Tackling Low Scores on Employee Engagement Surveys

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Time and time again, research indicates a direct link between good employee engagement and productivity. Most enterprise companies measure employee engagement through employee engagement surveys. Despite being the “go-to” measurement tool for large companies, these surveys can still be a touchy subject for leadership and employees alike. 

Human resources professionals and business leaders often complain there’s not enough participation. Conversely, employees who participate often don’t feel that their feedback gets heard. 

Every year, an increasing number of millennials are entering the workforce and bringing along their own set of priorities and needs. Studies indicate that young people want to switch more jobs often - if they don’t like something about their workplace, they’ll say it. And if their voices aren’t heard...well, they’ll go somewhere where they feel listened to…and take their skills and training with them. 

This is the core reason why career-related questions can score below other metrics in even the best employers - the nature of career planning is changing.

The bottom line: employee engagement surveys are only useful when a company takes action on what they learn in the process.

How do you get the most out of them? We’ve broken it down into three steps: Analyze, Share and Plan. 

Analyze

It can be intimidating to look at the survey results. People who work in HR might face decision paralysis from the stack of responses or feel like they can’t be bothered to properly review the overwhelming number of statistics. 

Digesting survey results is kind of like writing a paper.  You write and write, put the paper down, and the next time you pick it up, you invariably find something to change or a new idea. - Jack Semler, Readex CEO

To avoid these outcomes, it’s useful to break up all the information into individual and discrete parts. For example, you could spend one hour reviewing the section on company diversity, then revisit later for another hour to look at company growth. By working to compose the “bigger picture” piece by piece, you’ll start to get a holistic overview of what’s happening at the company.

The deeper you dig, the more valuable insights you’ll find. For example, a large software company might find that 70% of employees are happy. An amazing top-line result, right? However, upon further examining the results, they might discover that the majority of the 30% who are unhappy are software engineers.

In that example, that extra layer of scrutiny helps tremendously when pinpointing areas for improvement or curiousity. Are the software engineers feeling burnt out? Does the company spend too much time praising or profiling the other teams, leaving the engineers feeling undervalued? 

That’s why context is so important when analyzing results. Saying that 70% of your employees are happy is great—but what if that number was 85% last year? If your company went through a big merger with massive turnover, then that might make sense. If your attrition rate was low and you haven’t had a lot of personnel change, then that might be a cause to critically examine why more of your people are feeling unhappy at work. 

Share

The next question: Where and how do you share the results? Most companies share their results via a mass email or a traditional “town hall” style meeting. However, how the results are delivered depends on what you learned when analyzing the feedback.

Let’s revisit the example from above. If you know that the majority of the unhappy employees come from one department, a “town hall” doesn’t make much sense. Consider holding standalone meetings as well or one-on-ones with employees in that situation. 

In addition, companies should resist sharing the results at the end of an “all-hands” meeting. The results of these surveys are important enough to deserve their own meeting. Doing so builds trust with your employees and shows that you’re willing to dedicate the time to their specific feedback. 

Once you’ve properly analyzed your results, it’s often useful to share the “takeaways” with senior management before you share results with the entire workforce. Top-line results and takeaways can (and should!) be shared company-wide, but there could be department-specific communication required for certain teams that don’t require broader dissemination. 

Plan

None of the above matters until you take the time to come up with an action plan. Again, what actions you choose will depend on the analysis, but generally speaking, managers should be planning check-ins with their reports during the planning phase. Some key considerations when coming up with a post-survey action plan:

  • What areas of improvement will result in the most strategic gains for our company?

  • Will we see real change from this investment?

  • Do these areas of improvement align with our company’s strategic direction?

  • What can we do to ensure employee feedback is incorporated to improve efficiency and retention?

  • How can we effectively identify some of the root causes that are at the foundation of areas of dissatisfaction?

Let’s say that employees are complaining about the lack of growth and training opportunities at the company (if you’re asking us, this is the action that will provide the most strategic benefit for any large enterprise). 

So....you ask yourself: Will we see a real benefit or ROI if we invest more in learning opportunities for our employees?

In this example, the answer is an emphatic yes. At Paddle HR, we’re a big fan of data and evidence, so here are a few proof points in favour of investing in your employees. 

  • “Companies that offer comprehensive training programs have a 218% higher income per employee than companies without formalized training.” - Association for Talent Development (ATD)

  • If a job lacks growth opportunities and avenues for leadership development, 67% of millennials would leave that position (Bridge)

  • 42% of L&D professionals who indicated their employees were highly engaged in learning were also highly engaged overall at the organization (Findcourses.com)

The evidence demonstrates that planning to invest in your employees will result in a strong ROI. It’s different for every organization; once you figure out the actions that will deliver the most impact, the organization needs to commit to monitoring the results, following on feedback and requests and pushing for change. 

Employee engagement surveys are still the best way to diagnose the symptoms that lead to turnover within your company. However, the only “treatment” is to commit to real change that is informed by survey respondents. Analyze your employee engagement results, share them with your people, and plan to take action. 

By taking concrete action on your employee engagement survey results, you can communicate how much you care about your employees without saying a single word. 

An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest. ―Benjamin Franklin

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Bruce Chen