A guide to Employee Satisfaction Engagement Surveys
|A guide to conducting employee engagement and satisfaction surveyThis page outlines the key steps and requirements of a successful staff or employee survey.|
Employee survey techniques have developed significantly over the past few years, with web based technologies it is easier and cheaper than ever to collect and manage data.
In the past, any HR driven initiative was seen as tactical and of little real benefit to the organization as a whole. Now many enlightened organizations see HR and employee surveys as a powerful business improvement tool.
Customers now have a greater range of choices than ever and are becoming increasingly better informed . This in turn means that many have very high expectations and, if they feel they are being “short changed” in any way, they take the initiative and switch their allegiance. This reduction in consumer loyalty can create difficulties in retaining existing customers, causing organizations to increase the amount they spend on engaging new customers.
Consumer choice has also brought greater competitiveness to the market and in many situations it is difficult for an organization to differentiate itself from the competition in terms of production range, quality and price. As a result, the main differentiator for organizations has to be the quality of service that the customer receives. This may well result in people buying from you because they engage with specific individuals and the service/ attitude they offer.
When was the last time you went out to a restaurant for a special meal. Regardless of the quality of the food and the price, if the service was poor, you forget how good the food was and you will probably not visit that restaurant again.
Following on this same principle, there is a significant amount of survey demonstrating that employees have the greatest single impact on customer service. In the eyes of the customer, the employee they interact directly with is “the face” of that organization and heavily influences how they feel about the organization.
It is vital for every interaction to be a positive one, not just for the customer, but for the employee as well. If the customer is happy, they spend more money , which naturally improves the organization’s overall business performance. Likewise, higher employee satisfaction levels can come about as customer satisfaction and business performance levels increase because of the pride and kudos that come from working for a successful company.
Research shows that the most successful organizations have satisfied, motivated, flexible, committed and well-trained employees who believe that they are able to personally contribute to the success of the organization, in turn they are more likely to be supportive of the organization’s products, strategy and goals.
The most successful organizations get the most from their employees because they consider them to “their greatest asset” and they are prepared to invest in them in the same way as they invest in technology, product/brand development and customer segmentation. This means considering employees as a key stakeholder group in the same way as customers, shareholders and other corporate “investments. This leads to a critical need to understand and proactively manage the impact that any change will have on your employees in order to protect the investment made in them. In many cases your business IS your people.
One approach is to proactively use employee survey to understand what the key motivators and dissatisfiers are for them. The critical link between employee satisfaction and organizational performance has been clearly established in many independent and academic studies, people practices were found to have a significant impact on improvements not only in employee satisfaction, but also in the organization’s productivity and financial performance.
Different Types of Employee Survey Programs
Annual climate and employee satisfaction surveys are by far the most popular kind of employee survey activity. However, the following types of survey programs are also gaining in popularity:
- Combining employee and customer satisfaction studies.
- Procedure/policy evaluation.
- Alignment of employees behind new product development.
- Alignment of employees behind organizational rebranding and repositioning efforts.
- Managing employees through organizational change programs (e.g. merger, acquisition/downsizing, etc.).
- Internal customer service evaluations.
- Internal communications evaluations.
- Evaluation and design of different benefits schemes.
Defining Employee Survey Goals and Objectives
Before starting on a staff survey process, it is vital to define a set of objectives for the survey. Without these objectives, the survey program will lack focus and it will be difficult to raise enthusiasm for the survey among your key influencers and decision-makers.
All employee survey programs need to be seen as a company-wide initiative that is driven by managers and employees from across the whole organization and not something that is solely initiated and managed just within HR.
It is therefore vital that any defined objectives for a survey are business related. In this way, improvements resulting from the survey can be seen as improving customer service and overall business performance.
Deciding on the Appropriate Survey Methodology
Defining objectives at the outset will help to determine the methodology because, to meet the desired objectives, you will need to consider the following:
- Are all employees affected and should all employees need to be involved?
- Will changes and improvement action be required at different levels across the organization?
- How will managers and employees be engaged in the improvement process?
