Survey Says: 10 Things to Ask Yourself Before Conducting an Employee Survey

Employee Engagement Survey

In the face of worker shortages, many employers are now painfully aware of the benefits of having a happy and engaged workforce, namely retaining existing employees and recruiting new ones. One method many companies select for trying to measure employee engagement and satisfaction levels is an employee survey. As with any tool, when used correctly and with the right intentions, worker satisfaction surveys can provide valuable insights to what is working and what might not be in regards to corporate productivity and profitability, manager relationships as well as with any employee-retention focused programs you may have in place. However, when not properly vetted and rolled out, those surveys can become just another form that someone checks as done and basically a colossal waste of everyone’s time that you just encouraged them to waste.

Before embarking on the quest to compile and roll out an employee survey, here are things you should be asking yourself and your leadership team to make sure your survey and employees’ feedback matter:

  1. What Do We Want to Accomplish and/or Learn and How Will It Be Measured? Starting with the end in mind can help you and your team to stay focused and, just like when traveling to a determined destination, help you in selecting the best route to navigate to where you want to land.  It is also a good jumping off point to have open dialogue for what can truly be gleaned from survey results and the best way to tally those results.  Ideally, you should focus on 3-4 specific areas (satisfaction with benefits, management, tools, etc.) and build your survey from there.
  2. How Much Time Are We Asking of Our Employees? Nothing is worse than taking a survey that seems to be nearing completion only to find that it simply moves through multiple pages and is more of a time investment than initially advertised.  Surveys should really take no more than 10-15 minutes of your employees’ time to finish and you should include progress trackers and/or initial descriptions telling them how many questions and how much time it should take, so that they can plan to give it full focus when their schedule permits.
  3. Are We Willing and Able to Make Changes? If your employees are willing to invest their time and provide candid feedback, nothing would quash their eagerness to participate in the future more than doing nothing about topics on which they provide negative or constructive feedback.  For example, if your company is not able to make any adjustments to compensation plans, it might be wise to steer clear of any questions related to pay lest you ask the question and have 90% say they feel underpaid and then do nothing.  While you do not want to be an ostrich with your head in the sand about certain subjects, you should also be willing and able to make changes about whatever you are surveying to avoid having the survey be an exercise in futility all around.
  4. What Is the Best Timing? Once you have figured out the topics, decide on the best timing to rollout the survey and allow adequate response time.  Consider things such as any large projects or seasonality for your company, typical vacation schedules and also timing for making changes based on feedback for any specific topics.  For example, if you do plan to ask about benefits, make sure you rollout your survey well in advance of when you might negotiate your benefits package to provide yourself with better insights of what your employees like or dislike about your current offerings. You will also want to plan timing for follow up to determine whether or not any changes you do make are well received and/or helping to solve any problems highlighted. Lastly, you should set a schedule for future surveys because if you want to show employees you truly do value their feedback you should seek it regularly and consistently.
  5. What is in it for Your Employees? In order to make your survey more successful in terms of both participation and quality of feedback, you should get buy in from your employees early on.  This can be achieved by involving a few key employees as part of the team that develops the survey as well as highlighting what the company’s goal is and plans to act upon the results once the survey is completed.  You could throw a party for a specified participation rate or implement other incentives as well.
  6. How Will You Discuss and Share the Results? Have a plan to go over the results with employees.  Whether you allow them to view them from their own computer or have a large roundtable / forum to discuss the results, employees will be curious to see how everyone responded and what management intends to do next. When conducting the review, ensure that leadership and managers alike take the results factually and do not get emotional about any of the topics.  Nothing will kill willingness to participate like having a manager or employer getting mad that a response to one or more of the questions is not in alignment with what they believe to be true and they take offense to it and then try to argue that everyone else is wrong in how they responded.
  7. What if Completion Rates Are Low? This in and of itself should be an indicator that your employee morale and satisfaction rates could be low.  It could also mean that employees feel whatever feedback they have will not be heard anyway, so why bother.  You should not make participation mandatory because forcing someone to give you feedback is automatically going to turn negative.  Instead you and your management team should do your best to figure out if there are factors driving a lack of enthusiasm to provide feedback.
  8. Are We Allowing Employees to Remain Anonymous? Another factor that could drive participation rates lower is if your employees feel they will lose their anonymity in participating.  Do not have questions about what department they are in, job function, etc. unless you are a larger firm.  If you have a department that only has a handful of employees or even just one person, obviously you are going to be able to single that person or persons out with such questions and, if they do take part, you will reduce the likelihood that they would be forthright with their answers.
  9. Are We Asking Open-Ended Questions and Are Questions Worded Well? While you will want to ask some yes/no and rating level questions to try to gauge measurable results, it is also a good idea to provide some places where employees can type in their own comments.  This allows employees to perhaps explain why they picked a certain rating or may even be a good place for an employee to make you aware of an issue you and your management team may not have been privy to previously. Also, make sure to have a few people read the questions before you finalize the survey.  Nothing is worse than asking a double negative or confusing question that will leave employees scratching their heads while answering and you and your management team questioning their intended response.
  10. Is A Survey Really the Best Way to Get Employee Feedback? If you have specific concerns about whether you have a toxic manager, employees about to walk out the door or people who may suspect illegal activities at your workplace, an employee survey is not really the ideal medium for flushing those things out. Those matters generally should be identifiable through a comprehensive review of workforce analytics, performance reviews or internal whistleblowers program and hopefully you have helped to foster an environment whereby an employee knows the appropriate protocol to discuss concerns and, more importantly, feels compelled to speak with some and safe enough in doing so.

Just as your employees should not be surprised by anything that appears on their performance reviews, you should really not be shocked by any overall responses to your survey.  Hopefully you already have a fairly good finger on the pulse of your employee satisfaction.  Ideally your employees should feel free to share concerns they have any time with someone at the organization that they trust because open dialogue is a far better form of communication and encourages daily input and opportunities to correct problems before they escalate.  No matter how you elicit employee input, just be certain that you encourage it because if you don’t value your employees’ feedback, some other employer will.

Employee surveys aren’t the only tool out there.  There are several other ways to help you and your management team track and manage employee engagement and retention.

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