Employee Engagement Survey: 22% Of Companies Are Getting Good Results
It’s nice to conduct an employee engagement survey, but is your survey actually delivering the results you want? There’s new research that suggests most surveys are falling far short.
More than 3,000 HR executives have taken the online quiz “How Good Is Your Employee Engagement Survey?” One of the questions asks “How have your employee engagement survey scores changed over the past two years?” and test takers are given 4 choices:
- I don’t know because we haven’t surveyed regularly
- Our survey scores haven’t changed significantly
- Our survey scores have declined
- Our survey scores were low but they’ve improved dramatically OR they were high and they've stayed high
Obviously, only one of those choices represents a good outcome and frighteningly, only 22% of executives chose that option.
As you can see in the chart below, the rest of the respondents shared some pretty depressing outcomes about what’s happening to employee engagement at their companies.
Thanks to the openness and transparency of so many HR and other executives, we’ve got the data to make some progress on improving employee engagement. So let’s look at what each of these other options is really telling us.
Our survey scores have declined
If you conduct an employee engagement survey and your scores actually decline, that’s not good. Now, perhaps there were extenuating circumstances, like your company initiated layoffs or was acquired. While it’s never ideal to see employee engagement decline, we might give a company in those situations a pass for a year or two.
But not every one of the 13% of companies with declining scores faced an earth-shattering exogenous event; some of those declines are just the result of not having trained managers, lack of open communication from senior leaders, not recognizing high performers, or any of dozens of other issues.
And one of the biggest reasons that employee engagement survey scores decline is that some companies conduct a survey and then never do anything with the results. Think about how it feels to be an employee in that situation; your bosses ask for your opinion and then when you give it, they seemingly ignore it completely. That’s a very fast path to reducing whatever goodwill had been built up previously.
Our survey scores haven’t changed significantly
What about the 31% of companies whose scores haven’t changed significantly? While it’s certainly better to see stability than decline, this still isn’t a great option. There are far too many organizations that see employee engagement surveys as a perfunctory exercise; a box to be checked off annually. But the whole point of conducting an employee engagement survey is not to measure the organization’s engagement, it’s to improve it!
Imagine if we went to our doctor and, after a comprehensive exam, they said “Your blood pressure is way too high, but we’ll just see what happens when I conduct your physical again next year.” Isn’t that tantamount to malpractice? The whole point of taking my blood pressure is so that if it’s too high, I can take steps to lower it.
We need to apply that same thinking to employee engagement surveys. Yes, it’s better to measure than to not measure, but it’s even better to take action on the measurements. I’m pretty sure that leaders would be in trouble if their financial results didn’t improve, so why do we accept it when employee engagement doesn’t improve?
There are lots of reasons why employee engagement survey scores don’t improve; from a lack of accountability to insufficiently trained leaders to the lackadaisical mindset I mentioned above.
But one of the other big reasons that companies don’t see improvements in their employee engagement surveys is that they’re not asking good questions. Every question you ask needs to have a clear path to action; that is you must know exactly how you’re going to improve the issue you’re measuring. If you ask questions like “I trust my boss” and you have no idea how you would actually improve trust, you’re better off not asking the question. Because if you ask a question and you don’t have any way to fix it, it won’t be long before you go from static scores to declining ones.
I don’t know because we haven’t surveyed regularly
Of all the issues we discussed so far, the 34% of companies that don’t survey regularly have the easiest path to improvement. All they have to do is start surveying. Simple, right?
Well, it turns out that many of the companies that don’t conduct employee engagement surveys aren’t avoiding the exercise because of time constraints or tight budgets; they’re avoiding the survey because they’re afraid of the answer.
Why do so many people avoid life-saving medical exams? Sometimes it’s because those exams are uncomfortable, but many times it’s because the answer is potentially scary. Years ago a dentist asked me if I wanted an inexpensive screen for oral cancer; it was $25 and it only required a little cheek swab. I did have the test but I initially hesitated because all I could think was “how am I going to get through the rest of my day if I discover that I’ve got oral cancer?”
The lesson is simple; you might not love the results you get when you start regularly conducting employee engagement surveys. But think how great it will feel (for you and your employees) when you uncover some easily corrected issues.
It’s upsetting that only 22% of companies say that their survey scores were low but they’ve improved dramatically, or they were high and they've stayed high. But as we’ve seen, there’s lots of reason for optimism. With some sincere effort, good survey questions, and well-trained leaders, most organizations could actually see a huge return on their employee engagement survey investment.
Mark Murphy is the CEO of Leadership IQ and author of the New York Times bestseller Hundred Percenters.