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I want to make this very clear. If you will not respond to the feedback, don’t even bother to ask for it.
Welcome to The JoyPowered® Workspace Podcast, where we help HR and business leaders embrace joy in the workplace. I’m Susan White, owner of Susan Tinder White Consulting, an HR consulting practice. Joining me is my co-host and dear friend JoDee Curtis, owner of Purple Ink and Powered by Purple Ink, a professional network I am a part of.
Today’s episode is focused on surveying your employees. According to workforcescience.com, on the average, companies in America survey their employees 1.5 times a year. And in Workforce Science’s nationwide worker study, employees said they complete and submit their employee surveys on the average 77% of the time.
I thought that was pretty good.
I thought so, too, until I realized Workforce Science said that number is probably higher than reality, because employees probably say that they respond more than they do.
Well, that makes sense then.
Yeah. I don’t know about you, JoDee, but throughout my career, getting staff members to fill out surveys has not always been easy thing to get done. I think the more we survey our employees, the likelihood that they will get survey fatigue, or start ignoring surveys that are coming their way from their employer, increases. Usually we as HR and business leaders really want to know what our employees are thinking, and so we put pressure on ourselves to get as high of survey participation rates as we can. So JoDee, what has been your experience on this front?
Um, yes, it’s interesting. I’m always surprised that people will say many times, I didn’t respond or I won’t respond, because I don’t think it’ll be anonymous. I think I’m maybe a little naive to think that if people say it’s anonymous, then it’s anonymous. But as I was thinking about this question ahead of time, I also… it took me back to the 90s and the early 2000s, and I was trying to think, how did we do employee surveys back then? I mean, now we have so many tools at our fingertips that we can use, but back then it was a lot of paper.
Yes, it was.
Right? So it… if you wanted good input and had good questions you really wanted to ask, it took a lot of time to gather those results and… and implement it. So.
You’re so right. And now you can do it in a matter of minutes.
Well, when I worked in corporate America, and really since I’ve been consulting, I have found getting people to respond to exit surveys particularly challenging. I don’t know about you or our listeners. Unless the departing employee had something they really wanted to get off their chest, it’s like I’m chasing people trying to get them to tell us what do you think of working here.
So I found that very hard. I – if I could get 10% return, I sort of felt like I was doing as well as I could do. I usually didn’t have trouble – and even today, if a client asks for a benefit survey or just an ad hoc survey topic that’s really relevant to the workforce, they’re willing to do it. But we’re always pressuring ourselves to get as high of response rates as we can.
Today, we’ve invited an expert on developing, administering, and using the data from surveys in organizations. I know I’m excited to learn how to survey better. Our guest is Gina Nelson. During her first 27 years in HR, Gina helped the first company she worked for set up their HR operations from scratch, and then with several acquisitions in different industries, she was instrumental in their HR setup and merger of benefits. Then in early 2018, Gina went international and helped a company based in Finland set up their operations in the US. Gina became the entity President for the USA, Canada, and Latin America and held the position of Global HR Director for the entities across all countries. Today, Gina is Founder/CEO of Consultative HR and is based in Pompano Beach, Florida. Welcome Gina.
Gina, how would an organization start collecting employee feedback?
Well, like anything else, it takes good planning and communication. And if a company is going to start collecting feedback, they really need to understand fully why… why are they doing it, what they will do with the information, and be able to explain that to their employees. So first, they need to clearly define the purpose and how they will use the information that they collect. Are they looking for a simple ENPS data point? So that means how likely am I to recommend a friend or family member to work here? Why or why not? Or are they looking to understand how employees feel about remote work versus an in-office work environment? And how do they view their benefits, their pay? How do they work with their supervisor? Or are they trying to understand how committed the employee is to the organization, its leadership, the mission and values? These are all very different reasons to explore employee feedback. So the company needs to be able to answer the question, in what areas do we need or want to drive change? And that will help them determine why they’re doing it, what they will do with the information, and how they will explain that to their employees. Second, to start collecting employee feedback, decide on a system or a data collection method. Is it anonymous? Does it need to be anonymous for their workforce? Because feedback can be collected in many formats, like anonymous forms, surveys, focus groups, interviews. And third, they need to establish a timeline. Not just for collecting the responses. Employees don’t just want to know how long do I have to answer this survey, but they need a timeline of when and how they’ll respond and share the results. And finally, the company needs to be able to implement according to the plan and develop an ongoing trust throughout that process. The company needs to do what they say they’ll do when they say they’ll do it.
