Overuse of staff surveys can lead to staff cynicism


Employers that conduct frequent staff surveys and fail to analyse and act on their findings can lead to cynical employees who feel left without a voice, according to professor Linda Holbeche.

In a session entitled, ‘How to engage employees to unleash productivity’, Holbeche presented at Employee Benefits Live 2014, she acknowledged the low levels of employee engagement that many employers are facing.

“We’ve emerged from the recession, but even though some people say we’re much happier now than we were, there is still some deep, seemingly unsettled, issues; people are not feeling that engaged.”

She identified insecurity, loss of trust in their organisation and the pressure of constant change within their business as three of the biggest worries currently being suffered by employees and affecting their engagement levels.

She acknowledged the temptation by employers to survey their staff to identify what motivates and engages them as part of efforts to boost their engagement and productivity, but she warned that they should do so with caution.

She said that a major challenge for employers is determining how best to measure employee engagement and added that surveys tend to provide a snapshot of an employee’s level of engagement at a single point in time, which is likely to be subject to frequent change.

“How do [employers] know what matters to people at any one point in time?,” she asked. “I would argue that actually trying to find out can be part of the problem if [organisations] don’t use the data [they] gather.”

She warns that conducting too many surveys within an organisation can lead to ‘analysis paralysis’ and result in little but multiple working groups or projects that lose momentum and focus over time.

Holbeche advised employers to take a segmented approach to devising strategies to boost employee productivity, which starts with identifying key talent and the employees that an organisation wants to retain as well as the staff who constitute the engine of an organisation, who may be in danger of being overlooked.

Employers should then talk to their employees. “People themselves have a great idea about what will make a difference to them, so if [employers] pull any of [their] initiatives out of what people suggest, so much the better,” she said. “They should do few things and do them well.”