I Can’t Get No Satisfaction With …. Employee Surveys


By Chris Gandy

I met with the Leadership team of an organisation last week to give them a spiel about Cause & Effective. The last to arrive for the meeting was the CEO who hurried into the room quite breathless saying…

“We did it team, we did it – 72%”

She then proceeded around the table delivering “hi fives” to everyone, including me.

When she sat down and gathered herself the CEO opened the meeting and very graciously welcomed me. She then went on to background what just happened by explaining that the organisation’s Employee Satisfaction Survey results were just out and they had achieved a 72% satisfaction level. The reason for the excitement was that as a Management Team they had a KPI of 70%. So the Team had ticked one performance box ticked for the year!

You may be pleased to know that for the rest of the meeting I bit my tongue and refrained from asking any questions about the wonderful survey. On the way back to the office I couldn’t get the episode out of my mind because to me it encapsulated what I had previously thought about Employee Satisfaction Surveys but wasn’t ready to admit – the purpose of the surveys is to prove that management is doing a reasonable job. They have nothing to do with such things as improving employee engagement, welfare and retention.

In earlier corporate roles, I, like probably most of you, went along with the annual employee satisfaction survey charade. Sure I had the odd twinge about such concerns as:

  • Anonymity – While employees were never asked to give their name this offered little cold comfort. Nearly all recent surveys were conducted electronically and we all knew anything online can be traced. Besides surveys have this quaint habit of drawing an identikit picture of the respondent by asking them to declare their gender, age range and work area. Damn hard to remain anonymous if you are the only male over 50 years of age in the Accounts Department!
  • Validity – Does the survey actually measure what it purports to measure?  I am not aware of being involved with  surveys that had any sort of validity test. We thought we were measuring, say, engagement, but we’re we?
  • Reliability – Same with reliability. We never bothered to see whether the results could be replicated when conditions didn’t change. To be honest the swings in some of the surveys I have witnessed should have seriously brought the issue of reliability into question.
  • Management inaction – The most common complaint I received from employees about Employee Surveys was that they perceived them as pointless. “We do your dumb survey but nothing ever happens” was the typical refrain from staff. And I think they had a point. In all my time in management I cannot recall one positive game-changing  management decision that came from an Employee Satisfaction Survey.

in hindsight these and other concerns with Employee Satisfaction Surveys are of little consequence as I have now come to realise that they are not about employees and have an entirely different purpose. In light of this, perhaps we managers should show a little more integrity and call the process as it is – Management Popularity Survey.

As a postscript – the organisation I visited informed me of another score that was even higher than the Employee Satisfaction rating. They had an employee turnover rate running at 80% – true, go figure!

About Chris: Chris Gandy is the Principal and Founder of Cause and Effective , a group that aims to help leaders of cause-based organisations to deliver on their mission by providing insightful practical information and linking them with affordable subject matter experts. You can contact Chris here

About B-Cause

B-Cause is published by Cause and Effective. We help good causes find and attract effective leaders.

1 Response

  1. Over the years I’ve seen a lot of people draft up surveys which are really just a bunch of questions thrown together. After working with a survey statistician I realised that there is a lot more to drafting a good survey than that. As for employee satisfaction surveys I’ve worked in many organisations where they do them and ignore the results, but was fortunate enough to work for a very large company who took it incredibly seriously and spent the entire year in between surveys working on the results of the previous one. Not surprisingly I found it a great place to work.

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