Companies have been using employee engagement surveys for decades to capture trends in employees’ feelings and motivators. However, objectivity suffers without good data, and workforce analytics can only be as good as the data that goes in.
That’s the nature of human input. We’re not perfect – and having yet another task to do when we’re already hard at work can skew the answers we give to surveys.
Timing is a factor. So is the volume of questions.
No matter how many surveys you run, you won’t get insight without the right data. That means asking the right questions, at the right time: starting with the HR team.
What are engagement surveys and check-ins for?
To maintain objectivity, you need to have objectives. Below are some of the typical goals that employee engagement surveys and check-ins set out to achieve.
Remember that engagement is a two-way street. It has to start at the top, from leadership. Share the vision, the purpose and the passions that the company aspires to as a whole, and let it resonate within the team. Building trust is a vital first step – so communicate why check-ins are important, what the data will be used for and how it will be used to help, not scrutinize.
1. Employee satisfaction insights and proactive retention
What drives your people? What motivates them?
Employee satisfaction and retention is rooted in a sense of purpose – and when people lose that sense of purpose, work can begin to feel pointless. Doesn’t sound very motivating, right?
Attrition is expensive, and a lack of motivation and engagement should be taken seriously as a key indicator.
Engagement surveys and employee check-ins keep tabs on sentiment, with active monitoring – identifying weak spots to work on, and core strengths to capitalize on. This gives companies a direction to move the organization in, with the whole team on board.
2. Give your people a platform to be heard
Most importantly, employee engagement surveys give your people a voice; a space for people to air concerns, hopes and ideas – and as long as they feel listened to, this can lead to positive outcomes.
Countless companies have prospered from initiatives spearheaded by their own employees; the people who know precisely what workflow improvements and environmental changes will directly impact performance. Listening to and acknowledging ideas is the key to that kind of discovery.
This is valuable stuff that can shape the way you do HR throughout the employee lifecycle – and create positive work experiences for everyone.
But gathering and processing this data accurately can prove to be a challenge, especially when engagement surveys are infrequent and dense.
Continuous listening versus periodic engagement surveys
Are employee check-ins a better way to measure engagement than engagement surveys?
Well, engagement surveys tend to be large. That means they gather a lot of data at once, which seems great – but it comes at a cost. And we’re not talking “time is money”, here.
The Edelman Trust Barometer reports that a quarter of workers worldwide don’t trust their management. Infrequent, lengthy surveys that ask a lot of questions can seem intimidating and intrusive. If trust is already an issue, then these will only further serve to erode it – and the results won’t be accurate if people don’t feel safe to answer truthfully.
The infrequency and intensity alone can also skew results. You couldn’t really blame employees with high workloads if they didn’t really give it their all on a busy day.
And then, there’s the analysis; infrequent, large volumes of data are harder to process – and make it more difficult to identify trends on-the-fly. Insight can be hard to glean in a meaningful timeframe when surveys are months apart, and results are even further down the line.
So, what’s the alternative?
Check-ins are small, frequent surveys that ask a few key questions. They make it really easy to identify trends and monitor sentiment – and tackle issues before it’s too late.
Amazon, the world’s biggest online marketplace, checks in with employees every single day. And in their case, continuous listening has been incredibly powerful.
Their proprietary engagement monitoring platform asks questions about work; managers, meetings, and how often they’ve had positive feedback. Sometimes, employees are asked how crowded the facilities are, or receive tailored follow-ups.
Why go to that trouble, every day?
It’s no secret that the company was struggling with a reputation for overworking and burning out its people. Amazon wanted to better understand its workforce, which is now estimated to be the second largest in the United States.
Getting an accurate "pulse" of the organization was absolutely vital; not just for productivity, but for employee relationships, PR – and ultimately, upholding Amazon’s corporate responsibility and position as a global influence.
It hasn’t been universally embraced. Some employees felt worried about anonymity, privacy, and intrusive questions; paradoxically, these are deeper issues around trust that could only be solved by listening.
But Amazon’s daily continuous listening strategy appears to have worked. The company’s Glassdoor rating has significantly improved. Turning the ship has taken a monumental effort and huge amounts of HR data processing, but they needed a solution that worked for them quickly – and that meant daily check-ins.
While daily continuous listening is undeniably powerful, what works for Amazon won’t work everywhere; not all organizations have that culture, that kind of workload or that kind of team. Regularity and timing can be refined, based on known high-stress and high-demand hours and working periods.
Then again, continuous listening scheduling doesn't have to be rigid, like Amazon’s “first thing in the morning” approach. Setting flexible windows can give employees proper time to reflect, for a more accurate picture of their own situation – and avoid piling on more work for them.
Even small, weekly engagement monitoring can be more powerful than intense quarterly surveys. Some of the most insightful surveys can be completed in under a minute. What’s important is that the team trusts the motivation behind the check-in, and that you ask the right questions.
What should be included in an employee engagement survey?
Whether using employee engagement surveys or continuous listening, getting an accurate pulse needs good data before appointing people analytics services.
Getting what you need depends on your goals; improving retention, boosting engagement or finding out how your employees feel about work. Fast, reliable data from surveys takes well-crafted questions that limit bias. That can be tough.
Simplicity and plain language are the keys to speed and accuracy most of the time.
For example – using a simple scale of Strongly Agree to Strongly Disagree (or a variation of the Likert scale), and posing statements like “I’m proud to work here” or “I can see myself working here two years from now”. These are simple and relatively quick to answer, but can yield deeply important insights.
Or you could get a measure of value alignment – with questions like “what we do makes a real difference” or “I feel like our work makes a positive impact on the world”.
Measuring the response to statements like “I feel valued” and “I get recognized when I do a good job” can be key indicators of sentiment, too.
Getting accurate responses isn’t just about the questions, though. Trust is a key factor. Forming habits with regular engagement and check-ins can actually help to build that – provided that communication is clear and transparent between management and teams.
The benefits can go beyond more accurate HR data – but even that simple goal of building trust could be the starting point for your organizational shift.
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