5 Reasons Why Employee Engagement Surveys Are Flawed

When it comes to tools for measuring employee engagement, surveys are one of the most common ones out there. Even with the advent of many new SaaS applications, they remain a popular way with employers to check how their employees feel about their workplace.

But what about the employees? And the results that you get?

While they are incredibly handy and easy to create, employee engagement surveys have a few major downsides you need to be aware of. Here’s what you need to know before you create your next employee engagement survey.

Survey fatigue happens

In order for surveys to be effective, they need to meet a few conditions. They need to be relevant, timely and short. Miss any of these conditions and the results you get will be skewed. The most common problem that arises is survey fatigue. Simply put, employees are “fatigued” and don’t give honest answers or just don’t complete the surveys at all.

First, your surveys could just be too long and have too many questions. SHRM recommends that a general employee survey (taken once a year) shouldn’t have more than 75 questions, taking 20-30 minutes to finish.

If you have surveys that you run more frequently (e.g. once per month), their length needs to be adjusted too. The more frequent the surveys, the fewer questions you should have.

Speaking of which, another mistake that leads to survey fatigue is running your surveys too often. Even if they’re super short with just a few questions, having to do them weekly will cause your employees to tick the boxes without thinking about an honest answer – just to get it over with.

There are trust issues

Employee engagement surveys are all about getting feedback from your people. Sometimes, that feedback requires putting in a bad word or two about their manager, coworkers, procedures, tools or something else. How does the employee know that this feedback won’t get to the person that they’re criticizing?

In theory, you could make your survey anonymous. However, in practice, it rarely is. Most employers will ask respondents to put in information such as their department or role in the anonymous survey for more accuracy.

This means that the employer can find out who the employee is fairly quickly and easily, especially in smaller companies. This is one of the major why these surveys flop – the employees don’t trust that their feedback will remain anonymous.

Address this issue by removing any employee-related questions or by stating that it won’t be used later on. Alternatively, ask a third-party partner to administer your surveys if your employees are still wary.

If you want honest, real feedback, you need to overcome the issue of trust whichever way you can.

The scoring can be skewed

“Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are pliable.” ― Mark Twain

Most of the scores that you get from employee engagement surveys are averages. While this is a neat way to measure and quantify things, they often hide what’s really under the surface.

Let’s say that you have the following scenario. There are 10 people in your company and they all score your organization’s efforts with an 8 – the average is 8. On the other hand, you have the same 10 employees. Eight of them give your organization a 10, the remaining two give it a grade of one. The end average is about the same as the first case.

However, the real situation behind those numbers is vastly different. In the second case, you should be very concerned about the two employees that gave you a grade of 1, but you can’t see them because the average score is still great.

In traditional statistics, you would usually avoid outliers. However, with employee engagement, outliers should be especially interesting because they may have a story you want to hear.

The questions can be misleading

Creating the right kind of employee engagement survey questions can be an art form. The questions should be simple, easy to understand and translate into actionable outcomes. However, things can get quite complicated.

First of all, avoid open-ended questions. If you ask your employees how they are feeling about work for the week/month, give them a range of emotions to choose from or different smiley faces to pick. Don’t leave it an open-answer clause because you can’t measure when one employee says “ecstatic” and the other one says “devastated”.

The second thing is to focus on one question at a time. For example, a question such as this one: “My manager is a great leader and a communicator” and giving that an answer of either yes or no. Well, you can’t say no or yes to both things at the same time, can you?

Think your questions through carefully because the feedback that you end up getting will largely depend on the quality of the questions you ask.

Focusing on the data too much

Many employee engagement surveys remain nothing more than an afterthought. The reason is simple – employers get the results, they see the numbers and don’t act on them. Usually, they’ll follow through after a given time period to check if there is some progress.

When they do so, they may see a certain metric going up or down a little bit and call it a day. In reality, very few companies actually end up going through and doing something about the feedback that they get, simply because they focus on raw numbers rather than the situation behind them.

Do employee engagement surveys still have value?

Undoubtedly so. They’re one of the easiest ways to collect a lot of data very quickly and they can reveal some great insights about your company, your systems and your employees. However, don’t take them at face value.

Getting hard data is always a good goal, but when we take a look at numbers only, we forget the people and the situations behind them. Even worse, as managers and employers, we neglect to take action based on the feedback that we get.

Employee engagement surveys are an excellent tool for improving your workplace – provided that you do them the right way.

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