3 Types of Employee Surveys

DecisionWise Employee Engagement Survey Company

ipad-magic-self-assessment Today most organizations focus on measuring employee engagement as part of their annual survey process.  But sometimes the employee survey looks more like a satisfaction or culture audit than a true engagement survey.  Each type of employee survey serves a distinct need in the organization. As each of these may be important to the strategy of the organization, it’s important to use the right type of survey for what you’re trying to measure.  Here is a guide to identify which types of employee surveys are most appropriate for your organization.

1. Employee Satisfaction Survey

(a.k.a. employee survey, employee opinion survey, or employee morale survey)
The purpose of this type of survey is to provide general feedback to management and HR to evaluate items that relate to some, or all, of the following:

  • Satisfaction with Job
  • Perception of HR
  • Perception of Pay/Compensation/Benefits
  • Causes of Turnover or Retention
  • Perception of Policies
  • Perception of Diversity
  • Opportunities for Promotion /Career Advancement
  • Intent to Stay/Leave

Because of the number of topics addressed, surveys like this tend to be longer – often 65-120 questions. The results are analyzed and an interpretive summary is prepared and presented to senior management. Summary results are presented to all employees, but generally little action planning is done by employees based on the results. This survey is best used as a tool to better understand issues that contribute to retention and attracting new talent.
Download: Employee Satisfaction Survey

2. Organization Culture Survey

(a.k.a. culture survey, cultural alignment survey, climate survey)
This type of survey is usually driven by the business need to change or align with a new vision. They are helpful to measure employee perceptions after a merger, change in management, or a change in the structure of the organization. They are useful indicators of how well employees know and are committed to the values of the organization. These surveys usually measure one or more of the following:

  • Vision/Mission
  • Cultural differences between groups (for mergers or acquisitions)
  • Perception of Pay/Compensation/Benefits
  • Perception of Business Results
  • Innovation
  • Teamwork
  • Perceptions of Managers

These surveys vary in length from 20-70 questions depending on how targeted the questions are and how many areas need to be evaluated. The results are analyzed, and an interpretive summary is typically delivered to a broad level of management.  The results may or may not be used for action planning for managers.

3. Employee Engagement Survey

This type of survey measures the components most important to employee performance in the organization. It is best used as a tool to promote organizational change and increased performance. The survey items measure the components of engagement and what makes an employee passionate about their job. These surveys usually measure the following factors of engagement:

  • Resources/Workload perceptions
  • Job-Person Fit/Connection
  • Meaning and Purpose
  • Manager Relationship
  • Impact/Recognition
  • Autonomy/Empowerment/Accountability
  • Cross-Dept. Cooperation
  • Opportunities for Growth

These surveys are usually between 35-50 questions, and work best when they are customized to the organization. Results are rolled out to all managers and action planning sessions are held by all work groups in the organization. The focus of the process is on organizational change and improvement.
We often find that organizations mix the surveys together and lose focus on what is actually being measured.  Try not to clutter your employee engagement survey with a long list of questions about every benefit offered by the company.  It is possible to use questions that measure all three areas, but be sure to break out the results the right way to get a clear picture of satisfaction, culture, and engagement in your organization.
Employee Engagement Survey Sample Download
Related Content: Sample Employee Engagement Survey
Related Webinar: Employee Satisfaction is not Employee Engagement

The Link between Growth and Employee Engagement

High Employee Turnover

The tours-of-duty concept spotlighted in the May 27 issue of Chicago Tribune and the June issue of HBR is fascinating.  Back when I was in my prime (i.e. childhood), employees hoped to stay with one employer for many years—if not life.  Life-long employee-employer relationships were not only desirable, but also common.  Today’s global economy—both job and fiscal—is much different than that of our parents’, which has forever changed the way employers and employees cooperate.  From an employer’s standpoint, expecting employees to be with the company for life is unreasonable, even illogical, and potentially constraining.  To employees, staying with one company for an entire career would be both personally and professionally disadvantageous.

