10 tips for a successful employee survey

From objectives to utilising the results – 10 tips for a successful employee survey

An employee survey is the key to long-term personnel development. It can also contribute to the organisation’s performance if it is carefully planned and the organisation is willing to invest sufficiently in the utilisation of the results.

Today, many organisations strive to study the opinions and feelings of their personnel through various survey methods. Over the years, employee surveys and their use have developed in many ways. It is now understood that an employee survey based on sampling sends the wrong message to the employees who are not given the opportunity to share their views.

A survey that covers all employees is a democratic and, when correctly implemented, confidential method that allows every employee to anonymously and openly express their opinions. The employee survey is a way for management to communicate to supervisors and employees what is being measured and what the priorities are. Answers to open-ended questions highlight significant issues even when they haven’t been directly addressed in the questionnaire.

Shorter, regular surveys

The content of questionnaires has been revised and the batteries of questions have been condensed. This means that, using the best current practices, batteries of questions that used to comprise over one hundred questions can be condensed to approximately half that number. Carefully considered questions are much more effective in providing data on issues that are significant to management and personnel.

Leading organisations carry out an employee survey annually at the same time of the year, to eliminate the effect of seasonal variation on results.

The use of systematic employee surveys in providing HR metrics has replaced sporadically conducted measurements. Most leading organisations carry out an employee survey annually, always at the same time of the year, to eliminate the effect of seasonal variation on results and allow the results to be linked to a balanced scorecard or other management systems used by the organisation.

What type of survey does the organisation require?

Analysing the results of an employee survey is primarily based on statistical methods. For this reason, implementing employee surveys in small organisations with fewer than 50 employees is uncommon. Slightly larger organisations (50-100 employees) often settle for a light survey conducted as part of a student thesis or offered by an insurance company. The quality of such light surveys is often adequate for the needs of relatively small organisations.

In large organisations, the requirements for comprehensive reporting, external benchmarking data and consulting on the utilisation of the results become highlighted. For these reasons, such organisations tend to use the services of a specialised employee survey provider. Without an external benchmark, interpreting the results can be difficult. For example, a result of “63% of the respondents were dissatisfied with the flow of information in the organisation” could be interpreted as either good or poor. Every question involves certain implicit values, and certain aspects, such as the flow of information, are generally assessed quite critically in Nordic cultures.

Investing in utilisation

In multinational organisations, one of the basic requirements is that all employees can conveniently respond to the survey and read a report of the results in their own language. In addition, they almost always require reliable external benchmarking data for each country, as there are significant differences between countries in terms of local culture and tendencies to respond to various questions.

The benefits of an employee survey for organisational performance can be most effectively achieved through professional training on how to utilise survey results and the use of practical tools for this utilisation.

The most important aspect, and also the most typical stumbling block, of an employee survey is the utilisation of the results. The benefits of an employee survey for organisational performance can be most effectively achieved through professional training on how to utilise survey results and the use of practical tools for this utilisation. In large organisations, it is also important to ensure that the research partner has adequate experience and sufficient resources to carry out challenging projects, as well as the capacity to report results for matrix organisations where necessary.

Ten tips for a successful employee survey

  1. Goal setting. Why is the survey conducted? Setting clear goals helps at every stage of the survey process.
  2. Clear communications. Inform employees of the survey in advance and clarify its significance at different levels of the organisation: management, supervisors and employees. Also ensure that the survey is carried out in strict confidentiality and emphasise this in your communications about the survey.
  3. Internal planning. Take the views of senior management, employee delegates and supervisors into consideration in planning.
  4. High-quality research content. Consider what the content of the research should be, but also note that employee survey providers employ experienced professionals whose primary duties include the development of survey content. Define your objectives and strategic focus areas, but let research specialists make suggestions on the actual content of the survey.
  5. Open-ended questions. In addition to various types of multiple choice questions, respondents should be given the opportunity to express their views openly.
  6. Language. Every respondent should have the opportunity to complete the survey in his/her native language. Otherwise the nuances of the questions may be interpreted differently by different respondents.
  7. Effective reporting of results. Make sure that the reporting of the results is carried out professionally and that all supervisors have convenient access to the results for their team in their own language.
  8. Presenting survey results. Make sure that everyone has the opportunity to have the results personally presented to him/her.
  9. Utilising the results. Plan and implement development measures in cooperation with employees.
  10. Best practices. Note the lessons learned and make use of them for the next round of the survey.