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Do Employee Engagement Surveys Really Work? 6 Common Reservations

October 15, 2019 by Joanna Swanson

Do Employee Engagement Surveys Really Work? 6 Common Reservations

Organizations yet to realize the full potential and insights gained from employee engagement surveys rightfully have reservations about their overall effectiveness. However, from our own experience working with hundreds of different organizations over the years, many of those reservations stem from improper execution, either in the questions themselves, the survey solution, or the overall engagement strategy.

So to answer a common question amongst organizations considering engagement surveys and systems – do employee surveys work? – we’re going to address the six most common concerns regarding employee engagement surveys to provide some clarity and insight.

1. I Don't See the Point of Surveys to Begin With

It's easy to discount employee engagement surveys as just another responsibility for a workforce and HR department that already have more than enough on their respective plates. However, research demonstrates the vital role engagement plays in several key metrics.

  • Highly engaged employees display 41% less absenteeism and almost 60% less attrition than a less-engaged workforce

  • A disengaged employee costs employers an average of 34% of their salary, or $20,400/yr based on a $60,000 annual salary

  • Workplaces with high engagement rates have 70% fewer safety incidents

  • Highly engaged teams are 21% more profitable than their disengaged peers, also boasting 17% greater productivity and 10% higher customer satisfaction rates

Further, as detailed in a study from Harvard Business Review, surveys are one of the best tools employers have to measure employee engagement levels. Using Facebook employees as an example, the HBR study discusses several important ways that surveys directly impact engagement.

  • They provide employees with a voice. When employees feel that leadership hears and understands their voice, they are 4.6x more likely to perform their best.

  • Surveys are an excellent indicator of behavior. In the HBR study, Facebook was even able to correlate survey participation with attrition, finding workers that didn't respond to surveys were 2.6x more likely to leave the organization.

  • Surveys also drive behavior. Deemed the question-behavior effect in psychology, the simple act of asking a question can influence performance in a workplace. For instance, if a survey asks a question about punctuality to team meetings, respondents are more likely to arrive on time.

2. Engagement Surveys Require Too Much Time & Effort

Every new process requires some degree of time and effort to implement, but that doesn't mean they have to be overwhelming. When it comes to engagement surveys, many organizations begin with some preconceived notions that may or may not be accurate, depending on the approach they take:

  • Survey questions are difficult to create

  • Distributing surveys is time-consuming

  • Reminding employees to take a survey is a hassle

These are all valid concerns considering the many responsibilities already tasked to HR. However, choosing the right survey solution and implementing it in an organized, strategic manner addresses most, if not all of them.

Using an automated, intelligent engagement system allows HR to distribute the surveys, as well as employee reminders, within their natural flow of work – Slack, email, SMS, mobile app, and others.

Likewise, HR leaders don't have to invest excessive time and effort into developing the survey questions themselves. Instead, organizations can use pre-engineered, research-based questionnaires that they can easily customize according to their specific needs. When coupled with effective software, a robust engagement strategy rooted in statistically sound questions does not have to be a chore.

From a data perspective, employers can also integrate an existing HCM system into the more advanced engagement platforms. Traditionally, data – or, more precisely, lack thereof – has been a common hurdle in implementing a genuinely insightful survey system. To get the most out of employee feedback, an employer needs the ability to segment the data into the most telling categories. That ability is dependent on the amount, quality, and accessibility of employee data. Thankfully, better engagement survey solutions can leverage the convenient, centralized data within an HCM to fuel finely segmented survey delivery and results without the massive investment of time and effort typically required in the past.

3. Employees Won't Take the Surveys

Participation and response rates are another common concern regarding engagement surveys. Naturally, greater participation can lead to more accurate and insightful responses that leadership can use in their decision-making.

Read Next: How to Increase Employee Survey Response Rates

This is an area we've discussed in the past, where a few simple best practices can significantly improve survey response rates. As a result, employers benefit from more profound, meaningful insights into a workforce's attitudes and opinions.

  • Pair surveys with a worker's mobility. If you have field workers, then distributing a survey via SMS maximizes convenience and fosters greater participation.

  • Take action on the feedback. Employees won't bother to participate if they don't see decisive action stemming from their responses.

  • Keep surveys short and precise. Long, drawn-out surveys are another impediment to participation.

Simply put, if the surveys are concise, delivered within an employee's flow of work, and their results acted upon by management, employees will feel compelled to participate.

