Jul 16, 2023 | Hiring & Retention

Should I hire a consultant to survey my employees?

Q. Dear Zenagos,
My employees always want ways to provide feedback. Should I hire a consultant to do a company survey? Our company is struggling right now, and I wonder if it will help.
–Liz

Employees always want to give and receive feedback. Millennials, who now make up more than half of the US workforce, are especially interested in feedback (Meister & Willyerd, 2010). Since surveys are an obvious way of gathering feedback and reporting results back to employees, it may seem like a good idea to set up a survey. However, company surveys may create more risk than reward.

Employee Surveys May Actually Hurt Performance
Some research shows that giving employees opportunities to provide feedback can actually hurt their performance. John Thackray (2001) describes a meta-analysis of 131 studies on feedback effectiveness: “[I]n more than a third of the cases where it was possible to assess the effectiveness of feedback, providing feedback actually hurt subsequent performance” (P. 1). He speculates that this drop in performance may be caused by the employees’ frustration when the status quo prevails, despite their feedback. Certainly, you should not provide employees with an opportunity to provide feedback if you are not going to listen to the feedback and then respond with changes.

Unhappy Employees are More Likely to Respond
One hazard of conducting an employee survey is that you are likely to conclude that employees are unhappier than they actually are. Research shows that dissatisfied employees are more likely to complete a survey, are more likely to answer open-ended written questions, and will generally write longer comments in proportion to their unhappiness (Poncheri, Lindberg, Thompson, & Surface, 2008). While we do not know why employee performance can often suffer after a feedback opportunity, it may be that taking a survey causes employees to focus on their dissatisfaction, increasing their level of unhappiness.

Make Feedback a Regular Habit, Instead of an Event
One way to reduce the focus on negative feelings is to reduce the focus on the feedback event. Instead of arranging a major survey that disrupts company operations, make feedback a regular habit, delivered in a low-key manner. If you conduct a survey, make it smaller and more frequent. For example, conduct a monthly survey, or rotate the survey, so that only one department completes it each month. Also, instead of reporting survey results in a large forum, let employees know how you are responding to their feedback in small amounts on a regular basis.

If you do provide an opportunity for employees to provide feedback, it is important that you respond to that feedback, rather than ignoring it. The way to build trust with your workforce is by creating regular ways for them to communicate their ideas and then showing them how you put their ideas into action.

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References

Meister, J. C., & Willyerd, K. (2010). Mentoring millennials. Harvard Business Review, 88(5), 68-72. Retrieved on July 15, 2023, from https://globalhealthtp.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/MentoringMillenials-Harvard-Business-Review-1.pdf

Poncheri, R. M., Lindberg, J. T., Thompson, L. F., & Surface, E. A. (2008). A comment on employee surveys: Negativity bias in open-ended responses. Organizational Research Methods, 11(3), 614-630. Retrieved on July 15, 2023, from https://www.dsu.univr.it/documenti/Avviso/all/all423289.pdf

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