Increasing Worker Engagement With Employee Surveys

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Henry Ford famously said “you can take my factories, burn up my buildings, but give me my people and I’ll build it right back.” His sentiment underscores the importance and value of putting employees first.

Direct worker feedback is the foundation of all successful human resource and management teams. Putting employees first means listening to workers to identify performance improvement opportunities and to design engagement programs that work. We often encourage employers to conduct a worker survey, no matter where they are in the evolution of their worker engagement program. Worker surveys allow you to hear directly from your workforce, gather reliable data and better understand needs. Surveys, when conducted correctly, are effective at gathering a balanced and representative view of what employees think, enabling organizations to make data-based decisions and spend funds more effectively.

Just the act of conducting a survey can increase employee engagement and loyalty. It allows employers to demonstrate that their employees’ opinions matter. Employees feel more empowered when they are given the opportunity to share their thoughts and opinions. This is especially true when employees see organizational change take place as a result of feedback gained through surveys.

On the other hand, neglecting survey results can diminish employee engagement and lead to cynicism. For this reason, it’s important that employers communicate survey results, as well as any steps that are being taken to address areas of concern. This is true even if the decision is to not take any steps. Simply saying, “We heard your concerns, but we can’t make this change because of <insert reason>,” can be an effective engagement strategy. Employees now feel like they have a voice and understand how the decision was made.

How often should an organization survey its workforce?

Opinions vary on how frequently organizations should survey their workforce, but I think it ultimately depends on how quickly a company can implement change. If a company is nimble and able to execute necessary changes within six months, then it makes sense to conduct a survey twice a year. For many employers, organizational change takes much longer. In those situations, surveying employees every 12 to 18 months is more realistic.

For years the consumer industry has been conducting Net Promoter Score (NPS) surveys to track customer perceptions. These are quick surveys that some companies do weekly to keep their finger on the pulse of their buyers. This same concept can be extremely useful for employers to better understand employee needs. Increasingly, more and more of our clients are asking for these Employee Pulse Surveys to better track employee engagement.

Workplace Options’ Employee Pulse Surveys include three questions and we typically suggest employers conduct them once a quarter, and sometimes after a significant event—either positive or negative. It fosters understanding of how changes made in the company are perceived by employees. Maybe there was a restructuring, merger or change in policy. It is important that these surveys are conducted often and during times of relative calm, so you have a baseline and are more easily able to identify trouble spots or change. Because Employee Pulse surveys are short they help guard against survey fatigue, which can lead to incomplete responses or inaccurate data.

Is it necessary to survey the entire workforce?

Clients are relieved to hear it’s not necessary to survey their entire workforce, which can be time consuming and expensive. Unless the company is very small, statisticians agree that a randomly selected sample of a population can be used to reasonably estimate the views of the entire population. A recent article in the New York Times illustrated the validity of probability sampling by using the analogy of a chef checking the flavor of his sauce. In short, it’s not necessary for the chef to eat the entire batch to know how his sauce tastes.

To determine how many employees should be included in a survey sample size, employers need to determine their desired margin of error. The margin of error indicates the survey’s degree of accuracy. For example, a survey with a 5% margin of error found that 70% of the population prefer the color red and 30% prefer the color blue. The true value, based on the 5% margin of error, would be anywhere in the range of 5% more or 5% less than what was reported in the survey. For red, the true value would be between 65% and 75%. For blue, it would be between 25% and 35%.

At Workplace Options we typically use a margin of error of +-7.5 percent. This tends to minimize costs, while also delivering trustworthy results for this type of survey.  You can use a sample size calculator to determine how many employees you should include in your sample size.  For a company with 10,000 employees, for a +-7.5 margin of error, a sample size calculator shows you will need a sample size of 171 employees.

If you increase your sample size, you will decrease your margin of error. But at some point the law of diminishing returns makes the increased accuracy negligible. In addition, increasing the sample size typically increases the costs associated with executing a survey. Not to mention the time and effort involved in encouraging workers to take a survey.

While surveys are key to organizational success, surveys can’t stand alone and they are only one piece of an effective employee engagement program.  An effective program is constantly seeking input and adapting to the needs of employees.

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