For most businesses, surveys remain the best way to gauge and analyse the level of employee engagement. Simply asking people questions about their engagement is not enough, however.
In order to produce reliable information, surveys need to be intelligently deployed as part of a wider engagement strategy. Here are eight important considerations that HR and business leaders need to address in order to boost engagement and avoid undermining the validity of their surveys.
1) Set objectives from the get-go
“What does the business want to achieve with the survey process?”
Before launching the survey process, this question should be front and centre. Without devising a clear plan for how to use feedback, the whole survey process becomes futile. As such, the people overseeing the project need to tie the short- and long-term objectives of the survey with the strategic aims of the organisation.
With this in mind, it's also vital to secure buy-in from senior leadership. Apart from helping to align the objectives of engagement surveys with top-level business strategy, support from the leadership team will convince people that the survey can lead to tangible organisational change.
In order to track the progress of future surveys, the HR team should create a baseline from which everything else can be measured.
At the start of the survey process, businesses should aim to assess the current level of engagement across their organisation. For example, how feedback-receptive are people across the company? Generating honest feedback from people will create an open line of communication that is vital to all other engagement efforts.
2) Develop a timeline for survey roll-out
Traditionally, measuring employee engagement was a once-a-year event in the form of the oft-dreaded annual survey. However, we now live in a world undergoing rapid change — average tenure, for example, is typically much shorter now than it used to be. With work becoming increasingly agile and flexible, asking people for feedback once every twelve months gives the impression that their opinions do not matter for the other eleven.
Measuring engagement needs to be a constant, ongoing process.
People’s attitudes towards managers, company values and business goals can change overnight, and the frequency of engagement surveys should acknowledge this. As such, it’s important to establish the appropriate cadence for survey rollout, depending on the company’s current state and what it aims to achieve with the feedback process.
Too frequent, and people will get survey fatigue. Too infrequent, and they may become sceptical about the legitimacy of the survey. Getting the balance right for an organisation is key to engagement survey success.
Keeping tabs on employee engagement is particularly relevant given that Generation Y and Z — digital natives who will dominate the workforce in the 2020s — typically display less loyalty towards employers than their generational predecessors and will not wait around to voice their concerns. If they feel disengaged or dissatisfied, they will leave.
3) Aim for brevity and simplicity
For many engagement surveys, the main pitfall is that they are simply too long, unclear and convoluted to warrant people spending their time on them. Ideally, the survey should take no longer than 10 or 15 minutes to complete. If respondents cannot make it to the end of the survey, the lack of clarity will skew the results and render the whole exercise redundant.
4) Ask questions that align individual needs with business goals
To be truly effective, employee engagement surveys need to get to the heart of what motivates people. Ultimately, they should seek to uncover the level of alignment that a person has with the mission, vision and values of the organisation.
In their 1999 book, First, Break All the Rules, Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman mined data from a twenty-five-year Gallup study on workplace engagement to identify twelve key questions that measure employee engagement:
- Do I know what is expected of me at work?
- Do I have the materials and equipment that enable me to do my job properly?
- Do I play to my strengths?
- Have I received recognition or praise in the last seven days?
- Does anyone at work care about me as a person?
- Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
- At work, do my opinions count?
- Does the mission or purpose of the company make me feel my job is important?
- Are my co-workers committed to quality work?
- Do I have a best friend at work?
- In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?
- In the past year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?
For Buckingham and Coffman, understanding the responses to these questions is key to unlocking the secrets of recruiting, retaining and developing the people that are critical to organisational vitality and strength.
5) Ask everyone in the business
With the predicted growth of the freelance market and gig economy, why then does the typical engagement survey only cover permanent employees? Freelance and temporary employees are often on long-term contracts and are just as likely to occupy customer-facing roles as anyone else. As such, everyone from the receptionist to a specialist IT contractor should be given a platform to voice their opinions.
6) Avoid a carrot-and-stick approach
While the opportunity to win vouchers or iPads is likely to get more people filling out a survey, businesses should ask if its people are filling out surveys for the right reasons.
A smaller number of meaningful responses are more beneficial to a business than a larger number of rushed, meaningless ones. Businesses, therefore, need to be upfront with people and communicate the details of the survey clearly. They should motivate people to answer the survey by framing the exercise as something that can have a positive, tangible impact on company culture.
7) Be transparent and share the results
Remarkably, many employers do not share the results of their engagement surveys across the business. According to PwC, 86% of organisations measure engagement but less than half do anything with their answers. In other words, most surveys are a waste of time.
Businesses will quickly lose the trust of their people if they are not forthcoming with their results. People value honesty and transparency. Aligning the survey to these principles is key to ensuring people remain actively involved in the survey process.
8) Act on the results
Getting people to fill out an engagement survey is not a box-ticking exercise. If designed effectively, the survey will provide useful data that can be compared with the initial objectives of the engagement strategy.
Inevitably, most surveys generate good and bad results, and businesses tend to focus on the negative. Losing sight of where a business is good is a mistake — the focus needs to remain on what drives value for people.
Businesses, therefore, need to be proactive with the results of their surveys: whether that means implementing engagement programmes to address areas of the business that require urgent change or to consolidate areas of the business that are already thriving.