Engagement Surveys: Worth It if You Work for It

A recent Forbes article, The Employee Engagement Benchmark Fallacy, is yet another in a series that asks the question: are engagement surveys worth it?

Spoiler alert: I think they are…if…

What Makes Engagement Surveys, Ahem, About Engagement?

image of coffee beside napkin with empower, enhance, enable and engage written on a it with a penEngagement surveys without listening, contextual understanding, and a commitment to do something with the information isn’t just a waste of time – it breaks the psychological contract of “if you tell us what needs to improve, we’ll improve it.” It’s a reasonable assumption post-engagement survey that something is done with the information, yet how often have you experienced a lack of follow-through?

Sadly, we often emphasize the survey and the survey process rather than studying the results and doing something meaningful with them.

To survey and do nothing with it is like planning a vacation and never taking it.

Wait, it’s worse than that. It’s like telling your kids you’re going to the beach and dropping them off at the dentist.

Sure, you got a task crossed off the list; however, everyone is left disappointed by broken promises and unmet expectations.

We know we’re really in trouble when the engagement survey process is:

  • Just another project to get done
  • So cumbersome that it leaves us too burnt out, frustrated or distracted to do anything with it
  • Without a plan (or intention) to communicate the results (including “ugly” truths)
  • Resourced only for the survey itself without internal or external supports available to address gaps
  • Used as a mechanism to find faults, finger point and cast blame
  • Missing the part where bright spots are celebrated and successes celebrated
  • Obtaining information about serious issues such as harassment, bullying and discrimination, and yet nothing is done about it (organizations, this isn’t just morally wrong, it can open you up to liability)

So, Are Engagement Surveys Dead?

image of finger pointing to 5 circles with employee engagement in the center and motivation, trust, loyalty and commitment in surrounding circlesMany organizations leverage engagement surveys as a key tool in their people strategy. I would argue it’s still a key data point in understanding the organization over time, along with, of course, vital internal data about people, safety, quality and financial. Done well, engagement survey data is a common way you make measuring and monitoring the employee experience visible to your, well, employees!

Where I might differ slightly from the article above is that external benchmarks do matter; benchmarks just don’t matter more than internal data. It’s a both/and; we want to know what is going on inside our organizations, and we want to understand if that’s on target worse or better than other comparable organizations are. That said, never forget the micro-level in the debate; if you ask them, tell them what you learned and ensure some supports are available to address the glaring issues (at the minimum) and work toward possibilities and opportunities (at the ideal).

image of woman smiling looking at computer screen with hand raised during a virtual meetingOne last reminder:

Don’t forget to ask about how satisfied people are with recognition. Given that recognition is the fastest, easiest and least resource cumbersome strategy to boost collaboration, trust, satisfaction with leadership, continuous improvement and overall engagement, knowing how you fair in that one dimension can lead to a whole lot of progress efficiently and visibly. (And even better yet, ask them what their preferred methods of recognition are and use that to update your recognition program.)

If you’re even needing a sounding board about engagement surveys, post-engagement survey interventions and, of course, recognition, reach out. If I don’t have the answer, I’ll for sure know someone who does, and even a shining star example of an organization who is doing what you’re struggling with well.

Here are more resources to help you create and utilize effective employee engagement surveys:

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

– Mother Teresa

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