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What are the benefits of employee engagement surveys?

Mass employee surveys have been a tool on HR's belt for quite a long time now. These days, we're seeing many businesses shift to more agile management styles. But, even so, these company-wide questionnaires are still seeing use. So, what are the benefits of employee engagement surveys that make some leaders stick with them?

The term "engagement survey" is pretty self-explanatory. It's a set of questions about engagement and surrounding workplace issues. What you might be wondering is how it differs from our own employee check-in system.

A full-on employee engagement survey is a different affair entirely. Whereas our check-in happens as regularly as every week, engagement surveys are more occasional. They might happen once or a couple of times a year. Another major difference worth mentioning here is that our check-ins feature small sets of personalised questions.

By comparison, engagement surveys contain a large number of standardised questions. Usually at least twenty, but often more. And, finally, surveys are HR-led and anonymous. Check-ins, on the other hand, rely on the relationship between a manager and individual employees.

If you're a fan of our ramblings, then you know we're quite critical of employee engagement surveys. But tools don't usually have that much staying power unless they're doing something right. That's why it's worth understanding the benefits of employee engagement surveys.

The major benefits of employee engagement surveys

Big surveys may have gotten some flak in recent years. But don't forget that global engagement is still incredibly low. If we want to climb out of this hole together, it's worth considering every tool at our disposal.

A deep dive on key issues

One of the key benefits of employee engagement surveys over more agile methods is the sheer volume of data. Solid data is the lifeblood of sentiment analysis, and engagement surveys give it you by the bucket-load.

Engagement surveys may be a broad HR solution. But they can allow you to explore issues in greater detail. Think back to the post-lockdown return to work, for example. Did you poll your employees at the time?

If so, then a bunch of the questions probably addressed that issue. How well people were readjusting to office life. How your remote teams were doing. That sort of thing. Large employee engagement surveys may not happen very regularly. But they make up for it by allowing you to cover a lot of angles at once.

Big surveys feel significant

In general, regular feedback is preferable to the occasional. That's as true for organisations as it is for employees. Feedback works best when given promptly. But, we admit, big surveys have two things that regular check-ins lack:

Pomp and circumstance.

And that's not a joke. The idea behind a check-in is to be brief and light-touch, so it slots into a routine with no disruption. In other words, they're designed to become a simple fact of life. In that sense, the two things couldn't be more different. And that level of fanfare is another one of the benefits of employee engagement surveys.

It might be that you have a regular process for gauging employee sentiment already. But, if you think employees might have disengaged from it, a survey might shake things up. They're a sign that you're planning to take action and effect change.

That is, if you follow through with the results. Remember, one of the worst mistakes is to ask someone their opinion and then ignore it.

Anonymity can encourage honesty

The goal of any survey is to gauge sentiment. To that end, employees telling you what they think you want to hear is the worst possible outcome. Unfortunately, however, that's what all too many employees default to, for fear of career blowback. At one time or another, most of us have had bosses we'd like to give a piece of our mind.

But openly criticising the person who holds your employment status in the palm of their hand is easier said than done. And, even when we do share, we filter our responses through the mental sounding board of professional acceptability.

This is where the benefits of employee engagement surveys come into play. They don't tend to involve any identifying information. So, in theory, employees are free to answer questions how they see fit, without fear of reprisal.

Focusing on engagement makes a huge difference

It's hard to talk about the advantages of engagement surveys without discussing what an engagement-centric approach brings to the table. For starters, high engagement makes employees more financially productive. In fact, companies with high engagement bring in well over twice the revenue of companies with low engagement.

But the advantages of generating employee engagement run much deeper than simple productivity. Engagement lowers turnover by increasing organisational loyalty. People want to take pride in their work and be challenged by it.

They want colleagues who support them and managers who value their input. They want room to grow, as well as the feedback and guidance to make that happen. When these factors align, there's not a lot that can tempt employees away. If would-be head-hunters want to poach your top talent, they'll have to try so much harder if your people love where they work.

And, finally, the two things you can't get without engaging your staff: Brand advocacy and discretionary effort.

Brand advocacy is basically free advertising and recruitment potential. If employees feel good about working for you, perhaps because you're a great service or have strong ethics, they tend to tell others.

Discretionary effort is something we've talked about a lot already, so we'll keep it brief. It's going the extra mile. Doing things you don't have to, looking out for extra ways to help out. You can't contractually obligate people into doing this. They have to want to.

The drawbacks of engagement surveys

For all the benefits of employee engagement surveys, they're definitely not without problems. By modern HR standards, many consider them to be too cumbersome to be effective.

The lack of transparency

Surveys tend to be anonymous questionnaires that mostly involve box-ticking. So, as you can imagine, there's not a whole lot of discussion going on. It's not easy to ask follow-up questions, and it's not readily apparent what the information will be used for.

Your responses might be used to validate changes you asked for, or ones you didn't. Or maybe the whole thing's a token gesture, and everything will stay the same. It's this sort of ambiguity that can make it hard for employees to put stock in the surveys you ask them to fill out.

They are too infrequent

One of the biggest problems with employee engagement surveys is how occasional they are. At best, they give you a static picture of engagement in that particular moment. But work is far from static. Employee morale can fluctuate from week to week. And, without any other data, it's hard to establish trends. By the time you find out about a problem, it might not even be relevant anymore.

By the time a survey comes around, you've probably already forgotten about the previous one. So, they don't establish a dialogue, which means they don't build trust. You get one chance to win employees over with action based on insight. And, when that doesn't immediately materialise, people lose faith.

Cumbersome surveys can have poor response rates

These surveys take a while to fill out, meaning they can be disruptive for your average employee. It's something employees are expected to find the time for, although they aren't necessarily obligated to do so. The end result is a lot of surveys ending up in the rubbish, or gathering virtual dust in their work email's inbox. That means you could be overlooking the insights of your most disengaged employees.

Is there a better way?

Our employee check-in was actually inspired by the weaknesses of bulky engagement surveys. Also the shortcomings of annual performance reviews, but that's less relevant. As such, employee check-ins address these issues, either as a supplementary tool or outright replacement. Our weekly employee check-in is:

  • Regular and timely, to provide an ongoing view of engagement.
  • Personalised on the employee level to provide tailored support.
  • Designed to only take minutes to post or review an update.
  • Manager-led to develop trust and communication.
  • Connected to our AI-driven sentiment analysis tool.

Nobody looks forward to filling out a bulky survey. But, when it's a proven way for them to have a voice, your people will look forward to their weekly check-in. Best of all, it's far more cost-effective than surveys, which can often be costly in both resources and lost working hours.

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