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Are Employee Engagement Surveys Effective?

By Sue Wigston on July 5, 2018

For some time, employee engagement has been a priority for most organizations. When employees are highly engaged, they are more empowered, accountable, and productive in their roles. In fact, a study by Gallup found that highly engaged teams are 21 percent more productive than teams with low engagement.

To understand the degree to which employees are engaged, many companies conduct employee engagement surveys. Insights from these surveys can help organizations shape employee policies and practices in ways that will drive improved engagement.

But do employee engagement surveys really work?

Employee Engagement Surveys Provide Some Benefits …

Engagement surveys give every employee an opportunity to voice their views and concerns. Research conducted by Salesforce found that employees who feel their voice is heard in the workplace are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to do their best work.

Results from employee engagement surveys also help the companies. Surveys that ask clear and direct questions make it easier to measure employee opinions on those issues. HR and leadership teams can then use survey feedback to develop a roadmap to increase employee engagement and measure progress by comparing survey results over time. Employee engagement surveys are also an important step toward understanding your culture and whether it needs to be changed.

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… But Surveys Also Have Some Limitations

It’s probably no surprise that employee engagement surveys have some drawbacks that can limit their effectiveness in some organizations. Limitations include:

Problems caused by anonymity: Some employees believe that engagement surveys aren’t truly anonymous, so they hold back from giving honest feedback or decide not to complete the survey at all. Also, with anonymity, it’s impossible to know if those completing the survey are a balanced representation of the workforce. Conversely, if surveys are not anonymous, employees may tailor their answers to "give the answers the boss wants," rather than an accurate expression of their experiences and engagement in the workplace.

Too broad: Many employee engagement surveys need to be sufficiently broad so that survey questions hold relevance to the employees answering them. However, a breadth of questions can create the problem of not addressing some of the team or departmental issues impacting individual employee engagement.

Delayed action planning: The scope of many surveys (both the number of employees surveyed and the length of the survey itself) can prolong the time it takes to interpret responses and create an action plan. During this time, new challenges can arise in the workplace and be resolved, making survey results less relevant or entirely outdated. By the time an action plan is introduced, it may not address the organization’s current engagement challenges.

Additional Ways to Measure Employee Engagement

Because of their limitations, employee engagement surveys don’t provide a singular solution for measuring and increasing engagement. Surveys work best when paired with other engagement measurement tools, which can be implemented à la carte or as part of an in-depth discovery analysis. For example:

  • Focus groups and virtual suggestion boxes provide avenues for employees to share feedback about their experiences and what truly engages them.
  • Rapid pulse surveys gauge employee engagement in real time by asking fewer questions with high frequency.
  • One-on-one discussions involve managers in conversations with employees about what drives their engagement at work.
  • Employee net-promoter scoring tools measure employee engagement on a 1-10 scale.

Employee engagement surveys are a useful tool for measuring employee attitudes toward their work and the company culture. While they don’t tell the complete story of employee engagement, they can be valuable in giving employees an outlet to express their views and helping the organization understand employees’ experiences at work. When administered in conjunction with other useful employee engagement tools, surveys can be an effective way to help you measure and ultimately improve employee engagement.

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As Chief Operating Officer, Sue's extensive senior leadership experience and facilitation skills have established her as a trusted partner and organizational development expert. She has a proven track record of successfully leading culture transformation in Fortune 500 companies and has established herself as an authority on training and development. Sue has over 20 years of experience in the creation and delivery of programs and custom designed solutions for Eagle's Flight.

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