At DecisionWise, we have witnessed the tours-of-duty concept first hand.  One of our employees first joined our company in 2006.  Around the end of 2008, he took on different projects and opportunities with a different company (no hard feelings).  When February 2012 rolled around, this employee rejoined the DecisionWise team and was handed what he calls a holy-grail opportunity for someone in his industry.

When I sat down to talk to this employee about his tour with our company, and his career path afterward that eventually led to his return, I was expecting to hear an echo of the HBR article: that during his time with us he had been able to see a project through completion and wanted to start working on newer, bigger projects.  And that’s basically what he told me, but not for the reasons I expected.  You see, this employee—and likely millions of employees just like him—would rather not leave a company after seeing a project through completion.  Employees are looking for consistent growth; if they can find it in your company, they’ll stay.

When I asked our returning employee about his opinion of the tour-of-duty concept, he explained, “Tours of duty have a lot of overhead.  A better solution would be to find another challenge for an employee.  Smaller companies can switch an employee’s projects or tasks; bigger companies can move employees to new teams.  Jumping from team to team would be more effective.”

Employees are looking for challenge, for growth, and for continued development.  Just because today’s companies are failing to provide adequate growth levels does not mean that tours of duty are the new ideal standard.  Au contraire, if companies want to hire and maintain human capital—the most valuable resource (and quite possibly the highest expense) in nearly every company—then they need to start promoting continual growth and development within the organization.

Growth is also one of the five essential elements for employee engagement, which explains exactly why the average employee-company monogamous lifespan has been steadily declining over the years: employees are becoming disengaged.  Engaged employees are those who find a healthy portion of meaning, autonomy, growth, impact, and connection in their jobs.  Employee diets deficient on any of these five ingredients are recipes for disengagement.
Are you currently receiving an engaging level of growth and development opportunities in your job? 

Respond to the following statements, with ratings from 1 to 5, 5 being strongly agree and 1 strongly disagree:

  1. I feel challenged and stretched in my job.
  2. My job offers enough variety to keep me challenged.
  3. I feel challenged and stretched in my job to increase my abilities.
  4. My job stretches me to be the best professional I can be.
  5. This organization provides attractive opportunities for growth and development.
  6. My work gives me opportunities to learn and grow.

Share your results in the comments; we’d love to hear your stories.

5 Keys of Employee Engagement White Paper

5 Quick and Easy Ways to Engage Your Employees

Just tell me what to do,” said the manager after looking at the employee engagement survey results for his department.  We hear that a lot.  Managers are busy and don’t have much time to read reports and create action plans. Some feel understandably lost when trying to engage their employees.  Here are five quick wins—things you can do now to engage your employees.

    1. Talk about the big picture.  Many employees feel underwhelmed because they don’t find meaning in their work.  Instead of focusing only on revenue quotas, make a connection between what employees do to the mission of the organization.   Everything we do at DecisionWise plays off of our mission to “turn feedback into results.”  Our entire team is made up of feedback evangelists, which makes working here more enjoyable—and more engaging.
    2. Leave people alone.  Though employees do need some direction, don’t be a micromanager.  Let people dictate certain elements of their work environment.  One of our clients in the financial sector once commented that letting people choose how they perform their jobs isn’t feasible, what with all of the government red tape running rampant in the financial industry.  Even if you’re in a highly regulated industry, employees can still exercise self-direction.  Let them organize their workspaces in the most personally efficient ways.  Let them recommend new processes that still meet all of the imposed regulations, but let them work more quickly, more profitably, or more enjoyably (it sure would be nice to achieve all three).
    3. Ask employees what they want to do.  Recent DecisionWise research revealed that only 39 percent of hourly employees report receiving mentoring, counseling, or coaching in their careers, even though 70 percent of them see greater career opportunities in their organizations.  Odds are the employees in your organization feel the same way.  So, take time on a regular basis to meet one-on-one and ask employees where they want to go with their career.  You might just find one of your employees has a really cool idea for a special project that would add new value to your company—leverage that powerful opportunity for an instant win-win.
    4. Recognize results.  Just like a CEO looks for results from employees, employees look for results from their own work.  If employees don’t feel like their actions are making a difference, they become discouraged, irritated, and ultimately disengaged.  Take time to not only recognize the accomplishments of employees, but also describe how employees impact the overall success of the organization.
    5. Be friendly.  Employees shouldn’t be afraid of their superiors.  Managers can still maintain a professional relationship while being approachable, conversational, and overall nonthreatening. Our research shows that employees have to have good relationships with their coworkers and their manager(s) in order to be fully engaged.