4. Employees Are Afraid to Give Their Honest Opinions

The fear of retribution or negative consequences is a significant issue in many employee engagement strategies. If workers feel that honest, authentic responses might endanger their job, then they are unlikely to be forthright in their answers. Naturally, this defeats the purpose of the survey in the first place, only providing decision-makers with inaccurate information that, over time, can threaten the stability of the entire organization.

Anonymity is essential when employees feel apprehensive about providing their honest thoughts. It gives workers a sense of safety and security and, although not a cure-all, anonymous surveys can be essential in boosting accuracy and depth to survey results. With the right survey software, HR can also integrate tools like minimum participation thresholds to assure employees that managers can't infer their identity due to a small number of participants.

To reinforce the positive impact of anonymity, HR can remind employees that a survey is anonymous before they begin the questionnaire, also conveying a similar message through consistent emails regarding the anonymous surveys. Managers can also reinforce the notion, assuring their team that the answers will only drive positive change and never threaten their position or career.

5. I Wouldn't Know What to do With the Results

This is a particularly common concern in larger organizations, where HR doesn't want to be overwhelmed by thousands of survey results that they must categorize, analyze, and report on. Once again, this is an area where the choice of engagement survey solution is crucial, often determining if an employee engagement survey program is even feasible for an enterprise.

A survey solution should not only be able to automate the survey collection process, but also make the analysis easy, helping to segment the data into the most insightful categories possible. For instance, if HR can organize survey results into granular employee segments with ease – demographics, tenure, salary, region, and others – then they're able to reveal highly detailed data points that would otherwise remain hidden.

A technology like natural language processing (NLP), when used in engagement software, is especially useful in extracting details buried within the intricacies of human language. If a survey contains open-ended questions, NLP allows an employer to identify, interpret, and analyze something as nuanced as emotion, converting it into quantifiable data. Such an ability simply wasn't possible with older survey systems, perhaps driving some of the reservations that organizations have over embracing them.

Likewise, a capable engagement survey solution is also able to take that survey analysis and suggest specific areas for improvement, removing any ambiguity or confusion over the next steps to take. Managers can use those suggestions to follow-up with employees and inform action plans, ensuring that the surveys drive targeted results in the areas of operations most in need of positive change.

6. A Survey Software Is Expensive

Lastly, many organizations worry about the cost of employee engagement surveys. While price is always a concern when adopting new systems, the most insightful way of looking at such costs is gauging potential benefits against expenses. This notion rings true for employee engagement surveys as well, where HR should look at factors like opportunity cost and the price of alternative solutions as a significant factor.

For instance, a survey solution can yield precise, targeted results that inform action plans for an individual, team, department, or even the organization as a whole. Assuming the software can categorize the data into the most insightful groups possible, managers can use that precise data to guide a specific course of action.

It's also important to factor in the cost of letting pain points within the organization develop, fester, and, in a worst-case scenario, become systemic across the workforce. Once that occurs, employee satisfaction and productivity rates fall, disengagement and turnover rise, and the overall employee experience suffers. Frequent surveys can establish benchmarks, allowing HR and managers to identify trends before they become unwieldy.

A recent study showed that employee replacement costs now average 33% of the exiting employee's salary. To put that in perspective, that's $15,000 to replace a worker with a $45,000 salary, figures that only increase with seniority.

That same study also revealed that the primary causes behind turnover are all preventable for an employer, only further demonstrating both the opportunity costs and real costs of attrition. While turnover isn't completely avoidable, its drivers are overwhelmingly preventable, or at least addressable, as long as an employer can identify, understand, and act upon them. Naturally, this is another area where surveys excel, shining a spotlight on potential issues before they can spread.

For instance, if HR establishes benchmarks with initial surveys to compare future data points, they can use those benchmarks to identify negative trends in something like career development. Instead of waiting for those trends to grow in magnitude, thereby accelerating attrition, an organization can overhaul its training and development programs. Again, this is an example of an employee engagement survey system paying for itself through the savings realized from improved worker retention.

Download Employee Engagement Framework & Survey Templates

Understandably, an organization unfamiliar with employee engagement surveys might initially be hesitant to try them. However, the combination of precisely-worded, research-backed question templates and automated, powerful engagement software more than addresses the most common reservations to a survey solution.

In the end, it's a matter of deciding if deeper insights will be beneficial to your decision-makers. To revisit our initial question – do employee engagement surveys really work? – the answer is a resounding yes if you choose your engagement solution wisely, use well-researched questions, and transform the results into action.