Stop knocking the employee survey

Blog posts

11 Oct 2013

Dilys Robinson

Dilys Robinson

‘Knocking the employee survey seems to be the current flavour of the month. In the past few weeks, I've heard it described in a lot of ways, rarely positively. Examples include:

  • It's a waste of time - a tick box exercise for managers
  • It's transactional, when what's needed is transformational leadership
  • It's not as good as proper dialogue
  • It doesn't measure what it claims to measure (eg engagement) because the questions and statements are badly constructed.

‘But is there really a good and practical alternative to the employee survey? What better way is there of giving everyone - not just the super-confident, or those who shout loudest - the opportunity to give their views about their job and their organisation? An open and honest daily dialogue is, of course, the best way of really understand people's views. BUT…. How can an organisation of any size possibly ensure that every employee has the opportunity for such dialogue? Even setting aside the fact that people may be reluctant to speak out if their views can be identified to them, a 'proper dialogue' assumes that all line managers are capable of not only having this with their teams, but also feeding back accurately up the line. The reality is that clear messages can be distorted as they make their way up, down or through the organisation.

‘There are lots of ways of gathering employee opinion, and all of them have their place. Focus groups give lots of qualitative data; internal social media such as Yammer enable a free-flowing debate; employee panels are a useful sounding-board for new management ideas; suggestion schemes encourage employees to offer ways of improving and innovating. Yet the survey is the only method that directly invites every individual employee to contribute his or her own personal views, in confidence, without any danger of being criticised for the way they respond, or having their suggestions laughed at, or even finding themselves victimised for being 'off message'. It is also a method that yields a wealth of data that can be analysed and presented to tell a compelling, evidence-based story of the views and experiences of the organisation's employees - even if those views aren't what the senior team want to hear.

‘Management consultants are often at the forefront of criticising existing tools and techniques, the employee survey being just one example. Maybe we should be a little suspicious of this. Maybe they are critical because they don't have the capability to run a survey themselves, or because they are trying to sell an alternative product? Less cynically, consultants are often supremely confident people themselves, with high levels of self-belief - so maybe they genuinely (I'd say mistakenly) believe that it's easy to get every employee to speak out and engage in a proper dialogue.

‘So, before we jettison the employee survey, let's make sure we really do have something in its place that will enable everyone to offer their views. ’

About Dilys

Dilys was formerly employed by the NHS, where she held a variety of HR and project management posts at Regional, District and hospital level. Dilys’s main areas of experience at IES are employee engagement, workforce planning and forecasting, and evaluation.

To arrange a media interview with Dilys, please email or call 01273 763 414.

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