3 Reasons Why Engagement Surveys are Broken

It’s no secret that companies are prioritizing employee engagement. Consider this: organizations invest nearly $720 million annually on efforts to improve engagement, according to Bersin.

But despite those efforts, employee engagement hasn’t budged, hovering around 30 percent for nearly 15 years. And one of the most common and costly engagement methods—employee surveys—hasn’t delivered on its promise.

According to a study, 70 percent of employees don’t respond to annual engagement surveys, and nearly 30 percent think the surveys are useless. What’s worse is 80 percent of employees don’t believe managers will act on survey data. Ouch.

[bctt tweet=”80% of employees don’t believe managers will act on survey data” username=”@reflektive”]

It’s no surprise that these surveys are on the decline. A Gartner report predicts 59 percent of companies will use engagement data from sources other than surveys in 2019. Does this mean employee engagement surveys are obsolete? Not exactly. But it is time to face the fact that they’re broken.

Let’s examine why surveys aren’t helping engagement.

They Aren’t Frequent Enough

Employee engagement surveys are designed to help companies and managers understand employees’ perception of their work environment and the extent to which they are engaged and committed to the environment. It’s sort of like measuring the internal temperature of the workplace. But can organizations really get an accurate reading with annual surveys?

Much like annual performance reviews—which more and more companies are abandoning—annual employee engagement surveys are problematic. Responses tend to have recency bias, where employees focus on what’s happened lately instead of having a more holistic perspective. And that can distort engagement data.

For example, if a team has been recently overworked because of a difficult project or it’s temporarily understaffed, it may reflect in their survey responses, though the conditions aren’t necessarily indicative of the normal work environment.

Annual surveys also don’t align with today’s business environment. In the era of constant data collection, real-time analytics, and iterative work processes, companies need more frequent assessments to measure engagement and inform their decisions.

They Ask the Wrong Questions

Regardless of how often you survey employees, if you ask the wrong questions, you’ll never be able to accurately assess and improve engagement. Many survey questions asks about employee’s thoughts, feelings, and motives. Though those types of questions may measure employee satisfaction, they lend themselves to subjective responses and indicate what drives engagement.

Likewise, survey questions tend to be vague, making it difficult for companies to understand how to improve upon issues. Take this common employee engagement question for example: “Does your manager value your talents and the contributions you make?” Not only is it subjective, it’s difficult to pinpoint the issue and make improvements. Consider a more specific question, such as: “How often do you receive recognition from your manager for your accomplishments?” It’s specific, less subjective, and measures observable behavior rather than feelings.

Another common issue with engagement survey questions is that they don’t have a clear path to action. Surveys should include questions that produce behavioral data that can be analyzed and verified, and reveal organizational or management problems that impact engagement. Simply put: each question should be meaningful, measurable, and actionable.

They Don’t Spur Action

A surefire way to keep engagement scores low is to do nothing with the survey results. It’s one thing to measure engagement, it’s another to implement changes to improve engagement.

The biggest reason employee engagement surveys are broken is inaction. Presenting the results in a fancy infographic with pie charts is nice, but it does nothing to actually move the needle.

[bctt tweet=”The biggest reason employee engagement surveys are broken is inaction” username=”@reflektive”]

Of course, implementing change from survey data isn’t easy, especially if it’s only given annually. It often takes several months to analyze results, develop a course of action, and then a few more months implement changes. By that time, the issue may not matter, or disgruntled employees may have already left for new opportunities.

But if companies can be more nimble with their response, finding simple and quick ways to make some improvements while developing solutions for bigger issues, it shows employees that their voice is being heard and the survey was more than a meaningless corporate project.

Employee engagement is an ongoing process that requires all parties to be “engaged” in improving it. Surveys are just one part of it. When done right, they can be helpful tool in finally pushing those engagement numbers out of the bottom third and making the investment worth it.