We have an Engagement Survey to hear from our employees. What more can we do?

Annual engagement surveys are important assessments but often aren't actionable. Inclusion surveys can identify what is getting in the way of engagement and point the way to action.

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Many companies have annual engagement surveys that assess key elements of the culture and the employee experience. These surveys are an accepted best practice because there is plenty of data connecting employee engagement to business performance. 

Despite the prevalence of engagement surveys, there doesn’t appear to be a widespread improvement of these scores over time. Commonly, the surveys become a check the box activity. Employees are often frustrated that the only thing that comes out of the surveys is an  overarching “good news” report from the top; they wonder why nothing is changing in the organisation to address the concerns they shared when completing the survey.   We have heard from frustrated HR managers that they struggle to engage their leaders in conversations about improving engagement scores. But let’s not blame leaders for inaction; for many reasons  it's not clear what they can do with the results.  

First of all, when the reports are delivered, they may not seem current. By the time the results are the hands of a leadership team, several months have passed since  employees responded. It would be easy to dismiss the relevance of the findings and believe that lower scores were due to the context of a previous point in time. 

Secondly, leaders may conflate engagement with work ethic; they may believe that engaged employees are internally driven to work hard and less engaged employees don’t just have that innate motivation. With this perspective and no evidence to the contrary, there doesn’t seem like there is a lot the company can do to change the situation. 

Another reason is that the report summarises the current state of employee feelings, rather than the experiences that are causing them. When reviewing the results, the question that naturally follows is, “Now, so what? What is the insight?”  What's missing is a narrative that creates a compelling case and plan of action. 

Most engagement surveys are not diagnostic in nature.  Even when there is demographic analysis of engagement results, companies may know WHO is less engaged by not WHY, so they struggle to identify WHAT to do differently to increase engagement. 

This creates a vicious circle. Companies are expected to conduct engagement surveys and listen to their employees. Leaders don’t know what to do with the results and try to find good news to communicate back to the organisation, declaring something along the lines of  “75% of our employees report feeling engaged in their jobs!”  It doesn't get brought back up again until the next engagement survey. Employees are disinclined to participate if they don’t feel their contributions make a difference. Employers then dismiss the results due to lack of response. 

But is it okay that a quarter of your employees are NOT engaged? What if there was a way to improve that score and leverage the full potential of your workforce? This is where a diagnostic inclusion survey makes all the difference.

Research has demonstrated  that inclusion is a precursor to engagement. Diagnostic Inclusion questions assess the root of the problem by evaluating barriers to inclusion that employees experience.  By comparing employee segments, you can identify the drivers of engagement that you have the power to impact. Discussing this evidence often creates  “light bulb” moments with leaders.   For example, data may show that your less engaged employees are more likely to feel pressure to conform,  have colleagues who diminish them,  feel unsupported by managers, or excluded from networks. Particularly if there are patterns of defined groups that feel similarly, this is an indicator of unconscious bias that would otherwise go undetected.  

The majority of unconscious bias in an organisation is a preference in favour of people who are similar to us, rather than beliefs against another group. Questions that can highlight the inequities of experiences in the workplace and connect those with performance indicators such as engagement, turnover, and team collaboration allow a company to develop a plan of action to intentionally develop everyone. You then have the formula to identify WHO is less engaged, WHY that exists, and HOW to proactively address the situation. 

When employees believe they have an equal opportunity to develop in their careers, access valuable networks, receive constructive feedback, and gain high-visibility assignments, they are far more willing to go above and beyond for their team, their manager, and their company. 

With actionable insights you can implement solutions that are directly related to challenges specific employee groups are facing and you can measurably increase engagement.