What are some quick wins that you’ve identified in your employee engagement survey data?  Share your stories with us on how to engage your employees.
Related Post: Five Things Employees Don’t Love about Their Jobs
Related Post: 3 Keys to Helping Employees Understand Their Impact
Related Post: Do Bonuses Engage Employees?
Related White Paper: ENGAGEMENT MAGIC®: The Five Keys of Employee Engagement

Generic Leadership Traits Don’t Work for 360 Degree Feedback

Strategic planning gives them the competitive advantage

When I received my copy of Inc. Magazine’s June issue, the cover quickly caught my attention:

“7 Traits of True Leaders”
As I read through the articles in this issue, I noticed that the feature article, written by Leigh Buchanan, described these seven desirable traits as those that may have been previously considered feminine:  empathy, vulnerability, humility, inclusiveness, generosity, balance, and patience.  While I don’t disagree with these points (in fact, I have also found these seven more important today than ever before), I wonder whether most organizations reward employees for these traits, and if they are proficient at measuring each of these, beyond the anecdotal.  But, that’s a topic for a future blog.
For me, the real “ah-hah” here came from one word: traits.
Trait theory is not new to leadership or industrial psychology.  In fact, its psychological roots extend to the earliest known studies of human nature.  Trait theory suggests that there are certain characteristics, or traits, that an individual or group possesses that will determine success.

RELATED POST: What Can 360 Feedback Tell You about Your Organization?
Although introduced decades before, leadership trait theory took hold in the early ‘80s with a proliferation of books and models suggesting that there were certain traits a leader must possess in order to be effective.  Some of these included physical traits, such as height, gender, and overall dashingly good looks (thank you).  The theories here fell along the lines of claiming that “men over 6’2” are perceived as better leaders.”
Behavioral traits included such areas as assertiveness, communication style, and extroversion.  One of the reasons trait theory gained great popularity was that it was easily identifiable.  One’s communication style, for example, was something that was observable.  Trait theory also allowed an individual—one seeking to become more effective—to observe traits of successful leaders, and work to emulate those traits.

Enter 360-degree feedback

While these traits were observable, they were often difficult to quantify or measure with any objectivity or common measurement criteria.  Using 360-degree feedback became an attempt at measuring these traits.  Using 360 feedback also addressed a common problem, in that many times we are poor at assessing our own traits, particularly when these are behavioral, rather than physical.  Using 360-degree feedback is a way to gather views of those around us who are in a position to make observations about both our traits and how we put these to use (our behaviors).

RELATED POST: 360-Degree Feedback as a Critical Turning Point in Life
However, trait theory has a number of limitations:

  • First, trait theory would suggest that a leader’s ability to succeed depends entirely upon that leader’s traits.  It excludes the impact of the environment (economic situation, position in the organization, the team, organization fit, or the product or service) on the individual’s ability to lead.  However, what makes a leader effective in one environment may not make him/her as strong in a different situation.
  • Second, humanity has developed an endless list of “desirable traits.” One merely has to look at the exhausting list of books, articles, blogs, and training programs to see that we don’t all agree on the “18 Qualities That Make Leaders Great” (insert your own favorite leadership book with number in the title).  Often, it’s based on the subjective experience of the person writing the book.
  • Further, we have a tendency to think that those leaders who are most like us tend to be the best.  Therefore, our best qualities become those we look for and measure in others.

