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4 Problems with Employee Engagement Surveys

Employee engagement surveys are designed to provide employees with the opportunity to tell their management team how they’re feeling at work. That means all the positive AND negative thoughts and feelings are supposed covered in a survey lasting 100+ questions. Theoretically, this exercise leads to a perfect picture of what’s going on in the office.

Are these surveys truly accurate? Unfortunately, the short answer is no. Employee engagement surveys tend not to give an accurate reflection of what’s going on in the workplace. In fact, because of the way they’re usually operated — with an air of finality and aloofness — they can actually be the chief motivation behind employee disengagement, creating the very problem these surveys mean to solve.

By addressing problems inherent in engagement surveys head on, employers have a better chance of not only increasing employee engagement, but workplace satisfaction. These are the four biggest problems with employee engagement surveys — and how to solve them.

Engagement surveys are too little, too late.

The first problem with employee engagement surveys? They just give employers a snapshot of how their employees are feeling at that time.

If an employee is having a particularly bad day or week, all of that bad energy is going to be channeled into their responses to the engagement survey. Even if they’re generally happy at their job, surveys are given so infrequently that an employee feels compelled to voice complaints at one time. The same is true on the flip side; if an employee is having a week full of big wins, they’ll fill their survey full of positive feelings, even if this enthusiasm is not the norm.

The solution: a once-a-year engagement survey is simply insufficient to take the temperature of morale in the office year-round. Continual assessment is needed. Instead, take regular samples monthly to see if employees are feeling engaged. This could be done in batches. For example, if your company is big enough, survey 1000 randomly selected employees every month. Alternately, send out shorter monthly engagement surveys to get a sense of how your employees feel on a regular basis.

Employee engagement surveys are too long or time-consuming.

It’s no secret that employees dread the annual employee engagement survey. It’s so long, often up to 100 questions (or more!), and it takes workers away from their daily deadlines for extended periods of time. Survey fatigue, anyone?

Not only this, if the survey is being completed in-house, the Human Resources team will be swamped with results of 100+ question surveys from 1000+ employees. This leads them to be practically incapable of completing any other work for the duration it takes to interpret the survey results.

What’s the alternative? One option is to hire an outside surveying firm — though this can be costly and may not give you the data you seek. Another alternative is to conduct regular, shorter surveys, maybe two to five questions every month. Managers can focus on different themes or questions each month to isolate different engagement metrics and test employee engagement initiatives on the fly. Employees won’t feel overwhelmed by these regular samples, and they can provide meaningful feedback without feeling like it will take up the bulk of their day. Check out additional ways to get feedback with these 5 Steps Towards Better Employee Engagement.

Engagement surveys don’t lead to lasting change.

If an employee engagement survey shows a lot of negativity from an organization’s employees, the impulse from management is likely to try to put a band-aid on the problem. Offering an afternoon off or free coffee may boost company engagement in the short term, but studies have shown that these kind of actions don’t lead to lasting change. Engagement scores are nearly guaranteed to slip back down in time for the next survey.

Responding to employee criticism with quick-win perks can have a net negative impact on employee engagement. Employees may feel that the surveys don’t lead to anything permanent. When a worker takes the time to give thoughtful feedback, they expect to see a matching response. Free doughnut Tuesdays, for example, doesn’t show that management actually cares about an employee’s desire for paid maternity leave or more equitable work/life balance or a simpler time tracker. Even if the results of an engagement survey are discussed at management level, unless an employee can see this progress, they’re unlikely to feel satisfied with the outcome of the survey.

How can managers make the employee engagement survey a positive experience from start to finish? It’s about listening to employee feedback, creating lasting change, and being open and transparent when certain things can’t change. Not all employee wishes can be granted, but engagement is only improved by transparency. Employees will be more engaged when they feel they’re making a positive impact in their work and that their views actually matter. Here are 15 Employee Engagement Activitiesthat actually make a difference.

Employee engagement surveys may not give you a clear picture.

Unfortunately, your staff may not provide the most truthful answers, even on anonymous surveys. Given the data collected in employee engagement surveys — pay grade, department, how long they’ve been with the company, position, etc — employees feel that anonymous surveys are exactly the opposite of anonymous. If an employee has honest feedback about something, they may feel hesitant to report their concerns because they feel they’ll be easily identifiable.

There are some ways to change this, however. Number one is the language used. Instead of referring to a survey as anonymous, managers can title them confidential. This way, regardless of whether an employee is pinpointed or not, nothing individual can be done about their responses. Likewise, using an outside surveying firm can add a layer of confidence and ensure that confidentiality is met and maintained.

Finally, a word of caution. At worst, all of these points boil down to one potential problem: employee engagement surveys have a tendency to breed negativity. These types of surveys tend to surface negative emotion without leading to resolution. Likewise, a perceived lack of anonymity can lead to further disengagement — worsening the problem you’re trying to solve. The solution? Gradual and sustainable measures that take into account what your surveys report; outsourcing your survey to a third party; and hosting regular feedback sessions throughout the year to tackle disengagement as it arises.

This post originally appeared on ClickTime.