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Why Employee Satisfaction Surveys Can Be a Double-Edged Sword 

July 10, 2024

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A person filling out an employee satisfaction survey on a clipboard with a pen.

Employee satisfaction surveys are intended to improve workplace culture. However, their use is often controversial. Critics say these surveys might miss key insights, such as unengaged but happy employees or deeper issues. Moreover, if they’re not conducted and followed up on correctly, they can be ineffective and worsen existing issues.

Meaning and Importance of Employee Satisfaction Surveys

An employee survey is a tool that companies use to understand how their employees feel about their jobs. It helps measure satisfaction or engagement by asking questions about different aspects of work, like pay, work-life balance, relationships with coworkers, and management practices.

Measuring employee satisfaction can help improve employee engagement, increase productivity, and maintain employee retention. By listening to employee sentiment, you can make better decisions to create a more supportive work environment for the continuous improvement of positive company culture.

Arguments Against Employee Satisfaction Surveys

Employee engagement surveys are a great tool to measure employee satisfaction. However, they might not always work as planned. Some common issues that can affect their outcomes include:

1. Difference Between What Employees Say and Do

    One big issue is the difference between what employees say in surveys and how they behave at work. According to recent statistics from Forbes, more than 60 percent of employees said they were happy with their jobs, but almost 38% quit within their first year of employment.¹ This means that being happy with their jobs doesn’t always mean they are engaged or productive.

    To put things into perspective, a company might see that employees report high satisfaction in surveys, but still have high employee turnover rates and low productivity. This shows a gap between what employees say and their real experiences at work.

    2. Response Bias

      Since taking the surveys is usually optional, response bias can happen. Employees who are very unhappy or want to make changes are more likely to take the survey, while those who are happy might not feel the need to participate. This can lead to feedback that doesn’t accurately show how all employees feel.

      3. Survey Fatigue

        Employees may get a lot of surveys from different sources, like customer satisfaction surveys, industry benchmarks, and internal projects. This constant stream of questionnaires can cause “survey fatigue.” When employees get another survey, especially if it’s long or repetitive, they might lose focus and rush through the answers. This can lead to inaccurate or incomplete data, which undermines the whole purpose of the survey.

        4. Anonymity Issues

          Keeping responses anonymous is very important for getting honest feedback. But in small companies or close teams, staff members might worry about getting in trouble for giving negative feedback, especially if they criticize certain managers or coworkers. This fear can make employees answer questions in a way that makes them look good, rather than telling the truth.

          5. Action Paralysis

            Sometimes, companies use employee surveys just to say they did it, without any real plan to act on the results. They conduct the survey, collect the data, but then do nothing about it. If the results are ignored, it can hurt employee trust and lower morale. Employees might feel like their opinions don’t matter, leading to a feeling of being ignored and a drop in engagement.

            6. Superficial Insights

              Surveys often give only surface-level insights. They can show areas where employees are happy or unhappy, but they don’t explain the reasons behind these feelings. For example, a survey might show that employees are unhappy with their workload, but it won’t tell you why. Is it because of unrealistic deadlines, lack of resources, inefficient processes, or a mix of these things?

              7. Cost and Time Investment

                Conducting employee engagement surveys can take a lot of time and money. Making a good survey that gets useful information requires careful planning. Giving the survey takes employees away from their regular work, and looking at the results can be a long process, especially for big companies. Businesses need to think about whether the cost is worth the potential benefits.

                How to Create Employee Engagement Surveys Effective in Measuring Job Satisfaction

                Measuring employee engagement requires a smart plan that does more than just collect data through survey questions. Here’s a detailed look at how to make employee surveys effective in measuring the employee experience:

                Take the Time to Make Quality Surveys

                • Start with a Good Design
                  • Clearly define what you want to learn from the survey (e.g., overall satisfaction, engagement with a new program, feelings about leadership).
                  • Tailor questions to align with your assessment goals.
                • Use a Mix of Question Types
                  • Multiple-choice questions: this is best used for easily analyzing numbers.
                  • Open-ended questions: this lets employees share detailed feedback and experiences
                  • Likert scale questions: this can help measure feelings on various aspects of work life.
                • Keep the Survey Short and Understandable
                  • Aim for a 15–20-minute completion time.
                  • Use clear, simple language to avoid confusion and ensure accuracy.
                • Test the Survey
                  • Conduct a trial run with a small group of employees.
                  • Identify and revise any confusing questions based on feedback.
                  • Adjust the survey to ensure it collects the right information.

