Is It Time to Toss Out Your Old Employee Engagement Survey?

More companies now use employee engagement data beyond large-scale surveys to garner a more holistic ‘voice of the employee,’ but surveys still play a role.

By 2020, 20% of organizations will include employee engagement improvement as a shared performance objective for HR and IT groups, but what metrics will they use?

In 2019, most organizations (74%) will still use formal, large-scale surveys to gauge how employees feel about their jobs and workplace, but that is down from 89% in 2015 — and an increasing number use other forms of engagement data as well or instead.

Gartner expects 59% of organizations to use engagement data from sources other than formal surveys in 2019

Among those that don’t use such surveys at all, most (64%) use small-scale pulse surveys and one-off, topic-specific surveys to measure engagement.

Read more: What Is Employee Engagement?

Formal surveys are far from extinct, but they are clearly on the decline. Gartner expects 59% of organizations to use engagement data from sources other than formal surveys in 2019, up from just 30% in 2015.

“The increased use of real-time analytics and recommendation engines in both consumer and business technologies has raised concern that feedback gathered from traditional engagement surveys every two years (or even yearly) is not frequent enough to provide a complete and current perspective,” says Gartner Senior Director Analyst Helen Poitevin.

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Lessons learned from ‘voice-of-the-customer’ initiatives

Some organizations are applying VoC concepts and services (such as social network analysis, sentiment analysis and social recognition and feedback channels) to gather additional insight around employee opinions, behaviors and attitudes — and produce a more holistic voice of the employee (VoE).

Data mining, natural-language processing (NLP), semantic analysis and machine learning are among the emerging techniques that, when applied to data that includes large volumes of written or unstructured content, can yield new insights into employee sentiment, behavior and predictive actions.

Armed with such insights, organizations can detect early signs of disengagement, identify influencers and detractors of engagement, or uncover emerging risks and opportunities resulting from changes in employee attitudes and actions.

Read more: Are Your Employees Quitting in Their Seats

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Menu of choices for developing VoE

A holistic VoE strategy should include two or more of the following approaches.

  1. The annual/biannual survey is a robust tool for regularly measuring employee engagement, based on responses to a specific set of questions. It’s a proven method that allows for easy year-over-year comparison, can determine linkages and underlying causes of highs and lows in engagement and helps set baselines and targets. These surveys are costly to administer, though, and take significant manager time to follow up. They also tend to produce quantitative results (“what” employees think) but not qualitative (“why” employees think as they do).
  2. The pulse survey is often based on the same employee engagement model as the annual survey, but administered as a subset of questions to a subset of employees. It generally represents the percentage of the workforce that shows a high level of engagement as per their answers to a specific set of questions. It allows for more frequent measurement than annual surveys and takes less time from a smaller set of employees. Only a subset of employees contribute. Knee-jerk responses to downward trends may be misplaced.
  3. Social analytics tools, still in the early stage of adoption, analyze relationship and work patterns among people, leveraging any type of interactions — email communication patterns, usage of corporate social networks, observations of employee interactions, etc. They can alert the organization to downward trends and isolated individuals or clusters, which can indicate declining engagement or other emerging workforce issues. They don’t produce an engagement score per se and gather insights but not feedback on specific questions.
  4. Employee sentiment analytics are nascent solutions similar to voice-of-the-customer programs used by marketing organizations. They analyze (by processes such as NLP) the many signals of engagement, intent and attitude that employees transmit through their daily interactions within email, IM, texting/SMS messaging, surveys, blogs, social discussion threads, and more. They changes they detect can signal impending inflection points in employee engagement.

HR can use other approaches to “listening” to employees that will help them understand employee engagement. These include focus groups, social analytics on data from platforms such as Glassdoor, LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter, storytelling, workplace ethnography, and idea or innovation management.

Read more: Improve Employee Experience With Consumer-Centric HR

HR leaders should consider the following as they deepen their work on improving the employee experience through better employee listening:

  • Weigh the increased use of multiple data sources to get a more complete view of employee engagement and to serve as the first step of a larger VoE initiative.
  • Anticipate legal, privacy and labor relations considerations and clearly define what data is being collected, why, and how it will be used to measure engagement.
  • Take recognizable action on the feedback and insights gained to reinforce the value of employee listening. For example, make adjustments to the employment offer, introduce new digital workplace technologies, or adapt HR systems for better ease of use.

Gartner for HR Leaders clients can read more about trends in measuring employee engagement and Measuring Employee Engagement: Past, Present and Future by Ron Hanscome and Helen Poitevin. Other Gartner clients can read that report here.

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