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Spring is about sprung almost everywhere (minus the 60 inches of snow we got in March!), which means for many HR departments, it’s time to get serious about your employee engagement/culture survey. While every company is looking for different things when it comes to employee engagement to ensure your HR activities support the business, there are three common mistakes that you’re probably making with your survey – preventing you from gathering meaningful information.

Mistake 1: Not being specific enough about “leader”

This is perhaps the biggest mistake I see every single company out there, making. To HR and perhaps your survey vendor, senior leader means your CEO, leader is the VP and manager is a manager… or some variation of that. However, for your employees, these definitions DO NOT exist.

When you are asking a questions about leadership, you need to define exactly who you are talking about. For example, if you are trying to gauge how confident the employees are in the direction provided by the CEO, ask exactly that: How confident are you that our CEO (insert name here is a bonus), is able to lead the organization?

And remember… the majority of your employee population has ZERO interaction with your CEO, so how accurate of an answer would that be? Just saying.

You need to use clear definitions of leader with each question – do not think that placing a definition at the beginning will be read or remembered. Be specific and clear. Likely, you want to learn about the employee’s direct manager and their department leader (director or VP).

Study after study shows that employees care more about their direct managers than anything else – so gauge their effectiveness, and be very specific in doing so. Eliminate the obscure definitions of supervisor, lead, manager, leader, and so on – they will result in meaningless data.


Mistake #2: Capturing Demographic Data Incorrectly

There are a few different ways to capture demographic information for each survey. If you’re using a vendor like Kenexa, they will send individual emails out with a tracking link, connecting the demographic data to the survey… or at least, the demographic information available. The other way is to ask survey respondents to self-select the information.

Neither way is ideal, nor executed well. Here’s the idea scenario – a combination of both approaches. Having the survey itself connected to some key demographic information from your HRIS system to create the survey tracking link, paired with capturing information your HRIS doesn’t have.

For example, your survey link can have data including tenure, age, salary, department, title, and so on. Using this information, you can create some interesting metrics based on results. However, you are missing other demographic information that could provide you with more insights and inherent HRIS inaccuracies: total rewards utilization, marital status, number of children living in the household, gaps in employment with the company, how they became a part of the organization (acquisition, direct hire, etc.), and so on.

With this in mind, I’d recommend having a unique ID survey link, but also capturing relevant demographic information at the very end, and provided as being optional. Essentially, just like many ATS systems, have the employee submit the survey using their unique ID and then after “submit,” ask the demographics questions that will help you slice the data as needed.

Mistake #3: Not Providing an Open-Ended Comment Box

Frankly, I’m surprised I see so many companies still making this mistake. Having a way for employees to express their opinions and provide you with rich information and data, is essential not only for the success of your engagement plans, but also for your employees to feel like they are being treated as human beings.

There was a CEO I’ve worked with in the past who refused to include an open-ended comment box on their engagement survey because she didn’t want to hear the negative feedback but also didn’t want to take the time to respond to the comments the survey would have received. Essentially, she didn’t want to deal with the actual issues the employees were having.

This is a huge missed opportunity.

Let’s put our marketer’s hats on for a moment (and put your HR hat aside). The best way to influence change through marketing, is to get into the hearts and minds of your consumers. Applying that same principle to your employee engagement survey, can you imagine what rich information you will get from your employees by allowing them to express exactly what their thoughts are?

I know there will be some bad feedback in there. There will be some non-sensical things too. And of course, the bits of information that are untrue or feel personally offensive. That’s what happens when you have a diverse employee population and ask for feedback.

But, it will also allow you to create programs, initiatives and activities using the exact words and phrases that your employees use, when crafting you post-survey plans. Your employees will feel HEARD. They will think that you CARE – because hopefully you truly do.

It will also make your post-survey initiatives more successful. Period. You will not be guessing what would move the needle, you would know exactly what gaps need to be plugged.

Implement these three things, and you’ll see immediate results.