How to Make Sure Your Employee Survey is Effective
Updated April 2020
5 Minute Read
So, you’ve decided to conduct a company-wide employee survey. An admirable goal. One shared by many progressive organizations. But what now? Conducting an effective employee survey can be complicated. And if done incorrectly, it can potentially damage internal relationships.
How, then, can you avoid the pitfalls and conclude with meaningful results?
Typically, companies start out by saying they’re going to conduct an “engagement” survey, but really they’re measuring much more than just engagement. Some of the best employee surveys measure multiple types of things: job satisfaction, relationships at work, trust, levels of communication, benefits, and knowledge of the company goals and initiatives.
Some of the best employee surveys measure multiple types of things: job satisfaction, relationships at work, trust, levels of communication, benefits, and knowledge of the company goals and initiatives.
Maybe you’re conducting a survey before you head into strategic planning to help you determine future goals. Maybe you’re trying to get a measure on company culture and employee alignment with goals. Or maybe you’ve got an issue you can’t quite put your finger on. Identifying why you need an employee survey is the first step in making it effective. Simply conducting a survey to gather employee’s thoughts isn’t a good reason…unless you’re going to do something with the results. Figure out your “why,” and that’ll help in other parts of the process.
The next step is getting people to participate. If you’re going to invest resources, whether it be time, money, or people, you need to make sure your employees are going to be candid in their responses and actively participate. According to multiple research reports, on average, the typical survey only receives a 30-40% response from employees despite all the effort put forth by the company or outside consultant. So why won’t employees take this seriously? It’s because these companies are missing one of three important things:
There must be trust inside your organization. Employees have to feel safe to respond to the survey without worrying about backlash or punishment for poor ratings. They need to know the results are completely anonymous. Employees typically demonstrate appreciation of a third-party moderated process by being more candid. Make sure the entire process, from administration to results, is confidential. Whether online or paper, once privacy is lost, so is trust.
How you communicate the survey process is especially important. Remember what we talked about earlier? Employees and managers alike need to know the “why” behind the survey. What are you looking to measure? And what will be done with the results? People can respond by just checking the boxes because that’s what they’re told to do, or they can actively participate because you’ve communicated the importance and reason behind the process. Put together a communication plan, starting, at a minimum, three weeks before the survey is administered. And then, follow it through to the end after the results are presented. Be sure you include whether or not you plan to share the results and how answering the survey will benefit employees. This will show that you’ve given thought to the entire process.
That precious resource we’re always fighting so hard to protect. Employees already tell us they’re busy; they already tell us they don’t have time. So be very calculated in the way you phrase your questions and don’t waste employee time with items that might give a duplicate response. If your survey is too long, employees typically end up abandoning the questions, leaving you with incomplete results. Research shows that surveys taking longer than 20 minutes to complete have a lower than average response rate. So keep it short, and specific, otherwise your results may reveal nothing more than the frustration of the end-user.
There needs to be a plan in place to roll out employee survey results to your employees.
Let’s talk results.
You’ve figured out what you’re going to measure and how you’ll get your team to participate. One of the biggest frustrations we hear from employees about a survey is that they took the time to fill out the survey, but never saw anything happen as a result.
When you get your results back, typically the findings will first go to the leadership team. But it can’t stop there. There needs to be a plan in place to roll out employee survey results to your employees. Whether you’re sharing the entire report, or just some of the findings, employees need to know that they were heard. Many employees are probably already skeptical about why they had to complete it in the first place. So it’s your responsibility to make sure you’re addressing their concerns.
Act on the results.
You’ll want to take time to pick one or two items where you can improve as a company. If your survey demographics included locations or departments, you can give each department a small initiative. Be sure to include your employees in the process. They want to know that their responses made a difference, and they’ll want to be a part of the solution.
Surveys are powerful tools. Know why you want the information and what you’re going to do with it. Have a plan on how you will communicate why you’re doing the survey, as well as the results and next actions. And keep people updated on progress as your company and teams take action. After all, if you want people to be engaged, you have to give them something in which to engage.
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