There’s a catch-22 when it comes to employee surveys: You need to establish a baseline for employee engagement to know if your programs are effective, but if your employees are disengaged, you can’t trust their answers.
Workers who feel their employers don’t recognize or care about their efforts may not give the most forthcoming answers. Some employees think, “I’ll just tell them what they want to hear. They’re not going to do anything anyhow.” Other employees may even feel their employers would use their answers against them.
Here are five things your employee engagement survey won’t tell you:
1. The true level of disengagement
Many HR professionals agree that employee engagement surveys suffer some biases that skew results to look better than they actually are.
It’s very difficult to get high participation (some organizations incentivize employees), and assess how honest employees are when they fill out the questionnaire. Respondents tend to provide answers they feel are polite or socially acceptable, yet some workers may use the survey to vent dissatisfaction.
2. The root cause of the problem
If your organization falls anywhere south of exceptional on a bell-shaped curve, you can count on getting disappointing news from your survey. In other words, you’ll find that somewhere between two-thirds and three-quarters of your staff is disengaged, and you won’t know why. Recognition is likely part of the problem, but you can’t tell for certain. Employee surveys are descriptive-not prescriptive.
3. What to do next
Even if your survey results come back completely clear, the survey can’t tell you what steps you should take next. Maybe that is why so many organizations sit on their hands for months after administering an employee survey. Failure to act visibly and quickly after the survey is one of the worst things a business can do to employee morale, yet it is typical.
4. Whether there are any trends
A survey can provide a valuable baseline, but if you only administer the survey once a year, you’re not likely to get results that show a clear trend. Have you had significant staff turnover in the past year? Did you bring in new hires? Both of these factors can add noise to the results and cloud the picture.
5. What you are doing right
Maybe your company has gone through a tough growth phase, and people are burned out. That said, your organization has strong core values, and your workers are in touch with your organization’s mission. In this case, employees are disengaged, but it might not take much to get them back in the groove.
What you can do
You need to immediately follow measurement with action. Employees will start believing in the change you profess if they see action after the survey is complete.
David Bator is passionate about programs that move people. As vice president of Client Strategy, David leads TemboSocial’s Conversation Consultants, a group responsible for helping clients leverage TemboSocial’s tools to interactively engage and share knowledge with employees and customers alike. A version of this article originally appeared on TemboSocial.com.