The employee engagement survey, probably a cornerstone of your HR strategy right? But is it really giving you value for money, and a return on your investment? Let’s be clear. We all want to increase engagement levels because we know it’s the right thing to do, and also has a strong link to business performance. But how does the survey help us achieve this increase in engagement? Let’s look back at why we do this in the first place.


Where did the employee engagement survey come from?

The first employee surveys, commonly known as employee-attitude surveys, surfaced in industrial companies in the 1920s. These days employee surveys are used by an estimated 50 to 75% of companies to evaluate topics such as employee engagement, workplace culture and commitment.


What are they suppose to do?

The idea of a survey relates back to the concept of “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”. Once we know “where we are” then surely we know what we need to do, to increase engagement levels right? So like all the best management gurus from the 2000s, we found a way to measure a human function like engagement. Measurement is a religion in the business world! If we can slap a metric on something, by God, we’re going to do it.


The reality of the engagement survey.

Speaking from experience, I don’t think a survey actually drives engagement. Employees don’t care about the survey results and whether there has been an increase or decrease in engagement levels. The reality of the survey is something more like this…… The HR team become administrators of the survey, spending time and effort trying to convince employees that the survey is anonymous and that action will be taken as a result of it. And of course we run around trying to get everyone to complete the survey on time.

So by the time to results to come around the HR team is shattered and pass the results to Line Managers to deal with; and Managers often resent the mountain of data thrown at them and are confused or feel defensive about the results.

Once the survey is over, our To Do lists are still long and we move on to focus on another initiative, until next year, when the survey date comes around again.


What’s the alternative?

I subscribe to the theory of “the important stuff can’t always be measured”. Stop spending your time, energy and money on surveys and start focusing on your employee experience instead. We know a lot about what impacts people’s engagement at work already. It’s things like how they are treated each day, the opportunities open to them, whether they have control over their working environment and whether they feel they are making a difference. A massive impact, is the relationship with their line manager. So why not start with up-skilling your line managers. What if your line managers were empowered and equipped to take decisions locally, in a timely manner and in ways that matter to their employees. Imagine what a difference you could make spending your employee survey budget and time, on things like leadership development? How much difference would that make to your organisation’s culture and actual engagement levels?

So what would happen if you didn’t run a survey next year, and instead spent the money elsewhere? Would your engagement levels really suffer?