Let’s start with what most of us agree upon:
Employee engagement is important
Engaged employees are more productive
Engaged employees provide better customer service
The benefits are there. Unfortunately, the way most companies conduct their employee engagement survey is a waste of time.
The are five primary problems.
Problem #1: “Employee Engagement” is not defined
There’s a lot of agreement on the importance of employee engagement, but not much agreement on what “employee engagement” actually means. Even the big consulting firms like Gallup and BlessingWhite disagree.
This can spell big problems for your survey efforts.
Without a clear definition of engagement, your survey questions will be random or poorly designed. Some companies rely on the employee engagement consulting firm they’ve hired to supply the questions, but that doesn’t necessarily mean those are the right questions.
If you want to measure employee engagement, start by defining it. For what it’s worth, here's my preferred definition:
Employee engagement is the extent to which employees are deliberately contributing towards organizational success.
Problem #2: Infrequent Feedback
The typical employee engagement survey is done every 12 - 18 months.
To understand how ridiculous this is, consider what would happen if you waited that long to measure anything else that was important to your business. Can you imagine...
Reviewing your financials only once per year?
Waiting 18 months to peruse your KPIs?
Asking customers for feedback only once per year?
How could you measure engagement more frequently without constantly bugging your employees? One solution is to divide your employees into 12 random groups and survey a different group once per month. This way, you get monthly feedback (just like your financial performance) while each individual employee only completes the survey once per year.
And, lest we forget, you can also try talking to employees directly.
Problem #3: The Data is Easily Manipulated
The annual engagement survey doesn’t capture a year’s worth of employee sentiment. For most employees, their most recent experiences will have a far greater impact on their survey scores than what happened six months ago.
Managers know this. Some deliberately hold morale-boosting events just before the survey goes out. Others withhold negative actions, such as employee discipline, until after the survey window is closed.
The result of a survey conducted every 12 - 18 months is skewed data. One fix is to survey random samples of the employee population more frequently (as suggested above).
Problem #4: It Feels Like a Side-Project
Many employee engagement surveys feel like a side project that distracts leaders from their real work.
It’s failure by design. Look at this typical cycle:
Employees are surveyed
Senior leaders review a results report
A blue-ribbon committee is convened to study the issue
The committee reports back to senior leaders
It's now several months after the survey. Employees are wondering if their voices were even heard. Leaders lose focus and move on to something else. The whole thing feels like a Dilbert cartoon.
Companies with highly engaged employees instill passion in their workforce through consistent, purposeful efforts. Engagement is something they do all the time, not just occasionally.
Problem #5: No Action is Taken
It all comes down to this. If you’re going to ask for your employees’ opinions, you had better do something with that information.
If not, you’re wasting everyone’s time.