So, do employee engagement surveys work? Nope.
Ok, let’s look at the question differently. Do people actually take employee engagement surveys? Yes. Are the results an accurate representation of an organization’s engagement levels? No.
Here’s why employee engagement surveys are useless:
- They only measure a moment in time. It’s a slice of reality, not the whole picture. Could you make a decision about buying a house based on one picture of the exterior? Absolutely not. So how can we gain an understanding of our organization’s engagement levels from one survey?
- They are riddled with inherent biases. Whether it’s the bias of those that built the survey, those that administered the survey, or those reading the results, there will always be subjectivity injected into the measurement.
- Most employees will adjust their answers to align with what they believe their leaders want to see. Even with the promise of anonymity, most employees will error on the side of caution when being asked for their honest feedback. No one wants to be labeled as “disengaged” and therefore the questions often evoke disingenuous answers.
- It’s just a measurement. These surveys are a hollow metric without and actionable plan attached. Even if the results are accurate, knowing that something is wrong doesn’t help the situation. I could easily tell you if my microwave stopped working, but I would still have no idea about the appropriate next steps for fixing it. In that same line of thinking, a simple survey cannot give a comprehensive plan or even a few actionable steps for moving an organization in the right direction.
- Rarely do the results lead to any changes. Most times a survey is a check box. A manager or HR professional has ‘Conduct an Engagement Survey’ as one of their KPI’s. So when asked: Did we administer an engagement survey, yes or no? It gives the appearance of progress, but actually helps maintain the status quo.
- There is no goal in mind before the survey. Without a goal or aspiration we have no direction for our efforts after we obtain the results of a random engagement survey. Knowing where we are is great, but it only matters if we know where we are trying to go. Before results are compiled, leadership should spend some serious time on setting organizational aspirations.
- Most people that administer these surveys are looking for validation of what they are doing, not for feedback of what’s wrong. Rarely do people see their results and obtain an epiphany. As self-preservation focused beings, we are constantly seeking confirmation for how we think things are. This allows us to rationalize our results and justify decisions we have already made.
When your grandmother gave you an awful looking sweater for Christmas and asked if you liked it, did you give her your real opinion? Probably not. If you are like most people, you softened the blow and find some positive things to say about it.
Business is not too different from this scenario. Employees don’t want to seem ungrateful or disgruntled. They soften their opinions and make it more palatable to management. If we want honest answers, we need fearless trust among all levels within our organization.
So, how can we measure employee engagement in a way that’s honest and allows for actionable steps for improvement?
- Use a third party!
- Be willing to have difficult conversations!
- Be open to changes!
- Bring in an expert to dissect, understand, and help develop a plan for your organization’s success.
If we eliminate ambiguity, biases, and self-filtration, employee engagement surveys are nottotally useless. They can be very useful tools when coupled with leadership that is focused on improving organizational culture. If you are truly trying to improve your organization, commit to taking action, not just measurement.