Enough with Surveys! They Won’t Tell You What Makes Employees Tick

Article main image
Sep 26, 2013

Those of us who have been in business long enough know all about surveys.

We survey our people about benefits, their work/life, leadership, and about any other subject we wish to waste employees’ time on. In return, we receive answers.

Some answers are sayings — picture perfect for our HR lobbies — and yet others don’t exactly paint us in the greatest light. At this point, we are either angry and wondering what more we can do or we are hastily tripping over one another to find a quick fix to a few of the issues highlighted in the survey results.

At no point has anyone thought to themselves, “perhaps the employees are ‘surveyed out?‘ ” Maybe, just maybe, they are tired of wasting from 10 minutes to upwards of 30 minutes to answer the obvious.

Surveys won’t tell us what makes employees tick

If this sounds like something you have done, listen up, because your employees are surveyed out — try paying attention.

HR finds itself in a precarious position, sandwiched between being the employee whisperer and the “strategic” partner to leadership. However, we continuously find ourselves without the direct answers to what makes our employees tick.

But the answer isn’t a survey. The answer is listening to your employees and watching trends. When you do the both you will know which areas require your attention.

For instance, if you continuously have to investigate employee complaints in a specific area, there may be bigger issues that require your attention. If your last company outing was a flop with low employee attendance, don’t get angry or send out another survey, go to the source and find out where you’re missing the mark.

How employees might approach surveys

Surveys give employees a few options, and most of them don’t help you get to the root of the problem any quicker. Here are the scenarios for how an employee might approach your survey:

  • Employees are candid and answer positively.
  • Employees answer positively because they believe they should
  • Employees decide not to answer at all.
  • Employees are candid and answer negatively.

Out of those four scenarios, only one really gets you to the outcome you would hope for.

Surveys can be effective in small dosages, but using them to assess for every hiccup in your organization is not a best practice. Effective listening, observation and communication can unveil the answers to many of your organizational questions.

Survey alternatives that might work instead

Instead of getting to work on that next survey try these alternatives:

  1. Walk around your workspace and observe the dynamics.
  2. As you walk around your workspace, stop and have a discussion with an employee. Ask some pointed questions.
  3. Have periodic focus groups geared toward genuine conversation about employee concerns.
  4. Where there’s smoke, there is usually fire. Watch for unusual upticks in investigations, complaints and/or concerns.
  5. Don’t act in haste. Take action. Leaders with the help of HR need to be able to anticipate and resolve issues before they escalate to things like turnover, litigation and/or poor morale.

The gateway to knowing more about your employees and business is not in a perfectly coiffed survey — it is taking a genuine interest in those doing the work and how they get it done.

You can find more from Janine Truitt on The Aristocracy of HR blog.