Employee Engagement Scare Tactics of 2018
Which employee engagement survey method is best for measuring employee feedback? The simple answer is, it depends. It’s rare these days to pick up an HR publication or attend a conference that isn’t at least partially dedicated to employee engagement. Many of these articles or events begin with alarming—although not always accurate—quotes like, “over three-fourths of your employees are actively disengaged, and unlikely to be making a positive contribution to the organization.” Scary.
While most of these statistics are hyperbole (i.e., do you really think an organization can function if seven out of eight employees are either actively sabotaging your company or darting for the exits?), there appears to be little challenge to the idea that an organization’s success is directly tied to the employee experience (EX). Engaged employees are far more likely to deliver results than disengaged employees. Also, few dispute the notion that keeping your finger on the pulse of the organization is critical to business success. The question is no longer one of if an organization should gather feedback but, rather, how that feedback should be gathered.
How Are Organizations Measuring Employee Engagement?
For the past two years, consulting firm DecisionWise has surveyed HR practitioners to understand just how organizations go about measuring engagement and the employee experience. Based on responses from more than 200 companies across the globe (representing over 1.2 million employees), two-thirds of organizations (67%) claim to formally measure employee engagement on a regular basis and have specific initiatives in place to address their findings. Interestingly, over the past several years, the question of “how often and how should we solicit employee feedback?” seems to have replaced the previous question of “should we solicit employee feedback?” Much of this results from a new wave of technology that allows organizations to gather real-time feedback, as well as to continue collecting more strategic feedback through their traditional annual employee engagement surveys.
Which Employee Engagement Survey Method Is Best?
There has been an increased push in 2018 and over the past several years to downplay the role of the traditional annual employee engagement survey, with some recommending instead that feedback be gathered more frequently—even as often as once a day or in “real time.” Further, in a push fueled primarily by survey software providers, rather than HR professionals, some organizations are enticed by technology that allows them to both solicit and provide feedback at any time of the day or night, in real time. On the other end of the spectrum, many organizations still prefer a more traditional approach to surveying their employees, opting instead for an annual or semi-annual employee engagement survey. However, while most organizations won’t be abandoning the annual employee survey anytime soon, most agree that an annual check-in with their employees is not enough. It’s simply too infrequent to understand the employee experience (EX).
So, which of these employee engagement survey methods is the most effective? More importantly, which of these employee survey methodologies provides the best information upon which to make critical employee and strategic decisions?
As with most employee-related questions, the answer is, “it all depends.” While one solution or a group of solutions won’t be right for every organization, it is important to understand the options available before settling on a particular solution or set of solutions to use in your organization.
Although numerous variations are currently available, employee engagement survey solutions generally vary by two main factors:
1. Scope – Scope refers to the magnitude and depth of the survey (number of employees surveyed, number and depth of survey questions or items, level of reporting detail and analysis, how the survey results will be used, etc.).
2. Frequency – Frequency is simply how often the employee engagement survey will be conducted (annually, quarterly, weekly, always-on, etc.).
These two main factors, scope and frequency, create four primary types of employee engagement survey options. Remember, numerous variations of these four employee engagement survey methods exist. However, they can generally be broken down into the following, ordered from most frequent to least frequent in administration:
1. Always-on Employee Engagement Surveys
Always-on surveys or continuous feedback technology provides “real-time feedback” that can be quickly deployed and reviewed. These employee surveys are typically used in two ways:
1. To gather ongoing employee feedback to the company and/or for employee performance feedback (including reward and recognition). Always-on surveys generally ignore organizational structure, meaning that due to anonymity, survey results don’t typically roll up under departments, functions, or specific managers. When used for company feedback, these platforms act as a modern-day variation on the old suggestion box. When used for employee performance purposes, real-time feedback for colleagues, bosses, subordinates, and others can be provided with just a few taps of the screen. Employee engagement surveys can address guided questions, which are to be evaluated on a Likert scale (“How likely would you be to recommend XYZ Company to friends, based on today’s experience?”), specific topics (“Have you had a performance conversation with your manager sometime in the past week?), or even as general open-ended comments (“What would you like us to know about your experience?”).
2. Another way that always-on employee engagement surveys are often used is, the unstructured feedback option: The ability to comment on anything, at any time (a modern take on yesteryear’s suggestion box).
2. Employee Spot Surveys
Similar to an always-on employee engagement survey, spot surveys are also generally quick to deploy, address sentiment rather than engagement, and do not require (or allow for) in-depth analysis. They are often designed to address specific events (a conference), areas (benefits), or issues (a recent downsizing). Employee spot surveys are rolled out to measure current hot topics pertinent to the organization, such as gathering input about a change in benefits or soliciting opinions from employees. For this reason, industrial psychologists group employee spot surveys under the “polling and opinion” category. Employee spot surveys are fairly simple to launch or to roll out, and many survey software platforms allow managers or other users to design and administer their own surveys. In this case, these platforms are purchased as applications that may reside on local desktops or are made available through an online application software-as-a-service (SaaS)-licensed model (the latter has overtaken the former as far as popularity). Other systems are geared more to administration by human resources personnel, allowing them to get a feel for the thoughts or opinions of employees.
3. Employee Engagement Pulse Surveys
Called “pulse surveys” because they “take the pulse” of an organization or group, these types of surveys are helpful tools in gauging progress, warning of potential dangers, understanding trends in the employee experience, and promoting action. Pulse surveys share many similarities with spot surveys, but with two key differentiators:
1. They occur at regular or planned intervals, or with planned groups, and generally involve large pockets of the organization’s population (if not all employees).
2. Employee engagement pulse surveys are often intentional follow-ups or supplements to other employee surveys. Pulses surveys sometimes ride the coattails of annual employee engagement anchor surveys or other employee pulse surveys, in that they serve as a great way to drill down for more specific information or follow up on areas that need to be addressed.
4. Employee Engagement Annual Surveys (Anchor)
When most companies talk about their annual employee engagement survey, they are referring to an “anchor survey.” These employee surveys have been used for decades. Our research found that 89% of organizations use annual employee anchor surveys (in some form or another) and, of those, only 6% said they would be moving away from anchor surveys in the foreseeable future. Despite what some software providers might advertise, this type of employee engagement survey is likely to be a part of gathering feedback for most organizations for years to come. Why? Most organizations simply find that, when implemented correctly, they work.
Employee engagement anchor surveys carry many different names: employee engagement survey, employee survey, well-being survey, climate survey, employee satisfaction survey, employee experience survey, culture survey, and so on. While there are actually differences between each of these types of employee anchor surveys, that’s a discussion for another day. However, they all fall under the category industrial/organizational psychology refers to as “anchor surveys,” due to the fact that they presumably form the base around which other employee surveys operate.
While various employee engagement survey providers may use different names and features, these four survey types listed above generally cover the range of variations and options. So, which employee engagement survey method is best? As stated before, it depends on your goals, scope, and frequency.