Is your employee engagement survey working?

Photo by from Pexels

Photo by from Pexels

Only a decade ago, the 'annual staff survey' was still pretty commonplace amongst larger employers. Its primary task was a one-off 'sense check' on how its employees were feeling, comparing the results to the previous years' survey. Most employees viewed its completion as a chore, and even HR departments struggled to make the value of participating in it very compelling.

Fast forward to 2018, and a lot has changed. Many firms have shifted to 'pulse surveys' - simpler but more frequent check-in's, often around particular issues, along with a few regular questions to enable tracking. There are usually opportunities for open-ended comments too, letting employees drive the agenda (a little) in their own words. And with so much of this survey activity moving online, it's never been easier to run a survey, contribute your views, and analyse the findings.

Yet, despite all this useful two-way communication going on, a staggering 87% of employees worldwide are still not engaged at work (Gallup). So what's causing it?

There can be many reasons for this, and employee surveys can help to identify them. That said, it's vital that running engagement surveys doesn't become part of the problem itself, which can often happen! So, by way of a checklist, here are some things employers (and not just their HR departments) can do to try and buck the trend and achieve genuine employee engagement:

  • Match survey frequency with action - asking your employees for their valuable insight every quarter or even each month is all well and good, but if it takes your organisation 12 months or more to act on the feedback, they will understandably feel no-one is listening. The best way to deal with this is to create two categories of changes. For quick-fixes, the clue is in the title! Do it fast, highlight how rapidly it's happening, and provide a way to employees to comment on the initiative(s). For longer-term changes, communicate that the message from employees has been heard, and that a plan is already under way to address it. Provide regular updates on the plan, and show momentum if not actual progress each time, until the implementation happens.
  • Make survey findings visible and interesting! - if you want your surveys themselves to be engaging over time, you'll need ways to make them compelling. Use software tools to visualise the results - try creating infographics and dynamic charts to bring them alive - after all, who wants to wade thru' pages of static tables? This doesn't need to involve lots of work for HR, as today's survey software can automate much of this.
  • Cross-check your survey results with other feedback windows - as valuable as surveys are, they are not the ideal channel for every employee or even every issue. Just as with other areas of business intelligence, smart operators won't rely on just one information source for their decision-making. You could include a CEO 'town hall' meeting, line manager stand-up's, suggestion boxes - the options for attributed or anonymous feedback are plentiful. But make the effort to log peoples' views, at least informally if not with actual note-takers on view. These additional occasions helps to make employee feedback more inclusive, and to demonstrate that your company culture doesn't treat such insight as simply occasional or calendar-driven.
  • Guard against fears of 'Big Brother' - despite all reputable surveys highlighting that responses are anonymised, this may not allay the fears of all staff that their comments might be used against them. Imagine answering the question: “If you were offered the same job at another organisation, how likely is it you would stay at [this company]?” As one employee of the Financial Times responding to just such a question put it: "If I sounded too loyal, I might be telling important people I was an easy-to-ignore patsy. Yet was it any safer to hint that I could be a jumper?" There is always a risk that staff survey responses to how they work and feel might not necessarily align with how they actually behave. The solution to this tricky conundrum lies in your company culture, and how open and transparent you are on an everyday basis. The more consistent your organisation is in treating employees and their views with respect, the more likely they will be in giving you authentic responses at survey-time.

Finally, it goes without saying that employee engagement isn't magically achieved by conducting two-way comms like employee surveys. It only happens with a year-round determination to "create the conditions in which employees offer more of their capability and potential” (David MacLeod - Engage For Success).

Customer Faithful's research expertise & techniques enable organisations of all sizes to uncover, interpret and track employee motivation and engagement in the workplace. Our end-to-end services range from baseline ‘discovery’ engagement for new organizations, through to on-going Pulse surveys and senior team engagement programmes.

For a free, no-commitment and confidential discussion, contact Rick Harris via