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A Guide To Successful Employee Survey Research, Part 3

Employee Survey Best Practices

employee survey best practices Once you've completed your preliminary review and have decided that some form of employee survey is the way to go, let's take some time to review these surveys in more detail, especially since they are the most popular type of employee research undertaken in the U.S. Based on our own experience and having been exposed to the best and worst practices, we will guide you through the process and offer you some useful tips and advice in planning an employee survey.

The Employee Survey "Issues Discovery" Process

As a first step, we find it helpful for the primary stakeholders at an organization to conduct a straightforward "issues discovery" process as a way of clarifying the employee survey objectives, raising possible areas of exploration that might not otherwise be identified and reinforcing commitment from senior management. As part of the process, we recommend getting answers to the following questions:
  1. What are your organization's three biggest management challenges?

  2. What are your organization's three biggest operational challenges?

  3. From the employees' perspective, what are some of the positive aspects of working at this organization?

  4. On the other hand, what might employees believe needs to be changed?

  5. What would you say are the organization's primary leadership challenges? What about the challenges facing teams or departments?

  6. How is change perceived within the organization?

  7. Have there been any recent developments or policy changes at the organization that might be affecting employee morale?

  8. Is there anything else your research company should know that would impact survey design or reporting?

These questions do not have to be answered exactly as shown and should be used more as thought- and conversation-starters. They can be tackled as a group or can be answered by each stakeholder individually. In total, the responses can help guide survey design and analysis by providing a more complete understanding of the organization's current situation.

Deciding on the Approach: Census or Sample?

Having defined your survey objectives, the next thing to consider is whether to include all employees in the survey - which would be a "census" - or just select a subset of employees - which would represent a "sample" approach. The evidence overwhelmingly suggests that a census survey is most appropriate for employee satisfaction or engagement surveys when the objective is to get feedback throughout the organization. This is particularly important if there is a need to drive through improvement action planning at local levels, since this means that frontline managers have to receive their own reports. By undertaking a sample survey, there may either be not enough responses to provide a report or the number of responses may represent too small a proportion of the whole employee population to be considered statistically robust.

Another advantage of a census approach is that it clearly demonstrates to all employees that the organization wants to hear from everyone. This reinforces the point that all opinions count and can prevent accusations that only "certain" employees were invited so that management would get the responses that paint them in the most positive light.

This is not to say that sample studies have no role in field of employee surveys but does emphasize the need for careful planning and communication to employees when a sample approach is used. Samples can be appropriate when conducting "pulse" or interim surveys or if there is need for feedback on a certain set of questions that don't require input from everyone. Employee Survey Communication Best Practices

Employee Survey Communication Best Practices

Employee buy-in is critical to the success of the survey. If they believe that improvements will result from the survey, they are more likely to participate and to become actively involved in the follow-up improvement action planning process. Communication is critical to getting this employee buy-in, particularly at the outset of the program and we recommend developing an employee communications plan that covers the following stages:
  • Pre Survey
  • During the Survey
  • Post Survey
  • Between Surveys
When developing this plan, you need to consider the different messages you want to give to your different audiences and the most appropriate communication channels for reaching those audiences. For example, it is important for frontline managers and immediate supervisors to act as positive role models for the survey so that when they interact with their staff and direct reports, they express active encouragement of the survey, a commitment to administer it properly and to act on the results. This is vital because employees are normally heavily influenced by their immediate supervisors or managers if they have any doubts about participating. If their manager/supervisor doesn't endorse survey, then neither will they.

Planning Guide for Employee Surveys

The following table outlines some of the key messages that should be communicated at each stage of the employee survey process:

Pre Survey During the Survey Post Survey Between Surveys

Describe the objectives of the survey, the rationale for doing it now and how the results will be shared

Issue a reminder of the objectives and assurance that action will be taken

Thank employees for participating

Highlight and recognize successful examples of action planning

Stress that you are using an independent, third-party agency for data collection

Unequivocally promise that individual surveys cannot be reviewed or linked to names


Inform employees when data collection will begin

Send regular reminders and state when data collection will end as part of the final reminder

Publish the final response rate

Recognize the contributions of teams and individuals to the action planning process

Stress that senior management is committed to taking action in response to the survey results

Reiterate both why and how the results will be acted upon

Offer detail on how employees should get involved in the action planning process

Demonstrate senior management's endorsement and support of the final action plan/survey outcomes

Emphasize the importance of a high response rate so that all employee opinions are heard

Provide updates on the current response rate

Share departmental results and encourage action planning at all levels

Give detailed plans for the next survey

Communicate the importance of participation

Reinforce the importance of participation

Provide top-level summary results

Identify any areas where action cannot be taken and the reasons for this

Inform employees of the methodology to be used for data collection(online vs. paper-based or some combination)

Let employees know how they can participate and what they should do if having problems accessing or completing the survey

Issue regular reminders of the action planning process and how it is progressing

Point to the impact of action planning on customer service and business performance

Assure all that the study will protect anonymity and preserve confidentiality

Reinforce the anonymity and confidentiality of the results


Action Plan Communications

Post Survey Action Planning Communications

It is the period right after completing an employee survey that is the most important for determining the appropriate action, letting employees know what action is being taken and then confirming what improvements have been made in direct response to their feedback. We strongly believe that effective action planning is the most important part of the survey process, especially since many employees believe that little or no improvements are generated from employee surveys (and this can often be based on real experience!)

However, the perception that little action has been taken often is not true. Lack of awareness of improvements among employees, or their inability to link the improvements back to the survey, lead them to believe that nothing positive is happening. Many organizations make little attempt to link positive changes in policies and procedures back to their original source - the employee survey findings. This is the stage that we call "closing the loop" by reminding your staff that the action being taken is because of the information they shared.

Branding the survey and subsequent action planning activity with a name and/or a logo is an excellent way of raising the profile of an employee survey program. In this way, employees can connect the results of improvement actions back to how they responded in the survey. A short-form name or acronym can help make your employee survey more memorable, especially if the name or acronym is used consistently throughout the survey process.

Part 1: Introduction Part 4: Choosing the Right Survey


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