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Employee Surveys: Still Useful for HR?

What Are They Good For and How Should You Use Them?

Employee Surveys: Still Useful for HR?

Is it time for your annual employee survey? Before you begin what’s often a time-consuming, disruptive process for both you and your workforce, pause to ask yourself what the purpose of your survey is and, most critically, what you plan to do with the results. Otherwise, you may be spending company resources without returning any value to the organization.

Surveys Reveal Trends

Collecting survey data allows you to establish benchmarks for important statistics such as employee satisfaction, alignment with company mission and leader credibility. From year to year, you can take your workforce’s pulse, evaluate progress and identify up or down trends. When surveys reveal troubling information, such as plummeting satisfaction scores, this is a tremendous opportunity to initiate new programs and strategies to reverse the downward trend.

Katherine Burik, a human resources consultant with KBR Leadership Initiative in Canton, Ohio, has seen vivid evidence of the value of survey data in designing programs that produce positive results. Just as often, she has observed what happens when a company continues to survey employees without doing anything about the findings.

“If you ask the right questions, surveys will tell you everything you need to know about how to improve the work environment,” Burik says. “Then it’s up to you to use the data.”

Process Survey Results for Success

Nine years ago, Company A, a 1,000-employee manufacturing firm based in Ohio, identified troubling scores in the areas of leadership, communication and rewards. Employee satisfaction scores were also low across the board -- hitting as low as 20 percent at one site.

Under Burik’s direction, the human resources department changed the company’s performance management system to incorporate a structured rating process to raise the bar on performance expectations. The company also implemented a new bonus system that rewarded A players, while C players who didn’t improve were terminated. Burik trained and mentored managers on providing feedback and more clearly communicating performance expectations.

After three years of the new process, the number of A-rated employees rose from 15 percent to 20 percent, while C-rated employees showed a corresponding drop. Survey results showed measurable improvements in communication, rewards and leader credibility, and employees reported a clearer perception of what it meant to be a top performer. Finally, at the company’s most troubled manufacturing site, job satisfaction rose steadily from 20 percent in 1997 to 65 percent.

Don’t Survey If Change Won’t Follow

At Company B, the story is very different. Annual surveys kept turning up the same results, yet nothing was done about it. Brought in as an outside consultant, Burik is working to break the cycle. “I advised them not to do any more surveys if they’re not going to do anything about the results,” she says. “The employees were tired of taking surveys and wondered why they bothered when it made no difference.”

Looking deeper, Burik discovered a lack of cooperation between operations and HR that made it virtually impossible for HR to initiate enterprisewide change. She is working to resolve this impasse as a necessary first step before attempting to address the survey findings.

HR and the Bottom Line

In its role as business partner to all of a company’s functional areas, HR must take the lead in initiating, managing, measuring and reporting the results of new programs that affect employee performance and job satisfaction. Of course, it’s essential to gain the support senior management and companywide buy-in to ensure program success. The best way to do this is to tie new programs to business performance and then, as results become available, clearly connect the outcome to the program.

“Actually getting results is the only way that HR can demonstrate to senior management that they value the bottom line and that employee attitude can be tied to profitability,” Burik says.

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