Do Employee Opinion Surveys Drive Employee Engagement?

Originally posted by Noel O’Reilly in XpertHR on Thursday, 23rd May 2013

xpert-logoIn April 2013 I wrote a post, “Employee engagement surveys are dead, long live social media?” on this blog about a survey by Silverman Research for the CIPD which suggested that social media could fulfill  some of the objectives of employee opinion surveys, and in some ways improve on them.

Obvious advantages that social media offers are:

  • Employee feedback is immediate
  • Employees set the agenda rather than being limited to multiple choice questions set by the employer
  • You can get an overview of trends by observing “the wisdom of crowds”

An obvious disadvantage is that employees won’t always say what they really think on a company social media platform.

According to US talent management consultancy SilkRoad’s TalentTalk Research Program, the most popular way companies measure employee engagement is via their annual employee survey (59%). If you are a subscriber to XpertHR you can brush up on employee opinion surveys by looking at the good practice guide on this topic.

Despite their popularity, the debate about whether employee opinion surveys are fit for purpose is rumbling on, for example in an article on Personnel Today this week entitled “Why social media cannot replace the annual employee survey”.

The author, Hugh Tonks, has an interest in the topic as he provides a new form of employee engagement survey himself, and claims it answers some of the criticisms of traditional surveys.

Tonks provides a list of how employee opinion surveys should improve. They should:

  • Not be boring
  • Not be overly concerned with metrics
  • Avoid multiple-choice questions
  • Capture data in real time
  • Provide real-time analyses

He recommends surveys should:

  • Be available all the time, i.e. like social media
  • Record anonymous comments, to build up a picture of employee sentiment
  • Avoid multiple-choice questions to allow for finer shades of opinion, and the option of sitting on the fence
  • Replace a few discrete choices with a mechanism that allows a much larger range of answers
  • Reduce the time it takes to complete, ideally to a minute or two
  • Ensure questions are directly relevant to employees, so they feel the survey is about them and is not simply an irrelevant data-gathering exercise

Another article this week, from Silkroad (guesting on the HR Bartender blog) is titled “Using employee opinion surveys to drive engagement”. The article has nothing to say about the issue of the frequency of surveys but it does offer practical advice on some of the other issues raised above.

As regards the length of the survey it recommends having some employees practice taking it to make sure it isn’t too long, or too short. The authors say there should be an opportunity to leave comments, and anonymity should be ensured. Employers should also avoid biased or leading questions.

The authors also suggest ways to make the survey personal to employees which might address the concern that questionnaires often reflect the leadership agenda rather than gauge the authentic sentiment of employees. The article suggests:

  • Giving each employee an index card where they can submit questions or comments
  • Allowing employees to work in groups to develop questions.
  • Using departmental meetings between employees and managers to discuss issues
  • Encouraging individual conversations between managers and employees.

For information about Thymometrics’ world leading real-time employee engagement surveys, email info@thymometrics.com, call +1 646 760 9323 (US) or +44 (0) 1223 750 251 (Europe) or visit thymometrics.com.

About the author

Hugh Tonks

Hugh is CEO of Thymometrics, the Cambridge-based world leader in always-on, self-service employee engagement surveys. 30+ years of experience in software and information management, architecture, design and development.

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