Sometimes the most disengaging thing a company can do is a badly executed engagement survey. If your company has to push harder with every survey to get the same response rate, if the water cooler talk does not match up to the survey results, if news of an approaching survey creates dread among employees, your engagement survey may be part of the problem.

 

Soteres Consulting has been involved in communicating engagement survey results at dozens of organizations. This is the second of three blogs that look at common dysfunctions of engagement surveys, with a few notes on how better communications can lead to better outcomes.

 

The dysfunctions I’m addressing are:

 

Last week I talked about the disquieting inaction that follows many engagement surveys. When this happens, there’s little acknowledgement that the survey even happened.

 

Today I’ll be talking about overwork. In this case, the survey generates a lot of activity, committees and subcommittees, corporate action planning, divisional action planning, initiatives and projects. No one doubts that the survey has led to work, though it may or may not be productive.

 

The employees who get tapped for this work are often high performers: the people who who do a lot of the company’s heavy lifting. Everyone generally knows who these go-to people are and a smart organization wants to keep them happy.

 

Employees like this are strivers. They tend to have high resilience and are used to heavy workloads beyond your general workforce. So when your strivers start to feel overwhelmed, it’s a bad sign for the rest of your organization.

 

Now imagine that the past three or four engagement surveys have all led to more work. Imagine further that the work of past surveys never came to completion or at least was never communicated with conviction and energy. The day will come when employees start to associate engagement surveys with additional and unproductive work.

 

We have seen organizations where whole divisions have tacitly agreed to give better scores to the organization in order to avoid the extra work that they perceive will come with lower scores.

 

Communications solution: Strategic communicators can help you first by keeping our ears to the wall. We pay attention to the water cooler talk. If your internal communications team does not have a plan for strong two-way communications at your company, it is time to build that out.

 

In addition to the anecdotal and subjective inputs, look for overly dramatic score improvements or a noticeably more difficult time in getting employees to complete the survey. HR business partners, HR call centers and your stronger frontline managers may have corroborating insights.

 

Soteres Consulting also recommends: Engagement surveys tempt organizations to try to solve multiple challenges with a welter of tailored committees and initiatives. Reconsider that approach. Overwhelmed employees are not looking for more things to do, even if they are good ideas.

 

Make participation simple. Professional communicators fulfill their strategic role by advocating for simplicity and prioritization. If one of the main findings of an engagement survey is that people feel stressed and overwhelmed, do not present them with a cluster of options that contribute to those same feelings.

 

Make sure any post-survey activity is easy for people to complete and connected to concrete benefits.

 

Capture the value of your engagement survey investment. If you are using third-party vendors and external consultants, pricing typically begins at $10,000 and can easily cost $200,000 or more, depending on the size of your company and other factors.

 

What should you expect for that level of investment? For the purposes of an engagement survey, employees are being treated as customers. Would you respond to normal customer feedback by giving the customer more work to do?

 

Driving engagement survey work to frontline managers and employees is like asking customers to implement your service line. In the ideal world the heaviest lift should come from leadership. Not executive “sponsorship,” but actual “lift.”

 

That’s a tough message to carry, and we all make compromises along that path. Still, we must also try to keep leaders as active in the engagement survey work and as visible in the communications as possible.

 

One way to keep the levels of activity at the right level is to match the survey’s scope to the organization’s action. If the survey was done across the entire company, the level of feedback and activity should also apply to the whole company.