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Afraid To Survey? Be Afraid Not To!

I recently read a scary Associated Press article regarding a decrease in the number of companies conducting employee surveys. Sure, it scares me since I’m employed by a company conducting employee surveys as a core of our business, but I’m more scared on behalf of the employees of these companies who aren’t doing anything to listen to what their employees are thinking, feeling, and fearing.
One reason companies are cutting surveys? To save money. Others cut surveys because they don’t want to know what employees are thinking, in some cases because they may not be able to deal with or respond to some of the issues. The authors state this lack of feedback could hurt morale and productivity. Max Stier, President of the Partnership for Public service, says, “You are better off knowing a problem than not knowing it. In bad times you actually want to engage your employees even more.”

Here at CRS, where we focus on getting the real scoop from current and ex-employees, we couldn’t agree more! Here are ways of getting around the objections when presenting survey options to senior leadership.
Not all surveys have to be expensive. Companies can design and implement their own surveys through some of the inexpensive survey options available online. Outsourcing is a smarter choice for many companies who want to guarantee anonymity, who don’t have the time/resources to sift through the data, or who want to leave data collection up to the experts. Even with third-party vendors there are definitely ways to implement a high-quality survey at a relatively low cost.
  1. Evaluate the effectiveness of online surveys vs. telephone surveys.
  2. Consider interviewing just those employees in the position or tenure category about which you are most concerned.
  3. Advertise the survey to everyone but don’t chase down those who don’t choose to participate.
  4. Target your questions so you’re only asking about that which you really want to gather feedback (and about which you are willing to make a change as a result). The fewer the questions, the less the survey should cost.
Work with your vendor to get exactly what you want, at a price you can afford. It can be done!
Regardless of what the cost for a survey might be, consider the cost of not conducting one. If companies aren’t taking the time to listen to what employees have to say, those employees will be much less likely to stick around when the economy picks up and other jobs become available. Also, they may have great recommendations to help reduce operating costs – but won’t share them if they’re not given the chance to do so.
Don’t want to know
If your company used to do surveys and have stopped them, what message does that send to employees? They may feel as if the company doesn’t care whether they stay or go, so when a recruiter from a competitor calls, they’ll be more likely to listen to what that recruiter has to say.
If you’ve never surveyed your employees, this is a great time to show them how much you care about what they’re going through. Use surveys to send messages to your employees and to highlight areas of focus. For example, consider the impact of questions such as, “Benefit costs increased another 13% in 2008, but ABC Company absorbed 8%. We are considering the following options to reduce the costs incurred by the company and our employees. Which of these would most interest you?”
Show you want to partner with your employees, you’re all in it together, and that you care what they’re going through. Or bury your head in the sand and don’t ask for their opinions, but don’t be surprised when they leave the company to go elsewhere.
Can’t change anything anyway
When you initiate a survey, let employees know how you’ll use the information or what they can expect. “At the conclusion of our survey, we’ll let you know the results and discuss what to do with them…”
A statistic shared in the article demonstrates the importance of acting on the results of a survey. Of the companies that acted on survey results, 84% of the employees felt changes made were positive. So imagine the positive traction you could get even just from reacting to a few of the recommendations and results appearing as strong trends.
And why not ask employees what they think should change – and then ask them how? Perhaps you ask, “What recommendations do you have that would cost less than $XXX and have a big impact on Y?” Demonstrate to employees that you view them as partners rather than adversaries who just want to spend more money. And if there’s something you can’t or won’t change, don’t ask about it. Avoid questions about salary/compensation but focus more on controllables like teamwork, communication, and development, which are often key opportunity areas for clients, and fortunately, also areas that can be impacted positively without a lot of additional cost. And then ask for their recommendations. There’s a reason you hired each of the professionals working for you. Why not put their talent and input to good use?
Getting issues out on the table allows for more frank discussions and inclusion of people at all levels. Let employees know what challenges you’re facing and ask what their thoughts and feelings are; then move into the solutions. Listening to and engaging employees now will make them more likely to listen to you and stay engaged in the months and years to come. Don’t be fearful of conducting surveys and reviewing the results; instead, embrace the many positive outcomes of taking the time to listen to employees’ thoughts, feelings, fears, and most importantly, their creative suggestions.

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