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The Importance of Employee Surveys

Ignorance is bliss. We’ve all heard poet Thomas Gray’s classic idiom. While the musing may be wishful thinking, it certainly has no place in business. In fact, what you don’t know will certainly come back to bite you.

Every organization needs to understand exactly where it stands regarding every aspect of its operation. And it especially needs to understand the way employees feel about their jobs, managers, workplace environment, opportunities for advancement and other benchmarks of employee engagement. Yet, what many leaders don’t know about their employees could fill volumes. According to experts, nearly one-third of the U.S. workforce is actively disengaged—and many managers don’t know why.

While the price of ignorance can never be fully measured, Gallup estimates that disengaged workers cost American companies $450 to $550 billion each year in lost productivity. On the flip side, companies that have a truly engaged workforce enjoy dramatic upticks in many key performance indicators—customer satisfaction (+10%), productivity (+21%) and profitability (+22%). They also have less absenteeism (-37%), turnover (-25% in high turnover organizations; -65% in low-turnover organizations), safety issues (-48%) and quality defects (4%).
Taking a periodic pulse check is the only way to gain a clear understanding of what your organization is doing well and where it needs improvement. While many companies conduct annual employee surveys, this once-a-year review doesn’t present an accurate view of what is really going on. Surveys should be conducted much more frequently—every quarter, every month or even every week—to truly gauge attitudes, issues, success and problems.
Just as there is leeway in the frequency of surveys, there is a variety of ways to solicit employee opinions. You can conduct formal or informal surveys, depending on your company’s culture. You can create the content for your survey in-house, or hire a professional firm that specializes in survey administration and analysis. Regardless of the approach you choose, here are a few things to keep in mind before conducting employee satisfaction surveys.

  • There is no one right way to put together this survey. The questions you format and add will depend on the information you are trying to gather. You should not simply do an online search and start using whatever sample survey or template you come across. Before you can even write any questions/statements, you need to determine what topics you want to learn about. Many surveys deal with the actual job, the employee’s direct management, employee development, peers within the company, compensation, company leadership, etc. These are the basic topics, but you may wish to add other questions that can shed light on other specific aspects of the company’s hierarchy or performance.
  • Avoid generic out-of-the-box surveys. . It may be tempting to use a survey template you find online, but beware. These surveys are generic and have been constructed with very broad strokes. Remember, an effective, insightful survey is about discovery. You won’t discover what your people really think or feel if you don’t ask questions that are relevant to their specific employment experience with your company.
  • Determine what you want to learn. Before you can craft insightful survey questions, you need to know what you want to learn from your employees. Do you want to know how what keeps them from doing their job well? What motivates them beyond compensation? How you can nurture and increase innovation among your ranks? Attitudes about the company’s five-year action plan? Knowing what information you wish to glean will help form the core of your questions.
  • Bring in the pros. Do-it-yourself survey questions can often be ambiguous, biased or leading—even if unintentionally so. There are plenty of survey providers in the marketplace—everything from boutique firms to established big dogs like Gallup. Each offers a different strategic approach and proprietary survey style. Do your research to determine how their approach meshes with what you want to learn, and if it fits with your company culture. Whoever you choose, the goal is the same: get unbiased, actionable information that can help you better align employee behaviors with organizational goals.
  • Survey everyone. You won’t get an accurate 360-degree view of employee attitudes if you don’t survey everyone. For this reason, don’t allow employees to “volunteer” to participate. When you do, you are likely to have respondents who are either very satisfied or very unsatisfied with your organization. Either way, it skews the results by omitting segments of your workforce and doesn’t provide an accurate view of your overall employee population. In fact, it makes it impossible to compare results year-after-year. To gather the insights you need to guide meaningful organizational change, you have to survey everyone to ensure all segments are represented. To guarantee accurate results that can be analyzed and compared year-after-year, every employee should be included in the survey process.
  • Make your surveys engaging. Who says surveys have to be boring? Atlassian, an Australian software company, has a reputation for keeping things lively with employee innovation challenges that are the envy of companies around the world. It turns out they approach employee surveys in a unique way, too. Recently, the company created an internal app called MoodApp. Installed on iPads placed in strategic locations throughout its company headquarters, Atlassian asks employees “How are you feeling today?” and “Do you think Atlassian is a fun place to work?” Employees can type in their answers where and when they like. This informal approach is a great barometer of where employees’ heads and hearts are at.
  • Analyze your results. Once you’ve collected your survey responses, carefully analyze the results. Set a course of action to improve areas flagged as needing improvement. Most importantly, share important findings and actions plans with your people. Open and honest communication builds the kind of trust and engagement that leads to positive change and results.

    Need help optimizing your workforce? Snelling has been providing companies with custom workforce solutions for more than six decades. Contact your local Snelling office and one of our talented staffing experts will be happy to assist you.