Do job satisfaction surveys do anything?

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I am thoroughly skeptical about job satisfaction surveys. Many, many workplaces do them but I have yet to see a convincing example or case where such a survey helped a company pinpoint and fix one or more issues so that employees became more satisfied as a result.

But I may be wrong. It wouldn’t exactly be the first time :o)

So my question to you is this: What is your experience with job satisfaction surveys? Have you seen them help in your workplace? How did you do it and how did it help? Or has your workplace also done them with very little show for it?

Write a comment below, I’d love to know what you think about employee satisfaction surveys.

26 thoughts on “Do job satisfaction surveys do anything?”

  1. I used to run 200 staff wellbeing surveys a year for around 420 schools and 100 children services departments. Found that about 65% improved from survey to survey.
    However, I noticed after the fourth survey (albeit with a small sample group), there was no more improvement.
    My biggest conclusion after running over 1000 surveys was that leaders attitudes had the biggest impact. That led me to create a Resilient Leader Programme to help leaders be less stressed and happy – which led to staff being happier!
    Sadly, I moved on before getting any evidence of its effectiveness, but it makes sense, no?

  2. We’ve used Surveymonkey for quarterly surveys for a couple of years now, and to some degree of success.

    The generel questions (are you happy with XYZ) are fine as an indicator of the state of the union but the specifics from the free form feedback (suggestions for improvements etc) are usually really good.

    It did take some time to get good feedback, about a year, and for people to open up to the idea that it’s okay to point out good and bad things, and that management actually listens.

    That said, people rarely remember the good ideas when asked once a quarter but have now actually gotten into the habit of just sending me an email or come into my office when the bulb lights up.

    We’ve improved our office culture and ‘arbjedsgl

  3. I’ve been with my current company for 9 years, and our “engagement score” just hit an all time high in a year when I have heard more employee concerns about the company than ever before. Over the last five years, I have personally seen a combination of rewriting survey questions and “teaching to the test” that I believe solely explains the reason for the current score that clearly doesn’t match reality. For those who might think I’m just cynical, a member of our executive team responsible for the largest part of the company told the HR team to check their math when they showed him this year’s score.

  4. I think it depends a lot upon the survey design and the attitude of the employer going into them. I’ve had one employer in the past that upon receiving bad results, gave us all a lecture about how to fill in the survey as if we couldn’t figure it out (because obviously, if we’d known that a 2 on a 5 point scale was bad, we wouldn’t have selected it, right?) I’ve had other employers that treated the results seriously, followed up with specific consultations that focused on solutions and made improvements.

    At another employer, there was also a section where in the survey we were asked questions about discrimination and harassment that were worded in such a broad fashion that nearly everyone reported having experienced some form of harassment. In my case, it was an off-colour joke by a male colleague. I’d told him that I thought it was inappropriate, he apologized and we both moved on. It never happened again. I felt comfortable dealing with it and he learned that that particular type of humour was not welcome, and changed his behaviour accordingly. Not a big deal in the larger scheme of things, right? But the way the survey was designed, that incident was counted with the same severity as ongoing harassment or assault. There was no way to distinguish between severity or impact of incidents, whether they were resolved between the people involved or required additional intervention. There were so many meetings where executives worried about the scores, but if they just looked at their survey design, they’d realize they didn’t have as much to worry about as they thought.

  5. I used to do job satisfaction surveys, but always felt that the employees held back because they had to send them to the CEO, and they were always afraid that they were not as anonymous as we said they were. What ended up working for my company to get morale up and to get suggestions in was to have a suggestion time for the employees to give insights, suggestions and so on to their supervisor, with whom they felt a connection, and then for that supervisor to present them to the CEO with anonymity or not.

  6. I think that most are misused and therefore worthless.

    Too often the wrong questions are asked and thus no real insights are given. Also very often people will not give real answers because they fear reprisals from management. And thirdly, most management does not want to hear the real truth.

