Why the Traditional Annual Engagement Survey Doesn't Cut It

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Why the Traditional Annual Engagement Survey Doesn't Cut It

Employee engagement is crucial for both productivity and a reduction in staff turnover. However, despite clear links to revenue and output, 74% of companies are still stuck in the past, trying to get insights from more traditional annual surveys [1]. While yearly surveys still have a place in the modern HR environment, to get the kind of data that can power growth and a real understanding of employee happiness, companies are increasingly looking towards real-time insights and more insightful engagement data.

What Is the Annual Traditional Employment Survey?

The Annual Employment Survey is an anonymous survey distributed every year — or sometimes every two years — to company employees. They are designed to give employees an opportunity to express their thoughts and feelings across several work domains, like leadership, job satisfaction, company culture, and work/life balance.

These surveys take the form of a series of multiple-choice questions, with some offering limited open-ended options where employees can expand upon certain aspects of workplace engagement.

Because employee engagement is a crucial aspect of productivity and motivation, these yearly appraisals are used to drive management strategy and response to employee happiness and productivity.

While this information is a useful benchmark for estimating how your employees feel about their work, there are several shortcomings with these methods.

The Problems with an Annual Traditional Employment Survey

1. They're Too Infrequent

Because they are done annually, engagement surveys are prone to be influenced by the here and now rather than capture engagement sentiment over the entire year. This can lead to an employee who had a few bad days being overly negative or less than complimentary than average on the day of the survey. Additionally, an employee you've caught on a good day might be too focused on the good times to remember to tell you some crucial information that would help your implement improvements.

2. They're Too Long

One of the issues with planning an annual engagement survey is the pressure to fit everything into one survey. For fear of missing out on specific insights, HR teams will often make these surveys around 100 questions long, meaning employees dread doing them.

While many employees resent how these time-consuming surveys take them away from their work, dealing with reams of data is also problematic for HR departments. If your business has a large number of employees, this could leave your HR team dealing with hundreds of thousands of questions.

3. They're Not Accurate Enough

While an anonymous survey should encourage employees to be as honest as they can without fear of reprisals, in reality, people still hold back for several reasons. While a survey may purport to be anonymous, often they contain information like pay grade and length of service, which means the responder can be easily identified.

Additionally, in larger organisations, the questions can be overly general, leading to responses that are hard to interpret or action.

4. They Don't Lead to Change

For many businesses, the annual engagement survey is something they do that isn't always conducive to achieving change. These surveys create an administrative burden that can take weeks or months to analyse, and by the time the numbers have been crunched and a plan of action devised, the issue may be resolved independently or, worse still, an unhappy employee may have left the organisation.

The Alternative to Annual Surveys

Because there are several problems with traditional annual surveys, finding a way to use engaging surveys that can deliver more than a snapshot of employee engagement is vital. To achieve this, regular, bite-sized surveys, delivered across the business at different times, can provide a far more precise picture of where your employees stand on the issues that affect productivity.

Centralised Feedback

By centralising feedback and splitting surveys into appropriate employee categories, responses become more relevant and meaningful. And because this information can be accessed at intervals of your choosing, you can get a far greater feel for where your staff are across a range of issues in real-time.

More Granular Results

Employees tend to respond better to shorter bursts of relevant questions than a general 100 question survey. This leads to more accurate, richer information than could be achieved with an annual survey. Additionally, by including more open-ended questions, companies can collect a larger volume of data.

Of course, many in the survey and customer sentiment industry have understood for years that open-ended questions lead to more significant insights [2]. However, letting respondents use their own words to describe their workplace engagement creates a large amount of unstructured data that needs to be analysed. But advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning technology mean that these sentiments can be listened to at scale, leading to a far greater idea of what drives employee engagement.

Why Employees of Today Expect to See Actionable Initiatives Based on Their Feedback

As demographics change, so too does employee management style preferences. Millennials – by now the largest demographic in the workforce [3] – expect a different type of leadership. Old-school authoritarian management is out, and a more hands-on, mentorship type of leadership is in.

