Confessions of a benefits manager: Freedom of speech

The annual employee survey might seem a cosmetic exercise, but perhaps it’s a chance to express some home truths, says Candid

It might be a waste of everyone’s time and money, but, come what may, we send a survey to all staff every year. It is not exactly the same survey each time, but pretty much; they just tweak it a bit depending on the latest hot topic. Mind you, this year we’ve bought a special company culture survey from a big consulting firm. I can’t
see any difference from our in-house version, and it cost an absolute fortune, but our CEO plays golf with its CEO, so you know how it is.

The thing that has been troubling me is this: does anyone believe the company survey is actually supposed to find out what employees think? I can’t see it that way myself. I’ll admit the survey is partly about spin. It may hoodwink staff into feeling someone in the company cares about what they think, but surely only the most naive will actually be taken in by that. And even if we did want to know, would anyone be brave enough to actually
come out and say anything? Is anyone going to say: ‘The company has a terrible blame culture entirely driven by fear, and anyone who speaks out is liable to get fired as an example to all the others?’ It just isn’t going to happen.

My theory is that we send these surveys out just to establish a baseline from which to show, by some careful data analysis, that there has been positive improvement. No one can remember, or even care, what was answered last year, so no one will ever prove otherwise. Somewhere in a dark corridor of HR, the organisation development witches will tinker with the data to demonstrate whatever we need it to, selecting only data points that can support our initiatives.

Our employees don’t see any of that hocus-pocus, so perhaps they really do think someone cares.

I filled in the questionnaire myself this time. Actually, there isn’t any choice – we all have to complete it. Reminder emails are generated automatically at ever-increasing frequency until you also start getting automated mails telling you that your inbox is full. In the end, you have to do the damned thing just to stop the madness. It is such a nuisance, I mean, as if we didn’t have enough emails already.

The question ‘Do leaders act with integrity?’ makes me laugh out loud. I am given the options of answering ‘always’, ‘often’, ‘sometimes’, ‘hardly ever’ or ‘never’. Sadly, there is no box to tick for ‘Don’t be ridiculous – our leaders don’t even know the meaning of the word’. This question is followed closely by ‘Leaders demonstrate the company core values’, which is true only if you think the core values are selfishness, greed and blame, in which case they demonstrate them rather admirably.

The survey goes on to ask me, in 10 words or fewer, how I would describe the company culture. Considering
the words ‘company‘ and ‘culture’, I can only think of nasty things growing in Petri dishes – botulism, streptococcus, that sort of thing – but I don’t suppose that is what they meant.

There are questions about teamwork. I look over at my colleague Lazy Susan, who is busily working on a word-search puzzle in a celebrity magazine. Her concentration is fierce as she outlines ‘Brad’ in felt-tip pen. In his office, Big Bad Boss is checking share prices in his investment portfolio. He is frowning slightly because the market is well down today. Shucks.†

It is hard to find any evidence of teamwork around here, so when they ask me to rate ‘People here work like they are part of a team’, I would like to put something positive, but in all honesty I can’t. I am given another 10 words to make specific comments and it is tempting to get it all off my chest. The only thing that stops me is I am really not convinced the survey is as anonymous as they pretend. I am pretty sure the organisation development hags who manage the survey will have access to departments to analyse the data.†

They might even be able to identify who has written what, and I am simply not willing to give that Creepy Caroline any data to use against me; she doesn’t need any encouragement on that score. I tick the boxes honestly but I don’t give any personal comments.

I will be interested in the results of the section on pay and benefits; well, a bit interested at least. We were allowed to add a few questions on recognition programmes to help get data to support new projects in that area. I fill in the answers I hope to get from our staff. Every little helps.

The next question is: do I think the company supports work-life balance? Yeah, right. I might risk a comment in the box on that one: ‘The company supports any amount of excessive overtime.

Employees may often go home at weekends provided they answer all emails received on Saturday and Sunday by Monday morning. Holidays are permitted provided there is a mobile signal and wi-fi at the resort.’ It is cheeky, I know, but I’m pretty sure the Americans won’t get it. They will just think I am being complimentary on their flexible work practices. I mean, they let us take our laptops on holiday with us. How generous is that?

Next time…Candid evaluates a new executive position.

Read more blogs