Why are Employee Surveys not equal to Employee Engagement?

May 21, 2017

Why are Employee Surveys not equal to Employee Engagement?

Employee Surveys do not always ensure accurate feedback. Thus it may not always result in employees getting more engaged.


There is a prevalent notion that employee surveys are the best tool to ensure employee engagement as it helps managers to keep a tab on the nerve of employees. This is always not true as the information many times obtained from survey results get distorted through various information filters and at times due to wrong survey procedures. Thus many times Employee Surveys are not equal to Employee Engagement.

Read this story from Lead Change Group of an employee disgruntled by a poorly executed survey:

They did ask some good questions and we shared how to make things better, but they ignored all those issues, and made us spend extra time on task forces to address cosmetics and desk arrangements. Our reward for taking time to give them good feedback that would improve efficiency and profitability – was to be ignored and given extra work on how we would decorate the department … This is so stupid! We were ignored and punished … and we really tried to help.”

Source: 3 Good Reasons Why Employee Engagement Surveys Fail By Derek Irvine, May 23, 2013, TLNT

This article (3 Good Reasons Why Employee Engagement Surveys Fail) discuss why many times Employee surveys fail. You can read the full article here.

According to a survey from Gallup, 87% of employees worldwide are not engaged at work. But at the other side Companies with highly engaged workforces outperform their peers by 147% in earnings per share. This shows both sides of a single coin. At one end companies are spending a huge amount of money on Employee Surveys which have drastically failed to bring in employee engagement. On the other hand, few companies who have successfully touched the nerve of their employees are reaping huge benefits.

According to Wikipedia Employee Surveys are tools used by organizational leadership to gain feedback on and measure employee engagement, employee morale, and performance. Usually answered anonymously, surveys are also used to gain a holistic picture of employees’ feelings on such areas as working conditions, supervisory impact, and motivation that regular channels of communication may not. Surveys are considered effective in this regard provided they are well-designed, effectively administered, have validity, and evoke changes and improvements. (Knapp, Paul R., and Bahaudin G. Mujtaba. May 2010. “Designing, administering, and utilizing an employee attitude survey.” Journal of Behavioral Studies in Business. Volume 2)

The word “engagement” is now an old-fashioned term used by Human Resources managers. It typically refers to an employee’s willingness to exert “discretionary effort” – and traditionally it was measured through an annual survey.  Employee disengagement is now a worldwide issue. Gallup research shows that only 13% of employees around the world are actively engaged at work, and more than twice that number are so disengaged they are likely to spread negativity to others.

According to an article in Forbes by Josh Bersin, while most of the organizations are not going away with engagement survey yet, it is now being replaced by new tools and techniques that measure happiness, alignment, and job satisfaction in real time. These tools include rapid pulse surveys, analytics applications that correlate retention and performance to work factors, and day to day tools that let people openly express their feelings.

He gives an example of the Japanese NikoNiko calendar, pioneered at Toyota. This little daily tool gives managers a daily look at how happy people are.

niko-niko calendar

niko-niko calendar

Source: http://agiletrail.com/2011/09/12/how-to-track-the-teams-mood-with-a-niko-niko-calendar/

There are various types of employee surveys. From onboarding surveys, employee engagement, motivation, emotional and satisfaction surveys, rewards and recognition surveys, workplace surveys, training need and development surveys there are various options which may help you keep track on employee’s performance and learning curves.

Most organizations don’t understand the importance of conducting multiple surveys which are important to Employee Lifecycle Management (ELC). Surveys should be done on all phases of employee lifecycle from onboarding to exit. Data from each type of surveys should be collated to dig deep into analytics to find employee satisfaction and engagement patterns across the whole organization.

  Why do employee surveys fail?

Josh Bersin pointed out the concepts of “employee engagement” and employee surveys have been with us since many years from now. “More than 30 years ago Gallup and other companies pioneered the concept of the “engagement survey.” The roots of these surveys started in the late 1800s when Fredrick Taylor, a pioneering industrial engineer, studied how people’s attitude impacted their productivity in the steel industry.

In an article in LinkedIn by Arvind Verma, he discusses the Top 20 Potential Problems with Employee Engagement. You can read the whole article here. Here he discusses different loopholes that arise when conducting employee surveys.

An article in The HR Zone, Why don’t employee engagement surveys work? quotes:

Clearly, there’s a difference between pursuing engagement and actually achieving it.

If you make an effort to address engagement and get no reward for it, that’s bad enough but there’s a cruel irony here that creates a far bigger problem. The ‘curse’ of employee engagement is that the process of trying to achieve something positive and beneficial for your employees can actually end up disengaging them. In other words, you can create exactly the opposite of what you intended.

How to conduct employee surveys to ensure maximum employee engagement?

Employee engagement surveys can be an effective tool to monitor the level of employee satisfaction within a company. To more how to conduct employee satisfaction survey you can click here.

Bryan Rusche in an article How Employee Feedback Impacts Engagement points out that,

Employees who receive helpful, continuous feedback from managers not only work better and are more motivated, but they’re also much more engaged.

He informs a survey conducted by leadership trainers Zenger Folkman that looked into the feedback practices of 22,000 leaders around the world found that leaders who scored in the top 10 percent on giving feedback had employees who were three times more engaged than employees with leaders scoring in the bottom 10 percent. Unsurprisingly, the study also revealed that the bottom 10 percent of leaders had employees who were three times more likely to think about quitting.

He quotes Zenger Folkman:

Employees are far more content, put forth extra effort, stay employed longer, and have enormously better relationships with their manager if their leader provides effective feedback.

Employee engagement is an emotional and sensitive issue. To get the exact picture, different forms of employee surveys should be conducted on the periodic basis. But more than just attending an anonymous online survey other things related to the survey do matter. Those are willful participation of senior managers, taking the employees into confidence and communicating the feedbacks in a proper way do matter the most. Generally, at times the feedback is communicated to employees in a too hard or soft tone. But in reality, employees want the exact feedback.

Karen May, VP of People Development at Google, summarizes the importance of constructive feedback this way:

Just at a human level, it’s difficult to tell somebody that something that isn’t working about them. But I came to find that people are incredibly grateful. If I’m not doing well and I don’t know it or I don’t know why or I can’t put my finger on what’s not working and no one will tell me, I won’t be able to fix it.



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