  7. I’ve observed that when employee satisfaction scores are tied to managers’ compensation then leaders make improvements more of a priority. Some leaders who are confronted with low satisfaction scores blame them on people just having a bad day when they took the survey, or blame it on poorly worded questions. The worst thing an organization can do is to conduct an employee satisfaction survey and then take no action. That actually disengages employees even more.

  8. We run a massive company-wide employee engagement survey every year. I work for a financial services company, and overall the trend in our scores follows the general health of the industry. More crisis, more uncertainty in the market, the lower the engagement. As we’ve started to come out of the crisis and our share price has crawled upwards, so has the engagement.

    So I’m not convinced that they measure anything helpful.

  9. I don’t think they work at all. They’re likely just an aggregate of data across the whole company. I think one-on-one meetings are a much better way to solicit feedback, even if they do take a lot of man hours!

  10. Ever filled up one of those satisfaction surveys stuck on your hotel door?

    They never do anything about them. I know because when I checked into the same hotel the next time, my comments were not acted upon.

    Regarding job satisfaction surveys, they are company dependent really. Some companies do them as palliatives for a management that sucks.

    But in the company I retired from, we took job satisfaction surveys very seriously. Your effectiveness as a manager, by and large, depends on it.

  11. The last time I had to take one is 8 years ago at the same company which employs me today. They gave the survey and then asked us to rank, from 1 to 10 the most important factors. I’ll be a monkey’s uncle if, when we went to the meeting to discuss the results of the survey they hadn’t flipped everything around to turn the most important issue (pay, which was low) into the least (benefits, which were outstanding.) We were utterly baffled at how they thought they could get away with it.

  12. I believe they can be effective for small companies, but only if the reason for conducting them is genuinely to understand what the issues are. This would mean the results are actually used to truly change where possible.

    Unfortunately a lot of large companies, have them as part of the standard practice and people go through the motions of both taking them and acting on them. I also believe the goal is then to come up with generic action plans that address it at too general a level to be meaningful. I recently worked with a group that was using Q12 and when I asked the group to stack rank the issues by personality type group (I had them in 4) the results were dramatically different. One of the participants commented. “If we implement these action plans on average they hit the mark but we don’t actually hit any of the real issues for people.”

    thanks
    Lynn

  13. I have been involved in very success job satisfaction survey processes. The point to be made is that the execution of the survey document is only the first step. If the results of the survey are analyzed to determine what and where pockets of dissatisfaction exist and then take action such as meeting to learn specifics and then follow with remedial action steps or communications to explain the current reasons the facts are as they are, very positive employee responses are possible. The survey is NOT a one step process.

  14. Two years ago, I accepted a job with a leading software company, based in part on their ranking as one of the “best companies to work for in the U.S.” I soon learned that this ranking was no coincidence. The company’s senior leaders pulled out all the stops to ensure that their employees understood the importance of the Annual Employee Survey.

    Apparently the director of my particular group was unhappy with her ratings. A week after the results were shared, she called an urgent meeting with our entire team, where each of us had to go up to the whiteboard and write down the areas we had ranked highest and lowest.

    So much for anonymity — and the credibility of the survey.

  15. They work when leaders ask the right questions with the real intent of learning from the answers.

    I’ve been brought in on more than one occasion to help handle very poor engagement scores, and we helped the execs to make major changes with great results. Once changes are made, the company stops losing key people, productivity goes way up, new business opportunities arise, and the list goes on and on.

    I recently redesigned my assessment tool to measure leadership, culture and emotional intelligence rather than focusing on engagement and satisfaction. I found that forcing the choice between positive terms – like “which is the higher priority here, accuracy or adaptability?” – questions shld generate a lot of thought through the ranks about the behaviors and leadership styles that are often mistaken for the company’s true culture.

    When companies become aware of real problems, a survey won’t substitute for talking to people – that’s the only way to generate trust and inspire the candid conversations that need to happen.

