Employee Surveys: culture, engagement and climate

Employee surveys are more commonplace now than ever before. The ease with which they can be conducted, particularly on-line, encourages organisations to try them. However, as will be seen below, there is no quick and easy method to get the best out of them.

Successful organisations understand the importance of understanding and actively responding to their employees’ opinions. Employee engagement is based on those opinions and, in particular, on the extent to which employees’ values and needs correspond with goals and values of the organisation.

Employee surveys (sometimes called climate, attitude, organisation or engagement surveys) can therefore be a powerful management tool that allows the organisation’s leadership to:

  • Assess the culture of the organisation
  • Measure employee engagement
  • Identify areas which might be hindering effective performance
  • Understand employee needs and concerns

Because they provide a good deal of numeric data, in addition to qualitative commentary, surveys enable employee issues to be managed with the same sort of processes as other areas such as sales, customer services and operations.

The way an organisation goes about conducting a survey says a great deal about the organisation itself. Are employees involved in the design? Are difficult issues confronted? Are managers prepared to be open with the results? Are action items identified and acted upon?

Surveys look at employee views on issues that have an impact on their performance at work and consequently the overall functioning of the organisation. Topics explored can include:

  • People’s work – role clarity; skills and performance requirements
  • The working environment – technology, equipment, resources, safety
  • Cultural issues – How do people describe their workplace and what its like to work there
  • Management style – how issues are dealt with, communication, consultation
  • Top management – competence, trust, integrity, communication
  • Their team or work unit – how well people work together, problem solving
  • Satisfaction – work, development opportunities; recognition, rewards

When the survey results are analysed, they give a clear picture of issues and opportunities. Questions like ‘Have we clear standards of performance? ‘Is performance effectively managed?’ ‘Do people have the tools and supports required to do their work’? Are communications working well?’ give clear indications of what needs to be addressed.

The next step in the process is communicating the results to employees and exploring the factors which led to specific results. For the process to have real value, it is essential to go back to the work unit and discuss the results, while all the time maintaining confidentiality. Doing this demonstrates management’s commitment to act on the outcomes. This process is proven, in itself, to have a positive effect on morale. The feedback process is essential as staff have an opportunity to comment on the survey results and to suggest actions.

The consultative nature of the process allows management to move forward with employee commitment and have confidence that it will bring meaningful outcomes.

The key stages in designing and completing an employee survey are:

  1. Setting the survey objective
  2. Designing the survey
  3. Communicating the process
  4. Collecting data
  5. Analysing data
  6. Reviewing data
  7. Feeding back data
  8. Action planning

The most effective surveys contain between 40 and 70 questions/statements to gauge an employee’s genuine across a range of issues affecting them at work. Open-ended questions are also used to allow people express in detail concerns they have about particular issues and to elaborate on others.

Ultimately needs identified from the employee survey are transferred into action plans for the future and progress is measured through on-going employee surveys.

At an agreed time in the future, a follow-up survey should be conducted to assess progress against the objectives set.

Conor Hannaway
SHRC Limited