Should You Really Discard your Annual Employee Survey? 

The world has turned, the workplace continues to evolve at pace and the needs and wants of employees are changing too. Furthermore, there’s now an abundance of tools, apps and platforms to gather employees’ views. Against this backdrop, organisations are justifiably questioning whether they should rely solely on a ‘full census’ engagement survey to get employees’ views every 12 months.

Evolution, not revolution needed?

To be honest, I’d question whether it has ever been prudent to rely just on formal channels (such as an annual employee survey) to speak with employees. A comprehensive survey will of course provide lots of useful data on a range of business initiatives and key issues. But this should always be supplemented by other communication tools and forums too enabling more timely feedback, perhaps gathered in a less formal way.

This could be done through regular manager one-to-ones, employee councils, manager-led ‘town halls’ or online tools like Yammer. Such initiatives can provide rich insights and often more candid employee feedback, which is particularly valuable for managers at a local level.

Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water!

 In advocating the need for a more varied and open approach to gathering employees’ views in the modern workplace, I am not dismissing the role of the full annual employee survey. On the contrary, in fact.

A comprehensive (annual) employee survey should, for most organisations, remain a staple of the employee research agenda. That’s because it represents, by far, your best opportunity to gain the whole employee population’s views on a wide variety of initiatives and issues.

The people – and there are a few – dismissing the value of a comprehensive employee survey clearly aren’t doing it right. Like most things, there are good and bad examples of engagement surveys…

If questionnaires are generic and aren’t aligned with priority areas (for both the organisation and its employees), then it will fail. If managers, employees and other stakeholder groups aren’t ‘bought-in’ to the survey’s purpose and its value, it will fail. If you haven’t agreed up front how results will be used and where action planning accountabilities lie, it will fail. But in reality, the same would be true regardless of the survey frequency or methodology.

Are more regular surveys right for you?

Pulse surveys can be tremendously useful in providing more timely insights. However, it’s really important to fully understand, and plan for, what’s needed when looking into surveying employees more regularly.

The most obvious area to start is consider what will be done with all the additional data and who will be responsible for analysing and acting on it? If yours is a business that already struggles to analyse results and implement actions from an annual employee survey, adding even more frequent pulse surveys is probably unwise.

Where I’ve seen pulse surveys work well are in larger businesses where issues and action needs vary greatly between teams and territories, and for those undergoing significant organisational or cultural change.

The case for taking a blended approach

You may find that a mixed approach will serve you best in establishing more open lines of communication with your employees. This could see you supplement a full census survey with interim pulse checks or replace the main survey altogether. I’ll leave you with a couple of examples of what this might look like:

  1. Running business-led pulse surveys on a quarterly basis alongside a more comprehensive annual survey. In this example, the pulses focus on specific business-wide action areas from the annual survey
  2. Running local pulse surveys at a country, business unit or team level. This could be done ad hoc or on a (maximum) monthly basis. Here, the pulses are used to gain insights on specific topics and to steer actions, locally.

Author biography

Ben Egan is an experience communications professional working at HR consultancy and employee engagement specialists ETS. ETS work with organisations including Marks & Spencer, McDonald’s and Starbucks.

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