Should Organizations Do Away With Employee Surveys?

Peter Capelli recently wrote a piece for The Wall Street Journal suggesting that it’s time to do away with employee surveys. Like similar calls for doing away with performance reviews, there are some very good reasons to seriously consider doing away with them—many people don’t like them, response rates are often very low and, all too often, nothing is really done with the information received which serves to demotivate rather than engage employees.

However, I really wouldn’t agree with just getting rid of either employee surveys or performance reviews. With employee surveys, though, I would agree that many surveys are not done well and may not be yielding reliable, valid, and actionable information for HR leaders, managers, and organizations.

A Place for Surveys—Done Well

I teach courses in marketing research at a local university and, as a former director of corporate communications in the education, energy, and healthcare industries I was involved in a number of employee survey processes. I’ve also worked with a number of clients since I started my firm Strategic Communications in 2008 to help them conduct, analyze, and implement actions based on employee survey input. Here are a few of the biggest problems or issues that I’ve seen with these surveys and how they were fielded and used.
  • If the organization did not have a strong, trusting, transparent and positive relationship with its employees, employees were likely to distrust the survey and how it would be used, including whether their input would actually be anonymous. Consequently, it was unlikely that they would respond at all or, if they did, that they would respond honestly.
  • One of the biggest issues with employee surveys that I’ve seen is that the results are not shared with employees. It’s my belief that one of the most important best practices when conducting research of any kind is to share the results with those who provided input. With employee surveys, as I’ve observed, this is often not done for two common reasons:
    1. It’s just an oversight and those conducting the survey have moved on to other things.
    2. The results are not good and they don’t want to share them.

The interesting thing with the latter situation is that if the results are not good, the employees already know that—they’re the ones who have responded after all.

  • Closely tied with not sharing the information, in terms of a bad practice, is not taking action based on the results of the survey. Survey fatigue definitely sets in if employees give input over and over again, the same issues are identified, but no changes are ever forthcoming.

Surveys Can Help Boost Brand Ambassadorship

These are the big rocks based on my experience. There are, of course, many other issues that can minimize the potential value of seeking employee input through surveys. I’m also, of course, biased because I get paid to help organizations conduct these and other types of surveys. Still, I believe that when done right they can yield important insights and can be used to improve process, policies, and practices to boost engagement and satisfaction, and impact turnover and longevity.  In addition, employees have the potential to play a significant role as positive brand ambassadors for organizations. They can only do this, though, if they believe the organization is a good place to work and that it produces good products and services. Employee surveys can be a good way to determine whether or not they do.

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