Why employee surveys are not enough!

Why employee surveys are not enough – The latest buzz words at HR conferences this year are employee experience, and more specifically, “employee voice” as experts and respected analysts like Josh Bersin have coined it. “What most companies want to know, is what their employees are thinking about,” said Pam Jeffords of PWC at the 2019 SHMR Inclusion Conference last month. 

“Employee attitude surveys” started in the 1920’s by industrial companies and gained more popularity during World War II as tools to measure morale and assess ways to improve it. These  surveys evolved and were referred to as “employee satisfaction surveys,” and more recently, as “employee engagement surveys.” About ten years ago, the “pulse survey” was born, which is a  shorter and more focused version of the employee survey. 

Why employee surveys are not enough

Unfortunately, despite the significant effort and investment in employee surveys in the last century, the national trends in employee engagement still remain dismal. According to Gallup’s 2018 report, the “percentage of engaged workers in the U.S. — those who are involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and workplace — is now 34%.” Ironically, as organizations resort to more frequent surveys to better understand and engage their employees, “survey fatigue” often sets in, resulting in lower overall employee participation which degrades the scope and quality of the feedback. According to Dr. Jason McPherson, the Chief Scientist at the employee survey company, Culture Amp, “continuous surveying isn’t the best solution for work.” Lastly, while surveying employees is certainly helpful, like any other tool it’s not enough if it’s the only tool you have in your toolkit

The fact is, when you survey your employees, you only know what they think in regards to the specific survey questions at the precise moment they are answering them. You have no idea what they are thinking the other 99% of the time, or about the other 99% of the topics that they care about. For this, you need a lot more than surveys! You need to provide a safe environment for authentic conversations, develop listening skills to gain insight to employee voice, and spend time to identify the right actions to address gaps and opportunities.

This is not as hard as it sounds. After all, the outside world has figured out ways to listen to the voice of your employees and to broadcast it to others. Most of you are probably familiar with Glassdoor, Fishbowl, and similar tools used by employees to voice their experiences, opinions, and concerns. Think of the power of an internal mechanism which is more intimate, safe, and supportive for capturing voice of your employees.

Why employee surveys are not enough

It turns out, we don’t have to look far for effective ways of engaging employees to gain insight to what they are really thinking. As kids, we all loved stories. We enjoyed, learned from, and retold our favorite stories. It should be no surprise that storytelling is emerging as one of the most powerful ways in which an organization can engage their employees in authentic conversations that can increase empathy, improve inclusivity, and enhance a sense of belonging by all, while providing unparalleled insights to employee voice.

The urgency of developing and implementing effective approaches to engaging employees and understanding employee voice is rapidly increasing. The trends towards more distributed teams, remote work options, and growth of the gig economy make employee voice more important, and also harder than ever, to capture. According to Josh Bersin, “88% of you don’t know who your gig economy people are, and what they need.” 

Why employee surveys are not enough

In our work, we see these trends as multipliers for the need and criticality of engaging employees to harness the power of storytelling, and listening effectively to employee voice.  What has been astounding is the speed of adoption and the scope of authentic conversations that follow when easy access is provided to a safe environment for sharing ideas and experiences in stories.

While the data is still limited, we are encouraged by the improvements in employee engagement and positive sentiments resulting from shared stories by OurOffice users. We see sharp increases in our aggregate engagement index, in some cases 500% over a few weeks, as a testament to the power of storytelling. There are additional observations that we need to better understand in a structured actionable way before sharing them broadly. As a substitute, we can share some of the heart-warming stories about new-found empathy and appreciation for barriers that women and under-represented groups face. 

One of these stories shared a young mother’s anxiety about continuing to breast-feed her newborn after returning to work, where her boss had never heard of lactation rooms. Another involved an employee’s concerns about medical benefits for her same-sex spouse, in an industry where issues faced by LGBTQ community were never discussed. A working parent’s concern about late meetings that jeopardized his ability to pick up his child demonstrated where childcare issues were taken for granted in all-male meetings. 

Why employee surveys are not enough

A common theme across these is that sharing a story (sometimes anonymously) led to awareness that caused action, often to the employee’s great surprise! In fact, awareness which seems to be the key missing link in organizations, is often followed by positive response and corrective action.

We hope you are as excited as we are about the power of storytelling, and you agree that stories can help us with improving trends in the next few years, and certainly much better outcomes than the progress made in the last century!

Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash