Time to Ditch the Employee Engagement Survey?

Survey Graphic

Survey GraphicAs we near the mid-way point for the year, many organizations are conducting employee engagement surveys to address satisfaction, productivity, and retention issues. Ironically, the employee engagement survey experience is typically less than engaging. Employees receive an email from Human Resources asking them to answer 10-15 minutes worth of questions that inquire about everything from workload to leadership’s vision. And in the end, most employees feel like the survey was a waste of time. It’s not that the employees lack opinions, they just lack trust that their responses will drive change. 

One of the first things they teach in graduate-level Organizational Psychology classes on surveys is “never ask for feedback on something you can’t/won’t change.” In other words, don’t ask if your employees are satisfied with their compensation if you aren’t open to making changes based on the results. Yet, this cardinal sin is committed on the vast majority of employee engagement surveys.

When conducted improperly, employee engagement surveys can actually harm employee morale. When organizations fail to share survey results openly and define a plan to make changes, respondents feel like their time was wasted and assume their responses ended up in the same black hole as lost socks from the laundry. A disrespected employee is difficult to re-engage.
However, when planned and administered properly, surveys can deliver incredible insights about morale, culture, and perceptions of leadership.

At a time when HR Technology is experiencing rapid advancement with AI and analytics, it’s interesting that the use of engagement surveys is on the decline. Instead, organizations are wisely turning to their leadership teams for help. Leaders can do something surveys can’t—engage!

  • They can engage active listening.
  • They can engage empathy.
  • They can engage in an open, honest conversation.
  • And they can engage in solution-producing discussions.

Why purchase software to ask questions of your employees when their manager is available to ask them questions every day? There’s no need to wait for the annual email invitation from HR when the manager-driven survey tool is always on! To get honest feedback, though, it takes more than just asking questions.

Managers must set the stage. Be clear that while you see value in measuring the collective voice of the organization through a formal survey, you feel it’s equally important to ask for feedback yourself so you can listen, reflect, and make changes in real-time. Be honest and transparent that there will be times when you’re unable to make recommended changes, but the expression of feedback will always be welcome and respected.

At first, the feedback/conversations may be superficial as employees test the waters of this ongoing, live survey experience. Depending on your organization’s comfort with transparency, this could be a major cultural shift for everyone involved. To support that transition, consider an anonymous feedback box where employees can submit their opinions without fear of penalty. Then reinforce the transparent culture by openly sharing the feedback and your thoughts on how to embrace the information during weekly team meetings.

Ditching the traditional survey and embracing the always-on approach to engagement will take some time. But in the end, the relationships built by asking for, listening to, and accepting feedback will always drive more engagement than a Likert scale.