Six Tips for Getting Real Answers From Your Employees

Ever since companies began to realize the link between employee engagement and productivity, customer relations and overall success, HR leaders have sought ways to measure and keep track of it. Employee engagement surveys seemed like an obvious solution: if you want to know if your employees are engaged, why not ask them? However, sending out a survey is not as simple as it sounds.

How do you know that your employees are answering honestly and not just saying what they think their managers want to hear? Do their answers reflect reality or merely perception? How do you get your employees to actually fill out surveys in the first place?

Design your survey process to get maximum participation and real answers with these six tips:

  1. Allow for anonymity

A key argument against engagement surveys is that employees won’t give honest answers anyways. If employees feel their job security could be on the line they’ll be more apt to answer positively, creating a situation in which at the surface everything seems fine. Making your surveys completely anonymous will give your employees the security they need to answer freely.

  1. Provide a reason

Instead of simply sending your survey out, to get high participation rates, you have to explain why taking time to fill it out will be worthwhile. How will it benefit/impact the way they work? For example, if you want to know what people think about your performance review process, explain that HR is considering new ways to make the process more effective and the results will impact the way their performance is reviewed in the future.

  1. Ask the right questions

Taking time to devise the right type and amount of questions is key. If you ask too many questions you’ll see a significant drop in participation and/or authenticity of your answers. Too biased and you may sway the respondents to answer in a certain way. To keep your questions as neutral as possible be conscious of your word choice. Leading questions can sway the reader towards a particular answer. For example, “Why are annual performance reviews burdensome for you?” The word burdensome already denotes a negative connotation for the reader, influencing their response.

Putting too many thoughts into one, or a double barreled question, can confuse them. For example, “Are the stretch assignments and leadership opportunities you’ve been given helpful for your professional development?” When in doubt it’s best to split them in two. At the same time remember that too many questions will make participants weary of filling out the survey and lead to less and incomplete responses.

  1. Include factors that can be validated

The perception and reality of workplace engagement can sometimes be very different. To ensure the validity of your survey results, research psychologist Palmer Morrel-Samuels suggests adding some elements which can be independently verified. When surveying a group of employees on their skill level, his team found that 76% believed their skills to be above average. As only 50% can be above average, the survey revealed a clear gap in actual and perceived skill level. When assessing managers’ ability to establish strong relationships, his team compared the responses they received with factors such as turnover rate to ensure validity.

Using the example of a survey about the performance review process, you may want to ask, “Do you feel the review process is easy and efficient?” However, the terms “easy” and “efficient” are subjective. You should also include data on how many hours and resources are spent on performance reviews each year. If your results indicated that most people believe your current process is difficult and inefficient and then you compare their answers with factors that can be validated: time and money spent you’ll have objective reasons why and a starting point for how to fix it. 

  1. Come up with an action plan

Employees will not see any need to respond honestly if they don’t see their responses make a real change in the way the workplace is run. To prove that participating in workplace surveys is worthwhile, you have to commit to making some sort of change, whether big or small, based on the results. After the survey is completed analyze the results and come up with a strategy.

For example, if you find that many people aren’t happy with the way performance reviews are conducted in your company, think about solutions that could improve the process. If people said it takes to long, try looking into HR tech that can limit the time it takes. If employees feel there isn’t enough follow-up, have your managers set-up post-review one-on-ones with each of their team members and provide training on how they can provide better feedback and coaching.

  1. Market your changes internally

However, simply coming up with a solution isn’t enough. You also have to market the changes you’re making internally and get the message across that their answers will make a difference. After your team has come up with a plan, share the results of the survey with the rest of the company. Make sure everyone is aware of the changes that will be made and how they’re expected to improve the work environment by announcing them at a company-wide all hands, within individual teams and by e-mail.

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