Are Employee Surveys Effective?

At some point in your career, you’ve more than likely been asked to participate in an employee survey. Organizations conduct these surveys for different reasons:

• To ask for feedback and get a “pulse” on employee satisfaction and engagement
• To instill an open-door policy where feedback and transparency is welcomed
• To make improvements within the company

I’ve worked at companies that conducted surveys annually, quarterly, or not at all. The ones that did not conduct surveys chose this path because they did not want to have to act on the feedback received. That was not the best decision by the leadership team. We cannot just ignore problems and hope they will go away.

These are some guidelines to follow when you choose to conduct surveys:

  1. Determine the objective and create a theme for the survey. Are you focusing on quality of management, culture, values, overall satisfaction? Have you had an uptick in turnover recently and want to measure morale? Have general employee complaints risen recently? Is it benefits renewal time?
  2. Select survey medium. The survey should be anonymous so that you will receive the most candid and honest answers. The distribution should be whatever is best for your work environment and should be flexible. If most employees work at a computer, an online survey is best. If employees don’t have much access to computers, consider paper surveys or a combination of both options.
  3. Design the questionnaire. Make sure you have targeted questions and also plenty of space for comments. The survey should be as short and to the point as possible to reduce fall-out rate.
  4. Communicate the importance and market the survey. Your marketing campaign should include posters, e-mail reminders and meetings from management sharing how feedback is needed and valued so the company can improve.
  5. Communicate the results. This step is critical. After employees have spent time completing the survey, they want to know the results and how they compare to their peers. This communication is best presented in town hall type meetings or even smaller team meetings where questions and comments can be made.
  6. Act on the results. So many companies spend hours creating surveys, tallying results, crunching numbers, but then do nothing. Form a survey committee composed of HR, managers, and employee representatives and act on the results. Create programs, add benefits, work to change the culture…whatever it takes to increase employee engagement and prove you are listening. Make sure employees are aware of the actions being taken as a result of their feedback.
  7. Conduct regular surveys throughout the year. Short “pulse” surveys are great to cover one topic at a time frequently. Don’t just survey employees once a year or every two years. This isn’t enough and only shows a snapshot in time instead of the bigger picture.

Be suspicious of low participation rates. This could mean that employees are disengaged, don’t think you are serious about acting on potential issues, or don’t trust that the survey is really anonymous. After all, if the results are positive, but only 20% of employees completed the survey, are the results really accurate?

Have you conducted surveys at your organization? What topics have been most insightful?