Why aren't employee engagement surveys working?
If you believe in employee engagement - but have been frustrated with the process and results, we hear you. A lot of companies prioritise engagement but don’t see results.
Understandably, this creates scepticism of surveys. Too often, they don’t result in a more engaged and productive workforce.
These are the 3 most common reasons why surveys don’t work:
- They are being asked too often
- They don’t ask the right questions
- It’s hard to understand what employees actually say
They’re being asked too often
As surveys have become cheaper, we’ve seen organisations sending more surveys. Some allow every manager to send individual surveys without limitation.
Others now ‘pulse’ employees every week. This only works if you make changes weekly, and everyone can see those changes. Otherwise, people answer questions, don’t see results, then stop replying. Survey fatigue.
Feedback requires a response, and if an organisation fails to acknowledge or respond thoughtfully, trust is the casualty.
You can see this in 2 ways:
- Lower response rates over time.
- More negative responses when questions are repeated and nothing has been done since the last survey.
Recently we saw an example where, over the course of two years, response rates to pulse surveys had fallen to less than 20% (from over 60%).
It’s definitely possible to ‘pulse’ successfully. Companies that do it well tend to have one thing in common though – they are naturally fast-paced organisations with a huge capacity to adapt rapidly.
For most organisations, frequent surveys lead to excessive data, not enough time to analyse, and no changes happening.Feedback must be acted on and it should be incorporated into the People Strategy.
Top tip #1
Ask your survey at the right time.
- Plan around decision-making cycles. If you plan your business decisions by the quarter, send surveys every quarter. Insight is redundant unless it informs key decisions.
- Be relevant. Make sure each survey has a relevant, topical purpose and focus.
- Nudge people into responding. Make a communication plan that explains the reason for it, when it’s happening, and reminders to complete.
They don’t ask the right questions
If we ask meaningless questions, we will never gather meaningful data and the survey becomes pointless – it cannot deliver change.
In a recent employee survey we found the question:
This is ridiculous. Who cares? Why is that important to anyone?
If someone has given up time on a busy day to answer survey questions, it’s a frustrating waste of their time.
If you want effective results, you need to invest in quality.
That starts with well-phrased questions that can clarify if there are issues within a workplace. Or questions that uncover new ideas about how every-day processes can be improved or transformed. High-quality questions that can shape working days.
Poor surveys send a strong signal to your employees. There’s a very real cost when you rush to send out a quick, poorly-designed survey, just to tick the box of gathering feedback. Low-quality surveys reduce engagement, and produce poor data to act on.
Top tip #2
Ask fewer, better questions.
- Surveys should be short. Try to keep all surveys 25 questions or less.
- Make questions count. Ask clear, meaningful questions that are proven to be insightful (on average).
- Quality shows you care. Poorly designed surveys send a signal of indifference, while great design shows care.
It’s hard to understand what employees actually say
Imagine coming home from a long day at work, and your partner gives you this questionnaire:
We don’t communicate like this. We use actual words. It’s the best way of understanding feelings, and what drives them. If you ask your partner, “how was your day?” You’d get a specific, honest, human reply.
Yes/No questions have become the norm in surveys. The obsession with scores, benchmarks, and comparisons means lots of information is gathered and measured about ‘what’ is happening, but there’s little understanding of the ‘why’.
Closed questions are good for creating scores and creating comparable measures of progress, but they can’t capture complex feelings and experiences. You need to let people use their own words.
There are a few problems to overcome though. It’s often difficult to collate all the answers, and they’re time-consuming to go through. What’s even trickier to deal with is unconscious bias when interpreting results.
Fortunately, there are new technologies that can do all of this for you. AI and Natural Language Processing mean we can understand employee language at massive scale. Employee Language Analysis can take hundreds, even thousands of survey responses and instantly:
- Sort and tag comments, making it easy to classify and search.
- Classify as positive or negative.
- Organise the themes that people are talking about.
Here’s an example of a sentence being correctly classed into 3 themes:
One of the key challenges in the past has been the ability to understand this data in great detail. Fortunately, technology now lets us do this. This is where you start to receive more valuable, contextual insight.
Top tip #3
Create more than scores, reveal the power of language
- Confirm focus - Closed questions create scores or measures of progress, and highlights what you can prioritise to change.
- Ask open text questions - Text is vital, it allows free expression and is full of rich insight.
- Discover actions. Employee language analysis helps contextualise scores and crowdsource ideas of what you can do to make meaningful changes.
Learn more: How to understand open text responses in employee surveys.