30 May 2019

Why It’s Time We Ditched Engagement Surveys

hipster and business woman in coffee shop with plant

Employee engagement has been high on the corporate agenda for several years now, following revelations about the extent of disengagement in the workplace, and the damage it is having at both a personal and organisational level.

To tackle this issue, many organisations turn to periodic engagement surveys to better understand the mood in the camp, and what’s driving it. But according to a recent infographic by Officevibe:

  • Only 30% of employees actually bother to reply to surveys
  • 29% of employees think that surveys are pointless
  • 1 in 4 employees think managers view surveys as a box-ticking exercise
  • 4 out of 5 employees don’t believe that their manager will act on the data
  • 20% of employees say their concerns were never followed up

As these shocking statistics show, engagement surveys simply aren’t working. If anything, they could be actively disengaging employees – and here’s why.

Yearly surveys don’t work for ongoing issues

Much like annual appraisals, engagement surveys tend to happen once a year. Given the planning and cost involved, rolling out a survey more frequently would be unfeasible for most organisations. But also like annual appraisals, asking your staff how they are doing one day out of 365 simply isn’t frequent enough.

Anything can happen in a year – teams change, managers change, the direction of the company can change. An engaged employee can quickly become disengaged for any number of reasons, and you simply won’t know about it if you only ask once a year.

Engagement surveys reflect the mood of a workforce at a snapshot in time, rather than taking a more general view. An employee having a particularly good or bad day will answer emotionally, which could distort the data. Chances are, you’d get different answers on a Monday in January than you would a Friday in June.

Employees want human conversations, not bureaucratic processes

At a time when employees want a more engaging, personalised, and meaningful experience at work, engagement surveys represent something from a bygone age. Instead of providing a human touch, they offer a cold, corporate one.

As a result, there is a sense that whatever one writes on the survey, there is a disconnect between the issue and the solution. If you have genuine problem you want to discuss – a problem that is stopping you from fully engaging with your work – you want to have a conversation about it, not fill in a questionnaire.

They rarely result in change

The faceless nature of engagement surveys doesn’t lend itself to dynamic change. Employees answer a series of questions, and then the survey apparently disappears into a bureaucratic blackhole. This disconnect also affects managers and decision makers, who may struggle to see individual human issues among the data.

As a result, little gets done, and little changes. And the only thing worse than not asking your employees how they are feeling is asking them and then ignoring the answers.

What’s more, once the employee has filled in the survey, the rest of the process is often a mystery to them. What happens to their answers? How is the data used? Who decides what to change, and when? No wonder many see it as a waste of time.

What’s the alternative to engagement surveys?

Engagement is a human issue, and so we need to take a more human approach to fixing it. This means talking to employees about their likes, dislikes, hopes, dreams, and happiness – and doing so on a regular basis.

Check-ins are the ideal solution here. By having regular, ongoing conversations between employees and managers, engagement-related issues can be addressed as they arise. Unlike engagement surveys, which offer a blanket approach, check-ins deal with engagement at a personal level – after all, each person has their own experience of the workplace, and their own unique challenges.

At an organisational level, employers need to focus on improving the employee experience – from recruitment through to off-boarding, and everything in between. This means treating your employees like customers that you want to retain. And just like with customers, the goal should be to give employees what they want and need to be happy.

When you get the employee experience right, and when you regularly sit down with employees to discuss and improve their experience of work, engagement should naturally improve. But as long as you base your engagement strategy around an impersonal questionnaire, employees will continue to feel like you aren’t really taking the issue seriously.

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Nick Edwards

Nick Edwards is a Content Writer at MHR

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