There are several different types of staff surveys, and employers must ensure they are utilising them properly to shed light on what employees are really thinking, says Tom Washington
Today’s stringent business environment means every decision must be
backed up by facts, and without solid data around employee engagement
and behaviour, employers are left unsighted. Staff surveys - getting inside
the mind of employees - is crucial to the success of any organisation’s people
There are various types of staff surveys that can be utilised for several
different end products, and successful organisations use employee information
as a call to action rather than an assessment.
Tim Powell, managing director of Hewitt Associates in Australia and New
Zealand, says staff surveys are great for finding out what is really important to
employees. “They help HR establish the employee value proposition and present
a business case to the board about where resources need to be invested. It’s not
the data you find but what you do with it,” he says.
Nowadays, employers can whip together a staff survey relatively easily and
quickly. By using resources such as Survey Monkey, a set of questions can be
hastily put together and sent out to staff.
But whoever compiles the questions - commonly the HR team - must take time
to ensure the questions are not only relevant but designed to produce the right
kind of data. If the quality of information that arises from the survey is poor,
there is no point in doing it in the first place.
First and foremost, getting staff to complete the survey is paramount.
Compulsory completion may not be the answer, as employees who feel forced
to complete a survey may see it as just another task to get through in their busy
day, and simply rush through it.
The disclosure control policy that organisations use is also paramount. Some
employers use permission-based disclosure controls, whereby employees are
given complete control over who sees their feedback. According to Lenore
Lambert, director and co-founderat the Interview Group, the bigger problem is
that employers are giving too much confidentiality and anonymity to employees.
“With exit interviews, 75 per cent of the time staff are happy for anyone to see
their individual report so employers missing out on great insights,” she explains.
Employee engagement surveys are arguably the most common kind of survey.
Normally undertaken annually, these include questions designed to pinpoint the
issues that staff feel most positive or negatively about.
Auction website eBay focuses on employee net promoter scores (eNPS) as a
driver for business performance and growth. Its HR director, Richard Atkinson,
says that ensuring attention on employee engagement remains a focus for
managers, and eNPS is a key input in determining senior leaders’ bonuses.
“eNPS allows us to understand the percentage of employees who are
actively engaged, working with passion and connected to the organisation,
those that are not engaged, essentially checked out,
and those that are actively disengaged, acting out
their unhappiness and undermining the organisation
and their colleagues.”
eBay gathers a mixture of quantitative data
around a significant number of specific questions,
focused on a one to ten rating scale. It also captures
qualitative inputs through freeform fields. With this
data eBay is able to identify areas of strength and
those that it can look to develop and improve.
“I work to the old adage ‘if you don’t measure it,
you won’t manage it.’ This is true of employee
engagement as much as any other facet of business.
Where we have seen significant increases in
employee engagement, as in the Australian business,
this has been closely followed by significant
increases in key business and customer metrics.”
Powell and Atkinson both agree that this data is
a starting point for further exploration to find deeper
insights. “The data can direct attention to where we
need to focus; it does not always tell you what
actions you need to take. A further drill down with
focus groups or other feedback mechanisms is also
essential,” says Atkinson.
Exit and on-boarding interviews
As with engagement surveys, exit and on-boarding interviews are a hugely
valuable tool to find out how staff are viewing their employer.
Lambert says that exit interviews may be common practise, but are rarely
delivering the value they could at many employers. On-boarding interviews,
too, are becoming a rapidly taken-up process. “It’s a no brainer to check in
with a new employee and see how they’re getting on,” says Lambert.
Indeed, research from Hewitt in July showed that 34 per cent of
organisations help employees through the on-boarding process to minimise the
dip in engagement most organisations see in the first year of employment.
Almost three quarters conduct exit surveys to understand why employees are
leaving and proactively identify potential hot spots.
Lambert says that lasting memories from the 2003 downturn means
employers know how hard it is to get and retain talent. “Employers are
realising they can’t get too complacent and need to try and use all of the tools
at their disposal to compete in the employment market,” she says.
“The core business reason for these interviews boils down to one thing:
getting a handle on the true drivers of staff turnover, reducing it and reducing
the associated costs.”
‘True’ drivers can be described as those that if addressed, they will cause
staff turnover to go down. According to Lambert, few organisations are putting
enough rigour into discovering this information from their exit interviews.
For example, many employers will see remuneration given as a top reason for
staff leaving. A knee-jerk reaction for some is to promptly spend thousands of
dollars on employing a remuneration and benefit consultant, change their pay
structure and give pay rises. Following this, staff turnover will go down for a few
months and then resume where it was before.
“Most organisations still mix up the issues that annoy people with those that
actually cause them to resign. You’ve got to separate them out,” explains
“On top that, you can pinpoint the one thing that has the biggest impact.
With limited time and resources at HR level, employers have got to choose
one area that will give them the biggest bang for their buck. The only way you
can do that is to ask people to rate the impact of each of their reasons for
leaving. Virtually nobody we know of does that.”
Finally, the biggest challenge for HR is ensuring that the post-survey actions
they take are visible, while at the same time ensuring that these become
business as usual to ensure lasting benefit.