Staff surveys, such as Employee Opinion Surveys (EOS) or employee engagement surveys, can be powerful tools for obtaining feedback from your staff. Such surveys enable managers to assess how their staff are coping with change, monitor prevalent attitudes, determine employee acceptance of new initiatives, measure the level of engagement or satisfaction and much much more. Utilised correctly, a well-designed EOS can assist an organisation to engage and retain its workforce and improve its overall effectiveness. It can also be a valuable input for your annual business planning process.
Administering a large-scale EOS is now standard practice for many organisations (both large and small). However, there are a number of common pitfalls that can prevent companies from getting the most out of the process. This blog aims to identify some of the most common EOS mistakes:
There is no hard and fast rule about how many questions to include in an EOS, but generally quality is more important than quantity. It is sometimes easy to slip into the pattern of using items with ambiguous wording, which leaves the question open for misinterpretation. As a general rule, try to avoid using words or phrases that have double meanings and try to be as specific as possible about what you are asking.
A recent case-study on a US-based insurance company, Allstate, illustrates the importance of asking clear and unambiguous questions in an EOS. Their research found that different employees responded to questions relating to management in a number of different ways. For example, some employees considered ‘management’ to be the Vice President, others thought it referred to the director and some considered it to be their immediate supervisor, making data very difficult to interpret. This example highlights the need to be specific in your wording. In this instance, it would be beneficial to say “I trust my immediate Supervisor” rather than “I trust management”.
2. Question Type
Another common mistake is to only include quantitative items i.e. questions that are answered on rating scales such as “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree”. Many people assume that qualitative questions, such as open-ended questions, are too hard to analyse or interpret. Depending on what is being assessed, open-ended or free response questions can often yield much more information and get the respondent to engage at a higher level. Ultimately, a good EOS should contain a balance of both quantitative and quantitative questions.
3. Survey Frequency
Many organisations make the mistake of conducting a one-off survey. The problem with this is you can never evaluate with confidence whether managers have heeded the messages within the survey. If you are considering an EOS as a once off initiative, we would always recommend conducting at least a second EOS to see if any improvements have occurred.
It is also important not to conduct a follow-up EOS too prematurely. Employees tend to become reluctant to complete surveys if they are asked to participate on multiple occassions in a short amount of time, a phenomenon known as survey fatigue. Generally, administering an EOS bi-annually will prevent employees from becoming fatigued, but will still yield a significant amount of information for analysis.
4. Communication with employees
It is always a good idea to communicate with your staff reasons for conducting the survey, what will happen to the results, and what you hope to gain from the whole process. It is also important to address privacy concerns in relation to the survey process. Management should always inform employees who will have access to the data, how it will be stored and how their confidentiality will be maintained. Employees will be more likely to participate if they know what to expect and can anticipate how their feedback will be used.
According to the HR Leadership Council, it is often a good idea to send a ‘heads up’ email to employees prior to launching the survey. This is a good opportunity to communicate the survey aims, timeframes and privacy concerns to your staff. The Council also suggests that is beneficial to send a memo to managers prior to the survey launch, to encourage them to promote survey participation among their direct reports.
5. Results and Reporting
Not only do you need to be able to actually use the data you collect, you need to communicate the survey findings to your employees. If results are not communicated with employees, they begin to think their opinions don’t matter and will be less likely to participate in any future surveys.
The Allstate case-study suggests that management should ask four questions in relation to communication of results:
- Have leaders reported the results?
- Have Employees had a chance to provide feedback?
- Have Action plans been created?
- Have Action plans been implemented?
6. Piloting the survey
A simple step that many organisations forget to take when conducting an EOS is piloting the survey. Testing the survey before launching it allows you to check for any obvious errors in terms of spelling, grammar, or layout. A pilot survey should also be used as an IT system check, to make sure firewalls won’t stop employees from receiving the survey, and that it won’t be marked as junk mail or spam.
7. External Benchmarks
It is a fact that staff tend to respond in different ways to different questions. Trying to interpret quantitative EOS results without having robust external benchmarks can be difficult and in some instances impossible. That is because, without external benchmarks you have no way of knowing how people typically respond to any given question and as such have no way of knowing if something is a relative strength or weakness. In order to obtain robust external benchmarking data usually a company will need to engage an external consultancy, such as HC, to administer its survey. However, there may also be some companies that are willing to sell their external benchmark data at a once off fee. This enables a company to still administer its own survey, but also to compare results against other companies. The downside of such an approach is that the benchmark data is rarely going to be as valid as data that is updated on a regular basis.
Interested in administering an EOS?
Our Psychologists specialise in designing and administering best practice staff surveys. By outsourcing this activity to HC your organisation will benefit from a superior quality product with a faster turn-around time. This should also free up your managers and HR department to focus on interpreting results and action planning. We have invested heavily in developing an efficient, best practice, online survey platform so that you don’t have to!
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