the interview trail when I was a penniless graduate. Travel costs should be met for all applicants, whatever the level of the role – and how about suggesting to candidates that formal attire is not required? After all, how much more value does a suit and tie bring to the occasion?


And the same might true for new starters, equally if they have been out of work for a while or if this is their first job. Often pay day will be a month away, which again could be a barrier for the employee. Companies could remove that anxiety about how new starters could survive that first month’s expenses with the offer for a loan, or free lunches for a month or indeed a monthly bus pass. Not only might this remove those pre-pay day worries, this approach could also be what sets a company apart from its competitors – and build loyalty and satisfaction with the new recruit.


There are other potential barriers which might be lurking in the background but not necessarily verbalised. Literacy, for example, varies amongst all of us and is dependent upon our own individual education experience. Embedding clear, Plain English as the standard for engagement is inclusive and will prevent people feeling left out. Or what about the more subtle nuances, the messages you are emitting through your visual communications? A photograph, for example, to promote a talent management programme featuring only young people might leave an older aspiring manager thinking: ‘this isn’t meant for me.’


There are many invisible barriers to engagement which may not be obvious straightaway. They can be tangible in the form of people’s personal circumstances, or perceived through communications, positioning and messaging. But whatever they are, they are stopping people engaging fully with your organisation. There are creative and inspiring ways to overcome these barriers, and in doing so, truly motivate, inspire, and build satisfaction. But first, companies need to identify what these unseen barriers are – and perhaps the best way to do this is to ask your people what is stopping them from feeling truly engaged in the company.


Ten Ideas to Overcome Invisible Barriers

  1. Timing – are the timing of your events creating a barrier? Could you reposition a social event to a timing that suits everyone and feels more inclusive?
  2. Plain English – using Plain English as the standard for all your communications and engagement will reach everyone and will stop people feeling excluded because of their knowledge of language.
  3. Recruitment – offer travel expenses to all. These shouldn’t just apply to senior roles, anyone coming in for interview should be supported to do so.
  4. Recruitment – is your application process inclusive? Is the application form a barrier? Could this be simplified?
  5. Recruitment – what value does wearing a suit add to the process? Could you empower people suggesting ‘smart but not formal’ attire?
  6. Engage the family – if you want your people to come along to events, why not engage the family? Making the events family and child friendly could increase the likelihood of people attending – and it could increase satisfaction significantly as it demonstrates that a company truly cares and values their people.
  7. Childcare – what is your stance on paying for childcare? If you want people to attend outside of office hours, could you meet childcare costs?
  8. Flexible working – truly embed a flexible working culture. Make it more than just a policy, make it intrinsic to how you operate – and role model it.
  9. Imagery – what are the images in your communications saying about your company that your words aren’t? How are they undermining the messages you want to put across?
  10. It’s ok – create a culture which is open, honest, and transparent and empowers people to share – so the barriers that may prevent them from engaging become visible.
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