What Kind of Employee Survey Cadence is Best for Me?

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Assessing Employee Engagement and Survey Cadence

Employee engagement often leads to more workplace happiness, productivity, and business success. Yet, it can be challenging to understand what drives employee engagement and what can be done to help workers find or rediscover passion in their jobs. 

Because of this, listening to employee opinions is essential in order to discover what is needed to give them a better work experience, whether that be more resources or some other aspect of the employee experience to boost their engagement. In-depth surveys are among the best tools to thoroughly examine the perspectives and ideas of your workforce and use them to guide action planning. Surveys help ensure employees feel heard, increase job satisfaction, promote organizational improvement, and improve the feedback loop. This feedback is invaluable to leaders as they navigate strategic organizational changes. 

There is, however, a challenge to address. How often should employee surveys be sent out? 

Before sending out employee surveys, the appropriate cadence, or frequency for doing so, should be identified. Determining the proper frequency for administering employee surveys may seem daunting, but it is important to take several things into consideration when picking the right survey cadence for your organization. 

Factors to Consider When Deciding on Employee Survey Cadence

The primary goal of administering employee surveys is to audit your business needs, employee performance, and workplace productivity through the lens of the employee experience to determine the best decision-making approach for your organization. Ensuring that surveys are sent out at the right pace lets workers know that their company cares about how they view their work environment.

Besides determining cadence, you should also consider survey delivery dates that will inherently have lower response rates than others. For instance, it is advisable to avoid survey delivery during the peak holiday seasons (e.g., in the U.S. between Christmas and New Year and the week that the 4th of July). SurveyMonkey researchers noticed lower data quality (e.g., faster responses and more missed attention checks) for a survey administered on Thanksgiving than for an identical survey that was administered a week prior to Thanksgiving.

It is a good idea to ask your workers how they are during key times of organizational transformation. During big new tech implementation, organizational restructures, and downsizings allows you to check in on them and how the employee experience is changing. Employees tend to report greater engagement during a layoff if they are surveyed than if they are not surveyed. Surveying employees during these periods lets them know that their input is valuable.

Additionally, consider sending out employee surveys during the slow periods in your company, because workers will have the time to focus on them and allow the questions to resonate with them. However, regardless of when the surveys are sent out, an atmosphere of trust should be developed beforehand to ensure workers are comfortable with completing the surveys. 

How quickly can your organization act on survey results once gathered? Organizational agility in acting on results is one of the most key considerations for how frequently you should survey your workforce. If nothing gets done when they give feedback the first time, they will lose trust in the leadership teams’ ability to act; and participation will lessen over time with trust. They will think, “if nothing is getting done, why should I even give feedback?”. 

Depending on the size, agility, and structure of the organization, recruiting employees to complete surveys, evaluating their feedback, and deciding on the appropriate action to take might take considerable time and effort, especially for small teams. 

man wearing brown suit jacket reviewing employee surveys
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The Consequence of Not Administering Employee Surveys

Imagine flying a plane without gauges. You continue operating the plane without any way to tell if you are moving at an efficient speed, traveling in the right direction, or going to run out of fuel. Flying without this information would almost guarantee disaster.

This scenario is similar to running an organization without proper employee feedback from across business units and levels. Surveys are necessary to create a feedback loop throughout the organization to help gauge significant factors like as morale, performance, turnover risk and efficiency. Organizations can unknowingly move in the wrong direction without collecting information on these operational factors. As organizations grow, and the leaders are further from the front lines, this feedback becomes critically important. The most prominent consequence of not utilizing employee surveys is not having the information to make calculated decisions about improving the organization. Strategic evaluation of and response to employee survey feedback directly impacts business outcomes. 

Essentially, tracking employee satisfaction and directly addressing problems will increase retention and productivity due to more employee engagement and less absenteeism. Highly engaged workers also contribute to a better work environment. Therefore, survey results are an excellent tool to provide leaders with the data to drive employee-focused organizational decisions. Such a tool is needed by organizations on a regular basis.

Conducting Surveys Isn’t Enough; You Must Act

Although surveys are essential for tapping into underlying workplace issues and employee sentiments, they are not enough. Think about the big picture and what you will do upon receiving the results. The results of employee surveys identify problems, but the greater benefit lies in addressing them and creating a better workplace for your employees. The most often cited reason for employee listening strategies and surveys failing is lack of follow through and commitment to action. 

