Blog: 4 Things You Need to Know About Employee Engagement Surveys

Conduct and interpret surveys properly for maximum efficiency.

Use your surveys to help engage, not make a bad situation worse

Employee engagement is one of the most-discussed topics in business. Multiple studies have highlighted the lack of employee engagement in the US workforce and tried to quantify the cost of largely indifferent employees on a company’s bottom line.

Yet, engagement surveys perform a great disservice to business leaders if they are conducted poorly. The BB&T Leadership Institute whitepaper “A Leader’s Guide to Engagement Survey Results” emphasizes four chief factors leaders must consider when commissioning an employee engagement survey and interpreting its results.

The failure to properly evaluate the results of an engagement survey can be damaging for an organization, particularly if its leaders implement new workplace policies based on a misleading survey. For instance, if an engagement survey indicates employees want more workplace flexibility when in fact they want more autonomy, the results can be disastrous if the new work guidelines are implemented in a heavy-handed, autocratic manner with strict rules about when and how employees can use their newfound flexibility. The end result might well be a decrease in employee morale and a further reduction in engagement.

What you need to know

Here are four factors to consider when implementing an engagement survey or analyzing the findings of a third-party survey.

1. How does the survey define “engagement”?

Employee engagement means different things to different survey givers. For example, engagement is different from job satisfaction and organizational commitment, a pair of concepts sometimes defined as engagement.

How a survey defines engagement—and measures it—has important implications for its results.

2. Is the survey measuring workplace conditions or employee sentiments?

Some engagement surveys measure workplace conditions. Others measure employee emotions, perceptions or motivations. The latter three are collectively known as sentiments.

Measuring workplace conditions can provide valuable insights about management practices in a company and shine a light on the departments in which managers are succeeding, failing or doing a so-so job. Meanwhile, surveys that measure employee sentiment can benefit from also harnessing insights gained from decades of psychological research on human behavior.

Surveys that combine insights from both workplace conditions and psychological research can provide the most meaningful insights about engagement.

3. What is the survey’s expertise based on?

Engagement data can come from a consulting firm’s proprietary research or academic research. If the former, you need to understand how the proprietary results were reached and whether they’re scientifically valid. If the latter, you need to make sure the academic results can be gainfully applied to your company and produce a meaningful impact.

4. How does the survey explain its results?

Finally, many engagement surveys rely on simple correlation to explain their data, claiming a relationship between two variables (say, that a lack of workplace flexibility causes a lack of employee engagement). However, nearly every work situation involves numerous variables, and meaningful surveys recognize this. They account for the multiple variables and use sophisticated analysis tools to explain their influence on employee behavior.

Engagement surveys are not all created equal. And their results are not always presented accurately. The failure to conduct meaningful surveys and provide accurate results can cause companies to implement misguided or plainly wrong engagement strategies, thereby making a bad situation even worse.

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