Should We Do an Employee Engagement Survey?

Employee engagement surveys

By Jason Lauritsen

If you are reading this, you are probably facing one of two decisions in your organization.

  1. Should we invest in an employee engagement survey?
  2. Should we continue to invest in our current employee engagement survey?

In either case, congratulations! The fact that you’re taking employee satisfaction and engagement seriously suggests that you are committed to creating (or maintaining) an organization where you succeed WITH your people, not at their expense. You are on the path to becoming an employer of choice.

Before we address whether your human resources team should conduct a survey, let’s first clarify something. Unfortunately, most recent conversations about employee engagement have started with the idea to implement a survey. While a survey can be a powerful tool in creating an engaging workplace, it’s certainly not a requirement. There are many ways to improve engagement, and most of them have nothing to do with a survey.

To decide if you are ready to conduct a survey, consider these questions:

  1. Are you hoping your survey will help fix a known problem? If you already know what’s wrong and are struggling to fix it, a survey is not likely to help. Employee satisfaction surveys are measurement tools that create as many questions as they answer. If you already know what’s wrong, it might be more productive to do some focus groups with small groups of employees. Lead in-depth discussions about what’s happening and ask for their perspective on how to fix it. Surveys tend to identify problems, not fix them.

  2. Are your CEO and executive team open and responsive to feedback? An employee survey, particularly your first one, can be pretty jarring to senior leaders even when they expect bad news. This can lead to defensiveness and a lack of follow-up. The key to success is that employees know that the results were heard and that some action was taken as a result. When there’s a lack of follow up, the employee’s confidence and trust in leadership are damaged. They’re left wondering, “Why did you ask me for feedback if you weren’t going to do anything about it?”

  3. Are managers currently talking with employees about their work experience? Good managers are rarely surprised by the survey results because they are already having conversations with their team about what’s going on. Those managers who aren’t having conversations tend to struggle with how to respond to survey results. This method can have a counter-productive impact on the team’s engagement. If your managers aren’t having regular, structured one-on-one meetings with each employee, start there and forget the survey. It’s a much quicker path to improved engagement.

  4. Are you clear on what you hope to measure in the survey? We all know that employee engagement is good, but what exactly is it? And why is engagement important at your organization? To create and deploy a good survey, you must answer these questions and define the metrics and KPIs you’re trying to improve. If you aren’t sure, spend some time talking about this question with your management team: “What do engaged employees do differently and how does that impact our business?” Maybe in your organization, engaged employees go the extra mile for customers, which improves sales. Or perhaps engagement means employees who are always helping and supporting their colleagues, which means you can perform more seamlessly. Until you can answer these questions clearly, hold off on trying to survey because you may end up measuring the wrong things.

To summarize, it’s a good decision to proceed with a survey if you:

  • Recognize that a survey won’t solve your problems, just reveal them
  • Have a CEO and senior leaders who both crave and act on feedback (especially critical feedback)
  • Currently expect managers to engage in regular one-on-one conversations with employees about their work experience
  • Know what employee engagement looks like and why it matters to your organization

Otherwise, press pause on your survey project and put your efforts into interventions that could improve engagement more directly and immediately (as I suggested above).

Employee engagement surveys can be incredibly powerful tools to improve engagement, but you must set the proper foundation to ensure success. In my next post, we’ll address how to ensure your survey has maximum impact once you decide the time is right to do it.

About the Author

Jason Lauritsen is a keynote speaker and employee engagement expert who has dedicated his career to helping leaders and employees create a more fulfilling work experience. For nearly a decade, he spent his days as a corporate Human Resources executive where he developed a reputation for driving business results through talent. Most recently, he led the research team for Quantum Workplace’s Best Places to Work program where he has studied the employee experience at thousands of companies to understand what the best workplaces in the world do differently than the rest.

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