Smashing the barriers to employee engagement: Firms may boost productivity and satisfaction by taking actions on 3 fronts.

Author:Loerzel, Tarmera

There's a disconnect when it comes to what business leaders say about employee engagement and what the employees themselves say they are experiencing.

Consider the following:

On one hand, according to the Society for Human Resource Management, executives from around the world say that enhancing employee engagement is one of their top five global business strategies: "Not only does engagement have the potential to significantly affect employee retention, productivity, and loyalty, it is also a key link to customer satisfaction, company reputation, and overall stakeholder value."

On the other hand, Gallup reports that just 33% of employees in the United States are engaged in their job and more than half have their eyes open for a new job. In the accounting arena, retaining qualified talent continues to be a top issue for CPA firms, according to the 2017 PCPS CPA Firm Top Issues Survey.

So what does it take to break through the barriers and improve employee engagement in firms? And how do we do it sooner rather than later, as most firms don't have the current skilled talent or future leaders they need?

"The one thing leaders cannot do is nothing," Gallup said in its 2017 State of the American Workplace survey report. "They cannot wait for trends to pass them by, and they cannot wait for Millennials to get older and start behaving like Baby Boomers."

This article addresses barriers in three key areas and identifies specific actions, ranging from simple to complex, that leaders can take to improve engagement. It also explores real-life examples from firms that have implemented some of these ideas and the results they experienced.

Most firm leaders likely have heard or read these ideas; however, many are not implementing them fast enough--or at all. Transformation occurs in firms that move from knowing what to do to actually doing what will drive employee engagement. New ideas and new ways of working can transform how business is conducted, serve clients better, and improve processes and methodologies. Firms that embrace these ideas and do what it takes to deploy them are filled with engaged, excited, and productive team members. Consider the following actions to take now in the areas of flexibility, feedback, and purpose to create an atmosphere for employees to feel engaged and actively contribute to firm success.


When team members have clear goals and measures for what they are expected to produce, they typically achieve them more easily when they can choose when and where they work as much as possible. Part of setting expectations is also being clear when certain times and locations for work are required, such as inventory at a client's site on a Saturday morning or on the last day of the month. Giving team members control over when and where they work means shifting leadership's view of "time and place."

Wilkin & Guttenplan PC, a midsized accounting and consulting firm based in New Jersey, offers flexible programs such as alternative-hour options, the ability to work from home on occasion or permanently, and simply the ability to take care of commitments outside of work. The goal is to allow team members to be fully productive when they are working. "We are proud of the strides we have made in creating a truly flexible work environment that supports our employees, while delivering on our commitment to...

To continue reading