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Honest, crisp office surveys yield useful data

Undoubtedly, employee surveys are a valuable tool for everything from gathering information to carrying on continuous development. Leaders can access the real attitude of the workforce when it comes to the company brand, strategy, management style, compensation, benefits or occupational safety as well as study their level of motivation, dedication and satisfaction.

The information, perception and views can be used to stimulate dramatic improvements in productivity, job satisfaction and commitment. It also comes in handy in case of new leaders, mergers or other organisational change.Little wonder then that companies spend big money on surveys in a constant attempt to gauge something or the other.

But the fact is that the results can be good only if the surveys are done properly. Unfortunately most organisations are merely paying lip service with hollow assertions like, ‘Well done’ and ‘The results are very useful for us’.

Nobody bothers about the actual employee attitude towards taking surveys – whether they even like filling the unending questionnaires.

In fact, recently a company that delivers Web-based leadership tools commissioned a survey on ‘employee attitude towards surveys’. It reveals that only 24 per cent of the respondents deem the annual survey at their company as something all employees value while a meagre 27 per cent see a definite and high return on investment from the same.

The hard truth staring us in the face is that employees have a negative experience while taking surveys and do not think highly of them. On the contrary, faced with questionnaires after questionnaires overflowing with attributes and variables, they become quite ambivalent and largely unwilling to participate. The chief complaints with surveys are that they are :

• Poorly worded, confusing

• Too lengthy

• Quite biased

• Often used to manipulate employees

• Focussed on ‘fixing the numbers’ against competitors

• Going into a black hole as nothing is done with information

A bleaker scenario surfaces that most employees are more or less programmed to comply and just go about ‘filling the check boxes’.

Responses given reluctantly are likely to be less accurate than those of a more willing respondent.

Changing the rules

A successful survey is all about honest responses and high participation. Given the high stakes, companies should try to generate a more valid assessment, some pointers:

• Making surveys brief; always telling the respondent upfront how long it is likely to take. Some experts even suggest setting aside a designated time when employees can fill the questionnaire.

• Employing a third party for collating the data and generating reports ensures a much-appreciated level of anonymity that translates into comfortable and candid responses.

• Customise lucid surveys that address the real issues by way of relevant content, intelligent questions and action orientation. Try to engage people in rich conversations about change.

• Maintain an objective mindset by steering clear of suggestive questions that are lined with predispositions. For instance, if respondents are asked if they like a particular manager/perquisite/proposal they tend to say yes even though on the whole they may dislike it greatly, involuntarily creating a prejudice.

Employees hesitate to take surveys, as they are quite unsure about what the company intends to do with the results.

Clearly outlining the benefits and how the data will be used not only reflects on the serious thought given to the subject, but also gives workers a reason to complete the survey.

At times, the data may only be used purely for benchmarking, assessment or comparison purposes. In such a case it pays to be honest and admit that it is purely a ‘score-focussed’ survey.

Even providing a letter of endorsement from an organisational leader on the survey rationale and goals will communicate the gravity of responding to the poll. Distrust of the management or fear of ‘not making the right scores’ leads to more socially acceptable and less critical responses.

Respondents will hesitate over or provide mostly non-answers for difficult and sensitive questions. To avoid being saddled with misleading data, it should be ensured that people are not criticised or condemned for the nature of their answers.

The prevailing frustration is that the organisation is not really interested in employee opinions, suggestions or feedback as nothing is ever done with the results.

It is essential to constructively follow through on the survey and show the results achieved to build credibility. Analyse the data and make necessary changes to build better employee relations and a positive work environment.

Then and only then, people will start trusting that their voice is being heard and driving results.


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