So, back to 360-degree feedback…

Taking the above into consideration, how can we possibly design a 360-degree feedback assessment that effectively measures all components critical to an individual’s success?  The truth is, regardless of what many would claim, we can’t—not perfectly, at least.  However, that doesn’t take away from the value of 360-degree feedback; in fact, it strengthens it.
Recognizing that those same traits that make you great would not necessarily make me great is a critical first step.  Those same traits that make me successful in one situation may not make me as effective in another (this is, by the way, known as contingency theory).  Because of this, it’s important that a 360-degree feedback process and instrument be customized to fit the environment.

RELATED POST: Does Someone Have to Go? How Not to Do 360 Feedback
Although some common threads would certainly exist across all leadership positions, others do not.  For example, the required competencies of a nurse who deals directly with patients likely differ somewhat from those in hospital administration.  Similarly, those traits required for a hospital executive may be different from a comparable-level position in a technology firm.  The 360 process, then, should be aimed at those common behaviors that are critical to the specific position, level, role, situation, environment, and industry.  Measuring an individual on a generic set of traits or behaviors may provide little value.
One of the benefits of 360-degree feedback that few talk about is its use in communicating desired leadership traits, as well as articulating behaviors critical to a specific role.  Used correctly, the 360 is a good way to let employees know at which competencies they will need to be proficient to succeed in their roles.
While coming up with a favorite list of “18 Qualities That Make Leaders Great” can be helpful in articulating general traits and behaviors desirable for leadership, keep in mind that the one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work in leadership—and doesn’t work in 360-degree feedback.

Happiness and Employee Engagement

Businesswoman celebrating success.

Shawn Achor’s book, “The Happiness Advantage,” takes an in-depth look at the way happiness impacts people in the workplace.   Much of his research and suggestions have a direct connection with employee engagement, raising an interesting discussion: whether happiness is a component of employee engagement, or vice versa.

Many psychologists define happiness as a positive mood and an optimistic outlook for the future.   The pioneer of positive psychology, Martin Seligman, defines happiness as a combination of pleasure, engagement, and meaning.  Achor summarizes happiness as “the joy we feel striving after our potential.”
Employee engagement can be defined in terms of both a feeling (state) and by behaviors (outcomes, results).  People who feel engaged in their work and life experience a sense of energy and excitement about what they do.  They genuinely like their work and look forward to accomplishing the tasks before them.  These feelings lead to outcomes such as active participation in work, higher levels of contribution, and giving their best effort.
The Chicken or the Egg
So which comes first, happiness or engagement?  Do employees have to be happy before they can be engaged, or do employees become happy when they are engaged?  Perhaps it can work either way, depending on the employee.  Those who develop a sense of happiness will also find that they are more engaged in their work.  Employees who are more engaged in their work will also find greater happiness in their lives.
Join the discussion: How do you define happiness and engagement?
Related Post: What Employee Engagement Is Not
Related Post: Money: Happiness, Satisfaction, and Engagement are Completely Different Things
Related Post: The Employee Engagement Choice: Job, Career, or Calling?

Hourly vs. Exempt Employees: Who is more valuable?

