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Why the Traditional Annual Employee Engagement Survey Doesn't Cut It

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Why the Traditional Annual Employee Engagement Survey Doesn't Cut It

Employee engagement is crucial for both productivity and reducing employee turnover. However, despite clear links to revenue and output, 74% of companies are still stuck in the past, trying to get insights from the more traditional annual employee 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 sentiment, companies are increasingly looking for methods to get more real-time insights and more insightful engagement data than the traditional yearly survey provides.

Instead of just the cookie-cutter year-end survey, more and more businesses are also launching regular pulse surveys to help measure employee engagement faster.

What Is the Traditional Annual Employee 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 with survey questions touching on 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 and employee engagement.

Because employee engagement is a crucial aspect of productivity and motivation, these yearly appraisals are used to drive management strategy, understand employee happiness, boost productivity, and ultimately improve customer satisfaction.

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

The Problems with a Traditional Annual Engagement Survey

1. They're Too Infrequent

‍ Because they are done annually, engagement surveys are prone to be influenced by the here and now of when they were done rather than capture engagement sentiment over the entire year. This can lead to some employees who may have had a few bad days being overly negative or less than complimentary than average on the day of the survey. Alternatively, employees 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 annual employee pulse surveys is the pressure to fit everything into one survey because it just happens once a year. For fear of missing out on specific insightful data, HR teams will often make these surveys around 100 questions long, meaning employees dread doing them and may feel "survey fatigue" even before they get to employee engagement survey questions.

While many employees resent how these time-consuming surveys take them away from their work and sometimes don't make them a priority, dealing with reams of data is also problematic for HR departments. If your business has a large number of employees, this could leave your human resources team dealing with hundreds of thousands of questions and unable to cull all the important survey results.

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, they often contain information like pay grade and length of service, which means the responder can be easily identified.

Additionally, in larger companies, the questions can be overly general, leading to an inaccurate snapshot of the employee experience or employee perceptions. Often for the longer annual surveys, the responses and feedback of employees are harder to interpret lessening the chances of gathering accurate data and being able to take action and make improvements.

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 analyze, and by the time all the responses from employees have been tabulated, the numbers have been crunched and a plan of action devised, the issue may have already been resolved independently or, worse still, an unhappy employee may have already left the organization.

The Alternative to Annual Surveys: Pulse Surveys

Because there are several problems with the traditional annual employee engagement survey, finding a more effective employee survey that can deliver more than a snapshot of employee engagement is of vital importance for HR professionals to be able to get all the important data they need.

To achieve this, regular, bite-sized surveys or frequent pulse 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. In fact, it may be more effective in measuring employee engagement, employee satisfaction and employee performance.

What is a Pulse Survey?

A pulse survey is a type of employee engagement survey that is used to refer to a survey that is not annual or bi-annual. Pulse surveys are also usually shorter and sometimes focused on just one topic. As the name suggests, a "pulse" survey is used to gain a regular measure of employee engagement levels and employee experiences.

Pulse surveys are often focused on key drivers of employee engagement. This includes job satisfaction, communication between teams and team members, relationships with leaders, work-life balance and the overall work environment. Sometimes these shorter employee surveys are used to tackle distinct topics or time periods.

Pulse surveys are rapidly becoming more popular because they are shorter and lessen the amount of time it takes for employees to give their feedback. This helps HR collate feedback faster and measure the results much easier, which means they can make informed decisions quicker.

While annual employee surveys are still important to do, frequent pulse surveys allow HR to get a quick snapshot of employee sentiment either every month or every quarter. They allow people in senior leadership roles to have regular check-ins with employees, map our trends, and provide quick improvements. Here are some other benefits of regular employee engagement surveys.

Centralized Feedback ‍

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

More Granular Results ‍

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

However, while many in the survey and customer sentiment industry have understood for years that open-ended questions lead to more significant insights [2], letting employees use their own words to describe their workplace engagement does create a large amount of unstructured data that needs to be analyzed.

While this may take a bit more work, it also yields more insight into the employee experience than a more multiple-choice employee survey can provide. Additionally, 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 Today Expect to See Actionable Initiatives Based on Their Feedback

As demographics change, so too does the management style preferences of employees. 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.‍ One that allows for better employee feedback and interactions.

This style of management relies far more on collaboration and building strong relationships. Employee engagement 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. Remember, workers who feel valued are more likely to become engaged employees. A company that goes out of its to remind employees that they are part of the business success will less likely have disengaged employees on the team.

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 are all significant issues for Millennial employees. So, having a way for them to communicate these preferences outside of the annual employee engagement survey 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 and your employees and their preferences, you can keep your best talent and cultivate a culture that speaks more to their values. While compensation is a big motivator for the best Millennial talent, other qualities like career advancement, 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 Employee Surveys Means Regular 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 just through the annual employee survey then feedback is not regular and up-to-date. Problems are allowed to grow and fester without anyone in management knowing about them. 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 employees. 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 survey questions 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, engagement, and eventually customer satisfaction too.

The 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 workforce happiness and what drives and inspires employees.

Designing and distributing surveys focused on specific teams or select employees 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 highly 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 among employees, with one poll suggesting teams who were more productive tend to have 41% fewer sick days [4].

Conclusion ‍

The benefits of cultivating employee satisfaction are evident: fewer sick days, more productivity, and higher retention rates. However, understanding employee feedback needs to be done through better methods than just annual employee engagement surveys.

Through using smaller, more frequent surveys distributed regularly to employees, 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 organization and employee lifecycle. Go beyond periodic, one-way surveys with Qualee and sign up for our FREE Starter Plan today.


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