This style of management relies far more on collaboration, feedback and strong relationships. Surveys can be a big part of this change by communicating to employees that you value their opinions and want to use them to design a better work environment.

In addition to the change in how modern employees relate to their superiors, the elements that drive employee retention are different. Better incentives, childcare leave, work/life balance, location and company culture all significant issues for Millennial employees. So, having a way for them to communicate these preferences – and demonstrating an active willingness to provide them – will lead to a more productive and loyal workforce who are ready to go the extra mile.

By understanding your present workforce, you can keep your best talent and inoculate a culture that speaks more to their values. While compensation is a big motivator for the best Millennial talent, other qualities like innovation, sustainability, and personal development play large roles in employee engagement. Failure to listen to what employees want could lead to difficulty attracting and keeping the best staff.

The Benefits of Doing Employee Engagement Right

1. Less Staff Turnover

Low employee engagement leads to high staff turnover. As the job market comes more competitive, many businesses already struggle to compete for the existing staff – so losing good members for whatever reason can be catastrophic. Dynamic and frequent bite-sized surveys can help identify problems before they turn into a staff member resigning or leaving for a rival.

2. Frequent Surveys Means Frequent Feedback

One of the main goals of employee engagement surveys is to identify workplace problems and put in place remedies to address them. However, if the cadence of this feedback is yearly, problems can be allowed to grow and fester without anyone in management knowing about it. By taking more frequent samples of employee mood and concerns, employers have a better idea of how their employees feel.

Additionally, more frequent surveys can be implemented to better understand how solutions to specific problems are being received by your staff. If a solution is implemented but only followed up in the next annual survey, you might find out that it has been ineffective far too late.

3. Actionable Insights

Traditional employee engagement surveys often produce vague, high-level results. Turning this data into actionable insights isn't always easy for management because the questions are often too general to apply to local contexts. A well-designed survey should be flexible enough to target individual teams, departments or roles, with an eye on extracting the information needed to improve productivity and engagement.

More refined feedback drawn from individual contexts can lead to employee engagement initiatives that are far more effective.

4. Better Data

Collecting data is one thing; making sense of it is another. Good HR Tech can design and interpret data and compare it to historical trends to give management a far more robust view of employee engagement. By having a clear customer engagement strategy that understands the key metrics that define success, your company can focus on the essential aspects of employee happiness.

Designing and distributing surveys focused on specific teams would usually be a massive challenge for HR departments. But by using cutting-edge software, customer engagement can quickly identify the most critical trends, so you can take the corrective actions that lead to a better, more focused, and productive workforce.

5. Better Employee Engagement

While this is the most apparent benefit, it's arguably the most important. Employee engagement significantly increases workplace productivity. Companies with high employee engagement are 21% more profitable.

Another benefit of an engaged workforce is lower absenteeism rates, with one poll suggesting teams who were more productive tend to have 41% less sick days [4].


The benefits of employee satisfaction are evident: Less sick days, more productivity, and higher retention rates. However, understanding employee feedback needs to be done with a better method than an annual survey.

Using smaller, more frequent surveys, you can improve the employee experience by listening to what employees need to create a company culture that keeps them happy and productive

Powerful A.I. technology reveals the true Employee Experience, delivering a continuous view of engagement that’s always up to date and connected across the entire organisation and employee lifecycle. Go beyond periodic, one-way surveys with Qualee and sign up for our FREE Starter Plan today.


[1] https://www.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/is-it-time-to-toss-out-your-old-employee-engagement-survey/
[2] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/282249876_Open-_versus_close-ended_survey_questions
[3] https://www.catalyst.org/research/generations-demographic-trends-in-population-and-workforce/
[4] https://www.gallup.com/workplace/283985/working-remotely-effective-gallup-research-says-yes.aspx






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