Why your employee engagement survey is falling short

Does your mission statement contain the phrase ‘our people are our greatest asset’ or words to that effect? If so, then it seems only fitting that you would check at least annually to ensure your people are content. Depending on your company and your pool of talent, you may conduct a survey. This can be conducted in different ways. These may include an online survey, telephone, vis-a-vis or simply a written questionnaire. This is a not only a great way to ask frank and direct questions to your employees but also an indication to them that you have an interest in their happiness. Although, it is not the method through which you complete your survey which dictates its effect but rather what you do with the results. 

A mistaken belief commonly held regarding employee engagement surveys is that their primary purpose is to measure employee engagement or satisfaction. Contrarily, it is supposed to improve it. The opportunity to ask frank and direct questions to our people does not automatically guarantee us a frank and direct answer, however, if we are lucky enough to get one, we should take action. If somebody asked you for your advice to then blatantly ignore it, how would you feel? Your people feel the same. 

The truth is that if you currently neglect to take action on your employee engagement survey, you are not alone. In a survey conducted by Leadership IQ, it was found that 5% of those surveyed admitted that they made it clear to employees that they would not take any action at all on their engagement survey and 24% said that they would only take action on things which are simple to correct. What is really shocking is that 30% surveyed gave the impression that they would take action, then did nothing at all. It is common to think that the results are the important thing to come out of the survey. In reality, it should be the changes to come out of the results. 

At first glance it is tempting to think that the worst offenders are those who say from the outset that they will do nothing at all. They are the ones with no good intentions from the beginning. However, in actual fact it is those who promise they will take action and then fail to do so. Consequently, they further jeopardise their relationship with their people. Conducting the survey alone is not enough to fully convince employees that you care about their wellbeing. This can only truly be achieved on the completion of meaningful and substantial action. Too many engagement surveys without action can lead to your people feeling deflated and eventually can cause them to avoid speaking up as they don’t believe there is any value in it. 

So how can you enhance the effect of your employee engagement survey? To begin with, it is important to gain an understanding of what you are trying to achieve through the survey. Do you want to know if your employees are happy? Do you want to know how to make them more productive? Do you want to find out how to keep them within your company? All of these things are important, however not all can be dealt with effectively within the same survey. 

Once you have decided what information you most want to gather from your survey, you then need to explore what you would like to do with the information. This will help you formulate the questions themselves, which will help you achieve the strategic drive you are trying to create. While it is good to make your survey accessible and convenient to engage with by using multiple choice questions, or ‘on a scale of 1-5 questions’, you should also consider peppering it with text boxes to allow your people to volunteer further information or clarity. Not everyone will take the time to do this however any who do will provide you with invaluable insight into how they feel about the issues addressed within the survey. Do not be afraid to have this ‘open-floor’ approach as it will demonstrate to employees that you fully welcome all suggestions and ideas. 

Even with the most perfectly formulated survey with the best intentions, some employers cannot get a good level of engagement with their survey. This is particularly frustrating as the timely and monetary expense of developing the survey has been incurred for the benefit of the employee. However, how can you ensure a high level of engagement?

You could incentivise your people by adequately marketing the survey. Make it clear to them that you intend to take action from its results. You could even note specifically which area you are trying to improve. This will give them reason to take the time to have their voice heard. Secondly, you could allocate a specific slot of time where they will have a few minutes to go through the survey, without having to worry about their other responsibilities. This may work well at the beginning of the day before they become engulfed in their day-to-day tasks. I once worked somewhere where we were actually taken to a specific computer and given the time to complete our employee engagement survey. It is also important that you consider making the survey anonymous. This does not permit you to personalise action taken to specific persons with specific issues however it does make it more likely that you will receive open and honest feedback – which is the primary objective. 

Conducting an employee engagement survey is a great first step to a better more long-lasting relationship with your people. However, it is not an end in itself. It is important that you spend more time taking action than you do surveying. As you begin to build a culture of acting upon information gained through your engagement survey you will increase the level of engagement and trust in the survey itself. This will come as employees see that their input is making a tangible difference and that you are prepared to tackle issues important to them quickly and efficiently. If your people are your greatest asset, it is only fitting that you maintain them as such.

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