                Maintain Confidentiality

                Use online survey platforms that allow anonymous submissions. Choose ones that have features to prevent users from being identified and do not track IP addresses.

                Make employees understand that their responses are anonymous and cannot be traced back to them. Highlight how important honest feedback is for creating a better work environment where everyone feels safe to share their true opinions.

                Prioritize Transparency

                Clearly explain the purpose of the survey to employees. What do you want to learn? How will the results be used? Open communication makes employees feel involved and encourages them to participate.

                After the survey is done, share the key findings with employees. This shows that their opinions are heard and valued. Be careful when sharing specific details, especially open-ended responses, to protect employees’ identities.

                Take Action

                Analyze the survey data and focus on the most important issues raised. These are actionable insights that higher management can work on to increase employee morale. Pay attention to areas that have the biggest impact on employee satisfaction and how well the company performs.

                Hold brainstorming sessions with employees from different departments and levels. This team effort makes everyone feel involved and helps find creative solutions. Create and share the action plan based on the survey results with all employees. Keep them updated on the progress. This builds trust and shows the company’s commitment to making positive changes based on feedback.

                Close the Feedback Loop

                Don’t let the survey be a one-time thing. If possible, provide an option to conduct follow-up interviews or focus groups with employees who gave very detailed answers. This helps you understand their concerns better and find more specific solutions. By talking more deeply, you can learn the real reasons behind employee dissatisfaction and make better fixes.

                Think about doing shorter, more frequent pulse surveys to check how employees feel in real-time between the big annual employee satisfaction surveys. These surveys can track progress on issues from the main survey and find new concerns that might need attention. These shorter employee surveys help you keep up with how employees are feeling and address problems before they get bigger.

                Focus on Quality Over Quantity

                Choose the right time to do surveys. Avoid times when employees are very stressed, like during major changes or busy periods. Doing surveys at these times can give you inaccurate results.

                Additionally, rather than asking everyone the same questions, think about dividing employees into groups and doing targeted surveys for each group. For example, a survey for new hires might focus on their onboarding experience, while a survey for senior management might investigate leadership effectiveness.

                This way, you can get more relevant data and ask questions that fit the employee well-being needs and concerns of different departments, age groups, or seniority levels.

                Combine Employee Surveys with Other Tools

                Exit interviews with employees who are leaving can give valuable insights into why they’re leaving and show areas for improvement. Compare exit interview data with survey results to find trends and recurring issues. This combined analysis can reveal patterns in employee dissatisfaction and help you address problems that might be causing people to leave.

                Regular one-on-one meetings with employees offer chances for deeper conversations and personal feedback for career development. These meetings help you build stronger relationships and gain valuable insights beyond what an employee survey can capture.

                Lead by Example

                Leaders should truly value employee feedback, both good and bad. Show this by actively asking for input and appreciating honest responses. Ensure employees feel safe sharing their opinions without fear of getting in trouble. When employees feel heard and valued, they are more likely to give helpful feedback in the future.

                Be ready to make changes based on employee feedback. Show a commitment to always getting better and responding to employees’ needs. When leaders act based on survey results and employee concerns, their voices matter and can lead to positive change.

                WHILE YOU WORK ON IMPROVING EMPLOYEE SATISFACTION LEVELS, LET SPECTRA360 HELP YOU FIND THE BEST CANDIDATES TO FILL YOUR VACANCIES

                Our expert recruitment services can help you find top talent who are not only qualified but also fit your company’s culture and values. Whether you need someone for a contract, temp-to-hire, direct hire, or onsite role, we have a large pool of candidates and know who will be perfect for the job. Get in touch with us today to discuss your hiring needs!

                References

                1. Snyder, Kristy. Bottorff, Cassie and Sember, Brette. “Key HR Statistics And Trends In 2024” Forbes, 17 May 2023, www.forbes.com/advisor/business/hr-statistics-trends/.

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