- How will awareness of the survey, its results and improvements be raised and managed among employees?
- How will the progress of improvement actions be reviewed, monitored and communicated over time?
Quantitative and qualitative research methods can both be highly effective in employee surveys. It is essential, though, to ensure that the correct methodology is used for the type of survey being conducted.
Qualitative research is most appropriate when:
- The research involves relatively small groups of people,
- You are looking to pursue a subject in real detail,
- You are looking for the flexibility to move between subjects dependent on how participants respond,
- You are attempting to determine strength of feeling on a certain subject,
- You are trying to understand root causes of a feeling rather than just the symptoms of issues,
- You are trying to seek the connections between issues,
- You are surveying particularly complex issues.
Face-to-face individual interviews and focus groups are the most common forms of qualitative techniques used in employee research.
Quantitative research is most appropriate when:
- Large numbers of people need to be included,
- The survey needs to cover a large number of different subjects,
- It is important to have robust numerical data,
- You need to have measurable comparison data between different groups,
- You want to be able to compare performance against other external organizations,
- You want to identify correlation with other survey data (e.g. customer satisfaction data),
Employee satisfaction surveys are the most common form of quantitative research.
There are occasions when both methodologies can be effectively combined. For example, in an employee satisfaction survey, you may decide to use focus groups before designing the survey in order to determine the survey content and/or pilot questionnaire. Then you may also want to use qualitative research after the survey data has been collected to better understand the meaning behind the quantitative results.
Employee Satisfaction Surveys
It is worthwhile examining employee satisfaction surveys in more detail given that they are the most popular type of employee survey.
Census or Sample
Having defined your survey objectives, the next thing to consider is whether there is a need to survey all employees (“census”) or just a subset of them (sample”).
Evidence overwhelmingly suggests that a census survey is most appropriate for employee satisfaction surveys. This is mainly due to the need to drive through improvement action planning at local levels which requires frontline managers to be provided with their own reports. By undertaking a sample survey, there may either be not enough responses to provide a report or the number of responses may represent too small a proportion of the whole employee population to be considered statistically robust.
Employee buy-in is critical to the success of the survey. If they believe that improvements will result from the survey, they are more likely to participate by completing it and will become actively involved in the follow-up improvement action planning process. This is another strong reason for a census approach rather than sample.
Communication is critical to getting this employee buy-in, particularly at the outset of the program and we recommend developing a communications plan that covers the following stages:
- Pre Survey
- During the Survey
- Post Survey
- Between Surveys
When developing the plan, there is a need to consider the different messages that you want to give to the different audiences and what are the most appropriate communication channels for reaching those audiences.
For example, it is important for first line managers and immediate supervisors to be positive role models for the survey so that when they interact with their staff, they demonstrate active encouragement of the survey, a commitment to administer it properly and to act on the results. This is important because employees are usually heavily influenced by their immediate supervisors or line managers. If they do not think that their manager/supervisor believes in the survey, then neither will they. The whole process is then derailed before it starts.
An Introduction to Employee Survey techniques
Planning for Employee Satisfaction Surveys
The following outlines some of the factors that should be communicated at each stage of the process:
- Objectives of the survey, rationale for the survey and how the results will be fed back
- Use an independent, third-party agency for data collection and analysis
- Timing of the data collection
- Senior management commitment to the survey
- Importance of getting a good response rate so that all employee opinions are heard
- Importance of participation
- Methodology to be used
- Assurance that the study will protect anonymity and preserve confidentiality
During the Survey
- Reminder of the objectives and assurance that action will be taken
- Assurance that individual surveys cannot be seen
- Regular reminders and a notice of when the survey completion period will end
- How the results will be acted upon
- Update on current response rate
- Reinforce the importance of participation
- How employees can participate and what employees should do if having problems accessing or completing the survey
- Reinforce anonymity and confidentiality of the results
- Thank employees for participating and communicate how results will be shared
- Final response rate (Company wide vs. Business Units/Divisions)
- Detail on how employees should get involved in the improvement action planning process
- Local results and local improvement action planning
- Provide top-level summary results
- Reminder of the action planning process
- Highlight and recognize successful examples of action planning and progress made
- Recognize the contributions of teams and individuals to the action planning process
- Senior management endorsement and support of the final action plan/survey outcomes
- Detailed plans for the next survey
- Highlight any areas where action cannot be taken and the reasons for this
- Highlight the impact of action planning on customer service and business performance
An effective survey will enable you to see where your company stands on each of the following factors of employee engagement and satisfaction:
- Commitment to assess employee engagement,
- Culture of leadership and accountability,
- Communications by effective management and
- Compensation to measure employee perceptions of pay and benefits.
