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Scrap the survey: how to get the real story from your workforce

Most people are familiar with the annual ‘engagement survey’: the yearly, or maybe more frequent questionnaire for employees to share their feedback on management and the business. This is still the default method for trying to garner the workplace pulse, but the workplace has changed, and how we ap

1 Aug 2019 | 5 min read

Workplace survey

It seems to still be all too commonplace to hear that a number of businesses are not listening to their employees’ concerns. Many of us will have seen the recent revelation from a former Snapchat employee condemning her company’s work culture and how the business failed to hear and address them.

While this kind of story comes up regularly, it’s wrong to assume that most businesses don’t want to listen. Many do now understand the importance of employee feedback, but they are often going about finding it the wrong way.

Most people are familiar with the annual ‘engagement survey’: the yearly, or maybe more frequent questionnaire for employees to share their feedback on management and the business. This is still the default method for trying to garner the workplace pulse, but the workplace has changed, and how we approach employee feedback needs to change too.

Our Rungway research recently revealed that over half (52%) of UK employees have done a pulse survey at work and over a fifth (21%) felt that the wrong questions were asked. Moreover, the study also showed that almost a third (30%) say they feel that their feedback from pulse surveys hasn’t led to any changes.

The problem is that these surveys can often feel a little one-sided, with employers taking the lead and imposing the topics and direction of thought. Not to mention, if a company is unaware of any hidden sentiments or underlying issues, then they may not even know to ask the question. It’s easy to see how this could lead to a sense of employers just ‘checking in because they have to’ and employees being reluctant to take such surveys seriously.

So, if some surveys are failing to deliver a real view and vital insight into what your employees think, what should you be doing instead?

Problems don’t happen once a year

Asking for employees to share input at certain times of the year only provides a one-off snapshot of what is happening in a company. Following this approach, businesses can’t gauge sentiment in real-time, and are unable to capture the full breadth of the employee experience. It's easy to imagine how an employee facing a problem at one moment might forget to raise it again at survey-time. But just because something hasn’t been brought up in a survey, doesn’t mean that it’s not there. Problems don’t just go away, and some will arise again.

Workplaces constantly develop and shift, with different issues fluctuating from day-to-day, so employees need to be able to offer feedback when and where it suits them. Many companies are now moving away from annual appraisals and seeing the benefits of doing so, and the same principle needs to be applied to employee feedback as well.

Making this change needn’t be complicated either. You can create online groups for discussion, offer tech platforms that can be used 24/7 for knowledge sharing and advice, or provide anonymous whistleblowing resources. It could even be as simple as having a suggestion box placed somewhere discretely in the office. Most importantly, make this easy for everyone to do and not something that they should be afraid of.

Constant feedback systems don’t just aid employees’ wellbeing – if a business is continually receiving feedback from employees, it’s much easier to spot issues earlier and nip them in the bud before they have a chance to escalate into a much bigger problem.

It starts with employees

Part of facilitating this continuous feedback is also creating an environment where employees feel comfortable speaking up about their ideas – they shouldn’t think they need to be approached first but feel they can go ahead and offer up their thoughts proactively, without facing awkwardness or backlash for doing so.

With pulse surveys, businesses are only going to get the answers related to the questions set. To get to more individual issues and suggestions on how to improve things, you need to let employees start the conversation themselves, in their own words.

This ensures that you’re not re-visiting the same topics over-and-over again or only concentrating on concerns that a select few at the top consider to be important. To gain real feedback from your employees you cannot spoon-feed them; you need to open up new communication channels to facilitate opportunities for natural, unprompted discussions and ideas.

This aspect is a little trickier, but management and senior leaders’ behaviours certainly play a large role here. No matter how many times people say to employees ‘you can talk to me about anything’, it can still be intimidating. So, lead by example, bring up sensitive issues yourself to show that it really is alright to share, and that you understand.

Two is better than one Most importantly, it is not just about ensuring your employees offer you honest feedback, but you also need to act on that input. After all, employee feedback should be a conversation – you need to reply and respond. This means going beyond summarising the themes raised to actually talk openly and show how you will address them.

Demonstrating that you’re taking employee feedback seriously can start with something as simple as asking follow-up questions and deep-diving into certain issues. Just passing problems up to your board isn’t “job done”. This is the time to take responsibility and to be accountable. Real communication means ensuring you see the task through, committing to next steps and actions, and keeping people informed.

If employees can see that their feedback matters and that you do care, then they will be increasingly willing and open to sharing their thoughts. Not only will this fuel a greater sense of commitment and trust, but it will help your employer brand and decrease talent attrition. In the modern workplace, getting employee feedback right is so much more than a simple Q+A, it should be an integral part of the workplace and how it’s run. Move conversations from the coffee machine into a place where management have the opportunity to understand and respond, sowing the seeds of success for everyone.


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