You Don’t Need a Survey to Know if Your Employees are Engaged

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Feb 20, 2014

With a veritable army of scientific researchers, the Gallup Organization spent decades developing their famed Q12 Survey.

They now package and market this tool for organizations that want to determine the level of employee engagement in their workforce calling it The Only 12 Questions that Matter.

To date, more than 25 million employees worldwide have taken that survey, and the findings reveal the sad truth that most workers are not engaged in their jobs.

The reality of engagement for employers

If you are a leader, manager, or employer of any kind, you can’t afford NOT to know if your workers are engaged. There’s too much at stake.

Engaged employees are 87 percent less likely to leave their employer than those that are disengaged. (Source: Corporate Leadership Council). And as for profit, according to the ISR Employee Engagement Report by Towers Perrin, companies with high levels of employee engagement improved 19.2 percent in operating income while companies with low levels of employee engagement declined 32.7 percent over the same period.

However, I don’t believe that a survey is the only way — or even that it’s the best way — to determine if your people are bringing their very best to the workplace and committed to your organization for the long haul.

Surveys can be very effective when you have both the time and the financial resources to go through the expensive and laborious process of disseminating them, compiling the data, and then initiating policies and procedures based upon them.

What you can do

But if you don’t, here’s an idea…

Ask them.

Get eyeball to eyeball and strike up a conversation.

Ask. Listen. And then make decisions based on what you learn. (Yeah, it’s old school, I know, but it works.)

If you go one-on-one and ask your people interesting, open-ended questions, you’ll be amazed how revealing their answers can be and how that information helps you engage them to perform at higher levels and retains them for longer periods of time.

However, to assure you get the candid, honest answers you need, do this casually as an informal conversation rather than approaching them saying, “I need you to come to my office on Thursday at 3 pm for a little talk.”

Remember the 80/20 conversation rule

When you talk to your direct reports, let them do most the talking. And don’t hit them with a barrage of probing questions out of left field, as that would make anyone highly suspicious of your motives and cause them to shut down or only give you the answers they think you are looking for, rather than the truthful revealing responses you need.

Here are six (6) examples of interesting questions your employees have never been asked:

  • Before you started, you had a mental picture of what this job would be like. How does the actual movie compare to the trailer? (Great for a new hire who’s been on the job for a year or less.)
  • If your birthday were next week and you could ask for change or two that would dramatically improve this job for you, what would those be? (Helps reveal what they don’t like about their job. If you can’t change those things, chances are they are going to circulate their resume.)
  • When your friends and family members ask you what you do when you’re at work, what kinds of adjectives do you use to describe it? Feel free to list the good, the bad, and the ugly. (Are you in alignment? Do they use any of the same terms that are used in your company’s mission statement or core values? Is what you hired them to do what they are actually doing?)
  • Do you feel we’re fully utilizing your talents and skills? What can you do that we might not be aware of? (Are they challenged or are they bored? Does their answer reveal a desire for growth or learning a new skill?)
  • If a high school kid job-shadowed you for a day and asked you if this was a good way to earn a decent living and live a good life, what would you tell them? (Helps to determine if they are satisfied with their compensation and things like work-life balance.)
  • While it’s important that we remain profitable, we also want to make an impact in our community and be good stewards of our environment, etc. How do you think we are doing? What should we be doing or not doing? (How aware and/or involved are they in whatever social mission your company supports? Do they think it’s important? Does this align with their values and beliefs? )

Obviously, these kinds of questions can – and should — be tweaked, tailored, and customized to fit the level and duties of each employee. The primary goal is to create an open dialogue with employees that helps you grow as a leader and create an environment where your people are inspired to work harder, perform better, and stay longer.

What are some of the questions you’re asking to determine the engagement of your people?

This was originally published on Eric Chester’s Reviving Work Ethic blog. His new book is Reviving Work Ethic: A Leader’s Guide to Ending Entitlement and Restoring Pride in the Emerging Workforce. For copies, visit