Why many engagement surveys just waste everyone’s time

When employees offer their opinions and insights about your organization, some beneficial change must follow. If not, you’ll alienate your staffers and breed distrust.

With all the fervor inside organizations about employee engagement surveys, how many employers ever stop to take a deep, serious look at why they’re conducting them?

More to the point, why should they consider not conducting them?

It’s counterproductive to ask for someone’s opinion if you don’t have a sincere interest in responding to what they say, so don’t conduct an engagement survey unless you plan to do something meaningful with the information your employees give you.

Employees want to know that you are not simply conducting a survey so executives can give the appearance that “they care.” If people feel you’ve falsely raised their hopes and wasted their time in asking for their opinions without a plan of action based on what you learn, they are unlikely to participate next time around or give thoughtful responses if they do.

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Survey organizers can take several steps to develop confidence and trust with employees. These are especially important if people feel that previous surveys have done little to improve the work environment.

Before the survey:

  • Explain the survey’s purpose and expectations.
  • Describe how participation will benefit both the employee and the organization.
  • Identify the survey provider you are working with, and outline the methods and process they will follow to protect the employee’s identity.
  • Introduce the survey with timeframes for what will happen and when.
  • Develop a plan for evaluating results and developing corrective actions.

After the survey:

  • Communicate survey findings while the survey is still fresh in employees’ minds.
  • Review results in structured discussion sessions; don’t send results in an email or present them at a town hall meeting.
  • Involve employees in planning how to use the findings.
  • Implement action plans to make indicated changes and improvements.
  • Evaluate results of action plans.
  • Report on what has worked and what hasn’t worked with improvement efforts, and describe adjustments that will be made.

Be sure to work with a professional service that doesn’t simply pull standard questions off the shelf. It takes thoughtful customization to conduct a survey that’s just right for your culture.


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