25% are dishonest in pulse surveys. Here’s how to fix that

A new poll from the platform Blind shows that employees are fudging their answers in pulse surveys. Fix that by understanding culture, asking real questions and acting on results.

Employees are lying on surveys

Wondering what your employees are thinking?

Quick, time for a pulse survey!

Then again, are you sure they’re giving it to you straight? Nearly  a quarter of employees confess that they are being less than honest on pulse surveys, according to a recent survey by Blind, an anonymous community of business professionals.

How to turn that around? Kim Clark, affiliate consultant with Ragan Consulting Group, says several factors contribute to a lack of honesty in pulse or engagement surveys:

  • Country culture or customs. In some regions of the world, people don’t want to be viewed as “the complaining kids,” she says. They want their corporate headquarters to think all is well and good in their area—“don’t take our budgets or fire us kind of thing.”
  • Trust. Companies must demonstrate trust in every facet of how leaders and people managers relate to their workforce. Retaliation is real—Clark says she has seen and experienced it herself. “Then, if you’re an underrepresented population or in a visa situation or in any kind of vulnerable situation, there’s no reason, no pay off to being honest,” she says.
  • Doesn’t matter. Many organizations don’t do anything with the results they receive, Clark says. There’s a push for participation, “and then … crickets.”

Show you’re listening

To improve the figure, communicators must find ways to show they intend to listen—and act on—the information they learn, says Kyum Kim, Blind’s cofounder and head of U.S. operations. The online community has more than 3 million verified users.

Blind’s survey of 2,700 professionals found that the lack of candor means companies aren’t getting an accurate picture of how employees really feel. An analysis reveals that in order to be candid, employees must feel free to provide feedback, Kim says.

Kim says that to receive honest feedback, “employers need to make employees feel safe when answering employee pulse surveys, and following up with an action plan to bring positive changes is crucial.”

Pondering the survey finding, Blind asks, “We’re left wondering if employee pulse surveys are ultimately inaccurate, is there a better way to measure employee satisfaction and benchmark it over time?”

Incentives warp responses

Asked about Blind’s figures, Elizabeth Godo, director of communication at Palladium, says the first factor she would consider are incentives.

“Why are employees responding in the first place?” says Godo, a member of Ragan’s Communications Leadership Council. “Companies suffer when they use too many extrinsic motivators (like prizes and rewards) for survey completion instead of building a culture where people want to be heard for the contribution it will make.”

Some companies make the mistake of linking the results to employees’ bonuses, incentivizing everyone to answer in a way that maximizes their pay, she adds.

Palladium has avoided rewards save for cupcakes in some offices, and response rates have exceeded 80% for four years running, she says.

“Are people being honest?” Godo says. “I hope so! I know some years the scores have been very negative, and then as the company has made changes in response, we’ve seen our scores increase.”

Leaders and people managers must ask questions that truly matter and shape the employee experience, tie them to business goals, listen, learn and act, Clark urges.

Communicators must provide progress reports from leaders who are accountable for actions based on survey results, Clark says. They should and tie to the survey results whatever is rolling out or changing.

“Talk about it and tie it back constantly,” she says. “Visibility is great accountability and employees deserve this as we’re asking for their time and sharing their experience.”

While a quarter of employees fudging their answers might sound like a lot, Clark had a different reaction, given the platform’s reputation as a place where employees can grouse.

“I’m impressed it’s that low,” Clark says. “Blind is a proven channel to where people are more honest, blatant.”


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