It is the period between surveys that are the most important for determining the appropriate action, if any, on each of the factors listed and for communicating the actions taken back to employees. Improvement action is the most important part of the survey process, especially since many employees generally believe that little or no improvements are generated from employee surveys. However, the perception that little action has been taken often is not true. Lack of awareness of improvements among employees, or their inability to link the improvements back to the survey, lead them to believe that nothing positive is happening. This is one of our biggest challenges.
Branding the survey and subsequent action planning activity with a name and/or a logo is another way of raising the profile. In this way, employees can link the results of improvement actions back to how they responded in the survey. A short-form name or acronym can help make your employee survey more memorable, especially if the name or acronym is used consistently throughout the survey process.
Electronic and Web-Enabled
Increasingly, organizations are starting to move towards electronic methods of surveying their employees and the most common method is hosting a web-enabled survey. This type of survey offers many benefits including:
- Cheaper and easier to administer than a paper-based survey,
- Availability of real time response rates,
- Giving each respondent a unique access password prevents employees from completing more than one survey,
- Allows employees to be routed to certain questions based on their type and/or their responses to certain questions without them knowing they are being routed,
- Ensures all respondents answer every question they are asked.
However, before deciding that this is all too good to be true and that a web-enabled survey is the best option, consideration should be given to the following questions:
- Do all employees have, or have access to, a PC that has external Internet access?
- Are all of the employees sufficiently computer literate to complete a web-enabled survey?
- Do you have field-based employees and, if so, how would they complete a web-enabled survey?
- Can your IT Department provide the necessary assistance with the survey?
- Is the culture in place for it and would it adversely affect the response rate if the survey were web-enabled?
The design of the questionnaire is important as it can have as much influence over the response rate as the method of completion.
The elements of a good questionnaire are as follows:
- Each question must directly relate to, and be measured against, the survey objectives,
- It must be easy to complete and not attempt to “trick” employees,
- Take no longer than 15-20 minutes to complete,
- Only ask questions that employees can reasonably answer,
- It should have similar questions grouped together,
- It must only include questions that will provide relevant and actionable information to the organization,
- It must strike the right balance between addressing the needs of employees and the needs of the organization,
- It must include questions that will allow employees to provide improvement ideas and suggestions in the form of free text or verbatim comments.
As part of the questionnaire design process, it can be valuable to conduct focus groups and face-to-face interviews with employees and key survey stakeholders (i.e., managers with a real interest in using the survey results) in order to obtain their feedback on the subject matter and content that should be included in the questionnaire.
At the start of each new project, an effective consultancy provider will collate data to highlight some of the key employee-related issues in the organization.
Online surveys can generally be completed in a 1-2 week timeframe, although participation should be monitored in real time so as to decide when to send reminders and thereby maximize employee participation. The shorter the time frame given the better the response, caution should be given to making deadlines too tight so as not to alienate people on leave.
A two to three week period should be allowed for survey paper-based completion, with an additional week set aside (but not advertised internally) for the inevitable late returns. This will allow time for employees who are on holiday or away from the office for another reason to participate in the survey.
Consideration should also be given to whether employees on maternity leave, sick absence and contract/agency staff should be invited to participate in the survey. It is strongly advised that these groups are included wherever possible.
