Do employee engagement surveys work?

Last week I wrote about listening and asking the right questions is the key to solving many of the issues in the workplace (and more broadly, life!).   I made the point that the counter point to employee engagement surveys not working (as suggested in this article from People Management) is to ask the right questions and then listen to the answers (rather than get too caught up in process, surveys etc).

Hot on the heels of that post, I read an interesting white paper, which asks why ‘engagement surveys are so disengaging’.  The paper asks:

  • Content – what are you really measuring? (and I would add – ‘and why?’)
  • Is your engagement survey process engaging?
  • Actions speak louder than words (ie – are you actually doing something with the results!)

The paper makes the point that many engagement surveys : “neglect the fact that engagement is personal. – Each individual is different and will be engaged by different factors.  Organisational interventions often attempt to enhance engagement levels from an organization – wide perspective – unless this explicitly addresses the needs of the individuals, it may miss the mark..”

It’s a crucial point.  How do organizations develop programmes that meet the needs of the individual and are still workable?  More worryingly – do organizations even know what motivates and engages each employee?

The broader organization probably won’t – HR probably won’t – but the line manager, if they know their team, if they’ve listened, if they’ve observed – they’ll know. They’ll know what will work and what won’t and for whom.

A quick example to illustrate this: I was working with a client a few weeks ago, where given external market considerations, it was inappropriate for this client to recognize a particular employee’s contribution with a monetary amount.  We talked about the employee, what was important to her, where she was in her career, what would be most impactful for her and came up with the idea of offering her access to a fabulous external mentor.

The employee was delighted.  The impact: ongoing and powerful.  The cost: negligible.

For organizations who want standardization and ease of administration, and who want consistency of process and reward this individual type approach won’t get past the door – but for those that are prepared to put the time in to getting to know their employees and think laterally – the potential for interventions that grease the path of engagement is huge.

As an aside: the above will almost always be less expensive than a blanket approach that misses the mark with a large percentage of employees (and is therefore money down the drain).

What do you think – are engagement surveys worth the time and effort?  Do line managers really possess the answers?  Is it workable to develop individual approaches to individual employees?

Can engagement ever really be anything other than individual?

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