Wow, I think that’s great advice. What type of advice do you have for organizations in how they should do that response to the feedback? Any tips?
Yeah, responding to the feedback is the most important thing an organization could do, and I want to make this very clear. If you will not respond to the feedback, don’t even bother to ask for it. All it takes is one time of collecting feedback, letting it die, to destroy any desire for the employee to provide their feedback again, so the next survey will largely go unanswered. So to respond to feedback, analyze what was said, decide what you’re learning from the feedback, and what key actions you will take as a company to drive change.
That is great. You know, I’ve often wondered, should you as leadership figure out the action items, or is it important that you involve the employees, who gave you the feedback that there is an issue, in the process of figuring out the actions to take.
I definitely believe in involving the employees. Sometimes it’s a combination, you do need some strategic planning in there, but you’re also wanting to get input from the employees.
Gina, your comments remind me of a committee that I’ve served on or led for many years to plan the Indiana SHRM HR conference. And for 25 plus years, we asked people about the food at the conference, and then we would get so angry when we got the survey back, because they would say, like, “lunch on Tuesday was cold” or something that we were just like, “We did all these wonderful things for three full days, and you’re complaining about the lunch on Tuesday?” So finally, a few years ago, I said, “Guys, we need to remove the question,” right? We’re not going… Yeah. And we’re not… we’re at the same hotel that will have the same chef and the same kitchen, like, we’re not going to cover everyone and what they like and don’t like. So it’s… but it’s interesting to me now to look back on that and think why didn’t we do that 20 years ago, and take that out.
Cause you weren’t going to make a change. Right. And by the way, Gina, I love the food at this conference. It’s one of the things… I get up early to get there for breakfast, because I love this food.
But that’s a good point. Because you know, you’re… you’re bringing people together. And if you… you do want honest responses. And so you really want to gear those questions toward what you’re driving to change. So it’s a really good point that you decided to take that question out.
And how does the organization actually share the results? We just talked about how do they respond to it? But how do they share it, and specifically even when the feedback is anonymous?
If you’re saying that the feedback is anonymous, you want to protect that. One of the worst things would be if an employee hears their own words coming back to them and realize that they’ve said those exact words to their manager or others in the past, and that their… that their feedback was in a sense “outed” and no longer anonymous because of a survey. So when you share anonymous feedback, analyze the feedback and create buckets of key concerns. In other words, what are the common themes of the overall feedback that you’re getting from the employees as a group? Don’t highlight one single feedback over what multiple feedbacks are saying, and try to keep those common themes.
Gina, can you share maybe some real life from your practice experiences you’ve had kind of following this process that you’ve talked about, in order to run a nice, clean, objective, and actionable survey process?
Well, I can share that several clients use a dual approach to collect feedback, and it really depends on the client’s needs versus their ability to have multiple feedback points. Not every company wants or can do it this way, and it does need to be scalable for their organization. So this dual model, the client collects feedback consistently in two ways. So first, they’re collecting daily feedback through an anonymous third-party service. And it can be through your HRIS system or a company that specializes in employee feedback. But when you get the pulse daily from those who feel inclined to contribute information on how their workday went, you can respond to emerging trends as they arise in a consistent manner. And since you’re alerted to your employees’ daily struggles, you can figure out in how to react to those. So that was the first way to collect data in a dual approach. The second way is by sending biannual surveys through something like SurveyMonkey, or you can create a Microsoft form or something like that. In this format, the company would include relevant feedback that they have gotten from the biannual survey in their HR strategy work for the next quarter or year, depending on how urgent or big that change would be. And what they’re doing is they’re using the data as one element of building their HR… HR roadmap. So this is one way that some of my clients are collecting employee feedback consistently, and then responding to it in a way that’s effective for their organizations.
And what’s important for us to remember when we’re collecting survey feedback?
So I know this is probably going to sound like a broken record, but I have seen half attempts of collecting feedback, and then companies just getting overwhelmed or not liking what they hear, and then maybe just not knowing how to respond. So it bears repeating. If you’re not going to respond to the feedback, don’t collect it. It’s worse. It has worse implications. It just breeds resentment, and then no action is taken or employees, they just don’t feel heard, so you really need to have a plan to respond in words and in action.
