The Engagement Conundrum

15 reasons employers choose not to engage and how to fix it

Governments, associations, educational institutions, and non-profits or community organizations (e.g. employment or immigrant serving agencies) all seek to engage employers for their highly valued input, support or sponsorship, with the aim of developing and delivering programs, services and initiatives that are useful, viable and aligned with labour market needs.

Tourism employers, in turn, seek opportunities to work with these groups for several reasons. Relations with groups that assist with developing the workforce help employers cultivate a strong talent pool. These volunteer activities support their corporate social responsibility, which further enhances their chances for business success and contributes to the economic and social wellbeing of the community.

Groups report varying levels of success in engaging employers and seek to improve their strategies’ efficacy. Tourism HR Canada examined the reasons why employers choose not to engage, and identified four proven strategies to help overcome the issues.

Top reasons why employers choose not to engage:

  • Don’t see value/purpose. The perceived costs of the initiative, program or service outweigh the benefits, or the communications fail to show the relevance to the business’s needs.
  • May not agree with aims or goals. The better the alignment to corporate values and objectives, the more likely employers will engage; with finite resources, they will be selective.   
  • Timing is a problem. The initiative, program or service is happening at an inconvenient or unsuitable time, such as peak tourist season, which hinders the ability for employers to engage.
  • Access is not easy. Employers seek practical, straightforward and responsive solutions. They will avoid programs and services that have restrictions or limitations, lack flexibility or are overly complex. Onerous registration requirements, technical malfunctions, burdensome reporting expectations and language barriers are cited as key irritants.
  • Too costly, limited resources. Employers contribute a great deal of voluntary time as key contributors to advisory committees or by supporting special program interests. Often this requires a commitment by senior staff to take on the responsibility and budget additional resources for employees to serve as replacements in their absence. Staff selected for these activities must have the experience, qualifications and ability to make decisions on behalf of the company. Employers will not engage when there is a concern over the cost to participate, or they do not have the right people available.
  • Have not had a good experience. Employers’ experiences with similar programs or groups may not have been positive. Employers will turn down opportunities or disengage from activities when results are lackluster, there is limited or no impact, or there is a lack of accountability. Employers will avoid the hassle and effort when previous investments had little or no payoff, or if program integrity is a concern.
  • It’s someone else’s problem. Tourism operators are in the business of delivering products and services. At times, the program, service or initiative they are asked to participate in may not appear to be something they can or should fix. For example, having difficulty recruiting new workers may be attributed to “entitled millennials that don’t want to work”, or the education system failing to produce skilled graduates, or any number of other factors—issues they perceive as something beyond themselves. They will not engage if they see the resolution as the responsibility of others.
  • Wary of working with governments, non-profits or community associations. Working with these groups can take time and patience. It requires a dedication to the cause and the ability to be flexible and responsive to support administrative and reporting demands. Certain projects or initiatives rely on employers that can influence and convince other stakeholders to engage, and the commitment to ongoing community involvement. Although commendable, employers must be realistic on the number of initiatives they can engage in.
  • Wary of working with the competition. Many initiatives involve multiple employers, often inclusive of businesses that compete for tourist dollars. Although there is value in working with colleagues from competing businesses that share needs and interests, companies are concerned with sharing ‘trade secrets’ or disclosing proprietary information. The decision to engage may be based on the constituency involved and whether the processes for consultation enable confidentiality.
  • Wary of working with target population. In the case of labour market programs, services or initiatives, target populations often include groups that are under-represented in the labour market, such as new Canadians or people with disabilities. Tourism businesses have a long history of diverse hiring practices and have become increasingly adept at cultural competence and accommodating individual needs. Working with some of these groups requires new, dedicated resources and specialized human resource management skills. Where there are insufficient resources or appropriate policies and procedures to address needs or issues, guests will experience inferior service. Employers may limit the number of workers from target populations to ensure these workers obtain an appropriate level of support.
  • Business plans are not concordant. Owner/operators routinely set business plans to advance business goals, sales targets or operational milestones. Planning and analysis will inform decisions on perceived needs and where to invest. Ultimately, the decision to engage in a project will depend on whether the initiative supports the business objectives.
  • Don’t feel qualified, and may not be. The knowledge, skills and abilities to engage in certain projects or initiatives may require specialized skills or capacity that is beyond the means of the company. Tourism companies will only engage if they have qualified people and other necessary resources to participate effectively.
  • Conflict of interest (real or perceived). Employers may have a concern of competing interests or loyalties, and feel that the risk associated with engagement is too high. Real or perceived conflicts will impact brand image and community relations.
  • Vastly different cultures, languages. Sometimes it’s all about effective communications. Governments, associations, educational institutions, and non-profits or community organizations use language in ways foreign to companies. Subsequently, employers may not understand the opportunity or may feel discouraged or intimidated and choose to avoid the situation.
  • Insufficient resources to sustain relationships and ongoing obligations. Perhaps the most pressing issue for employers concerns the ability to sustain the appropriate levels of support for target populations (i.e. new hires) associated with the project. Many initiatives are, by design, a project or event—not a long-term program. Once the project ends, employers are left with residual needs without the benefit of dedicated resources. The moral and ethical obligation to continue to support individuals derived from the program is paramount. This is dilemma particularly concerning when the project or initiative involves the hiring of new workers that have special needs.

What can be done to increase meaningful and productive employer engagement?

  • Develop an Employer Engagement Plan. Offer employers options that accommodate different needs and capacities. For example, the plan may offer employers the choice of:
    • Outreach/oversight, e.g. to receive regular information with the chance to provide occasional feedback or to disseminate the information to others.
    • Consultation, advising, program design, e.g. to serve as key respondents to inform content and structure. Consultation and information gathering should take on many forms to allow for optimum results. Methods may include: in-person meetings, focus group sessions, virtual consultations, webinar sessions, online surveys, structured (one-on-one) interviews, collection and use of ‘authentic workplace documents’, observation/site visits, and secondary research.
    • Support, program delivery, capacity building, e.g. to aid in the execution of the project or initiative by facilitating consultation sessions or sponsoring learners.
    • Shared leadership, investment, partnership, e.g. to assist with funding or sponsorship, or to provide advocacy. In curriculum development projects, examples have included fundraising for equipment, facilitating faculty work experiences, or ‘classroom at work’ models where employers work with educators to teach learners in a real work setting.
  • Spend time to get the value proposition right. Employers will seek opportunities that align with business aims, in a familiar business language. The opportunity will need to offer flexibility, accommodate needs, and be clear on goals.
  • Focus on benefits that solve a business problem, e.g. reduce costs, gain expertise, meet diversity goals, reduce risk, increase supply of qualified workers, increase competitive edge, increase skills and retain good workers, support corporate social responsibility, exercise leadership.
  • Address structural constraints. Aim for a high-impact, low-cost, one-stop experience that is responsive to the employer’s needs.

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