Q: I am a part-time human resource consultant at a smaller manufacturing company, with about 75 employees. New management has recently been brought on and they want to conduct a first-time employee survey because they are interested in knowing how satisfied our employees are. Do you have any recommendations or tips on how we should go about this?

A: Each year thousands of organizations conduct employee opinion surveys (EOS) for a number of reasons and some are more successful than others. In general, management conducts these surveys to gauge the morale, degree of satisfaction, and level of engagement of their workforce. EOS have value in that they give management better data on their employees’ attitudes and perceptions of their workplace, on what’s working well and on what needs improvement. Ultimately, the survey findings are valuable in that they give management real data (not just anecdotes) and thus a mandate to create positive changes at the workplace.

Launching an employee survey does not have to be a laborious, time-consuming process, However, it does take management buy-in and commitment, especially from the leadership. Without top leadership buy-in and willingness to internally promote the survey, the chances of its success decrease dramatically.

Based on our past experience with employee surveys, we offer a few important considerations to keep in mind:

  • Leadership must announce the survey, clearly communicating a few key messages: WHY the organization is conducting the survey at this time, WHAT it hopes to accomplish as a result of the survey and HOW it intends to use the survey findings. The employee informal rumor mill kicks in as soon as word of the survey is out, so front-end planning is important. All communications should reiterate the same messages.
  • Get a buzz going before the survey is launched: have several consistent announcements go out and get managers talking to employees, employees talking to their peers, etc. The role of leadership is key to making the “buzz” happen. This will go far to increase the response rate.
  • Two of the most important things to remember when conducting an EOS: 1) Management must use the survey findings to create a meaningful dialogue among the employees, and 2) management must take ACTION steps in response to the survey findings. Not taking action can breed cynicism and result in decreased employee morale.
  • Expect some skepticism, cynicism, messiness and resistance from employees. It is all part of the change process. As an organization “opens up” people tend to focus first on their frustrations. Over time, many people become more engaged problem solvers. Remember: a cynic is often just a disillusioned idealist.
  • Most employees are tolerant, forgiving and understand things take a long time to change. What they want most is to be able to see that management has good intentions and is making an honest effort to improve the work environment.
  • Always engage employees in the change efforts as it helps to gain their buy-in and commitment. In addition, it instills in employees the notion that while they have the right to raise legitimate concerns in the workplace, they also have a responsibility to propose and work toward solutions.
  • Conducting an EOS should not be a one-time event. Ideally, EOS should be administered every two years in order to track progress. Progress made should be internally recognized and definitely promoted so all staff understands its impact.

For leadership, creating positive and lasting organizational change can be a frustrating, yet richly rewarding process. It happens slowly over time and is, in many ways, mostly about building and sustaining productive relationships.

 

— Winning Workplaces, April 28, 2006 | 

Comments:

I agree with all the comments made. I would like to add the following:

What is the purpose of the survey? You mentioned that management wanted to know ‘how satisfied our employees are’. Satisfied with what?

Three year’s ago we conducted a survey to determine what employees were looking for in terms of health insurance. What helped us was to create a health insurance committe made up of 9 employees (from both the office and the plant). For every 10 employees in the Shop we had one employee representative, same with the office. I was the facilitator or project manager. I also had 100% support from senior management.

We asked this newly formed committee for their input to finalize the questionnaire. In addition, these same committee members helped spread the word to other employees on the importance of the survey. We shared the final results with this same group of employees, asked for their thoughts and recommendations with respect to health insurance for ALL employees.

The buy-in at all levels–management and employee was key for us.