Get leaders involved early. Get their feedback on what you need to measure on your survey and gain their trust and buy-in. Having leaders involved early will help to drive their ownership. The survey should be seen as an organizational initiative from the executive team, not an HR initiative. 

Think about what will be done with the results as soon as possible. How will you create accountability? Many organizations have been successful in creating cross functional steering committee to make the action planning recommendations to organizational leaders. This team of volunteer employee engagement champions can be a crucial element in holding the organizational accountable. 

Consider starting strategic conversations to dive deeper into key problems. Identify what common causes of concerns and negative opinions are. Avoid making a message all about the data and, instead, make it more conversational. Doing so sends a message that you intend to treat employee opinions and suggestions with respect, dignity, and understanding. Group discussions or focus groups could be organized to go over the finer details, but generally, only the most significant points should be addressed in your message. 

Clarify how you’ll turn the results into action. Take practical steps as soon as the opportunity presents itself and demonstrate to employees that their insights make a difference. Doing so will encourage them to continue participating in surveys and will help them understand their voice matters. 

Lastly, do not bite off more than you can chew. Too often organizations try to fix everything. It is best to limit action plans to 3-5 key areas to track action planning progress. Focusing on too much will slow progress and affect your cadence needs. 

man leaning on table discussing employee surveys
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7 Things to Consider When Deciding on the Employee Survey Cadence

  1. If you cannot act on the survey results don’t even measure.

Simply put, if your organization lacks the recourses or the inclination to rectify the issues that employee engagement surveys aim to identify, then it is not worth the time and cost of administering these to your employees. Moreover, if you are unable to act on engagement survey results in a timely manner, then those who completed it will likely lose trust in leadership’s ability to resolve problems.

  1. Acting on the survey results

Loop leadership into action planning to ensure that their voice and association with the engagement survey is salient during action rollout and that they are held accountable for delivering on feedback-guided action. Focus on humanizing your message when presenting data and feedback-driven findings to ensure that it conveys that employee needs were the paramount consideration in its development. Take action in a timely manner to establish engagement survey credibility. Lastly, be sure to follow through with your employees regularly to see if the actions you took have made a sustainable positive impact.

  1. Factoring in Technology

It is highly recommended to administer surveys using an online platform of some sort. Paper-and-pencil surveys can be much more cumbersome to distribute and evaluate than computer surveys. For instance, when administering online surveys, a survey hyperlink can be quickly mass-emailed out to employees of interest, whereas, distributing paper-and-pencil surveys and subsequently gathering completed ones involves considerably more coordination. Additionally, the process of data aggregation is much more straightforward when using online surveys. However, you must be cognizant of the fact that some employees may struggle with using technology to complete the online surveys. Because of this, you must address these barriers before sending out the online surveys.

  1. Survey delivery dates

Avoid sending out engagement surveys during the peak holiday seasons. Doing so has been shown to result in more purposeful respondents. Additionally, surveying your employees during times of organizational transformation can give leadership valuable insight on employee sentiments towards the change. Lastly, sending out engagement surveys during slow periods is opportune timing because your employees will have the time to thoroughly consider each question.

  1. Organizational agility

Consider the third-party stakeholders that are needed to approve actions of interest. Identify which of these stakeholders would be affected by survey results and loop them into action planning meetings. Also, determine which organizational levels you will need to buy-in from and identify any bureaucratic roadblocks or other challenges at each of these levels that would delay or prevent you from taking appropriate action and eliminate them prior to sending out the surveys.

  1. Company size

Survey delivery frequency is partially dependent on team size. Small teams are able to complete engagement surveys more quickly than larger teams. Because of this, less time can be allocated to members of smaller teams to complete surveys. However, action response time should be relatively swift if such a team is surveyed quickly. Essentially, use your team size to help guide you to dictate survey completion deadlines and action rollout timing. Do not under-administer surveys if your team has the capacity to respond to them quickly and not over-administer surveys if your team does not.

  1. Transparency

Survey content should be tailored to align with company transparency goals. If organizations wish to convey an in-depth message to their employees, then survey questions that probe for detailed responses should be used. Company transparency goals also affect survey cadence cycles. For example, if feedback-guided action consists of addressing a general finding, then less time can be set aside for action planning and rollout than if feedback-guided action involves addressing a variety of in-depth responses. 

Authors: Brandon Jordan & Michael Trease

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