Employee satisfaction surveys suck. They’re such a big waste of time, and nobody likes them, not even managers. What always blows me away is how much these surveys cost companies to create.
If companies are going to do these surveys, why not try and do it in an inexpensive way? I haven’t fully figured out why, but I have a few theories.
It could be the classic cover your ass attitude, where if the surveys don’t work, they can shift the blame to an outside vendor.
It could be because whoever is conducting the survey is so nervous about getting it wrong and upsetting their manager, that they bring in a consultant.
It could be because the manager responsible for implementing the survey “doesn’t have the time”, so they outsource it.
Whatever the reason, it’s silly.
Only you know internally what the appropriate questions are to ask, and you probably already know some of the major problems in the company.
Next time you want to run an employee survey, build the questions yourself, and try and use a free or very inexpensive tool.
First, let me talk about what I think 3 of the major flaws with employee satisfaction surveys are (three are a lot more), and then some simple ideas to make things better.
1. Survey Fatigue
To me, this is the biggest problem by far.
Managers need to understand that people get bored very easily. You can’t put together a 150 question survey, and expect them to take it seriously.
Especially since employees often see no value in it. I’ve never seen a company once explain to the employees why filling out the survey will do anything for them.
When creating the survey, you need to able to answer the question “what’s in it for me?”.
But be careful with this, a lot of managers will just offer up some arbitrary prize like an iPad to incentivize people to complete the survey.
Without going into detail on the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivators, the iPad won’t work, and might actually skew the answers.
You don’t want people filing out the survey just to get the iPad.
In a peer review of 128 studies on the effects of rewards Deci et al. (1999, p. 658) concluded that:
tangible rewards tend to have a substantially negative effect on intrinsic motivation (…) Even when tangible rewards are offered as indicators of good performance, they typically decrease intrinsic motivation for interesting activities.
2. Too Much Time
This is another huge issue.
There are so many companies that do employee satisfaction surveys once per year, I’ve even heard of companies doing them once every two years.
That’s way too much time. If an issue comes up in February, but the survey only happens in October, I’ve probably already forgotten about it, but it would have been nice to address it then.
Also, the time it takes once the survey results come in to when things are actually done takes too much time.
Usually, there are committees that go through the results, and take their time analyzing and deciphering the responses, and then they have to come up with a plan to implement the results, establish another committee, have meetings for months, and then start implementing.
We want results right now.
If I tell you that I don’t like something, and it takes you more than six months to fix, that’s a pretty easy way to disengage me as an employee.
3. Senior Management Isn’t On Board
If senior management isn’t on board, then you’re really just wasting everyone’s time.
Please, don’t conduct an employee satisfaction survey if you’re not ready to act.
Listen to this statistic. According to a study by Aon, in companies who administered an employee engagement survey, 27% of managers never reviewed the results at all, and 52% reviewed the results but took no action.
Don’t think for a second that a survey is enough. The point of the survey is to collect data, so that you know what you can do next, but of course, you need to be ready to do something next.
How To Make It Better
There is a way to make it better, and as you might imagine, it involves doing everything opposite of what I just mentioned.
The 3 most important things to think about if you’re trying to make satisfaction surveys better are:
1. Show value to the employee
This is so important. When you’re designing your questions, and you’re already thinking about what to potentially do after the survey comes in, try and give employees the impression that this will help further their career.
As a simple example, personal growth is a huge reason for engagement. If employees report that they don’t have enough access to training, use that as proof that you need to spend more on training programs.
2. Spread it over time
Instead of an annual satisfaction survey, check in with your employees frequently.
You can do this stuff online as well, and there are a ton of great tools out there (*cough Officevibe *cough).
3. Ask Less Questions
Only ask what really matters.
Keep the concept of survey fatigue in mind, and make sure to keep it relevant.
Also, ask questions in a more informal and fun way, you’ll probably get a higher response rate, which is exactly what you want.