Turner worker working on drill bit in a workshop

Last week I had the good fortune to work with a very successful organization that has operated in the retail space for over 100 years.  The average tenure of the company’s executive team is 15 years, with its Vice President of Operations (let’s call him David) having been at the company during the extent of his 25-year career.
David told me a remarkable story of joining the company as a janitor (his official title in 1988), working as an hourly employee during the night shift.  I asked him about the factors that contributed to his advancement, to which he responded, “I have always had good bosses that believed in me.”  In his 25 years within the organization, David not only advanced but also held various positions that allowed him to see every side of the business.  Because of his experiences, David is able to quickly relate to both the hourly maintenance staff and the board of directors.  The point of this story is that hourly workers comprise a potential pool of talent that is too often overlooked and underdeveloped.
In a 2012 study of 2,743 employees within an international manufacturing company, my team and I found significant differences between the attitudes, beliefs, and values of hourly verses exempt employees.  For example, only 51 percent of hourly employees felt that they had a voice in the organization and could speak up without fear of retribution or negative consequences, compared to nearly 70 percent of exempt employees.
Relating to growth and development, the differences between hourly and exempt staff members are more pronounced: only 39 percent of hourly employees reported receiving counseling in their careers, compared to 54 percent of exempt employees. More interesting still, hourly employees perceived more career opportunities than their exempt counterparts.
The results of this study bring to light two fundamental realities:  (1) hourly employees, who often have the most insight into the day-to-day operations of an organization, think that their voices don’t matter; and (2) hourly employees have desires to progress in their companies, but they are not receiving the guidance needed to advance their careers.
Engaged and committed hourly employees can have a significant impact on an organization’s success.  Keep the following characteristics of hourly employees in mind:

  • Hourly employees often represent the majority of customer-facing roles;
  • They are directly involved in production-line;
  • They directly impact quality; and,
  • They are advocates and supporters of safety.

The reasons above suggest that engaging hourly employees is essential in gaining competitive advantage in markets where hourly workers are a significant demographic.  Organizations that provide the conditions for these hourly employees to thrive wll experience lower talent-acquisition costs, improved operational performance, and best-in-class customer experiences—they will be known as employers of choice that provide opportunities for people like David to advance.
Related Webinar: Employee Engagement and the Hourly Employee
Related White Paper: ENGAGEMENT MAGIC®: The Five Keys of Employee Engagement

How Disengaged Employees Could be Sabotaging Your Company’s Success

What comes to mind when you hear the word “sabotage?” Dark-cloaked spies lurking amongst shadowed enclaves?  James Bond detonating a strategically placed explosive device, just seconds after making his escape from a secured facility?  Hackers introducing malicious content into the launch sequence codes of a nuclear missile?   Great for Hollywood, but a little farfetched for those of us in the everyday workplace.

Despite the unlikelihood of any of the above taking place in a workplace near you, many would be surprised to learn that sabotage is actually a fairly common occurrence in today’s workplace.

Sabotage?  In my Company?  No way!

The origins of the word “sabotage” are questionable, but most sources seem to point back to similar backgrounds.  In the 14th-16th centuries, French and Dutch workers found that they could stop the mills and textile looms by throwing a wooden shoe—a “sabot”—into the cogs of the machinery.  Doing so would either shut down production completely, or would cause the cogs to break over time.  Therefore, a discontent worker could seek revenge by “sabotaging” a very expensive piece of machinery, thus shutting down production.

Pretty devious, right?  But does that happen today?

Sabotage can take two forms—active and passive sabotage.  To simplify these two terms, think of active sabotage as doing something you shouldn’t be doing which causes harm to the organization.  Passive sabotage is not doing something you should be doing, which thereby harms the organization.

For an amusing experience, take a look at the Simple Sabotage Field Manual, created in 1944 by the US Government Office of Strategic Services.  As the precursor to the CIA, the Strategic Services Office created the manual to give ordinary citizens of other countries a guide that they could use to disrupt their countries’ wartime policies towards the US.  It’s interesting to see how so many of these concepts relate to active and passive sabotage in organizations today.

A few instructions from the 1944 Simple Sabotage Field Manual:

  1. Managers and Supervisors—To lower morale and production, be pleasant to inefficient workers; give them undeserved promotions. Discriminate against efficient workers; complain unjustly about their work.
  2. Employees—Work slowly. Think of ways to increase the number of movements needed to do your job: use a light hammer instead of a heavy one; try to make a small wrench do, instead of a big one.
  3. Organizations and Conferences—When possible, refer all matters to committees, for “further study and consideration.” Attempt to make the committees as large and bureaucratic as possible. Hold conferences when there is more critical work to be done.
  4. Telephone—At office, hotel, and local telephone switchboards, delay putting calls through, give out wrong numbers, cut people off “accidentally,” or forget to disconnect them so that the line cannot be used again.
  5. Transportation—Make train travel as inconvenient as possible for enemy personnel. Issue two tickets for the same seat on a train in order to set up an “interesting” argument.

