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Employee Surveys: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

 “Our people are our most important asset.” Few employers would disagree with this statement. And many use employee surveys to protect that asset by gauging and improving employee satisfaction and engagement. But are companies using surveys effectively?

In our experience working with a broad variety of companies, we have seen the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to designing, administering and responding to employee surveys.The good. Employees are the source of a wealth of information critical to improving productivity, upholding customer satisfaction and fostering a positive work environment. There are many ways to tap into employee intelligence—gleaning comments made in meetings or on performance evaluations, capturing one-on-one conversations between managers and workers or monitoring the social media or water-cooler grapevine.

In contrast, formal surveys give the organization a cohesive, comprehensive view of what’s on employees’ minds.

The most effective employee survey programs we’ve seen align survey questions with business goals. For example, if your company has a strategic initiative to drive down costs, you might include questions that aim to uncover employee discontent that could lead to costly turnover. You also might solicit observations about process inefficiencies or ask for cost-saving ideas.

Participation is paramount to survey success. Promote the program through communication media such as email, posters, lunchroom table tents, an intranet posting with FAQs or with internal social collaboration. Inform employees at all levels of company about the intent of the survey, how it will be administered, who’s responsible for what and how you plan to follow up on survey results. Some companies involve representatives from various work teams in the development of survey questions.

Allow ample time for employees to complete the survey, and protect respondents’ anonymity.

When reviewing results, take a big-picture view of both positive and negative patterns. It is important to delve into the root causes of any significant problems discovered in the process. It may be advisable to meet with employee groups to gain deeper insights into survey answers. In any case, you will want to share an overview of the results with employees. Prioritize follow-up action items, select the top two or three to resolve first, assign responsibilities (or ask for volunteer task force members) and lay out a timeline for resolution, including milestones to monitor progress.

The bad. An ill-conceived employee survey program is a guaranteed flop. To succeed, the program requires buy-in from top leadership. If the company’s highest-level executives don’t consider it a priority, the initiative will not receive the resources and support needed to effectively administer and follow up on the survey.

Poor communication is a killer. Employees need to know what is expected of them and what to expect throughout the survey process. Your team can become disenfranchised with the program if there is a mismatch between their understanding of the steps involved and the real-world implementation of the plan.

Bad timing—in the frequency or timeframe of the employee survey—can mess up the best of programs. Scheduling the surveys sporadically or too frequently does little to ensure employees their opinions and well-being are at the top of the list of management concerns. Scheduling the surveys too close together doesn’t allow time to address issues identified in previous iterations. Attempting to conduct the survey too near the holiday season or when workloads are at their peak is a recipe for low participation rates.

The ugly. We have found that there are two things that can render conducting an employee survey worse than not getting input from your employees. One is neglecting to take action in response to the survey results. The other is taking punitive action. Employees are typically pleased to have the opportunity to provide feedback that can improve their work environment, their ability to contribute effectively and their company’s profitability and quality of service to customers. If their input is ignored—or worse, used to penalize them—the survey has the opposite effect of engaging employees and increasing their job satisfaction.

Just as customer satisfaction surveys provide illuminating insights into your business, employee surveys shine a light on what is working and what is not within your organization. Employee surveys provide a structured method of gathering data that you can put into action to enhance your team’s engagement— and your bottom line. When your front-line employees know their ideas matter, they’re likely to continue thinking of ways to propel the company forward.

Have you administered an employee survey? What did you experience? Were you pleased with the results?

 

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Photo courtesy of kkirugi, Flickr Creative Commons