Employee Engagement Surveys Gone Wrong: 4 Survey Practices That Undermine Employee Trust
Welcome to part one of a series on how poorly designed employee engagement programs can actually hinder the very things they are designed to improve. This post will explore how engagement surveys, if not managed correctly, can actually decrease trust within an organization.
Can engagement surveys decrease trust?
In the world of employee surveys it is not uncommon to hear the following:
- “You can see how I responded, can’t you?”
- “Such a waste of time, nothing happens at all.”
- “I just answer down the mid-point on my survey because I don’t want to get in trouble.”
If you have conducted an employee-facing survey, or perhaps participated in one, you may be nodding your head right now. While there are many reasons as to why this might be, one aspect is how the survey data is managed and how much transparency front-line employees have into the management process.
Every time an organisation decides to run a survey, it opens the door to its people and invites conversation. The problem is, once you open that door, you can’t hold it half open. Imagine opening your front door to chat with your neighbour but keeping the chain on; it’s not the best strategy for building a two-way relationship. By only holding that door open part-way, you may actually be working against the trust you’re trying to build.
4 mistakes that keep the chain on your door
- Employees lack access to team results – Usually, team results are only made available to employees through their manager. In those instances they typically don’t have access to all the results. This can leave teams feeling like the only have half the picture.
- Employees lack access to organisation-wide results – At the top level, results are often tightly managed. Usually, aggregate reports aren’t made available, but rather distilled into “messaging” by internal communications and senior leaders.
- Nobody knows who can see what – Employees don’t know exactly what their managers have access to in terms of data. This can lead to their thinking that managers see more information than they actually do, compromising trust in their anonymity and more.
- Big issues aren’t acknowledged – Bad scores or big issues, which are already taboo topics, can be glossed over by management leading to team frustration.
Easy steps to build trust
- Be transparent – Why shouldn’t people be able to see team results, or results for the entire organisation? If you want to engage people, you need to trust them with the information.
- Trust employees with results sooner – Don’t leave employees to be the last to know what the scores were. Giving people access to survey results close to, or at, the same time as HR / executives enhances trust and shows they’re part of the conversation as it’s happening. Clearly explain when they will have access to data and why the process has the steps it does.
- Don’t try to hide bad scores – If they’re bad, then people will already know the problem exists. Directly addressing bad scores with employees will let people know they can be part of the solution, not just the problem.
- Solicit ideas, feedback, and suggestions – Ask people for their opinions on organisation-wide results. Chances are your people are the best positioned to identify practical steps to improve engagement. Trust them with the information they need to develop solutions.
For some, the thought of opening up survey results throughout the organisation in real-time is terrifying. For others, it feels like a natural progression after years of surveying. Either way, the truth is this—for a long time, technology has prohibited the quick distribution of results to everyone within an organisation.
As scary as it may sound, sharing results with your people and owning those results together will help build trust. After all, what’s better: saying you’re going to create an action plan to build trust with people, or simply demonstrating that trust to them?