The nine cardinal sins of employee engagement surveys

Joe Wedgwood | 13th July 2017

Employee engagement surveys are one of the cornerstones of HR. They are designed to gather valuable insights from your most valuable resource… your people.

The right surveying programme will help you discover the sentiment of your people and allow you to make key business decisions and build engagement-boosting action plans off the back of their insights… However, without the right preparation, your surveys will be much less effective.

Below is a list of the main things to avoid, to ensure your employee engagement initiative is a success:

1 Not defining your business goals

If you aren’t entirely sure what the purpose of your programme is, then how can you expect to explain it to everyone else and generate buy-in?

Before you build your surveying programme, it is vital to have a clear set of goals and objectives in mind. Without this in place, your programme will lack direction and it will be impossible to measure its success.

Your business goals should align with your vision and culture and focus on improving the working environment and lives of your people. This will ensure you maximise your human capital investment, boost retention, improve customer service and reduce turnover.

Here are some examples of effective goals to help boost employee engagement and overall business performance:

  • Identify strengths, weaknesses and opportunities for improvement.
  • Gauge the success of current programmes and initiatives.
  • Measure and improve staff sentiment.
  • Establish the level of staff engagement and satisfaction.
  • Improve the working environment and culture for everyone.
  • Determine employees’ understanding of the company’s culture, mission, values and vision.
  • Measure benchmarks to track future progress.

2 Not considering your question set

Albert Einstein Language surveys

You may have a carefully planned survey that caters for your whole business – but that isn’t enough to create an engaging programme with rich, actionable data. The way you ask the questions is just as important.

Here are some tips to consider when planning your questions:

  • Don’t over-complicate it: Simplicity is key. If your questions are too long or complicated then people may struggle to understand the meaning.
  • Steer clear of double-barrelled questions: Double-barrelled questions are where you ask two questions at the same time. They are often very confusing for the respondent, as they will be unsure what question they are answering.
  • Avoid leading and loaded questions: Leading questions will sway respondents towards a certain viewpoint. Loaded question will force them to answer in a way that may not align with their opinion/reality. Both can be harmful to the credibility of the programme, as it may appear to your workforce that you are trying to push them towards a specific answer, or make them see things from a certain viewpoint.
  • Construct questions that align with your business goals: If your surveys don’t have a clearly-defined purpose or align with your business goals, then it will all count for nothing. Consider how you will use the data, so it is useful for both parties and will help you achieve your business goals.

3 Not considering frequency

A key part of ensuring long-term engagement with your programme is to focus on getting the frequency of your surveys right. By adopting the Engagement See-Saw model, you can begin to understand the fine balance between the needs of the company and the respondent.

Ask too many questions, too frequently, and the respondent may become bored and frustrated by the amount of time they are dedicating to the survey. Ask too few questions, too infrequently and you will not get the rich insights required to really make a difference.

The key is to strike a balance between the frequency and length of your surveys. This will help you to find an equilibrium, which will ensure your programme is a success.

4 Gathering data annually

Annual surveys focus on asking a large mix of questions in great numbers. They are typically considered as a chore by the respondents, which can lead to people not finishing the survey and disengaging with the programme entirely.

On the surface, they cover all the bases. In practice, this is not the case. They lack the regularity, and usability required to really boost engagement and performance. Annual surveys will provide a huge mass of data in one sitting. This will take analysts a long amount of time to interpret and process the data before they can even consider building action plans and feeding them back to everyone. By this time the data will often be irrelevant, as it is no longer everyone’s reality. This can lead to people feeling like the surveys are a waste of their time.

By adopting regular and short pulse surveys, all your data will be converted into immediate insights. Through regular, real-time communication, you can effectively identify the drivers of strong performance – so you can enhance them, and discover any barriers – so you can overcome them. This will help you to build on successes, combat concerns and gather valuable ideas and innovations – all instantaneously.

5 Failing to consider the pros and cons of anonymous and identified feedback

Whether you should collect anonymous or identified feedback from your respondents is a key factor to consider. Be mindful of how this choice will impact your results and the depth of insights you will have access to.

For example, if you want to filter and compare feedback e.g. by location or manager – then you should consider how anonymity can affect your data. Small filter groups will compromise anonymity, so if you wish to compare trends across filter groups, then you may need to reconsider offering anonymity. Alternatively, you should ensure your groups are large enough not to make anyone identifiable. There is a lot to consider.

Anonymous respondents are less likely to see their specific issues addressed, as business leaders will struggle to solve unique problems for unidentified people. However, some anonymous respondents may answer more truthfully, as they will not be fearful of any repercussions. It is key to highlight that no one will be reprimanded or held accountable for their feedback throughout your pre, during and post internal communications.

If you can generate buy-in and trust in the programme, more people are likely to provide identifiable feedback. Ultimately it is up to you to decide what is best for your business, and what will provide the richest data.

6 Not following up on your surveys

For many reasons, some respondents may not participate when you first send out your survey. It is essential to follow up and send a reminder email. If your respondents are anonymous, then you will have to send the reminder email to everyone.

See example below:

“xxx has invited you to provide your feedback. If you have already responded and are receiving the invite again this is because you elected for your feedback to be anonymous and fitting with our anonymity policy. We are therefore unable to identify you and remove you from the reminder distribution list, but apologise for the interruption.

If you haven’t responded please click on the following link to register your score. It’ll only take a few minutes and we will use your data to improve the working environment for everyone and improve business.”

Failing to follow up may lead to respondents forgetting about the surveys, or not feeling encouraged enough to participate in future surveys.

7 Taking too long to feedback the results

A common mistake that businesses make is taking too long to feedback results and action plans. It is advisable to share the results as quickly as possible, to highlight that you are making immediate and constant organisational changes off the back of their feedback. If your people make the effort to respond quickly, then you should do the same in return. survey. Employees did their part and contributed to the feedback process and now the company must do the same in return.

People want to see that their opinion counts and want to know what changes will be made off the back of their feedback. Failure to respond quickly will result in your people becoming disillusioned with the programme.

8 Not feeding back the results at all 

Very few things hurt a business’ credibility more than failing to act when they stated they would.

It is essential to communicate the results of the survey and action plans with everyone. The surveys are for the benefit of the entire organisation and failure to feedback the results will ensure that people will be less likely to participate in future. This is detrimental to the credibility and reliability of your programme.

9 Failing to prepare for your boardroom results presentation

If you don’t put the board at the top of your agenda, how can you expect them to put your engagement plan at the top of theirs?

You have spent months planning and designing your programme. You have conducted meetings to get the board on your side. You have spent hours researching the best questions, frequency and send-out times.

After all that hard work, it would be a crime to leave your presentation prep for the results meeting with the board to the last minute. It undermines the process you have built and is a waste of time for the board and investors who have likely backed you throughout. This is your chance to highlight all the insights, innovations and action plans you have generated. Don’t be guilty of wasting the opportunity.

By avoiding these common mistakes and following the best practice tips provided – you will be in a strong position to build an effective, engagement-boosting programme.