August 26, 2015 Anil Saxena

3 Reasons Your Employee Engagement Survey Isn’t Working

“Employee engagement” is a trend that seems to be continuing to gain strength.

• It’s on  the tongues of HR departments across a panorama of industries,
• Preached by gurus at company retreats,
• Worried about by leaders and managers at all levels

There is ample research that shows the connection between engagement, customer loyalty and profit.

Having happy, personally invested employees is essential to the continued success of any company.

It can be the difference between

• A company with consistent repeat business and
• A company that destroys itself from within.
There are hundreds and hundreds of surveys and companies that provide them.  Unfortunately,  Most of the surveys are actually doing very, very little to foster real, live employee engagement.

“By misunderstanding, mismanaging and mis-measuring employee engagement, we are failing to provide a signal to our nation’s most valuable resource” – Dov Seidman
Here’s why:

1.    The Questions Aren’t Actionable
There has been ample research regarding powerful, effective and actionable employee engagement survey questions.  However, many engagement surveys involve questions that no manager can take action on:

• Have you been surprised by the behavior of people at work whom you thought you knew well
• I understand CME Group’s corporate goals and growth strategy.

Both questions are valid and interesting, but not very actionable by a front line manager.

Questions should be straightforward and easy for each manager to act upon, for example:

• My successes are recognized by my manager and coworkers

The surveys can (and do) measure an employee’s general feelings about the workplace and their particular position in it, but questions that can not be acted upon easily cause confusion and resentment.
2.    All The Emphasis is On the Survey
When implementing employee engagement surveys, companies (especially larger ones) put all the focus on the survey itself – requiring participation, collecting and analyzing data, distributing results to managers – instead of on the purpose of the survey: assessing and fostering employee engagement.

Focusing on the survey and reports can be  rabbit hole of resource usage, without much positive change to show for it.

The survey is a tool to encourage conversation.  However, if all the energy is used on conducting the survey, it can actually work against dialogue.  Make sure that they survey is used to promote conversation NOT just taking a survey.
3.    Too Much Time Between Surveys and Results

Even if engagement surveys are masterfully executed, capture truly relevant data, and lead to actionable plans for change and development, too much time between survey and results is deadly to engagement. The survey is top of mind when the survey is taken. If survey results take a long time to process, employees often feel like their opinions don’t matter or that the company has something to hide.

Given the advances in survey technology, there is no reason that results take any longer than two or three business weeks to be available.

Employee engagement is extremely important, but has to be addressed in productive ways. There are some key things to remember about leveraging the power of employee engagement

• Since front line managers are the key to engagement, make sure the survey is actionable by them.
• Don’t emphasize the survey emphasize the dialogue after the survey. Use the survey to promote communication!
• Don’t try to make the results sound perfect or “positive”.  Focus on getting result out quickly. Then, give your front line managers the tools to talk about engagement and weave it into their every day routines.
Engagement done well can drive high performance.  But, if engagement is treated like just another program it can actually be detrimental.  
What is your company doing to build a culture of employee engagement?
Anil Saxena is the President of Cube 2.14, an organizational development consulting firm that works with clients to increase both customer and employee engagement while decreasing turnover, improving customer retention, and increasing profitability within organizations.

Saxena is a certified High Impact coach and trainer and a Joint Application Design facilitator. He is also certified by both Rush Systems and IBM as a focus group facilitator. He is an inaugural member of Northwestern University’s Learning and Organizational Change program, and he earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology.


Cube 2.14 will increase your organizational effectiveness. We specialize in developing innovative, practical solutions to create productive workplaces that exceed goals.