Workplace blogs
Workplace blogs

Does It Really Take an Employee Engagement Survey to Figure Out What You Should Already Know?

Okay, to be clear – I’m not slamming employee engagement surveys. If done right, employee engagement surveys can provide invaluable insights, serve as a scorecard to see whether you’re trending in the right direction or not, and offer employees one more opportunity to feel like they have a voice in the future of your organization.

Yet, I frequently hear from clients who are shocked at the poor feedback they receive in their employee engagement surveys. And here’s my thinking: If you are shocked by your employee engagement results then with all due respect that’s probably WHY you have lousy results! You see, if you really have created an inspiring, employee-centered culture then you shouldn’t need a survey to take the collective pulse of your employees. If you are truly engaging your employees and have built a culture based on trust, honest feedback, and open and honest communication, everyone should already have a very good understanding of how employees feel about their jobs, your workplace, and your company. Just as no employee should ever be shocked by what they hear in their annual performance appraisal, no senior leadership team should be bowled over by the results in an annual survey.

Another concern I have with over-reliance on employee engagement surveys is similar to the one I have with the use of anonymous suggestion boxes at work: The very fact that employees have to submit their ideas and concerns anonymously suggests that you don’t have an open culture based on trust, mutual respect, and honest communication.

Employee engagement surveys are all too often set up solely to make it appear as though a company is listening to their employees and open to feedback, yet the questions are often overly simplistic or are designed to make the final data analysis simple, rather than attempting to gather truly meaningful insights from employees.

Another challenge is managing expectations. Have you ever worked in an office with an employee suggestion box, and you began to think there must be a paper shredder on the other side of the wall because all your great ideas seemed to disappear into a black hole? You’ve got the same issue with employee engagement surveys. Once employees have submitted all of their fabulous input, what are you going to do with it? Are you truly going to respond with meaningful, long term changes based on the data, because if the answer is no, all you’ve accomplished is raising the level of cynicism among your employees.

Now I’m not necessarily suggesting you ditch your employee engagements surveys – I’m merely suggesting you give them very careful thought and that you place them in a bigger context. But, hey, if you implement some of the following ideas, you probably could ditch them because you’ll already know what it is you need to know! So instead of an engagement survey once a year…

  • Hold open Q & A sessions with senior leaders once a month (in person ideally; virtual if that’s your only option) where employees know that any and all questions can be asked and will be given an thoughtful answer.
  • Have senior leaders establish regular office hours where they must commit to being available for one-on-one or group discussions.
  • Create an open forum for sharing ideas on your intranet site that all employees can see, discuss, and rate.
  • Encourage every leader to schedule regular one-on-one employee conversations on a regular basis. It’s the job of a leader to be available and communicate with their employees.
  • Hold better meetings. Meetings should be a place to help you build your culutre and a place to reflect your culture. Make sure your meetings truly are a forum for open and honest communication.
  • Rather than a massive, onerous annual survey, try briefer single-question polls or surveys that dive deeper into specific issues. It could be a “question of the month” that every employee is encouraged to offer feedback and insights on.
  • Like Beryl Call Centers, hold regular “Chat n Chew” lunches where managers join employees for a casual lunch to discuss any and all workplace issues.
  • Create a visible, public “scorecard” where employees can register their feelings in a highly visual and public manner.
  • Hold regular listening tours.
  • Hold a regular “rumor mill” or “whine and cheese” section in your meetings to encourage people to speak freely in a more fun, relaxed way.
  • Rather than holding exit interviews with employees who are leaving (when it’s too late!) conduct, “What will help keep you?” interviews.
  • Train every manager and supervisor in your organization so they understand that a fundamental part of their role is to ensure they have a deep understanding of how their direct reports feel about their work, their own leadership skills, and the company as a whole.

Michael Kerr, 2017.  Michael Kerr is an international Hall of Fame speaker and the author of six books, including The Humor Advantage: Why Some Businesses Are Laughing All the Way to the Bank.



















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