Employee engagement surveys - what are they great at and what are they missing?
People Director | People Team

Employee engagement surveys - what are they great at and what are they missing?

Tools like Peakon, OfficeVibe, and Culture Amp have undoubtedly redefined employee listening: the way we collect feedback and measure employee engagement. However, despite serving as a real eye-opener for many organizations through providing intelligent dashboard action plans, they come with their own sets of limitations. In fact, Uber’s Chief Data Office for People, RJ Milnor, reports that alone, they lack the critical insights needed to take action – that is, combining ‘active listening’ with ‘passive listening’.

So, what are employee engagement surveys perfect for, and where do they require pairing up with other tools and practices? How do we move from useful data and learning (Ex 2.0 ) into instrumental, prescriptive actions and predictive alerts (Ex 3/4) as described in Josh’s Bersin Employee Engagement Market Evolution model? 

We discuss this below.

#1: Engagement surveys are just the first step to solving problems 

I spoke to a Product Owner at a large tech company who said that asking questions, even the simplest ones, is truly challenging in a remote setting. We’re too focused on task completion. Unlike when we meet someone face to face, when asking questions comes naturally. For this reason, we recommend using a tool like Peakon, where once a week you can ask your employees in a pulse check about their challenges and struggles. 

The same Product Owner said that what’s great about asking your team questions is not just that you know what they are up to, but you also make them feel heard. This in itself acts as a mechanism for building the feeling of belonging and improvements – people start to think about specific problems and seek solutions with the so-called discretionary effort. 

#2: Active listening lacks insights around root causes and potential action plans

Surveys-based analytics tell you what is happening, but they won’t always tell you why or how. You might uncover that a team is suffering from mental overload, but you won’t see that it’s the number of meetings to blame. Furthermore, surveys are, at their very nature, subjective. How to overcome this?

To find the cause and best solution, it’s worth using surveys together with advanced people analytics software. Once again, Uber’s RJ Milnor shares a valuable strategy – the company tracks anonymous metadata on working and meeting hours, activities, and cross-team interactions. This lets them read between the lines of what goes unreported in employee surveys. It is especially valuable in diagnosing multitasking that can reduce productivity by up to 80% . Many other organizations acknowledge this approach, with Deloitte reporting that 71% of companies prioritize people analytics.

#3: Passive listening (analytics driven by data from company systems) comes in hand

Passive listening relates to analyzing people’s work habits, such as:

  • time spent in meetings
  • interactions (who my team cooperates with the most)
  • work effectiveness (the number of closed tickets in Jira)
  • turnover (data from HRIS)
  • time between promotions 

Classic People Analytics only accounts for a few factors mentioned above, like the last two, and comes handy while filling in the missing blanks from the employee engagement survey. AI enabled Organizational Network Analysis (ONA) helps with getting even more insights, like, work habits, interactions, etc. 

What information can a leader derive from a survey? The fact that 30% of their team is disengaged and that their work experience is poor. By looking into advanced People Analytics they can see employee engagement is closely correlated with employee turnover and business results. If their team is disengaged, people will start to leave, and those who’ll stay will perform less effectively.

Additionally, by diving into ONA data, the leader can figure out that their team lacks time for deep work, and might feel overworked. They have too many meetings, don’t get enough time with the leader, don’t have enough opportunities for growth as they fail to meet people higher in the hierarchy. 

According to HRTech, ONA is the number one employee experience building trend for the future of work, and it’s something that more organizations should turn to. What business should keep in mind is that it must be done ethically, so people feel looked after instead of being watched and controlled. 

Closing remarks

Employee engagement surveys are a goldmine when it comes to your teams’ sentiment and overall satisfaction levels. Still, in order to make the most of your findings from such ‘active listening’ initiatives, it’s worth pairing them up with a Workplace Analytics platform. Using software like Network Perspective lets you read between the lines of what’s been untold in surveys. For companies that want to move from useful data and learning into instrumental actions and alerts as described in Josh’s Bersin Employee Engagement Market Evolution model, it’s good to focus on strengthening leaders with continuous data-driven predictive and prescriptive insights, alerts and actions related to work habits and routines experienced by their teams. It helps them not only to identify the root causes of employee engagement problems and find fitting solutions, but also to improve the work patterns in long-term continuous feedback loop. 

If you’re interested in seeing what you can learn about your team through ‘passive listening’, reach out. We’ll happily jump on a free demo and discuss your organization!


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