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Five Recommendations for Employee Satisfaction Surveys

How to Obtain Trustworthy Results


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Employee satisfaction surveys and facilitated focus groups help the employer identify areas of employee satisfaction and dissatisfaction. For accurate, reliable results, employee satisfaction surveys or focus group questions need to be:

  • developed by professionals who understand how to put questions together that obtain unbiased information;

  • administered appropriately with care and consideration for the organization's culture and communication; and

  • analyzed by people who understand survey research and can provide effective analysis.

Further, in the interest of building a relationship of honesty, integrity, and trust, among organization employees, the results should be communicated effectively and acted upon by the organization. Finally, the organization's managers need to track progress and communicate implementation successes and failures.

This article does not attempt to provide a comprehensive guide to performing employee satisfaction surveys and leading employee focus groups. It does pinpoint five practices to embrace when conducting employee surveys and focus groups.

Communicate the Fact That While Employee Responses Are Confidential, the Data Gathered Will be Used to Improve the Workplace

I have mixed emotions about confidential or secret surveys. On the one hand, I want the employees comfortable responding in a truthful manner. On the other, the reason employers do employee satisfaction or customer satisfaction surveys is to telegraph their openness to employee input. The second is to genuinely understand what is on their employees’ minds.

While I recognize that some employers have differing motivations, companies that are employee-oriented, are unlikely to use the information gathered negatively. If you start with an open process, employees will learn that their employer can be trusted to use the information in their best interests.

As an external consultant, I always explain to employees that my purpose in talking with them is to share information for the common good. Consequently, my promise about confidentiality is that I will use the information to assist the company to make positive progress.

The Questions Asked Really Do Matter

No one is as familiar with your company culture as the people who work in the company every day. A small group of employees should determine the topics of the questions to ask. These questions will relate to the perceived likes, dislikes, and challenges your employees might experience in your organization.

Once you’ve determined the topics of the questions to ask, develop questions. Your questions should be evaluated to make sure they are not leading to a desired response, vague, or open to interpretation, depending on the employee reading the question.

Leading questions or statements are a problem when unqualified individuals develop the survey questions. An example of a leading statement that will also receive a biased answer is: My manager’s door is always open to me. An example of an unclear statement is: My career development and job satisfaction are improved by the performance development planning (PDP) process.

Some professional survey firms have developed databases of questions that have been determined to be effective through years of employee or customer satisfaction surveys in different organizations. You might tap into this service even if you don’t want to employ an external company to administer your survey or lead your focus groups.

Hold Employee Focus Groups or Survey Processes at Your Work Site

If you take employee groups offsite to participate in surveys and focus groups, you are sending a clear message that it is not “safe” to talk about employee satisfaction in the company. This is exactly the opposite of the message that you really want to send. Your message? It is safe to share what you think. The company cares about what you think and the employer is providing the space and privacy necessary for your participation.

In the second part of this article, two more tips for employee satisfaction survey success are highlighted.

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