Humorous, but many of these forms of sabotage sound familiar—even today!

Engaged employees are actively contributing to the success of the organization.  Disengaged employees sabotage the organization’s progress.  Sometimes, this is active sabotage.  A disengaged employee may intentionally cause harm to the organization.  We find, however, that this is fairly uncommon: less than 4% of employees are actively disengaged, according to our DecisionWise research.

Quite common is the employee that commits “passive sabotage” in the organization.  These are those employees, for example, who may not report a quality concern when it’s noticed, go the extra mile for the customer, help in training the new guy, or remain attentive in meetings.  It may be the person who simply doesn’t seem to care about anything beyond doing what’s required, and then clocking out.  Our DecisionWise Employee Engagement research has found that roughly 28% of employees fit into this category.  They are those we refer to as the “Opportunity Group.”

“Sabotage” may seem like a harsh word to use, but it’s an appropriate one, nonetheless.  Merriam-Webster defines sabotage as “an act or process tending to hurt or to hamper.”  Wouldn’t, then, a disengaged employee fit this definition?
Employee Engagement Survey
Related Post: Are Employees Really that Disengaged in Their Jobs?
Related Webinar: Inside the Mind of a Disengaged Employee
Related Post: Profiles of the Fully Engaged, Fence-sitter, and Disengaged Employees
Related Post: The Employee Engagement Sky is Falling!

Dealing with Employee Engagement Skeptics

Of the many obstacles to improving employee engagement in an organization, creating buy-in for employee engagement surveys and respective change initiatives is perhaps one of the most challenging—and the most prolific.  Are senior executives actually indifferent about employee engagement?  Are managers too close-minded to realize the positive effects of engagement?  Are employees too needy or too hard-to-please?  The answer to any of these questions is simply “No.”  Don’t believe me?  Keep reading.

Senior Executives

DecisionWise recently brought on a group of student interns from Brigham Young University to conduct a study of employee engagement best practices. Among other interesting conclusions, this study found that a significant portion of companies reported that senior executives would clearly buy into employee engagement initiatives if provided with an executive summary of the findings—including potential action items that would directly impact the bottom line.  The keys here?  Clear findings with clear recommendations for action.

Executive teams’ self-interests are similar across many organizations.  You will want to anticipate the answers to these potential questions when working with members of this team:

  • What is driving engagement in our organization?
  • How does engagement impact our bottom line?
  • How do we measure up with competitors?
  • What are my employees saying, and why does it matter?

Answering these questions in an executive summary is the most effective way to create buy-in with senior executives.  From the companies surveyed, one firm indicated that having an executive summary “made all the difference” in getting buy-in from the company’s senior management.  Other companies commented on the design of the executive summary, specifically mentioning the influence of displaying the top five drivers and the top five inhibitors of engagement in the firm.  I’ll ask again, are senior executives indifferent when it comes to employee engagement?  Definitely not—they just might not recognize the financial power engagement holds.


Managers, like senior executives, are concerned with the organization’s bottom line; however, managers also crave understanding of a company-wide vision for the engagement initiative.  Why does implementing cultural change matter?  Answering this question with rock-solid financial and operational figures and a concrete definition of your vision for the employee-engagement project will help you get buy-in from this group.  So, are managers actually close-minded?  No, they simply need help seeing “the big picture”—one that covers all departments, locations, and job levels in the organization.


Disengagement breeds disengagement.  Some studies report that disengaged employees annually cost firms $3,400 for every $10,000 of salary.  If an engagement initiative starts but does not succeed, engagement rates fall according to the following pattern:

  • 33% of employees are engaged before any surveys are issued.
  • 25% (↓ 8%) of employees are engaged if surveys are completed, but a firm does not create any action plans.
  • 20% (↓ 5%) of employees are engaged if surveys are completed, action plans are made, but no follow-through is achieved.

