Is that really the question?
Now that the state conference is over, the conference team is working on the attendee feedback survey, so that they can determine participant satisfaction and other things regarding the conference experience. At the same time, I’ve just started working on the administration of a third annual employee survey for a client. Being a part of these two activities sparked a thought that maybe we really aren’t in the business of satisfying employees.
Employee satisfaction surveys are nothing new. They come by different names, such as employee attitude or engagement, but they are just instruments to try to determine employee perceptions of their work environment. They became popular in the 90s when the job market was loose and retention was low. The idea, and it’s not a bad one, is that senior management is removed from the issues that impede morale and productivity. Asking people how they feel about their work is a good thing to do. It makes them feel important and that positive change is possible. Sometimes though, the process is not worth the effort and can even be counterproductive.
Think about it. When organizations ask employees how they feel or what they think, they are setting the expectation that management will pay attention to the responses and do something with the data. Why ask people questions, get their hopes up for positive change, and then do nothing with the data? Unfortunately, that is what happens in many organizations. Many times surveys are just done as one more thing to tick off the old human resources satisfaction checklist.
Employee surveys are only as effective as the people accountable for acting on the results. If the data from the survey, both positive and negative, is not addressed, then the survey becomes worthless and can actually demoralize employees who are hopeful for change. Surveys, like performance reviews, are only effective when everyone involved is committed to making it and the process succeed. If employers are cavalier about employees’ concerns, then surveys are about as useful as an air conditioner in Antarctica.
Surveys are becoming popular though, in spite of the current economic environment, as organizations are realizing that recruitment and retention of high performing employees is critical to short- and long-term success. We all know that it costs less to retain an employee than it is to hire one.
Here’s the thing though. the Hudson Institute reports that the three areas with the most influence on worker loyalty are fairness at work, care and concern for employees and trust. The report goes on to say that almost one-third of employees are not committed and will leave once they get a better offer.
Employees do want to believe that their organization listens to them and is willing to do what it can to meet their needs. That’s why surveys are important, but doing something with the results is even more critical. Employee productivity is strongly correlated with their perception of their environment – and perception is reality.
If you do elect to conduct a survey, I recommend that you consider these steps:
- Get senior management commitment to the survey – and their commitment to do something with the results.
- Develop a survey instrument that explores issues relative to your organization. A one-size-fits-all approach will not work here.
- Ask specific questions only if you plan to do something with the results. For example, since my client is unionized, we are not including questions regarding compensation since we can’t do anything about that at this time.
- Make sure that employees understand that their honest feedback is important and so what they say is anonymous and confidential.
- Make survey completion mandatory. It’s important to hear everyone’s views, not just the very happy.
- Distribute the results to both management and employees so that everyone can learn from what was said.
- Have procedures in place to follow up on survey results; create and monitor action plans.
- Conduct the survey annually and track the results as a part of the company’s dashboard or organization-wide metrics.
A well-designed and executed employee survey approach can yield great insights into management limitations, operational inefficiencies, employee recognition, etc., which are all things that can be changed. It’s a learning opportunity – and it’s an opportunity to work together to make the workplace better.
So, in the end it is really not just about satisfying employees, is it. It’s about engaging them. And that contributes to a healthy bottom line.