If a paper-based survey is being administered, then the distribution method needs to be carefully considered so that the maximum possible response rate is achieved. There is no right or wrong answer or blanket method that must be used and the most suitable method will depend on the organization, its structure and culture.
The following sets out the possible survey distribution methods and the potential pros and cons of each:
|Internal Mailing Directly to Office Address|
|Hand Distribution by Immediate Managers|
|Organized Completion Sessions at Set Venues|
|External Mailing to Home Address|
Employees must not be expected to complete the survey on their own time (unless they specifically want and choose to, of course) as this would undermine the value and importance of the survey. Therefore, it is important to allocate them 15-20 minutes of work time for survey completion and to clearly communicate to them that they can take this time at work to fill out the survey.
The subject of offering incentives for survey completion is an interesting one.
Our experience suggests that personal incentives such as entry into a prize draw do not really boost response rates.
One incentive that does appear to make some difference is making a donation to a company-sponsored charity based on the response rate (i.e. the greater the response rate, the greater the amount of the donation).
Another to consider is a team competitions where a prize is offered to the team with the highest percentage of returns.
The key incentive
In contrast to the weak influence of incentives, research shows that employees are more likely to participate in an employee survey if they believe that the results will be acted upon. The golden rule of this type of survey is that, if you do not intend to act on the results, then do not conduct the survey in the first place.
Results Analysis and Reporting
There are many different ways of analysing, cutting and reporting results and each organization has to decide individually on the best method for their needs.
Some key things to consider are:
- Report the results to employees as quickly as you can after the end of the survey completion period. This will ensure that the momentum and interest that has already been generated will be maintained.
- Adopt a phased roll-out of survey results on a top-down basis so that the employees can absorb the results and are not overwhelmed by them. Although employees will be most interested in the results for their own team, they will also be interested in the results at an organizational level.
- Face-to-face feedback of results is the preferred communication method and, although this will probably not be logistically possible at an overall organizational level, it is essential for the feedback of local team results. This will allow employees to ask questions and suggest the root causes behind the results.
- Do not dress bad news up as being good news and likewise do not hide bad results. Honesty is important if you want to involve employees in improvement action planning as they will quickly identify anything that is trying to be hidden. It is as important to highlight and celebrate good results and recognize the reasons for them.
- Add interpretation to the results so that the employees can consider them in true context. This can be achieved by considering that the design of the survey can provide some invaluable interpretative analysis.
- Consider using proven statistical techniques to identify the key drivers of employee satisfaction. Using factor and regression analysis will highlight the most important areas to focus on from the survey results because these areas will bring the greatest overall benefits in improvement action planning.
- Before the results reports are produced, ensure that managers are familiar with what they will be receiving and what they need to do with them. The test of whether this has been successful is whether managers are able to interpret and identify the key strengths and weaknesses for their team within 30 minutes of receiving their report.
- Avoid the temptation to spend lots of time overanalyzing the survey results and re-cutting the data in a combination of different ways. We call this “Analysis Paralysis” because it gets in the way of focusing attention on taking improvement action. While the data from the survey will not provide you with all of the answers you need, neither will cutting it numerous additional ways. The results are intended to provide a catalyst for discussion and the best way to get behind the data is to actually discuss it with employees in teams.
IMPROVEMENT ACTION PLANNING
As noted earlier, the guiding principle of employee survey is that, if you are not prepared to act on the results, then do not conduct the survey in the first place. You have spent time and effort getting employees enthusiastic about the survey and they now have high expectations that there will be improvement activity in which they will be involved.
Although improvement action planning is the most important part of the process, it is also the activity that a number of organizations fail to deliver against. One of the main reasons for this failure is the lack of a clear and coherent process for action planning throughout the organization.
The ideal situation must be for each manager (from senior management to the localized frontline manager/supervisor) who receives a results report to work with their team to identify and prioritise three to four areas requiring improvement and then develop and implement an improvement action plan that is regularly reviewed.
Improvement Action Process
Improvement action planning should be “top down” process where the priorities for the organization are identified, communicated and acted upon at the senior management level. Then moving down to Divisional and Unit levels, local teams should identify and tackle the things that they have direct control over and escalate anything else back upwards.
