How often should you conduct an employee engagement survey?

Historically, if they decided to listen to their staff, most companies used to commission a grand staff survey every two years or so. However, in the last few years two things have happened in tandem:

1) We have become aware how useful it is to understand staff sentiment

2) Technology has provided the means

The result has been a general move to surveying more often, with at least annual surveys becoming the norm, and some organisations sending questions to staff on a weekly or even daily basis. The world has moved from one extreme to the other without properly considering the implications.

So, how often should you survey?

We are often asked this question by companies that are either starting to move from the old annual staff survey model to something a little more dynamic, or have never done an engagement survey of any kind. Our answer depends slightly on what they have been doing before. For example, it doesn’t make sense to start with a quarterly survey schedule if the staff are not used to it, are already pushed for time and have no sense of what value the exercise would bring them.

Getting started

Starting from scratch, it would usually be best to start with a one-off survey, taking time to explain carefully to staff, line managers and the board what you are doing, why, how it will work and what benefits should flow from it. The most crucial work has to be done with the line managers, getting them into a position to follow up diligently on all the things that emerge from the survey so that their teams have a less frustrating and more satisfying experience of work.

If this is done well, and staff get a genuine benefit from taking part in the survey, they will be more eager to participate next time, both in the survey and any subsequent work. The result will be raised participation rates – it is common to see a 10% increase in participation following a well-conducted survey cycle – with more information gained from each staff member and increasing levels of trust with the staff.

Cycle of change

Safe, sustainable change takes time.  Time to ask the questions, consider the answers, collaborate in constructing new solutions, see them implemented and bed in, and so on. This is one of the main reasons (the other being survey fatigue) why WeThrive recommends a learning cycle of three to four months. Always-on, Pulse, etc. surveys are going to generate interesting results that reflect short term changes in the employee experience, but change of any importance is a longer-term process, especially in companies of any size.

In any case, most companies already have an always-on listening system that allows employees to connect with their line managers – it’s called the telephone.

The ideal

Each organisation finds its own way to schedule its listening activities. Some do an annual benchmark survey and then deploy tactical surveys in areas where there is stress, or change. A new project team coming together would be worth surveying to find out who is integrating well and who needs support, for example. Other companies settle on a learning cycle that lasts three or four months, and this is our usual recommendation.

A three-four month interval gives you time to do the whole learning cycle properly: learn using a survey, thank the staff, plan, do the work, give it time to bed in, tweak as needed, then start again.

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