Why I’m in favour of employee engagement surveys

I, Sukhvinder Pabial, hereby declare that I am in favour of the annual employee engagement survey and herewith set out my reasons why. Please, be patient with me.

Ok first of all let me get out of the way some things:
– I agree that the annual survey route is ineffective because it’s too much of a gap and doesn’t take into account peaks and troughs, successes and failures as the year progresses
– for some it can be a very cynical process where nothing good happens anyway so why bother in the first place
– you are constrained by the questions you choose to go with. For consistency it’s hard to change them year on year for it to remain meaningful and comparable
– individuals may be high performing, great organisational citizens and highly engaged and still not care about completing the survey, so what happens to their input/data?
– nothing beats a conversation and that 1:1 feedback
– working on improving engagement scores doesn’t deal with the heart of issues or improve organisational performance
– why make a point of anonymity and confidentiality when surely the best way to engender and cultivate trust is by being open and transparent?
– there’s more cos you know, criticism and progressive thought

Right, so I am vested in the annual employee engagement survey process because I’m responsible for it. We’re into our third year of doing these formally and I’m learning loads from the whole thing.

I’ve learned that when you want a vehicle for change, an employee engagement survey helps provide that. I am less focused on improving scores for scores sake, and more interested in providing meaningful solutions that become business as normal.

I’ve learned that when you decide to spend resource and energy in doing something, it’s just as important to share progress as it is to communicate outcomes, even where there may be nothing that impacts you at all. People care an awful lot of knowing what’s happening, and if you don’t help them know, they create their own narrative. The important piece is to understand that narrative and where it makes sense to correct it.

I’ve learned that the data start to tell a story and it’s important to have an open and honest dialogue about that. Some leaders are willing to also engage in open dialogue reflecting on their own leadership and what they can do to improve things. Others feel they can’t act without approval and permission. And others are cynical about the survey and data in the first place so aren’t interested to act anyway. And then, of course, you have the people who just don’t care and only doing things because they have to.

I’ve learned that if you ask open questions about the data, you get some great responses and insight. The data can’t do that by itself, and I’m only one man. I can be smart about what plans we could create, but what makes me more smart and the plans even better is when co-creation happens.

I’ve learned that sometimes a well thought out idea just doesn’t fly. You can make that link about why it’s good in your head, and can convince others that it’s a useful thing to do, but it just doesn’t fly. That’s ok, because it’s always hard to know if an idea actually has legs until you try it. I learn and I’ll evolve the idea.

I’ve learned that some improvements require systemic change. That means fundamentally looking at, analysing and understanding processes, leadership and culture. More on that as it emerges.

Organisational life is full of interesting things that happen. Some we control better than others. Some we didn’t know were in play. Some we didn’t know were being hidden. Some are easy to resolve and some are too hard to even define.

As with all organisational activity, you should only do those things that make a difference and add value. Once they become a thing unto itself for the sake of doing it, we can forget why they were useful in the first place. I’m in favour of the annual employee engagement survey process because I see how it’s helping us develop as an organisation. The hard conversation comes when we end up doing it for no other reason than “it’s what we’ve always done”.


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Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

2 thoughts on “Why I’m in favour of employee engagement surveys”

  1. Nice blog Sukh. I’m in favour as well, warts and all. My acid test for an employee engagement survey is: does it make us feel uncomfortable in at least one important respect? If so, it’s started earning its keep.. And if you start to get some trends over time, even better. Let’s not make the good the enemy of the quite good.

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