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Employee Engagement Surveys – the importance of practical action

Ever asked your people how they’re doing, what they think of your workplace, how they feel about their employer? In other words, ever conducted an employee engagement survey? Most organisations do and yet, most organisations also fail to action the results in any significant way.

The problem is that often the survey itself – a significant investment in time and money – is seen as an end rather than a means. Here’s a question: What’s the purpose of carrying out a survey? Is it:

a) to measure employee engagement?


b) to improve employee engagement?

If you think it’s a) then once the survey is completed and the results tabulated and correlated then its job done. If you’re aiming at b) then you need to do something with the results, whatever they are.

Classic problems with engagement surveys

Unfortunately, just gathering the information can be problematic. Survey questions must be properly focused and phrased. Whether online or paper-based, surveys can be time-consuming. They also require specialist knowledge that you may well not have in-house, meaning the expense of a third party supplier or consultant.

Also, they only ever give you a frozen snapshot of what employees are thinking and feeling on the day or week of the survey. Deciding on action and carrying it out must be done quickly or your survey response will be out of date.

Finally, if your response to the survey data falls short, you’re likely to see a lower response rate in the next survey (because why bother?!) and your employees are going to feel somewhat betrayed, or at least ignored.

The ideal

The ideal engagement survey should have crystal-clear questions, be easy to complete, preferably online (each respondent’s data is already electronic and in the system as soon as they’re finished with the questions), and absolutely anonymous.

Once you have the results, it’s important to be open about them. Yes, throw some emphasis at the good results, enjoy them, build on them, and feel good about them. But put the same emphasis on the other end of the spectrum: acknowledge the worst, explore the issues raised, and follow through with a course of action designed to improve the responses next time around. Most importantly, involve your employees in working out and working through that course of action (you trusted them to identify it for you, trust them to solve it with you).

The key thing to remember is that the survey itself is just a data/gathering tool. There are plenty of organisations that refer to surveys and other staff opinion-gathering programmes as “engagement exercises” and blithely talk about their “engagement rate” when what they mean is how many employees filled in the survey.

Yes, asking your employees how things are is a positive and encouraging thing to do. But having done it, your employees are no more engaged than they were before. That depends on what you do with the information gathered. And if you don’t do anything, or just pay lip service to what the survey has told you, you’re likely to see the real engagement rate fall – after all, you raised their hopes for a better workplace and then dashed them.

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