    But when a company is in good shape, and trying to find ways to meaningfully improve themselves, a well-designed assessment can be a phenomenal tool for growth.

  16. I have myself conducted some of the job satisfaction survey in past.
    Some of the insights I have got are:
    1) It can make a formal evidence of problems which are thought to be present in the organization
    2) Main challenge in such surveys is to capture unbiased view and feedback which is only possible if an environment is trust is created by the survey conductor
    3) It boils down to take action to the feedback given by the employees, else no one takes the surveys seriously

  17. I spent years with a large multi-national who used to spend a lot of money with HR companies running these big surveys enterprise wide and region by region. While they frequently highlighted issues (in generic terms), they never once resulted in meaningful, actionable plans. Not surprisingly, little changed from one to the next. The only valuable data that came from them tended to be from looking for common themes in free text comments fields. The main response by the company was to tell the employees even more frequently what the company’s values, culture and employee experience were meant to be (while failing to recognise that these are things that can’t be directed, and that these didn’t relate at all to the experience or perception of the average employee)

  18. I’ve used surveys to deliver revenue growth from $20 million to $1 billion in 7 years, and to turn-around a $1.4 billion multi-country operation. The focus isn’t on morale, the focus is on engaging the team-members to create a successful company – with the side-benefit of a happier team. We ask the following key questions: “Are we “walking the talk” of our values? Given the Mission and Critical Success Factors, what hurdles need to be addressed? Which hurdles are the most important to address in the next 3 months? Is it a better place to be than we were 6 months ago? The leadership team than uses the survey answers to set priorities working with the next level of leaders. Action Planning workshops are conducted quarterly to ensure cross-organizational execution on the top priorities by self-directed teams. Naturally follow-up on the Action Plans is also important. In early stage smaller companies, I’ve ask the same questions using a third-party interviewer – so the information is confidential, but more personal.

  19. I have found that a lot of the survey questions are too general. I work for a professional services firm and thus work on different client projects over the course of the year, how then can I answer a question about my satisfaction in regards to my immediate superior? Similarly, questions about my “local leadership” is too vague. This leads me to ask: Are such questions better addressed through a thorough 360 degree survey that solicits feedback from a random sample of the people a manager interacts with or should have interacted with?

  20. Last year, my company’s annual survey showed that people weren’t satisfied with the vacation policy or pay scales. (We *are* underpaid by industry standards. Our vacation policy is about on par with other US companies, which is to say abysmal by the standards of the civilized world.) There was a “town hall” meeting to discuss the results. During the meeting, the company president remarked sarcastically that it seemed people didn’t want to work, but still wanted to get paid. He then went on to say that “If we can afford to give all our employees four weeks of vacation, then we have too many employees.”

    We get four weeks after working here for ten years. So basically, he stated in front of the entire company that he’d rather hire new people than keep the veterans.

    This year’s survey went out a couple of weeks ago. I look forward to this year’s meeting.

  21. I worked for a bank for many years that used annual Gallup surveys. As a member of management, it was my job to inform the employees about the questions they would be asked pertaining to their satisfaction with their jobs, co-workers, management, and the company’s values. It was drilled down to me that these marks needed to be the highest (10 out of 10) in all categories to ensure maximum “satisfaction.” In actuality, if you had worked for the company long enough to take a second survey, you knew that you’d better just put a 10 to avoid the drawn out action planning after the branch results were reviewed. Of course, not everything was perfect, but if your branch had “problem areas” the task of correcting them was arduous and, in many cases, futile.

  22. The last time I completed an employee satisfaction survey, in 2011, our department finished with the second lowest rating in the organization due to the incompetent executive in charge of our department. (We had no departmental goals or objectives, and I had one annual review in five years.) Our entire team was laid off within six months — some people had been there for almost 30 years — but the incompetent exec still has his six-figure salary. He also hired a woman with 18 months of real-world work experience before our layoffs, and elevated her to director level within six months. She crashed and burned, was demoted, and left the company. Yes, this guy still has his job . . .

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