3 Reasons Why Employee Engagement Surveys Don’t Work!
Reading articles and board postings on the internet, social media and other places, you might believe that to improve employee engagement in an organisation, you need to start with an employee engagement survey. Once the said engagement survey is duly completed and the results published, the next step is to make and implement an improvement action plan based on the findings. By following this process, engagement improves!
I believe this approach fundamentally misses the point and doesn’t do much for employee engagement. It can in fact harm it! Why? Because traditional engagement surveys don’t work!
Do I believe engaged employees perform better than disengaged ones? Yes I do! Are there organisational benefits? There are! In terms of organisational performance many sources show that workforces with high engagement, experience higher rates of productivity and profitability and lower rates of absence and accidents.
Now let me state here, I have been through numerous employee engagement surveys. I have developed questions sets and have administered business wide surveys when I was in HR. I have analysed and presented feedback to directors and facilitated and taken part in action planning based on survey results. I do have some experience but have changed my mind about them.
Why traditional employee engagement surveys don’t work!
1. Engagement comes from within the individual
Dr Dan Harrison, in a recent paper on the subject, stated that “engagement surveys only focus on general levels of employee satisfaction and/or perception…” He further stated that engagement comes from within the individual and employees can only really be engaged through having honest one on one conversations with their managers.
Any assessment of employee engagement, needs to be very specific in illuminating and focusing on the specific wants and expectations of individual employees’. There are assessment tools that can do that! Anything that helps with honest conversations between managers and employees is good. It’s just that “traditional” engagement surveys, asking a small number of very general questions, can’t! It’s like using a ruler to measure time.
2. You don’t need an employee engagement survey to know what needs to be fixed
An organisation doesn’t need an employee engagement survey, if their maintenance is poor and equipment is faulty. It needs a maintenance and reliability improvement programme. In my personal experience, operators who work on unreliable machines are “not engaged” (and often quite angry!)
A department with a failing leader, doesn’t need an employee engagement survey to tell the organisation that s/he is not engaging the departments’ employees. That leader needs an improvement plan, or removed from the position.
When broken things in organisations get fixed, whether that be machines, or leadership, or low pay, then engagement can improve. That doesn’t need a survey. You can see it, hear it and feel it.
3. Employee engagement survey results become part of the “scorecard”
As stated earlier, engagement comes from the individual and is about a range of expectations unique to every employee. Traditional engagement surveys, can’t really get into those expectations in any detail and measure broad perceptions of satisfaction.
Measuring perceptions is fine, if we recognise that is what is being done. What is scary, is that many organisation make a “score” out of their employee engagement (perception) survey results. This “score” can find its way on to the people section of the “scorecard” and senior managers can then set objectives and targets for improvement. Some companies may even tie managers’ performance and salary reviews to these results.
Many employee engagement surveys are anonymous (which further undermines their reliability). This is great news for employees who don’t like their boss. They can now “get revenge” and take quiet satisfaction that their boss may not get a pay rise because of how they scored their survey. Anonymity and results tied to manager remuneration therefore should never happen.
I think there is a really strong case for measuring engagement and retention factors in organisations. We just have to use the right tools for the job. Traditional engagement surveys have evolved from the old satisfaction survey and I believe are being used incorrectly. Proper analytic’s in the hands of leaders who believe that employees’ expectations are important and act accordingly, will see high levels of engagement.
If you want to understand how recruitment influences engagement please read “Recruitment – Five Things Leaders in SME’s Must Do”