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12 Pros and Cons of Employee Surveys

Employee surveys are often designed as a way to evaluate what the current culture and morale of a workforce happens to be. It’s part of a series of participative management concepts that help to understand the attitudes of employees and where improvements could be made. Although the intentions of these surveys are often good, the potential outcome may cause more harm than anticipated.

Here are some of the key points to consider when evaluating the pros and cons of employee surveys to determine if one should be conducted.

What Are the Pros of Employee Surveys?

1. It provides insights to the perceived workplace.
How employees see their working environment is a reflection of their work. If the environment is positive, they will commit more discretionary energy to the tasks at hand. If it is seen as negative, then the bare minimum will be contributed. Understanding this perception can help a business be able to change it.

2. It can provide instant results.
The information obtained from employee surveys can be used in real-time to make adjustments which may be necessary. When this happens, there is a clear value in filling out the survey as accurately as possible from an employee perspective, which then creates a positive cycle of information and transparency which benefits everyone.

3. Employee surveys can be designed to be completely anonymous.
The goal of an employee survey is to make sure everyone feels safe in filling them out. To do this, certain measures can be taken to make sure there isn’t recognition from the information offered that can come back to haunt the employee.

4. Questions can be tailored to specific situations.
Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, employee surveys can be created to be team-specific if necessary to determine what is going on in the workplace and what attitudes are present. It doesn’t even have to be a formal survey. You can put tennis balls into a positive or negative bucket to have an effect.

5. It creates a conversation.
In order for improvements or changes to be made, there must be a conversation taking place throughout the entire chain-of-command about the current status of the business. An employee survey is an easy way to make that conversation happen on any scale.

6. It creates a secure form of information sharing.
When conducted properly, there isn’t a way to tamper with the results of an employee survey. Because there is so much invested sometimes in these results, it may be prudent for some businesses to hire a third party to oversee the survey to make sure the results are not biased in some way.

What Are the Cons of Employee Surveys?

1. Employees are often hesitant to participate.
Although employee surveys are often anonymous, there is a certain level of paranoia that most workers have. Maybe their handwriting will be recognized. Maybe their boss will know that they are talking about them and make their life hell. Because of these concerns, many surveys are either filled out with false positives or aren’t filled out at all.

2. They need to be conducted on a regular basis.
Most employee surveys are only conducted once per year. This creates a long lag time for issues that may creep up and many good employees can leave because of those issues in-between the surveys. They must be conducted once every 1-3 months to be useful and that means there is an associated cost with such an action.

3. There is a difference between happiness and satisfaction.
People can be satisfied with the work they do, but hate going to work every day. Employees which are unhappy are employees who are looking for a different job. Unfortunately most surveys only look at satisfaction, so an accurate picture of the workplace is never really obtained.

4. It’s far too easy to focus on the negative.
Because the goal of an employee survey is to fix potential negatives, just about all of the attention goes to these results and the positives are completely ignored. Employee surveys should pinpoint problems, but they should also pinpoint best practices and help others learn from the teams that are performing consistently well.

5. Results can be easily manipulated.
All it takes is one email about an employee survey that good results are expected to cook the books. Managers and supervisors can manipulate the results in small ways or through outright fraud simply because it makes them look better.

6. It can be treated as an alibi instead of a tool for change.
“We’ve offered an employee survey. This indicates we’re trying to do something to change the conditions of the workplace.” It’s a backdoor that can be taken when changes are not effective or not attempted at all that justifies the lack of response.

The pros and cons of employee surveys show that when the negatives can be managed properly, the positives can create the foundation for change that may be needed. They must be conducted often, always be anonymous, and only ask a few questions to be effective. In return, happier workers, not just satisfied workers, will be ready to create something for their employer.

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