Grace, a mid-level UX researcher on your Design team, is just about to leave for lunch when she sees an email notification pop up. It’s from HR.
“Dear Grace,” the message reads. “Please complete this 20-question survey on job satisfaction by Friday, September 19th, at noon. Thank you!”
Grace sighs, rolls her eyes, and proceeds to complete the survey in 12 seconds flat. She selects “Highly satisfied,” “highly challenged,” “highly engaged,” “highly supported,” and so on, barely considering what she’s choosing.
When HR receives the survey results, they’re thrilled. Almost every employee reported strong satisfaction in all aspects of the company! They go out for celebratory drinks.
The next week, Grace (who’s been feeling overworked and underappreciated) turns in her two-week notice.
This scenario might be hypothetical, but all-too-real versions of it are playing out across the world. Although the survey may once have been an effective tool for HR to gauge how employees feel, it’s transformed into a time and resource drain. Read on to learn the inherent problems with this method (plus, what you should implement instead!)
No One Knows the Right Length
Finding the “optimal” survey length is notoriously difficult: Do a quick Google search, and you’ll get dozens of answers, from “less than five minutes” to “less than 30 minutes.” That gap is wide enough to be nearly meaningless.
The truth is, the ideal survey length doesn’t exist. Most people agree that shorter is better, since respondents quickly burn out and start rushing through the questions, but one person’s “speedy” is another person’s “interminable.”
Without knowing how long your survey should be, getting accurate data is a major challenge.
Employees Aren’t Always Truthful
Making matters worse? Even if you send out a three-question survey, you probably won’t get a representative view of the company.
That’s because the people who voluntarily fill out surveys or leave reviews generally fall into two categories: extremely angry, or extremely happy. It takes a fair amount of effort to write your comments or reflect on your opinions, which is why neutral people (who make up the vast swath of the population), don’t tend to engage.
If you make a survey mandatory, they’ll technically finish it—but they’ll be phoning in their answers.
You Usually Can’t Use the Results
Let’s assume HR does get correct results from their employees. Most departments still won’t be able to follow up on what they’ve found—because the questions they asked are too broad or vague.
For example, suppose that you ask the employees on the engineering team to fill out a survey on their team’s performance.
67% say their team members are “somewhat” or “not very” honest. Obviously, that’s an issue, but how should you fix it? You don’t know if certain employees are untrustworthy (and if so, which ones), or if there’s a general perception of dishonesty.
There are a couple potential solutions (team-building exercises, management intervention, performance reviews), yet you can’t pick one unless you know the root cause of the survey result.
Delay Between Survey and Action
Compounding this issue is the fact that, unless you’ve got a small, nimble team, it’s going to be a while between the survey and your team’s follow-through. Imagine that against all odds, you’ve collected good data and identified how to implement your findings. It still takes a long time to draft a formal change, get approval from the necessary stakeholders, plan how to roll out the change, and then actually do it.
For complex policy changes, this process could take half a year. In that time, some employees have quit, others have been terminated, others have been promoted, and new ones have been hired. Your team members’ priorities have dramatically changed—however, you’re still working on what the old cohort wanted.
Despite the inherent problems in surveying your employees, that doesn’t mean you should give up on finding out what they think. The best way to take your company’s heartbeat is to get real-time feedback. When employees can share their opinions spontaneously, rather than during arbitrary times throughout the quarter, they’re far likelier to be honest. Furthermore, this strategy shows that you take their thoughts seriously—after all, you want to learn them as soon as possible. Finally, by collecting data in real-time, you can respond as soon as an issue arises. HR surveys may be out-of-date, but real-time feedback is the ideal—and timely—solution.
Sign up for a demo and we’ll show you how RubiBoard can help your company gather more effective feedback.
About the Author
Aja Frost is a freelance writer who covers career, lifestyle, current events, and social justice. Say hi to her on Twitter.
Tags: employee polls, HR surveys