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Employee surveys vs employee check-ins

Tools of the trade: Employee surveys vs employee check-ins

Reading Time: 4 minutes

For those who can build and leverage employee engagement, it can make all the difference in the world, to the extent that highly engaged businesses can see more than twice the productivity of organisations with low engagement.

When it comes to assessing employee engagement well, you need the right tools for the job. Yet, annual engagement surveys are still widely used in many workplaces, despite significant shortcomings and evidence showing they simply are not that effective.

There has to be a better way, right?

The waning prevalence of annual employee engagement surveys

In recent years, the interlinked concepts of employee engagement and employee experience have garnered a lot of attention from business leaders and HR directors. This is, broadly speaking, a good thing. It means that attention is being given to things like wellbeing and work/life balance. Toxic aspects of workplace culture, such as the expectation of presenteeism, are being critically examined.

However, it’s also led to the proliferation of employee engagement surveys, and the rise of various tech companies that provide them. But we’ve known for some time that these traditionally annual surveys are on the way out. In 2018, Gartner analysed decline in the use of annual employee surveys by employers from their peak in 2015 (89%), predicting that 59% of organisations would be using sources of engagement data other than surveys by 2019, rising from their 2015 level of 30%.

We’re well past that point now, and judging by the popularity of the Weekly10 employee check-in, Gartner’s predictions seem to be holding at least somewhat true.

The pandemic exposed the need for greater employee wellbeing support, and new tools to ensure engagement by giving staff the means to work productively. As a result, more businesses are looking at methods of gathering engagement data, like employee check-ins, that allow feedback to occur in a timelier manner.

Employee surveys vs employee check-ins

So, how does the traditional annual survey stack up against a regular employee check-in, we hear you ask? Spoiler alert: It doesn’t do well.

Annual employee surveys aren’t totally useless, in that they’re better than having no engagement tracking policy at all. But that’s not a high by to clear, by any stretch. The problem with annual engagement surveys is that they tend to be:

  • A snapshot in time: The biggest issue with annual engagement surveys is right there in the name. Much like with annual performance reviews, the fact that they only happen once a year means they’re giving you an incredibly limited view. You might learn about your organisation’s engagement in that moment, but without other reference points to compare it with, you’ll struggle to establish trends and actionable insights.

  • Incredibly time-consuming: A lot of busywork goes into setting up an employee survey. First, HR has to establish what questions to ask. Then they have to produce the survey, and get it into the hands of employees. Everyone completes their surveys over a period of time. Then they’re sent back to HR, who must analyse the results. The turnaround on this sort of thing can take weeks, or even months.

  • Limited by sample size: HR might well try to survey everyone in the business, but that doesn’t mean they’ll succeed. It’s not unusual for employees to be short on patience for these surveys, especially if they never seem to result in change. In bigger organisations employing thousands of people, it’s not even feasible to try and survey everyone, meaning that HR must decide how to select “representative” samples.

  • Unintentionally biased: The problem with a lot of employee surveys is their potential for accidental bias. These surveys often ask leading questions that can pre-suppose a certain result, which can subtly bias employees into giving a certain kind of answer. For examples, “do you have any problems with your manager?” pre-supposes a negative response, whereas “describe your relationship with your manager” phrases it more neutrally.

  • Ineffective for the majority of organisations: Despite all the effort that goes into preparing and conducting annual employee surveys, four fifths of businesses don’t actually find them to be beneficial at all. That’s why it’s essential to find a better, more continuous employee feedback method.

Whereas employee check-ins are:

  • Lightweight and time-efficient: One of the most common concerns we hear about adopting weekly employee check-ins is that they’ll just be another time-sink, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Whether you’re reviewing an update, or just submitting one, it takes just a few minutes, and the results are instantly visible.

  • A real-time view of employee engagement: By having employees check in every week or month or so, you’ll get a more consistent view of engagement over time, and be better able to pinpoint trends and changes.

  • Capable of covering your whole organisation: With our employee check-ins, staff are responsible for submitting their own updates, while managers only have to review updates from their team. Breaking down the distribution of responsibilities means HR don’t get stuck with the whole burden, which makes collecting feedback from everyone much more feasible.

  • Customisable and AI-driven: Whereas surveys provide general sets of questions to large numbers of people, employee check-ins allow managers to customise questions at the individual level for no extra cost. Our platform also uses machine learning to suggest proven questions based off of results from similar businesses, and to create bespoke reports full of actionable insights that previously overworked HR personnel might miss.

Why continuous employee feedback is essential

If you want employees to stay engaged over the long-term, then you absolutely need an ongoing feedback process. If you’re not exchanging feedback with staff on a regular basis, then the problems they experience are much more likely to get swept under the rug and go unaddressed.

Creating a check-in culture based on exchanging regular feedback allows you to establish an ongoing dialogue that encourages employees to be open about workplace issues. It also helps you to follow up and see if your solutions have had the effect you intended, or whether you’ll need to go back to the drawing board.

But employee check-ins are also key for helping your staff members to work effectively and keep improving. A major factor in employee disengagement is when staff have a poor understanding of their responsibilities and their employer’s expectations.

Having a regular employee check-in lets you stay up to date on objective progress and make sure your employees are moving in the right direction without having to worry about being a micromanager. Feedback-based workplace culture can improve employee performance, boost workplace morale, encourage passion in the workplace, and even reduce employee turnover.

Want more tips on how to embrace a digital-first mindset within your HR team? Download our free 30-page HRD guide today!

Head of People Science