Before proceeding with action planning, it is vital to ensure that:
- Employees have had time to see and digest the results,
- The results have been discussed fully by the team and the main issues identified together with their root causes,
- There is clarity about what is being tackled at higher levels,
- That all members of the team are committed to moving forward,
- Any “Quick Wins” can be identified.
Prioritising Improvement Actions
Prioritisation of improvement actions should be taken under consideration. Some organizations struggle with improvement action planning because they try to tackle far too many improvement actions at once and start spreading the valuable resources they have too thinly over too many actions.
Our recommendation is that not more than three to four improvement actions should be tackled at one time and that further actions should not be pursued until at least one of the existing actions has been fully completed.
The four key questions to address in the Action Planning Prioritisation are:
- How important is this issue to your employees?
- Is it something you have direct control over?
- Are the benefits of improving the situation worth the effort?
- Will there be a marked improvement in business performance and/or customer satisfaction?
This model that can be used in conjunction with the action planning process by simply reviewing proposed actions against each of the above questions. It is of particular importance that each of the proposed actions lead to some improvement in customer satisfaction and business performance. This reinforces the commercial and business imperatives of the survey.
Formalizing the Action Plan
Having identified the key improvement areas and prioritized the improvement actions, it is important to determine how they will be delivered. To achieve this goal, it is vitally important that this plan be fully documented and summarized so that everybody is aware of the content of the plan. This summary can then be used to review the progress of the plan as actions are taken as result of the plan.
The specific components of the plan should be as follows:
Area for improvement: What is the problem? What impact is it having on employees and customers? What is causing the problem?
What Needs to Happen: Specify the specific improvement action that is required to address the problem.
How It Will Happen: Specify the process and activities required as part of the improvement action.
Timelines: It is important to have a target date for completing the delivery of the action. This sets the focus that any target delivery date is realistic and achievable and it may be stretched if not met.
Action Owner: It is important for one person to be allocated ownership for the action. This does not necessarily mean that this person is solely responsible for the delivery of the action, but they are responsible for ensuring that the delivery does actually happen. Ownership for actions should be spread around the team so that no one person is overburdened.
Resources: Specify and determine what individual resources are required such as personnel, money, materials or support from other parts of the organization.
Improvement Targets: It is important to be able to determine whether improvement actions are having the desired effect by setting improvement targets. The survey can be used as a source for this by pulling out appropriate questions and setting targets for improving the results to these questions in the next survey. Also, keep in mind that survey data may not be your only data source for target setting and you should also consider using other HR data metrics and customer satisfaction data.
Method of Measurement: List the data sources that will provide the information needed for improvement targets.
Review Dates: Specify all of the dates when the improvement action will be reviewed.
Review of Progress: This step should be completed after each review to outline the progress made against the action.
Completion Date: The date when the action was finally completed.
Impact: Completed after the action has finally been delivered to define the impact and difference that the improvement action has made to employees, customers and the business overall.
Reviewing the Action Plan
Regular review of the action plan is perhaps the most important element of the improvement action planning process because it ensures that the momentum is being maintained, enables progress to be tracked and identifies any barriers that may exist.
The frequency of review is largely determined by the target dates specified for improvements, although we would recommend that they take place at least quarterly (maybe as part of a normal team meeting).
Reviews are intended to be a learning experience and not for repeating mistakes, so as well as understanding and celebrating any successes, it is vital to also review the parts of the plan that are not working well and determine what needs to be delivered differently.
If an improvement action is not producing the desired results and an alternative action route cannot be identified, move on and tackle something else.
If any actions have not progressed in the way that they should or as fast as they should, it is important to understand the reason for this. Rather than unnecessarily attributing blame to individuals, it is more important to identify the corrective action that is required to bring things back on track.
If any improvement actions have been completed, the review can be used to determine new improvement action areas to focus on.
The final part of the review is to re-confirm targets and timelines and check that all members of the team are happy with the progress that is being made.
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