Employee satisfaction surveys are usually a total joke

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Companies love to do things annually, have some big-ass all-hands meeting about them, and then essentially never discuss the concept until the next annual iteration of it. A big example of this: the employee satisfaction survey. I like leading posts with stories — they resonate with the human brain, baby! — so let’s do that here.

I had a gig once where we had an employee satisfaction survey. (Well, I’ve had many gigs where we had one.) The company hired some consultants to do it. At the time, I didn’t understand that — but I guess it makes sense. If some C-Suiter is running point on it, no one will answer honestly. This company in question had a “Chief Organizational Officer” — the explosion of C-Level titles is a farce too — and she was the visible face of the employee satisfaction survey, even though some consultants ran it. I liked this woman (the Chief Organizational Officer) although if you pointed a gun at my temple, I couldn’t tell you what she did all day. She mostly seemed to hire babysitters and nannies for the CEO. Go figure.

So we all take this employee satisfaction survey and here we go — it’s the big all-hands meeting to discuss results! Multiple offices! Video screens! The consultants are ready to release that data! Woo-hoo! Are our employees engaged?

We’re cooking the books, of course — everyone loves working here. You know how these things go.

But meanwhile I’m in a conference room as the employee satisfaction survey results roll out, and I’m looking over at two SVPs. One is on Facebook on his phone under the desk, and one is scrolling through Apple News. So the biggest decision-makers, essentially, gave 0.12 shits. This is often how it works with employee engagement. These guys ain’t buying nicer cars off employees being engaged, so … why would they care, really? Sad but true.

There were a couple of “pain points” on the employee satisfaction survey, mostly around communication. That’s a tricky issue at almost all companies. But after this one meeting with these results, did we ever discuss it again? Of course not. Well, we did again — at the next annual employee satisfaction survey!

And here we go with how big a farce this stuff is.

The employee satisfaction survey: Why does this matter?

To many, it doesn’t. See the example above.

But if you want this in straight “cashing checks and snapping necks” terms, here’s the deal: your employees work with your customers. Your customers buy stuff and you make money from that. If your employees hate their lives, they will work less successfully with those customers. As a result, you will probably sell less stuff and make less money. You can throw technology and productivity tools at things for years, and you can huddle with your lieutenants and bellow about “margin plays” until the cows come home, but if people hate their jobs, people don’t work hard. If people don’t work hard, you’re leaving money on the table. Simplest way I can say this.

As a result, you need to care about employee engagement. You need to care about whether your employees care. But … please don’t use an employee satisfaction survey.

Wait. Why shouldn’t I use an employee satisfaction survey?

In the simplest terms? It’s a cover your ass move. A check-box. “We did this thing. We’re done. Move on to the real stuff.”

The same type of concept: performance appraisals. Bosses hide behind ’em. Same company in the example above, OK? My boss there gave me a performance review in September. She brought up something from January that I had done wrong. Had she brought it up at the time? Of course not.

Now some target-hitter reading this would say “Bleh, you’re bitter!” Naw. I could care less. I haven’t worked at that place in a year or so. But … riddle me this. I can grab my phone right now and call an Uber and get it in 3 minutes, right? But I need to wait nine months to course-correct behavior at a place I spend 50 hours per week?

Something about that seems wrong to me.

If we believe in this whole notion of “the on-demand economy” or whatever, why are we still letting companies get away with cover your ass check boxes like an employee satisfaction survey?

So wait, what should we use instead of an employee satisfaction survey?

Let’s see. Uh. Um. Lemme just run through some options … maybe buy some technology? Write a software program? Assign a VP to “own” it?

That’s what most companies would do, but here’s another idea:

Talk to people.

Have managers talk to their employees. Encourage them to do it regularly. “Hey, what’s going on? What can I help with? You clear on priorities?”

Surveys are annual check-boxes. They mean absolutely nothing, and oftentimes the data ain’t even right. You fill out a survey on a day your boss just hurled 14 projects at you? You’re probably saying “bad communication.” You fill out a survey on a day you got a bonus for hitting a target? You’re saying “I love this place top to bottom.” It’s a snapshot in time. Same deal with net promoter score, but let’s not go down that rabbit hole here.

Real human growth comes from connection, feedback, discussion, priority-setting, etc. That’s what drives businesses forward. A once-per-year employee satisfaction survey is a farce. It doesn’t teach the company anything, it doesn’t empower the employees, and it certainly ain’t engaging anyone. It’s just some bullshit executives can point to and say “Hey, we care. But not for long. Rushing to a 2:30 on margin plays…”

But an employee satisfaction survey is measurable! “Talking” is not!

Ah, you’re a “Spreadsheet Mentality” company, eh? Nice. A bunch of target-hitters and target-chasers coming together to look at rows on a sheet and make “qualified” decisions off that. Hope you’re ready to be disrupted, boys.

Here’s some breaking news:

This has been proven time and time again. So instead of hiding behind an employee satisfaction survey, get out there and figure out what your employees really think, act upon, and do all day. That’s called being a leader.

Hiding behind some poorly-worded employee satisfaction survey is called being a clueless manager.

What else you got on the ol’ employee satisfaction survey?

My name’s Ted Bauer. I write stuff for people in an attempt to make them money.

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Blogging, largely about work and how to improve it. How I make (some) money: http://thecontextofthings.com/hire-freelance-writer-ted-bauer/

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