"We boast an engagement score exceeding 90%. Why cater to a minority of disgruntled individuals?"
While executives may not explicitly voice such sentiments, many organisations exhibit resistance to addressing organisational shortcomings highlighted by employee engagement surveys. This skepticism is warranted due to several reasons pertinent to the legal and financial services sector.
Six Compelling Reasons to Approach Employee Engagement Surveys with Caution:
1) Prediction Failure
In the ever-changing landscape of the legal and financial services sector, traditional engagement surveys have proven inadequate in predicting industry trends. These surveys, once touted as reliable indicators of employee retention, failed to anticipate phenomena like the "Great Resignation." Even organisations boasting high engagement scores were caught off guard by unexpected attrition, casting doubt on the surveys' predictive value.
2) Positivity Bias Embedded in Questions
Survey questions often exhibit a tendency towards positivity, which is particularly noticeable in widely used assessments like the Q12. Positively framed questions may unintentionally lead to excessively optimistic responses, potentially obscuring underlying issues.
- Example Questions:
- Do you know what is expected of you at work?
- Does your supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about you as a person?
- Do your opinions seem to count at work?
3) Addressing Psychological Safety Concerns
In environments where psychological safety is compromised, it's natural for employees to feel apprehensive about expressing dissent. Despite confidentiality disclaimers, there are lingering concerns that their responses could be traced back to them, which creates a reluctance to provide honest and candid feedback.
4) Minimising Bias in Linking Engagement Scores to Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
When engagement scores directly impact organisational or manager-level KPIs, there is a risk of positivity bias escalating. To secure high participation levels, some managers may unintentionally manipulate the results by linking bonuses or job security to improved scores.
5) Bridging the Feel-Do Gap
Although engagement surveys measure how employees feel, there isn't always a clear correlation with their actions, knowledge, or verbal expressions. While some argue that high engagement scores lead to better performance, there is still no conclusive evidence to gauge the true impact of investment.
6) Encouraging Exploration of Alternative Research Methods
The prevalence of engagement surveys often hinders the exploration of more insightful research methods. Positive scores can create organisational complacency, and concerns about survey fatigue can deter organisations from pursuing more relevant research activities.
The Alternative Approach
Recognising the limitations of traditional engagement surveys should prompt legal and financial services firms to complement these assessments with:
- Smaller-Scale Research:
Introducing smaller-scale, targeted research activities can capture nuanced insights that may often be overlooked in broader surveys.
- Qualitative Research:
Emphasising qualitative research methods can provide a deeper understanding of employee sentiments, fostering a more comprehensive perspective on organisational dynamics.
- Establishing dedicated channels to encourage reporting of problematic behaviours:
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By acknowledging the limitations of traditional engagement surveys, firms can embrace a more diversified and nuanced approach to understanding employee perceptions and drivers of actual performance.