Employee engagement has become an all-important metric for many organizations. The benefits for employers are clear: Employees who are engaged in their work generally stay with their firms longer than those who are not. A Harvard Business Review study found that companies with the most engaged employees also had higher customer satisfaction rates, increased market share, and higher market capitalizations than those whose employees were less engaged.
The problem is that employee engagement is generally pretty low. Gallup has noted that 87% of employees worldwide are not engaged in their work. If that sounds like your organization—and you’re an optimist—that means you have a great opportunity for improvement.
If you want more highly-engaged employees, you’ll need to benchmark your current workforce. Asking employees directly via survey is a good place to start. However, there are advantages and disadvantages to employee engagement surveys. If you get it wrong, you can alienate your people, which is worse than doing nothing. Knowing the pros and cons will help you determine how to design, field, and analyze your study so that you can make the best use of your findings.
Advantages of Employee Engagement Surveys
Surveys are relatively low-cost, especially for large organizations; the price doesn’t scale by the number of surveys fielded or the number of respondents. After your survey instrument is designed and ready for launch, it doesn’t really matter if you’re asking 100 employees or 100,000 about their work engagement; the price is the same. Survey design and analysis pricing vary by provider; an established market-research house’s pricing will be higher than ad-supported online research sites. Regardless of vendor, surveying is nowhere near as pricey as additional supervisor monitoring, hiring human interviewers, organizing focus groups, secret shoppers, and other analog options.
Employee engagement surveys make it easier to collect responses from enough people to draw solid conclusions. You can’t get the big-picture view you need to make the right decisions for your organization if you don’t ask a large group of people with demographics that represent all of your employees. If the respondents are a string quartet, it should be easy to hear what their music (answers) would sound like with the full symphony.
A lot of survey software includes the behind-the-scenes mathematical whiz-bangery needed to make sure all your numbers are useful. Still, you’ll rest more easily if you know that the basic statistics that are the sign of a well-constructed polling sample: population distributions, even demographic representation, and the like.
Focus groups can yield directional, qualified findings. However, unless the group has at least 100 members, it’s difficult to apply the results widely. By contrast, the pool of respondents you’ll get from a survey can be structured to ensure useful and quantified results.
Fielding and Response Options
Online, printed, desktop, mobile, tablet—there are a lot of survey format options available to you and your employee. You can even print out and distribute paper versions if that will help your response rate. Digital makes data collection and analysis easier, but paper can work best depending on where your employees are; there are still places without WiFi. Offer as many options as you can. If you make it easy for employees to take the survey, they’ll be more likely to take it.
When you let respondents answer anonymously, you’ll get better information. Make it clear that responses will be kept private, and you’ll get honest answers. Ask open-ended questions and include free space for answers, and you’ll get some sincerity that might not come through in surveys that only allow multiple-choice responses.
Disadvantages of Employee Engagement Surveys
Surveys are great for learning how employees feel at the time they’re surveyed. However, the results can have a short shelf-life, especially if you have a significant turnover. How old would data have to be before you consider it stale? If you intend to field the study periodically, that question can help you decide how often it should go out. If this will be a one-off survey (for now), you need to have an idea of when you’ll analyze and use the results. Fielding a study and then letting the results sit unused is worse than not surveying at all.
If this will be the first edition of an employee engagement survey, you’ll need to check to see how different events and variables may affect your findings. If your market is currently depressed, employees may well have different answers than in economically flush times. If your company made a product introduction or other big moves during the survey, that can affect responses as well. If your data looks awry, those are some of the first things to consider.
Up above, we mentioned giving employees different options for receiving, completing, and submitting their surveys. Sometimes paper is the best way to take a survey in your shop, but those who went all-digital will have a head start when it comes time to see what the results mean.
Set in Stone
Once your survey instrument has been finalized and goes live, or you print it out and distribute it, you can’t alter its content or direction. If you forgot something, you won’t be getting data on that topic. Similarly, you won’t get the freewheeling discussion that can make focus groups valuable. Besides being especially careful about survey design, make sure that your expectations are realistic; if you need open-ended answers or more in-depth topic discussion, consider additional research methods.
How To Use Employee Engagement Surveys
Employee engagement surveys can yield a wealth of data. You’ll get indicators about employee engagement, of course, along with related information like employee retention outlook, how long employees intend to stay, morale levels, management effectiveness, and more. You can use the findings to address the root causes that affect each area.
Whatever you do, do something. The worst thing you can do is to conduct a survey and then do nothing. Employees will get the impression that you’re not paying attention and that nothing will change. You’ll have spent money for nothing, and if you field the study again, your response rate is likely to be poor—who wants to fill out a survey that won’t have any effect?
To help ensure action is taken once the survey results are in, create concrete steps for moving forward, make managers responsible for the needed changes, and give them the support needed to make it happen. The idea is to give employees actionable feedback to help them improve and to help the organization as a whole reach its goals.
If your organization has an in-house market research firm, they’re likely well-equipped to handle survey sampling, development, design, fielding, data collection, analysis, and reporting. If you don’t have that type of expertise at hand, consider using professionals. A well-managed employee engagement survey with actionable results can be a relatively low-cost way to increase employee morale and retention, customer satisfaction, and your bottom line. It’s important enough to do right.
Inproma has decades of experience in increasing employee engagement. We create customized rewards and recognition programs designed specifically to help your organization reach its strategic goals. If your firm’s employee morale could use a boost, or you need to achieve specific KPIs and metrics—we should talk.