Many well-meaning executives who wish to get a pulse on overall employee satisfaction may employ one of the hundreds of survey companies that promise to scientifically analyze their teams.
The process is simple:
- Human Resources distributes the survey.
- The employees answer the questions honestly.
- Executives get to see which departments function best, and which areas of the organization need attention.
If the survey questions are answered positively overall, the assumption is that most employees are engaged and happy with their work environment.
Is this true? Or…to ask in a survey kind of way, “Do you strongly agree?”
Considering the time, energy and money that we pour into periodic workplace surveys we would all like to think they mean something, yet there are many factors that interfere with the accuracy and the usefulness of the information we get from them. Let’s explore.
Lack of Participation
As any number-cruncher knows the smaller the sample size, the less statistically significant the results. With an average response rate of 76%, smaller to midsize companies may find that it only takes a few Debbie Downers or Happy Harrys to skew the stats.
Let’s face it, we are all bombarded with requests for feedback in nearly every aspect of life. Whether it’s the cashier at a retail store directing us to a website printed on the back of our receipt, or the email we receive right after a tech support call asking us to rate the help desk – we have so many surveys yet so little time.
Of course mandatory participation delivers its own set of hang ups, including the morale of those forced to answer survey questions about their job – thus negatively influencing the happiness outcome that same survey intends to measure.
Try to take a positive spin on this vicious cycle!
Power of Perceptions
Perceptions are powerful and have the capacity to profoundly influence the results. People are likely to answer a question honestly when they believe the answer cannot be traced back to them.
Since survey invitations are typically sent to each employee’s company email to be completed on a company computer, the perception of anonymity is rather weak. Very few conscientious employees would place a potential career-limiting (or career-ending) comment on a survey when they truly believe they could be outed in the future for their feedback.
Perceived Lack of Anonymity
When a strong perception of anonymity does not exist, you can expect to produce mostly meaningless positive answers.
I once took a company survey that assured me of anonymity, yet asked for my department name and salary range. Since I was part of such a small team, it wouldn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure out the face behind my answers.
Indeed there were things about the company that needed to be addressed but one would never know it by how carefully (and positively) I answered those survey questions.
Even when your team is told that their survey responses will be kept completely anonymous, the more important questions is: Do they believe it?
Are there things about the structure of the survey or the manner in which it is administered that would inspire doubt?
Culture of Jadedness
Have employees completed these surveys before without observing any tangible change in the culture, or without ever learning why their suggestion wasn’t given careful consideration?
We know that not all ideas are gold, and that we can’t cater to everyone’s whims. It’s how we handle it that counts. Sweep too much feedback under the proverbial carpet and we create a state of learned helplessness in our team by never addressing the things that were once important to them.
What incentive does an employee have to take a survey if there is no evidence of their previous thoughtful feedback having any influence on workplace culture year after year after year?
Let’s be honest with ourselves. When it comes to employee surveys there are motivations that go beyond merely getting a pulse on our employees’ overall satisfaction and engagement.
Maybe we just want to deck the walls with braggadocious posters so we can show our visitors how awesome we are?
Perhaps we want to help our company win some kind of workplace award?
Soliciting feedback but neglecting to follow up on the issues your bravest employees submitted, and then plastering only the positive results throughout the company is the perfect recipe to create the perception of insincerity.
Depending on your company’s churn rate, some of the employees who completed your survey may have already left by the time the results are even published. How then could the results accurately reflect the overall sentiment of your present staff? How much less just a few months later?
An Outdated Method
We certainly don’t think everyone reading this is an insincere glory hog that wants to create the appearance of employee happiness even if it isn’t true. In fact, we believe that the vast majority of managers distribute surveys because they want to create better workplaces for their teams. That being said, the road to employee disengagement is often paved with good intentions.
Perhaps our corporate culture has simply evolved beyond the usefulness of a periodic employee survey. What do we need in today’s world that surveys cannot accomplish?
- Quick and easy. While no one looks forward to a 20, 50 or 100 question survey, most employees like to provide meaningful insights when they can simply submit a single item of importance at a time when it’s most relevant.
- Real-time feedback. You want to hear feedback when it’s hot – especially when a few important details that may never surface on a formal survey could positively impact your bottom line. You need the information while it’s still timely and actionable, not several months later.
- General consensus of the team. You’ll want to have an idea of how many other employees find particular feedback valuable, and their insights into how a colleague’s suggestion could improve the company.
- Believable anonymity. Virtually everyone trusts encryption and secure logins. And for good reason. You don’t want to just claim anonymity, you want to show your team why they can trust you that their feedback will remain anonymous if they would like it to.
Welcome to the Future
Happster empowers employees by providing the tools to post feedback about projects, the workplace and pressing issues.
Other team members get to upvote and offer further clarification and propose solutions. Happster even allows employees the opportunity to post their feedback anonymously if they choose.
Managers have access to all of this feedback in real time, have the ability to provide a meaningful response, and view analytics which provide further insights into trending topics and innovative ideas your teams are generating.
Will apps like Happster one day render the standard employee workplace survey obsolete?
We think so.
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