Employee Surveys

The case for ditching your annual survey

June 7, 2024

The case for ditching your annual survey

RESOURCES The case for ditching your annual survey

Why it’s better for a company to have no employee listening program at all than to rely solely on an annual engagement survey.

94% of companies have an employee listening program. But most are doing it wrong. Annual or bi-annual engagement surveys often fall short when it comes to accurately capturing and addressing employee feedback.

Not all feedback is created equal – except in an annual survey

Because all employees are asked the same questions and all responses are weighed equally, it’s easy to act on feedback from the least effective employees or those who aren’t at risk of leaving, while ignoring the sentiment that is most tied to business outcomes. This can lead to a skewed perception of the company’s culture and priorities.

Consider a company that’s focused on manager training. An annual survey might gather negative feedback from employees who aren’t interested in these training programs, or don’t find them relevant to their unique circumstance, while positive feedback from those who are most motivated at the company may be overlooked. This makes it challenging for leaders to make informed decisions about improving the organization.

The equal weighting given to all responses in an annual survey can also skew critical data points. A small number of highly negative responses can outweigh a larger number of positive ones, distorting the overall sentiment. This overemphasis on negative feedback can result in misdirected efforts and resources, as the issues raised may not truly represent the employee experience of those most important to the organization’s success.

Venting is not the same as problem solving

Venting without acknowledgment is counterproductive. An annual survey is a way for most employees to air their grievances. If those grievances don’t directly tie to a responding action item, discontent amplifies.

Annual employee engagement surveys can be counterproductive if employees feel like their feedback is not being heard. Annual surveys often become a “suggestion box,” where employees vent their grievances without any expectation that their feedback will be heard or acted upon. Because annual survey results are owned by executive leadership, action-planning feels far removed from the frontline employee. This can create a sense of resentment and distrust among employees, which can damage morale and productivity. And when employees feel like their feedback is not being heard, they are more likely to leave the company.

To avoid these problems, companies should create a culture of open communication where employees feel comfortable sharing their feedback on a regular basis. Quick, confidential and direct loop closure is important. Leaders should respond to employee feedback in a timely and meaningful way. This will show employees that their feedback is valued and that their concerns are being taken seriously.

The annual survey juice isn’t always worth the squeeze

The resources required to plan, conduct, and analyze the results of an annual engagement survey can be significant, and the time it takes to develop and implement action plans based on the survey results can be even longer. This can be especially burdensome for leaders of frontline employees, who may have limited time and resources to devote to employee engagement initiatives.

The burden of conducting and socializing an annual employee engagement survey can be a major challenge for leaders of frontline employees. Operations leaders are responsible for managing large, physically distributed teams of employees, and they don’t have the time or resources to devote to employee engagement initiatives. Annual surveys create a ton of additional work for these leaders, and distract from critical day-to-day responsibilities. As a result, it can be challenging for HR leaders to get buy-in on the value of these programs from their Ops partners.

Creating an effective continuous employee listening program

Ready to ditch the annual survey? For organizations invested in creating a more engaged workforce, the first step is putting down the annual survey and picking up a continuous listening program. With an employee engagement solution that surveys employees at key employee milestones, leaders get real-time feedback that give them a pulse on their organization at any moment in time.

Because feedback is ongoing, leaders have the opportunity to respond in real-time to employee concerns to help close the loop with their workforce. Given the frequency with which employees are responding to feedback, they’re more likely to share relevant and actionable feedback which enables frontline leaders to take targeted action. And when employees receive responses and know their voice is valued, they’re less likely to leave the organization – and more likely to share open, honest feedback.

Overall, the limits of traditional annual engagement surveys far outweigh the benefit of any insight gained into workforce sentiment at a single moment in time. For an organization to create better business outcomes through employee engagement, it’s critical for leaders to invest in continuous listening and engagement which enables better decision-making, action-taking and loop closure.

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Zoe Morin

Zoe Morin, | zoe.morin@workstep.com

Zoe Matho Morin is the VP Marketing at WorkStep. WorkStep is an employee engagement solution that helps organizations engage and retain their frontline workforce. Prior to WorkStep, Zoe led marketing at a global HR tech company.