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Bernard Marr

Bernard Marr is a world-renowned futurist, influencer and thought leader in the fields of business and technology, with a passion for using technology for the good of humanity. He is a best-selling author of 20 books, writes a regular column for Forbes and advises and coaches many of the world’s best-known organisations. He has over 2 million social media followers, 1 million newsletter subscribers and was ranked by LinkedIn as one of the top 5 business influencers in the world and the No 1 influencer in the UK.

Bernard’s latest book is ‘Business Trends in Practice: The 25+ Trends That Are Redefining Organisations’

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Measuring Staff Satisfaction: 7 Reasons Why Your Staff Survey Is Not Giving You Anything Useful

2 July 2021

I’ve written before about my dislike for those big staff surveys that most companies insist on conducting every year. Employee surveys are a real bugbear of mine. But I’m not the only one who dislikes them – in my experience, big, time-consuming surveys are almost universally loathed by staff and managers alike.

Despite this, the staff survey is a commonly used tool across most industries. Therefore, you might need a better reason to ditch it than my saying so! Here are seven reasons why your employee survey definitely isn’t cutting the mustard:

1. Your people hate filling it in

In fact, many of them probably choose to ignore it altogether. Maybe they’re busy and the thought of a 100-question survey makes them want to tear their hair out. Or maybe they just don’t see the value in it – especially if nothing ever changes as a result. Think about it: have you actually explained to employees why they should bother?

Then there’s the issue that surveys are generally conducted once a year (a huge issue, and one that I spend more time on later). Say you make a change to the bonus scheme in May. As an employee, I may be desperately unhappy about this change, but I don’t have the opportunity to give formal feedback until the annual survey in November. Then it takes months for the company to analyse all the results of the survey, and report back to staff. If I’m lucky, there will be a plan to improve the bonus scheme in March. By then, I might be long gone…

2. You can’t trust the results anyway

I often hear employees say that they didn’t tell the truth in their survey, that they just said what the company wanted to hear. A lot of the time, people are scared to give negative feedback, for fear that they’ll be identified and punished in some way.

Obviously, your staff survey should be anonymous. But do your employees really trust that? Are they 100% sure that what they say will be treated confidentially? If they’re not, it could skew the results.

3. There’s a temptation to massage the results

Too many surveys are about benchmarking staff satisfaction – a way to show how well the company is doing against the rest of the industry. But, if it’s all about benchmarking, there’s a danger that the results might be “massaged” to present the company in a better light. Maybe the communications around the results will be deliberately vague. Or perhaps certain negative results will be ignored because they don’t chime with the overall “story”. When that happens, the credibility of the survey is in tatters.

4. It’s not aligned with your strategic goals

One of my biggest problems with staff surveys is that companies don’t understand why they want to measure employee satisfaction in the first place. They’re either doing it because they have to (for example, for benchmarking purposes in the public sector), or because “it’s what everyone else does”. Rarely do companies ask themselves “What do we really want to get out of this?” or “What information do we need to support our strategic decision making?”

That’s not to say all staff surveys are bad. When you’re just starting to measure employee engagement, you need a baseline to work from – and a generic survey will give you that starting point. But, after that, you need a method that is much more tailored to your company, your industry and your strategy. Don’t just survey people for the sake of it. Survey because there are specific information needs that you must address if you’re going to engage staff more effectively.

5. It either costs a fortune or you opt for the cheap DIY option

It’s a bit of a catch-22 situation. Surveys done by third parties can cost a lot of money. And I mean a lot. But the alternative is to use a boilerplate survey off the internet and cherry pick the questions you fancy, without giving much thought to what exactly you need to know. When you think about it, neither option is that appealing.

6. You aren’t acting on the results

Too many companies fail to act on what the survey tells them. Part of this is about lack of communication – results need to be clearly communicated to managers across the company. And part of it is about action – putting in place concrete action plans to learn from what the survey is telling you and make improvements in the future. This may mean the leadership has to face up to some hard truths.

7. Once or twice a year is not enough

This is by far my biggest issue with employee surveys. When you only ask employees for feedback once or twice a year, it’s incredibly hard to pick up meaningful trends. Staff satisfaction is a fluid thing. It is constantly moving depending on changes in the company, new projects, the working environment, management and leadership and so on.

Therefore, you need to be engaging employees all year round, using much shorter and more frequent surveys. That way, you can tailor your questions more easily, and identify trends in employee satisfaction much more quickly – enabling you to take action when it matters, not a year down the line when it may be too late.

A better way to measure staff satisfaction

Instead of rolling out the same tired annual survey, here’s a more meaningful way to measure staff satisfaction.

  • Start by identifying your information needs. What is it you really need to know about staff satisfaction? Link this to your overall company and HR goals and identify the questions you really need to answer in order to achieve those goals.
  • Drill down and design your own questions that answer those key questions. But keep it limited to as few questions as possible. You don’t want to creep back up to those monster 100-question surveys!
  • Conduct shorter, more regular “pulse” surveys that address your information needs. These can be done on a daily, weekly, fortnightly or monthly basis, depending on what you want to track, and you can sample different areas of the workforce at different times.
  • To boost response rates, you need to demonstrate value. Communicate to staff why these surveys matter and how they help make the company a better place to work.
  • To ensure the results are trustworthy, keep the results anonymous (and make this clear to employees).
  • Communicate the results in a clear, open way that highlights key learning points and what actions will be taken. This reinforces employee investment in the whole feedback system.
  • Act on what the data tells you, and continue to measure to see whether your actions are having the desired effect.

Where to go from here

If you would like to know more about measuring HR effectiveness, check out my articles on:

Or browse the KPI Library to find the metrics that matter most to you.


Data Strategy Book | Bernard Marr

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