Why the employee engagement survey remains essential in 2020

Employee survey tools

Why the employee engagement survey remains essential in 2020

The arrival of a new decade sees us surrounded by change and uncertainty both at work and away from it. For some then, it may be a little surprising that so-called ‘traditional’ employee engagement surveys continue to be an important part of so many organisation’s employee listening strategies. Trust me though, they remain just as relevant today as they were 15 years ago. And it isn’t just me saying this (Facebook also agrees with me 😊)… and I’ll explain why.

A sea of change, an ocean choice

For those of you working in and around HR or OD, it can’t have escaped your notice how much the measuring employee engagement marketplace has changed. From smartphone apps and intranet widgets to always-on and interactive dashboards. There’s a mind-boggling amount of choice, with a sea of different providers, approaches and methodologies to consider and compare.

The changes have been mostly good; technology advances have enabled huge efficiencies and time-savings as well as harnessing the power of AI and machine learning to interrogate employee engagement data in lots of new ways. While increased competition has, quite naturally, brought down prices too.

Now, I’m not going to attempt to unpick, categorise or critique different approaches for you here. But, if that’s what you’re after, have a look at Michael Silverman’s comprehensive map of the market.

The original and the best(?)

What I am interested in is the reasons surveys – whether run annually or more often – remain unparalleled in what they can give us.

1. Unrivalled depth of insights offered

I’ll swerve the debate over ‘the right’ survey frequency (as there isn’t one), but there’s a lot to be said for periodically getting a comprehensive reading of how your employees are feeling. And a census style survey remains the best way to do this at scale and with speed.

2. Giving employees a voice

Inviting employee feedback should NEVER just be a once a year thing. But surveys remain a key part of a strong internal comms mix as they encompass all the stuff employees want to have their say on and, crucially, are anonymous. They allow people to tell you how you’re doing and, by including open text questions, they can really get this across in their own words and feel their voice is being heard.

3. Avoiding information overload (and survey fatigue)

The more recent trend towards ‘always on’ feedback presents some obvious challenges for organisations. Most notably, what to do with a constant stream of data; do your managers really have the time and resources to interpret and act on it all?

Also, in acknowledging that employees like to have their say and give feedback, there’s a balance to strike between doing this often enough and it being overkill, both for managers and employees.

Do employees want ‘always on’; do organisations need ‘real-time’ feedback? I’d suggest in most cases, the answer is “no”.
But that isn’t to say that periodic pulse surveys don’t have a role to play; lots of organisations we work with are finding these check-ins invaluable, usually alongside a bigger survey.

So, what of Facebook?

I was really interested to hear tech giants Facebook come out and throw their weight behind running ‘deep dive’ employee surveys. Their People Growth & Survey Analytics team explained why they still swear by using employee surveys to measure engagement, and it makes a lot of sense. They talk about surveys in this format being a proven indicator of employee behaviour, giving them great foresight into future trends. And, even more compellingly, of the survey itself being a great vehicle for driving change which, after all is the ultimate aim of all employee research (read the full article here on HBR, if you missed it).

No rose-tinted glasses here

We all know some of the gripes around employee engagement surveys in terms of their length and or forcing a response. They aren’t perfect – but what is? You must get the design right and ask the questions that matter, both to employees and the organisation. But arguably what’s most critical with your employee listening strategy, is recognising that the survey (or whatever diagnostic you use in its place) is only a tiny, fleeting part of the process.

This initial diagnostic needs to be robust in order to gather useful data. But a whole lot more of your time and focus should be on what comes next – ACTION!

How to really move the dial

None of this is to say that the right tool/tech or methodology isn’t important; it is. And, like others we’ve focused lots in the last 18 months on our survey technology, adding and honing new elements (interactive manager dashboards and automated sentiment analysis). We know this is stuff customers are demanding, and it does help to better equip them. But the very real danger remains getting too fixated on the tech and not enough on supporting managers to get to the key nuggets (without overwhelming them with data) and taking effective action afterwards.
So perhaps worry less about how many dials your dashboard has got and more securing buy-in and providing support to acting on findings. Because that is how you’ll improve your people’s experience, engagement and effectiveness and move your business forward.

Simon Blake

Simon has vast experience of employee engagement and people development and brings this knowledge in his role as senior sponsor on a number of our client accounts. Connect with Simon on LinkedIn