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Avoid employee engagement survey pitfalls

Careful planning of your employee engagement survey project is paramount, but there are many pitfalls which can vary from when to launch to how the survey is run.

1. Avoid launching during times of major corporate announcements

Case study
A large, international blue-chip client who had carefully planned their employee engagement survey, and accompanying communications, made the costly decision the night before survey launch to delay for two months owing to press rumours of impending redundancies.

Result
This was a costly and inconvenient decision, but when the employee engagement survey was eventually launched the staff had clarity on future direction of the organisation. Furthermore, the employee engagement survey was then able to encapsulate questions raised as a result of organisation changes.

2. Avoid launching in (public) holiday periods

Case study
Delays in employee engagement survey preparation and execution meant that one organisation was ready to launch post rather than pre-Christmas.

Result
This traditionally quiet time meant that staff responses trickled in slowly, the “survey live” period had to be extended. This not only led to survey fatigue but also weakened data validity as it was obtained over a longer timeframe – rather than providing a “snapshot” of employee engagement.

3. Avoid launching at times of business/industry activity

Case study
An accountancy firm prioritised their first Employee Engagement Survey and consulting employee engagement survey and halved the usual development time so that it would be ready in February to be analysed in March to avoid their busiest accounting time of the year.

Result 
The organisation obtained an 86% response rate – well above the industry standard.

4. Avoid planning with people who will not be around to see through the consequences

Case study
A government department frequently seconded personnel including those responsible for internal ownership of the annual employee engagement survey.

Result
Inconsistency in project management meant that branch managers received conflicting advice relating to the timing/distribution of the employee engagement survey as well as confusion regarding demographic data and data interpretation.

5. Avoid planning without necessary support & endorsement from senior management

Case study
A shipping organisation launched their employee survey without the endorsement from the CEO as he was always too busy to get involved in the planning meetings.

Result
When the employee engagement results came back they were interesting to the CEO, but failed to get to the heart of two key questions that he could easily have been included on the employee engagement survey form. Furthermore the HR department had to work hard trying to get senior and middle managers to endorse the survey – whilst if the CEO was involved from the beginning this would’ve been much easier.

6. Do not launch without a supporting communications plan

Case study
Many organisations fail to think about how to communicate their employee engagement survey; pre-survey, while it’s live and post survey phases.

Result
Lack of pre-survey communications fail to give managers the chance to distribute or enable time for their staff to participate. It also dis-empowers and alienates them by creating an “us” and “them” mentality if staff go to them with questions.

Lack of survey communications can impact response rates as some staff might simply miss the opportunity to complete the employee engagement survey.

7. Do not be so rigid so engagement survey timelines that response rates suffer… unless simply requiring a pulse-check

Case study
A shipping organisation was so adamant that they required their employee engagement survey results in time for their AGM that they allowed insufficient time for the paper surveys to be returned by staff who were away at sea.

Result
They had to re-survey 6 months later as the results omitted entire demographics of their staff.

8. Do not demand compulsory completion at the risk of obtaining data

Case study
A logistics organisation was so keen to capture data that they made every employee survey item mandatory.

Result
Once staff realised how long it was going to take them to complete the employee engagement survey they either didn’t bother filling it in or gave up during the process.

9. Do not limit survey methods at the risk of obtaining data

Case study
One transport organisation insisted that the survey only be made available electronically to minimise the hassle of paper distribution. Unions and sceptics scared some staff into believing that their individual responses would make them identifiable.

Result
The results appeared to be “false positive” amongst some groups within the organisation meaning that the data was not robust. Providing an alternative “untraceable” paper employee engagement survey may have helped to minimise this effect.

10. Do not ask questions which are not meaningful, relevant and pertinent to strategic planning

Case study
A client recently ran an employee engagement survey as they had to be seen be conducting staff research as part of the agreement with industry regulator. The results came back and informed them about employee engagement but what they really need to know about was alignment and how this linked to the goals and long term direction of the organisation.

Result
The following year they made the decision to conduct a more extensive employee alignment and engagement survey; the rationale was that if they were giving the staff the opportunity to fill in the questionnaire then asking them to spend an extra 8 minutes to complete the additional questions which provided actionable data with regard to investment in systems, people, team effectiveness and many other factors was well spent.

11. Do not make promises that you cannot keep

Case study
A government department promised branch managers that their results would be available within 4 weeks of the employee engagement survey to facilitate action planning; what they failed to consider was the internal reviewing and endorsement that the results would require prior to distribution.

Result
Managers had to conduct annual action planning without the benefit of the employee engagement survey results. Action plans were devised inconsistently and to variable quality across the organisation.

12. NEVER under deliver on promises that have been made

Case study
A transport organisation conducted employee engagement surveys annually, telling staff that the results would be communicated to them but never actually following up on this promise.

Result
Response rates fell as staff perceived the survey to be a box ticking exercise.

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