The Annual Engagement Survey: Is our Finger Really on the Pulse?

Posted in : HR Updates on 17 January 2018
Olga Pollock
firmus energy
Issues covered:

The start of the New Year often marks the inception of many processes such as the performance management cycle or the annual staff engagement survey. There may well have been extensive preparation into the design of the survey including consultation with staff and management before the official launch. Next, we eagerly await the results, hoping for an improvement on last year's, before we set up a task force of some description who will be responsible for deciphering the results and putting action into place to address any weaknesses. In summary, there tends to be a focus on measuring engagement without a clear strategy on actually improving it. There is no doubt that approaches such as these involve a lot of time and well-intended effort, but is it adequate?

Critics argue otherwise. There is an interesting school of thought that the one-off annual survey is not enough to measure the employee voice, and that this should be on an ongoing and timely basis. While many organisations like to think that they have their 'finger on the pulse' can this really be said of an often cumbersome survey that really only gives employees a voice at a specific point in time throughout the year. The approach to gathering staff feedback in this manner hasn't changed much since the 1950s and there is often a lag between what is measured and what is implemented by the time the results are analysed and remedial action taken. And all this is before feedback on progress is even given to staff.

So what are the most common pitfalls of the annual engagement survey?

My research points to a number of different issues starting with what we are actually trying to measure. Interestingly, job satisfaction or happiness do not necessarily equal engagement. You can be happy at work but not engaged. You may be happy coming to work, getting your day in and awaiting your monthly pay to land into your bank account but is this actually engagement?

Also, due to virtue of the fact that the survey is conducted on an annual basis, there is usually the temptation to ask a lot of questions in one go and avoid 'survey fatigue' through shorter, more frequent surveys. This has the effect of back-firing however as the response rates tend to be reduced with only those most engaged taking the time to complete the survey and therefore generating biased results. The remainder of staff that do not complete may either be disengaged already and lacking in trust or put off by the length of time it will take to complete. It is arguably those employees that will provide the most fruitful feedback when the real problems in the organisation are unearthed.

It is also important to analyse survey results carefully in large organisations with multiple sites or a global presence. Just because a problem is identified in one location does not mean it is a problem across the entire organisation.

So is it really enough to give your employees a voice once a year considering employee voice is one of the four enablers of employee engagement, according to the national Engage for Success movement. It would seem not. Merely issuing a survey is not necessarily an engagement programme in itself. The annual survey should be replaced with more regular, shorter surveys that allow the organisation to really keep their finger on the pulse. A system that enables quick and easy feedback in real time is ideal and no doubt facilitated through technology. If any solutions exist please advise!

Most importantly, our focus on the type of survey we offer should not detract from its ultimate purpose which is to improve engagement though meaningful and interesting work where individuals have the opportunity to contribute to the success of the organisation. This is the most challenging part of the entire process.

Useful reading:

Legal-Island: Surveys don’t work


ex2: Demise of the Annual Engagement Survey

Engage for Success: Is the staff engagement survey dead?

This article is correct at 17/01/2018

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Olga Pollock
firmus energy

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