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The Case for Employee Surveys

Posted by Insightlink on 10/14/14

Justifying an Employee Survey

There are many different reasons for conducting an employee survey. Some of these reasons include:

  • Providing your organization with a fresh perspective on attitudes and opinions about policies and operations,
  • Measuring how well your employees are "on board” with management’s mission and strategy,
  • Giving your staff members a voice in helping improve the work environment, and
  • Finding out how your organization performs compared with that of similar organizations.

Keep in mind that your employees have to deal with everyday front-line problems in every corner of your business. In fact, employees at all levels are the key to effective performance improvement – they really know how things work and are best placed to identify and resolve the problems which are holding your organization back. If you can successfully engage your staff in driving performance improvement, you can create a catalyst for change across the entire organization. Their skills, knowledge, experience and creativity can be effective tools in assessing your work environment, so that your operations can become faster, cheaper, more efficient, more effective and more customer focused.

Why Employee Surveys Fail

A badly conducted survey can alienate the very people you need to ensure are involved in driving improvement - your employees. Employee surveys often fail by either not getting meaningful information or by not producing positive change within the organization. In our experience, though, the leading cause of unsuccessful survey efforts can be traced to the expectations under which management conducts an employee survey.

These types of surveys must be driven by a genuine desire on the part of management to improve working conditions and to do so by identifying and solving the key problems that their employees face. A survey initiative should never be used to find scapegoats for areas of dissatisfaction or be simply filed away and not referred to again.

Another leading cause of unsuccessful surveys is timing. It is typically not wise to conduct this type of survey during major labor negotiations, strikes, corporate restructuring, a merger or acquisition and/or efforts at downsizing. However, employee surveys can be effective for both setting a “baseline” measure prior to any important changes and for determining how well the changes were implemented after the fact.

Guiding Principles for Effective Surveys

Based our own experience, here are some key guidelines for success:

  1. Plan to survey all employees in your organization, except perhaps for your newest employees who may not yet have had time to form an opinion about their jobs. Leaving out any specific sub-segments of your employee population can easily cause resentment and become a focus for opposition.
  2. Define clear objectives and outcomes for the survey and make sure that your employees understand that you are looking for them to help improve the performance of the organization and their working environment. This will help to generate collaboration and co-operation throughout your organization and during the survey process.
  3. Ensure that you and senior management are truly committed to taking action before you carry out a survey. Asking employees to take time and effort to complete an employee survey and then doing nothing is a guaranteed way to turn them off from participating in any further improvement activity.
  4. Engage both front-line and middle management in the survey effort because if they are enthusiastic about it, the people who report to them will share that enthusiasm and be motivated to participate.
  5. Include a mix of both closed-ended rating questions and open-ended questions. Closed-ended rating questions are easier to analyze and provide a good means to seek views on specific issues, while open-ended responses give your employees the opportunity to express their views in their own words - these answers can often lead to more in-depth understanding on important issues and can even help you develop more creative solutions.
  6. Give your employees both the time and resources necessary to let them complete the survey easily – be careful not to set up inadvertent barriers to participation!
  7. Ensure absolute confidentiality. It is critical that no employee feels that their individual views or opinions can be linked back to them personally.
  8. Plan at an early stage the process by which the results will be fed back to employees and how you will use the results to identify actions which can improve performance. Where possible, implement some of these quickly to demonstrate management’s commitment to the survey findings. For more complex issues, create task forces or teams to investigate and resolve - this approach further reinforces a commitment to teamwork, involvement and participation.
  9. For subsequent surveys, try not to change too much to the survey content so that you can monitor changes in employee morale and motivation and to provide an incentive to front-line managers to continue to improve employee working conditions.
  10. Most importantly, as soon as possible after the survey, carefully review your results, share key highlights from those results and develop a workable action plan. Otherwise, employees may wonder if the decision to ask for their input was the correct one.

Getting Your Employees to Drive Performance Improvement

To reinterate, if you really want your employees to become involved in performance improvement, they need: 

  • To know that this is really what senior leadership wants and will fully support their efforts,
  • To be equipped with the skills necessary to become involved,
  • To have their views sought, acknowledged and acted upon,
  • To be involved in improvement activities which they can see have a real impact on the success of the organization, and
  • To have a system where issues which prevent them from improving performance can be addressed.

Creating Meaningful Action

Done well, an employee survey can give your organization vital information that is essential for building meaningful and positive change. Done poorly, an employee survey can inflict a great deal of damage on your organization. An effective survey needs careful thought and planning, followed by real action to address the issues raised. We always warn clients that if they don’t know what they are going to do with the results, they should not carry out a survey. With good planning and execution, an employee survey can provide fresh impetus for any organization at any stage in the improvement process. On the other hand, without effective planning, an employee can result in apathy, demotivation, resentment and a reluctance to participate in any future efforts.

At Insightlink, we are driven by a passion to provide our clients with expertise in survey design, data collection and analysis that will lead to real change within their organizations time after time.

“An employee survey is like having fire available to you. If handled right, it can be an invaluable resource that will transform your organization but, if handled poorly, it can burn you!”

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Insightlink Communications are experts in employee survey design, data collection and analysis. Since 2001 we've helped companies of all sizes measure and improve their employee satisfaction and engagement.

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