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We Strongly Agree That Businesses Should Survey Employees

by Jennie Hollmann, Ph.D.
on 2016-05-18

The trepidation many businesses have toward conducting employee-engagement surveys is similar to that felt by those of us who avoid our annual physical: You’ve put it off for too long. You might be faced with some hard truths, and it’s probably going to reinforce what you already know… so, should you still go?

“Of course, you should still go,” says Jennie Hollmann, Ph.D., Director, Organizational Research at Caliper.  “You need a benchmark, a starting point.”

As a physical can give you objective takeaways about your health, an employee-engagement survey instituted by expert talent-management consultants can provide a glimpse into the state of your workforce. Do employees feel underappreciated? Satisfied with the corporate direction? Removed from the decision-making apparatus?

Conducting surveys since 1989, Jennie says that companies are “increasingly interested in Big Data,” but surveys are not a new phenomenon.

“Data’s been around forever,” she adds. “It just seemed cumbersome before, like it was a project. The ease with which we can collect data has changed.”

And with a trusted industry leader in organizational research overseeing streamlined survey efforts, businesses can easily digest the information and understand it in practical terms. Beyond sheer percentages, the results can show:

  • Department vs. department comparisons
  • Driver analysis (What’s specifically leading to engagement?)
  • Predictive modeling (A statistical model to forecast future behavior)

Raw information is only as meaningful as the insights you derive from it. Instead of agonizing over individual responses, your business will receive a scientific behind-the-numbers analysis that helps you home in on the key areas that most significantly affect your employees’ engagement.

And to help clients put matters in perspective, Jennie reminds them: “While the information is powerful, you are looking at data in the aggregate and seeing how people felt at a certain point in time. It’s only a start to understanding workplace attitudes.”

Since an employee survey is “only one piece of the puzzle,” as she says, a business still needs to:

  • Follow up with focus groups and action committees to learn more about responses
  • Assess where the company needs to be from a strategic point of view
  • Implement change

Caliper starts by speaking directly to a business about its strategic needs and largescale objectives. “If you do that, the better story you’ll be able to tell in the end,” Jennie notes.

To ensure the most truthful responses and most scientifically valid outcomes, Caliper abides by the following principles:

  • Surveys are confidential.
  • Data are not reported unless a minimum of 5 respondents take part.
  • Surveys appear anonymous to the client.

So, what’s still holding you back from pursuing an employee survey? Possibly, like those who dread the doctor, it’s fear of hearing bad news.

Just know that since respondents’ answers are anonymous, they are going to give honest assessments. As a manager, you must respond in kind. Even if you are not in a position to make the sweeping changes your employees may want, you have the opportunity to be transparent. “Explaining how decisions are made, or why resources are limited, goes a long way,” Jennie says.

Ultimately, employees want to know their voices are heard, and candid two-way dialogues are usually the first step toward meaningful change.

“It’s not about simply collecting data and putting it into a Black Box and checking off the item from your to-do list,” she says. “It’s an entire process of change, and there’s no point in embarking on this if you don’t want to make change.”

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Dr. Hollmann is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist with more than 15 years of experience in applying psychological principles to improve organizational effectiveness and development. Her focus is on individual and team assessment, measurement of organizational effectiveness and change, management development, and research.