Thus continues the vicious cycle, unless and until the engagement initiative is completed successfully.  Survey results indicate that working on action plans that can be accomplished more quickly and more early in the year help employees see immediate changes, thereby creating buy-in.  In our experience working with companies in over 60 countries, we’ve witnessed a very common trend: employees don’t want promises; they want action.  Are your employees really asking for too much?  Not at all.

If you’re experiencing some push-back from any of these groups as you prepare to roll out another employee-engagement and cultural-change program, try the above recommendations.

Have you experienced friction from different groups in your organization when trying to start employee-engagement surveys and cultural-change initiatives?  How have you responded to the skepticism?  Share your stories with us in the comments.

Two Biggest Barriers to Employee Engagement Initiatives

Many organizations conduct employee engagement surveys.  Your organization is likely one of them.  However, a large number of organizations simply conduct the survey, pass the results along to HR and the Executive Team, and shelf the project for the next 364 days—until the time comes to repeat the process.  Unfortunately, few of these organizations experience the potential of this powerful process.  Few actually create change toward being a more effective (and profitable) organization because of what they find.

Over the last few months, a team of five students from Brigham Young University conducted an interesting research project for DecisionWise.  The team took on the task of understanding why some organizations are able to successfully turn employee feedback into change, while others are not.  They interviewed a number of organizations that conducted an employee engagement survey in the past 12 months in order to determine the success of their action-planning process.  Their research indicated that two barriers to employee engagement survey initiatives: creating buy-in and following-up.

Creating Buy-in

Based on the research, the areas of opportunity for creating buy-in fell into three organizational levels: senior management, managers, and employees.

  • Senior Management—Financial constraint is perhaps the most inhibiting factor for this population.  Executives from one firm reported that though they would have liked to be more thorough in their efforts to follow-up on change initiatives, being financially limited prevented them from achieving all of the firm’s goals.  These financial limitations thereby forced the organization to abandon some goals in favor of others—the firm decided that following-up on survey results would not be as profitable as other goals.
  • Managers—The biggest reported concern for managers is that they don’t understand the vision or importance of implementing changes based on the employee survey.  One firm reported that only 65 percent of managers completed action planning steps and achieved results.  Some of the excuses for poor action-planning included insufficient time and overscheduled employees, though these problems likely represent just the tip of the iceberg.
  • Employees—The major challenge preventing employees from buying into the survey process was a lack of vision.  Employees reported that the company did not provide them with “space (resources, time, impetus, etc.) where an action plan could be created,” effectively inhibiting them from catching the vision.

Following up

According to several firms, a lack of voice, along with a lack of training in the human resources department are primary barriers to following up.  These firms feel that following up effectively cannot take place if the HR department continues as-is. In many cases, human-resources personnel were not prepared to do what was needed to follow up effectively; their efforts weren’t as effective as they could have been because HR lacked necessary skills.

Based on these two issues, how effective is your organization at rolling out employee engagement survey results?  Are these the two biggest areas of challenge for your firm, or have you experienced other challenges?  Share your stories with us.

Related Webinar: Employee Engagement Survey Roll Out Best Practices
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Related Article: Get the most out of engagement surveys
Related Post: 12 Tips to Turn Employee Engagement Survey Results into Increased Organization Performance
Related Content: Employee Engagement Survey Process Overview

The Employee Engagement Sky is Falling!

The Employee Engagement Sky is Falling

“70 percent of employees are looking for other jobs.

“2 out of 3 workers are looking for new jobs.”

“Seventy-one percent of all employees are disengaged.”

“70% of employees hate their jobs.”

“Survey: 63% of workers not engaged.”

Ouch.  Yes, these are actual headlines.  For those not receiving these regular alerts in your inboxes, a quick internet search will verify the proliferation of similar warnings.

It makes me want to throw in the towel.  Has two-thirds of my workforce (and yours) really checked out permanently? Quick! Hire additional security.  Change all of our passwords.  Change the locks on the building. Warn your customers!

