HR Management, Talent Management

10 Mistakes to Avoid With Your Employee Engagement Surveys

Survey art from Dreamstime

In many of my recent conversations with clients, the topic of employee engagement surveys comes up.

Sometimes these are called climate surveys or satisfaction surveys. Regardless of what they are called, the general idea is to solicit feedback from your employees on a regular basis on how satisfied they are with their work and careers and how committed they are to the organization.

How is your employee engagement survey process working for you and your organization?

Here are some things to watch out for and common mistakes to avoid. Fix these mistakes for a more productive, valid and action-oriented approach to collecting and acting on employee feedback.

1. Stop spamming your people with reminder messages

Getting people to complete the survey is important, but you don’t need every single employee to fill out the survey to have a representative set of data to work with.

Plan to send reminders, but don’t spam the folks who did what they were asked the first time. Most vendors can tailor reminders to only go to those people who have not yet completed the survey and still ensure anonymity and confidentiality.

Sometimes the best incentive for getting people to complete the survey is the promise of no more reminder messages in their in-boxes!

2. Don’t go radio silent when the feedback comes in

If you can’t bear to hear the answer, don’t ask the question.

The best way to undermine your survey efforts is to tell employees you want their feedback, and then forget to tell them “Hey, we heard you.”

3. Don’t think your plan to improve engagement IS your survey

Your survey is not an engagement action plan. It is a means of collecting feedback.

What you do to address the feedback and to improve engagement is your action plan. Don’t confuse the two.

4. Prepare managers and supervisors to act on the feedback

Front line managers and supervisors are in the best position to directly impact an employee’s work experience and the drivers of engagement, such as strong professional relationships, interesting work and aligned work/life balance.

If they are not involved in developing a response to address the feedback, they should be.

PS – This means you have to trust them with the data and educate them on what it means.

5. Get your personnel data in order ahead of time

How valid is the data in your HR system? Guess what  – you will find out when engagement survey reports come out.

What will you do when that senior leader in the UK sees her report has 400 respondents when she only has 330 people in her organization? Educate HR teams on how personnel data will used to drive reporting, and require them to own the validity of personnel data if they want accurate and actionable reports for their leaders. Re-running reports is costly, time-consuming and distracting to HR teams and vendors, and it reflects poorly on HR and the survey process.

6. Plan how to read and absorb employee comments

Yes, there are a lot of comments. You should have expected that when you set up the survey with open comments for every question.

But you really need to read them, because they provide the stories behind the data of what is working well and what can be improved. Your employees have a lot to say, and remember, you asked them for feedback and insights.

7. Ask for feedback more than once a year

Engagement surveys don’t replace the ongoing conversations on teams and between colleagues.

How is your work going? What do you need help with? What gets you out of bed in the morning? What do you think you would like to do next? These are all questions that should be asked regularly and are better answered in manager-employee touchpoint conversations versus in a survey.

8. Don’t let too much time pass between survey and communicating “what we heard.”

Unless you are mailing paper surveys to employees’ homes, you should have a good idea of high level results within a few weeks – and by few I mean 2-3 weeks. And, you should quickly disseminate reports and action-planning guidance throughout the organization so business units can review their feedback and develop action plans to address it.

Wait too long and you will lose the attention and focus of leadership and HR teams as they move on to the next urgent process or business need.

9. Stop treating engagement as an HR issue

Employee engagement, organizational culture, career satisfaction – these are all issues the business needs to own and address.

HR can help guide business leaders on ways to have an impact, but leaders should not outsource employee engagement to HR.

10. Don’t hesitate to push your vendor to innovate

Years ago I witnessed an organization tell a vendor they would get the work if they could promise to deliver the organizations Top 200 engagement survey reports two weeks after the survey closed.

The vendor balked – “that is not possible” was uttered a few times – but eventually the vendor figured out how to do it. Now, many of the vendors other clients benefit from the enhanced serviced this vendor developed.

Put a high bar out there for your vendor, and many times they will meet it, and we all benefit.

I am a big proponent of engagement surveys as a culture and leadership tool, when they are executed well. What best practices do you follow with your engagement surveys?

Heather Nelson is a partner with PeopleResults. She ran the employee engagement survey for a global organization for many years. She will always fill out a survey if you ask her to, but be warned because she will tell it to you straight. You can reach her at hnelson@people-results.com.
  • Brian Cohn

    I’ve worked for a couple of places where there were high minimums set for ensuring we heard from a very large majority of our employees. Rather than spam them, we had teams scheduled to go into a room to take the survey. The upside for this is to ensure we had good participation, it removed distractions, and we did not have to send out reminders.

    Brian Erik Cohn
    http://www.erikco.com

    • Heather Nelson

      Thanks Brian – this is a good tip. Of course, it needs to be balanced with ensuring the employer is not looking over an employee’s shoulder while they complete the survey. Bottom line is with today’s technology it should be rote to remove someone from the reminder emails once they have completed the survey – while maintaining anonymity and confidentiality too.

  • Martha Duesterhoft

    Great insight and advice Heather — thanks for sharing!

  • Shelli

    Great advice Heather – it is a business issue not just HR.

    • Heather Nelson

      Totally agree Shelli. Thanks.

  • Barbara Milhizer

    Point #3 cannot be over-emphasized. Too many times companies are checking the box. Another point is to celebrate successes and growth when you have them.

  • Herwig W Dierckx

    And the Oscar goes to #7. Indeed, these surveys shouldn’t
    replace your daily contacts. The info you get through talking face-to-face is
    most direct and straightforward. As a leader, you could ask what works best: an
    automated and remote survey or direct contact with your staff. You don’t mind a
    bit of challenge on the value of engagement surveys, have a look here: http://wp.me/p3kBAr-2x.