Gina, I really would love your thought on this. A number of times it’s been surfaced when I’ve been trying to help roll out surveys, where employees say, okay, “Susan, you say it’s anonymous, but is it really? Is there somebody who’s going to be able to uncover me?” Do you have any tips on how we can really help employees get over that fear factor about the confidentiality of what they say or the anonymity of it?
Well, I believe that employees, they see this over time, and it becomes less of an issue. So the response rate you might get as an organization, at first, it might be lower. But if you’re consistent, and as your employees see how your… your company is responding to their feedback, and that it’s valued, it initiates planning and action within your organization, they will overcome those… that initial apprehension about providing feedback. They’ll worry far less about whether it’s anonymous or not if they see consistent positive change and that it benefits them. So just imagine you’re asked for your feedback, and then after providing your honest opinion and your experience, you then see that there are changes slated in the next quarter or half year that plan to improve experiences that you happen to have commented on. Are you really worried anymore about anonymity?
Gina, I think survey fatigue seems to affect all of us. I feel like when I get my oil changed, or when I get an Amazon package, or just the simplest of things, they want to ask me all these questions about how it went. And, you know, I want to say just… just ask me, “was there a problem or not a problem,” or something very simple. And that’s just in life in general, I think we’re getting a lot more surveys. But as an employer, what might we do to raise survey response rates and keep them up?
Yeah, so I think fatigue usually happens when you do something repetitively without gaining something valuable, especially when it takes considerable time or effort, and we feel no reward or benefit for it. So a few things a company can do to make sure that they’re getting. Just make sure they get to the point. Be concise about what you’re trying to learn, and gear the surveys in a direction you’re willing and able to take action. Because again, it’s… it’s all about that planning and action that the organization takes in response to the surveys. If the employee feels heard and they see action, even if their own feedback didn’t ignite the change that they hoped for, they’ll respond because they see that effort and they see other employees’ feedback being responded to and they’re feeling the positive change overall. And it doesn’t necessarily have to take an immediate action that comes from that feedback. I think people know that many solutions take time and decision making and strategy must be applied before action can be effectively made. But if you take immediate action on some of the pain points that you can, and then share that you’ve heard the feedback on the other complex issues and have a plan to work on those and with your strategy team. If you share that with your employees, that goes a long way. So collecting feedback is a research tool to apply when you want to understand your workforce and make continuous and consistent positive changes to improve it. And when employees see you using it in that way, they will feel that they’re working alongside you by providing their feedback and will appreciate being asked for it.
What is the difference between employee satisfaction surveys and employee engagement surveys? When is it wise to use one or the other or both?
I’m glad you asked that question, because one explores the employee’s level of commit – contentment, sorry, and happiness overall, and the other gets a little deeper into the emotional connection to the company, the values, mission, purpose, and goals. So an employee satisfaction survey gauges how happy or content you are with things like your work-life balance, your benefits or compensation, your work experience or environment overall, and understanding the results will help drive the employee’s overall work experience. Whereas an employee engagement survey, it gauges the emotional connection, the motivation, the effort, the commitment to the company. Understanding employee engagement helps drive productivity and employee retention. So there are key differences in these types of surveys and uses. You know, it’s usually a combination of both. You do want to understand both worlds, because you can have an employee who loves what they do, but they can do it anywhere, they don’t have to choose you as their employer. So getting to the root of how the employee feels about what they do is good, but it is more important to understand how they feel about who they’re doing it for and how it translates to their commitment to your organization.
I love that. Makes good sense. It sounds like if I was gonna only do one survey, I would work hard to include both types of questions.
I do believe it’s a combination.
Got it. And are there any tools or resources out there that our listeners could point to if they’re trying to figure out what are the best questions to ask? Is there any type of resource out there?
Resources like ENPS surveys, right? So if you’re asking ENPS questions, two questions. How likely are you to refer your family or a friend to work here? and Why or why not? Right? So that’s… that’s the two questions for ENPS, and you can kind of gauge that over time and see if it… you know, how you’re kind of improving things in the workplace. And then there are questions about… it just depends on what you want to change. Like, if you’re trying to drive your employees back into the workforce, you’re going to want to know why they feel it’s so important to work from home and, you know…. or is that the case? Right? So… so you’re designing questions around what you really are suffering or struggling with as an organization.