Not so fast…
Let’s separate fact from predictions of total chaos, corporate anarchy, and Employee Armageddon… at the very least, misinterpretation or bad employee data collection.

The Employee Engagement Facts
Most of these headlines are based on surveys of a few hundred or a couple thousand employees, and most of them do not include more than a few companies.  Even if these results were truly accurate interpretations, we certainly can’t extrapolate these findings to represent all employees in the United States, let alone the world. Let’s take a more comprehensive look, using the DecisionWise 2012 employee engagement database of over 12 million responses (across 60 countries).

We have found that the numbers above are actually fairly accurate—to a certain point.  We have also found that, on a 5-point scale, only 30 percent of employees are “Fully Engaged” in their jobs.  This means, they scored an average of close to “5” (Strongly Agree) across ALL survey questions (we typically like surveys in the 35-40 question range).

However, another 46 percent score in the “4” or “Agree” range.  These are your “strong and steady” employees.  Just because they didn’t mark “5” on all questions, are they really disengaged?  Hardly.  Yet, statistics like the headlines above lead us to believe that those employees not currently interviewing elsewhere are building arsenal bunkers and making preparations for mutiny.

Now, the reality…
When we look at those employees who are truly disengaged—those that provide average favorable responses between “1” and “2” (Strongly Disagree and Disagree) on a 5-point scale across all survey questions—we find that less than 8 percent of employees fall into the category of being Actively Disengaged.  This leaves another 16 percent as our “undecided vote” (we call them the “opportunity group”).  Hardly the end-of-companies-as-we-know-them scenarios the headlines seem to indicate.

The Employee Migration

So, what about the employee exodus?  Are two-thirds of my employees looking for other jobs?  Probably.

I work very hard to ensure we hire “the best” (as your company probably does, as well).  At DecisionWise, we average over 80 applicants for each person we hire.  I work even harder to ensure we create an environment in which they can choose to be engaged.  They are, truly, the single biggest factor in making this company succeed, and I’ll do all I can to keep them on our team.

But, someday, they will leave.  And I hope to be able to help them do so.  Here’s why…
If my Chief Technology Officer, Dave (who is a rock star technologist and employee), were to get the call from Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer, offering him the top technology spot, would he entertain the idea?  I would at least hope so.  If our project and client services head honcho, Kristin, were to be offered the lead position in solving the North/South Korea situation, would she jump ship?  Of anyone, Kristin could probably make a resolution happen.  So, she’d be feeling pressure from me.

People on the street

In fact, which of us wouldn’t leave if all conditions—including environment, pay, duties, location, team, title, family impact, schools, company, clients, etc.—were perfect elsewhere.  Who wouldn’t, if it became available, take the spot as the Zamboni machine driver at the local ice rink (okay, maybe that’s just my thing)?

It’s called “growth.”  It’s called “being responsible for my own career.”  Hopefully, my team (and yours) can find that internally.  But the fact is, someday, every employee will move on.

Engaged or disengaged?
Lest I be branded a heretic and booted out of the profession, I need to be clear.  Should we be concerned about employee engagement?  Absolutely!  Is it even more of a concern than in the past?  Without a doubt!  Do we need to focus on and measure it?  Clearly!

So, does this mean the headlines about employee engagement are lies?  Not quite.  It means they are misinterpreted and misapplied.  Apply some common sense to what you’re reading.  Walk out onto the shop floor or past the cubicles in your office.  Do you really think that 2 out of 3 of your employees are doing all they can to get out of there because they hate their jobs?  Not by a long shot.

Give your team the benefit of the doubt.  They “get it.”  They want to succeed, and want to be part of a successful organization.  You may be surprised at what happens.
Employee Engagement Survey
Related Post: Are Employees Really that Disengaged in Their Jobs?
Related Post: How Disengaged Employees Could be Sabotaging Your Company’s Success
Related Webinar: The Profile of a Disengaged Employee