Employee Engagement Surveys – Expectations vs Reality

Employee surveying started with the best of intentions. Let’s face it; there was a time when no one cared about employee safety and wellbeing let alone their opinions and experience. As the saying goes, we’ve come a long way baby.

That said, it’s time to do our own pulse check about how effective engagement surveys are today.

https://youtu.be/h44t2TOKFFwMore on this in my VLOG: 5 Ways to Boost Recognition Scores: The Easiest Employee Engagement Metric to Impact Before Your Next Survey

Why We Need to “Take The Pulse”

We need to keep the pulse of how our people are doing. As organizations continue to grow – in locations, in size, across the globe even – it is virtually impossible to keep our fingers on the pulse. Engagement surveys provide a mechanism to gauge, in a comparable way, how people experience their work that transcends (as much as possible) work variables. 

We also need a mechanism to check in about what roadblocks stand in the way of people doing their job – equipment, supplies, development opportunities, feedback, etc – as this can have a major impact on corporate priorities and team success. Although most organizations have some form of performance appraisals and check-ins, it has been my experience that it is the exception rather than the rule that they are completed robustly, on time, and with everyone, including part-time and casual contributors (in fact some of you will argue that the whole PA system needs an overhaul anyway). 

In our growingly remote world of work, pulse surveys can be helpful to check in more frequently and on a broad scale about a range of satisfaction-related drivers. Even before working remotely, leaders’ spans of control (how many people report to them) often grows beyond the number that regular robust check-ins are possible.

In other words, employee engagement and pulse surveys have had an important place in the world of work.

This is the good news. Now the other side of the story.

Taking a Weak Pulse

Unfortunately, a few things continue to plague us with engagement surveys. The original best intentions – to understand, address and elevate the work experience of our contributors – has become usurped in the noise of corporate life. Here are some of the reasons engagement surveys get a bad name:

  • The energy is put into promoting the surveys and increasing response rates, leaves little left over for disseminating or executing on results (one client compared it to planning her wedding and how “none of us wanted to go to the post-wedding day brunch we were all so tired!”)
  • Many organizations can find willing participants to build or procure a vendor and execute the survey, however, it’s a unique talent and the organization may not have Organizational Development and related experts on staff (or on retainer) to help teams and leaders address gaps 
  • The drivers we ask about include factors the organization is unable to change – such as asking not-for-profit employees if there are sufficient resources and supplies to do their job – so we set people up for disappointment
  • Too often very practical and easy to address drivers (e.g., recognition) are intermingled with broader hard to address drivers (e.g., trust)
  • There are significant time delays between when employee complete the survey to when – if at all – they hear the results
  • The seriousness of issues raised in the comments creates a difficult situation for HR who want to address it, yet can’t due to confidentiality and anonymity
  • On the flip side, many do not believe surveys are actually confidential and therefore getting honest responses or people to complete the survey at all can be challenging

Some have begun to suggest that we should no longer do engagements surveying. But is that really the answer? 

Getting a True Read on the Pulse

I would be hypocritical to say we should do away with engagement surveys:

  • In my co-authored first book Forever Recognize Others Greatness, chapter 5 on organizational recognition leveraged a huge engagement survey database to tell the story of how dramatically different employee behaviour is when they were highly satisfied with recognition from those who were not
  • I espouse the virtues of an engaged workforce when I keynote on recognition and encourage organizations to gauge just how well they’re doing with recognition through regularly informal and formal check-ins
  • I remind my clients regularly that an engagement survey combined with other data – voluntary turnover, length of service, customer feedback, sick time – can provide a vivid picture of the health of the culture – Download these stats as a poster here called “Recognition is Not Fluffy Stuff”

If you just need a pulse of how people in the organization are doing, are committed to wholeheartedly listening, are willing to do something with the results, and will absolutely ensure people know the results, then engagement surveys can be incredibly valuable. In other words, the problem is not engagement surveys per se, it’s that we often treat them like a project to be delegated, outsourced and managed versus an invaluable tool to tell a broader story about the employee experience. 

Join me next week as we do a deep dive into how to make the most of your engagement survey investment and how to course correct your process if it’s gotten off track of your original intention.

In the meantime, if your engagement surveys have been telling you for years that you need to elevate recognition, I’ve shared all my secrets below. These are all the tools that I use to build (or rebuild) recognition programs now all in one short course (that HR folks, you get continuing education credits for.) 

For more ideas on engagement surveys and employee satisfaction, check out these other blog posts:

“There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread.”

– Mother Teresa

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