How to Use Employee Engagement Surveys to Enhance Dialogue

Employee Opinion Survey

We’ve all been there. The dreaded annual employee engagement survey. A gazillion random questions on a Likert scale or something very similar.  

Gaining insights into what employees think is compelling for businesses, no doubt, but it can also unintentionally weaken the employer–employee dynamic when done incorrectly.    

Let's face it, employee engagement surveys are daunting for everyone involved and, in the end, offer limited insights as they are only a snapshot in time. Considering the pace of changes we're experiencing, a six-month-old survey could be borderline misleading when its insights are analyzed.     

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Rethinking employee engagement surveys  

Rapid Insights and timely responses are essential to creating an ongoing dialogue with your employees. Long gone are the times when running an annual employee opinion survey followed by months of data analysis and response formulation was acceptable, but this is still a common practice today. When employees lose the connection between the questions they answered and the actions taken (assuming companies take action), you have potentially done more harm than good.   

Remember that every question you ask through the survey plants seeds of expectation in your employees’ minds. Communicating the survey results six to nine months after the survey gives your employees plenty of time to assume that their employer doesn’t care about them, as evidenced by the lack of communication and action. 

To put it slightly differently, if you don’t respond promptly (in less than two months) or don’t address the survey findings, you are hurting your business by introducing unnecessary friction in your relationship with employees.  

Is an employee engagement survey a bad idea?  

No, they can be a highly effective tool to gain insights and prioritize actions addressing employee feedback if done correctly. What does right look like? 

The most memorable approach I've ever experienced was a survey that asked a single question per week with monthly feedback sessions hosted by the senior leadership team.   

Every Wednesday, the HR team sent out an e-mail to all employees with a link to confidentially answer a single question. The HR team didn’t just pull that question out of thin air. Instead, they frequently asked the employees what questions they thought should be asked. Other questions were repeated every two months. Collecting multiple data points throughout the year enabled the people team to track changes in some of their key performance indicators over time, such as, how likely are you to recommend our company as a great place to work to your friends and business contacts?  

It's important for any company to close the loop with their employees by sharing the results of the surveys and communicating the corresponding actions in a timely manner. 

This approach was popular among employees because of the ease of answering a single question and the ability to provide free text context to support their rating. Even more critical was the responsiveness of the senior leadership team to review and openly discuss the feedback they received and what actions had been taken in response. It's important for any company to close the loop with their employees by a) sharing the results of the surveys and b) communicating the corresponding actions in a timely manner. 

There is no magic formula—but there are essential guardrails 

The magic formula is not one question every week. It might work well for your organization to have a short employe engagement survey once per quarter or two surveys spread out over the year. The backend of the survey, i.e., what you do with what you have learned and how quickly you respond, is significantly more critical than the cadence at which you ask your employees to provide input. The increasing pace of change in business suggests that waiting a full year for the following survey is too long for most companies and settings.

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