There is a train of thought developing that employee surveys are becoming an irrelevant tool to influence engagement in organisations. The argument that an employee survey can act as a barrier to engagement in itself is a persuasive one.

An employee survey can only be a truly effective exercise if it has the buy in at a senior level; if it is used as an aesthetic or measurement exercise in isolation, it may give an indicator to how engaged your workforce is, but it will not influence engagement in a positive way.

I take a view that an employee survey is still a very relevant and worthwhile exercise; if you structure it in the right way, and have real buy in from the top. An all employee survey should act as part of a strategy to measure and influence engagement, with smaller more targeted ‘touch point’ surveys used as complementary tools. But, if you get your employee survey right, it can be a powerful tool in understanding issues, and increasing engagement.

It can also give you a commercial edge when you talk to your stakeholders; a highly engaged workforce is an excellent sales tool, and having a measurement to share can really strengthen your narrative. This is a position I pitch to leaders when talking about engagement and rationale for measurement.  

Getting the most from your employee survey…

An employee survey can have a multi-layered structure that can give you an insight into trends and issues that are acting as a barrier to engagement. The survey can also have multiple objectives, and can provide a metrics to the success of your people and communication strategies.

Without an employee survey it is a difficult task to put any scientific analysis or metrics behind your engagement strategy. To build an effective engagement strategy, you need to understand the culture of your business, and to listen to your people. The results of any engagement survey give a unique insight into what you do well, and areas where you can improve. This can also be broken down into business areas, enabling you to tailor solutions and target action plans.

To build your survey it is always a useful exercise to define what ‘employee engagement’ means to your business. My definition of employee engagement is the relationship between the ‘business’ and its ‘people’. This has always simplified an engagement survey business case into measuring the strength of that relationship.

An employee survey can be broken down into categories, enabling you to structure your survey to measure specific areas of the ‘employer’ and ‘employee’ relationship. Each category will be a relevant metrics to overall engagement, but it will also provide a measurement to specific activity.

A good example is communications; by asking your people about messaging, channels, and feedback you can measure the effectiveness of your internal communications strategy. These results will also provide an indicator of overall engagement, as communications are essentially a key catalyst for influencing employees and building relationships.

There are a number of methodologies you can use to measure engagement, and calculations will differ between organisations. The model I use is based upon measuring positive responses to questions that influence the relationship between the ‘business’ and its ‘people’.

This is an effective method as it provides an overall percentage for employee engagement; it is a model where you can track year on year improvements across not just your overall engagement strategy, but each of your survey categories. It provides detailed analysis and is a useful management tool in the business planning process, enabling you to allocate resource and budget to areas where you need to focus.

A key part of the methodology I use is a RAG (Red, Amber, and Green) indicator to highlight areas that need urgent focus. For example; the survey results that fall under a 50% positive response will be flagged as Red, giving Managers and Leadership teams a simple but effective indicator on the areas that need immediate action.

By using a RAG indicator you can set yourself realistic timescales for action such as Red (immediate action), Amber (action within 12 months) and Green (no action required). This is a useful way to manage expectations and report back to the business that you understand and are listening to the issues that are influencing the relationship.

Reporting back to the business and effective action planning are critical if you are going to get the most out of your employee survey. An employee survey has a dual objective of providing insight and metrics, but also acting as the primary feedback channel, or sounding board for your people. It is a tool for listening, but will only be effective if it is followed up by action.

Regular communication to your people at each stage of the process is important. Being open with the overall results and talking about the actions you are taking also have a positive effect on the relationship with your people. It isn’t always about taking action; a 20% pay rise across the business isn’t a feasible option, but talking about total reward and market weighting is. Sometimes the outcome will be just about having that conversation.

An employee survey is a useful tool for business of all sizes. Whilst there is no scientific formula for measuring engagement v’s bottom line profit most Leaders do see the link. An employee survey is the basis for your engagement strategy. It enables you to drive business improvements, and to tailor your messaging. It is a key tool in creating a culture with a two way conversation between the ‘business’ and its ‘people’, which ultimately provides a platform for a strong relationship.

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2 thoughts on “Do we still need employee surveys?

  1. I do have a vested interest as I am a partner in an employee research organisation.

    I do believe there is more than a ‘place’ for the employee survey. It is still relevant and one of the easiest and best ways to allow ‘all’ of your employees to ‘have their say’.

    We do advocate however, that a survey be tailored to meet an organisations needs and the questions and reporting developed in a way that the survey results feed into the wider business needs or, for example, into a wider employee engagement strategy.

    Taking your point about employee engagement above – our approach to is to look at what the ‘drivers’ and ‘outcomes’ of employee engagement are for each client that we work with. Every organisation is unique, from it’s vision and strategy to its employees – no two are the same. Therefore, the drivers and outcomes will vary, this is why it is imperative that the survey really is tailored.

    Nice blog! Glad to be able to contribute.

    Kind regards,

    Gary Cattermole
    The Survey Initiative


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