That makes great sense. Yeah. And forgive me, what does ENPS stands for?
Employee Net Promoter Score.
Ah, I got you. ENPS. Gotcha. I was, in my head, hearing EMPS. It’s ENPS. Thank you.
And finally for our JoyPowered® question, what advice can you give our listeners on creating more joy at work?
Well, I feel like joy comes from being unselfish, and that’s sometimes hard to do when we live in a me first world, right? But if you develop personal commitments to give back to the community, regardless what you’re getting from it, in my opinion, that’s where you get deep personal sense of joy. So, in applying that to the workplace, how can you give back? How is the company supporting you to give back to your community? Do you care? Do they care, actually, about corporate responsibility and have something in place? And if so, get involved in that. If they don’t, help them build one if you can. And if that can’t happen, think of other ways to give back in the workplace. Maybe it’s by a mentorship program or helping your coworkers in some meaningful way, but there’s always a way to give back. You just have to be a little creative about it.
I love it. I love it.
And you know, we know that you help companies all the time build surveys. How can our listeners reach you if they want to explore this topic more with you?
It’s a topic I love to talk about. So if they want to reach me, they can visit my website, consultativehr.com, and book a time to chat, or they can follow me and my company on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, it’s Consultative HR, and I’m Gina Nelson.
Beautiful. And we’ll put those links in our show notes for today. Gina, thank you so much for being here today. It’s really been great.
Yeah, thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.
JoDee, I thought her advice was really good. I loved her thought about her clients doing two prong survey gathering, figuring out if they do a pulse check throughout the year, employees can tell you how they’re feeling on any given day, plus having a structured, formal, biannual one. It’s kind of nice, I think, that you start to see trends much quicker by doing pulse surveys and then using some of the troubling things that you hear to put into your biannual. I thought that was a good takeaway for me.
Yes, I like it, too. We actually do a weekly pulse survey with just one question.
Ooh, what’s that question?
And that question was, “How was your week?” and then people can rank it from one to five, and they can include then why they rated it higher or lower. But I found it really interesting. I do get a trends report too, so I can tell when our results are going up or when they’re going down, but also to dig in a little bit if we see a trend going really well or really not so well. Like, what happened? What was it? Was it totally different issues for people? You know, maybe somebody was sick, so they’ll put a low score and say, “I was miserable at home,” you know. But I find that very helpful.
You know, what I love about it, first of all, the content, your ability to dig deep, but over time, you can see if there’s different periods of the year, when people’s, you know, feelings about work lull. Maybe the… I know you do a great job of pulling people together for team building and retreats and whatnot, maybe you find that we really need… in the fall, that’s when we need time to kind of reconnect and whatever. So…
…over time, yeah, I think there’s a lot you can get from doing that.
I agree. I agree. And I don’t know if companies are doing more of the survey tools or even focus groups. I don’t know if that’s a corporate trend, or just has been a Purple Ink trend, but in the past three or four months, we have had several opportunities where we worked with clients by doing focus groups, and it typically followed a survey.
To go deeper.
To go deeper…
…with smaller groups of people. And I think that’s been really helpful. And they wanted to bring in someone from the outside so there wouldn’t be any pushback or any concerns about sharing and all that too.
I really do love that. So I know we don’t really endorse any particular technology platform relevant to this, but do you have any suggestions? I know SurveyMonkey, very popular. Are there any other technology platforms that you have used with clients or would suggest?
Yeah, well, the one that we use internally is called 15five. That’s one five, and then five spelled out, F-I-V-E. So one, five, F-I-V-E. And that really is a… an opportunity for us to share feedback or share topics between an employee and their manager. But then that very first question on there asks about how was their week and there’s only maybe… well the concept is that you would spend 15 minutes completing this survey and your manager would send… would spend five minutes reviewing it, adding comments, giving input. Of course, if there’s anything, you know, serious, they could reach out to them personally. But we have really enjoyed using that tool.
Oh, that’s great. I think it’s great for listeners, gives them one more tool to go out and explore.
Right. Susan, we have a listener question today. They asked, “What are some tips for maintaining communication and relationships while working remotely?”
You know, I love this question. And JoDee, I started looking at you as an expert, because your entire team was remote pre-pandemic, right? So you’ve been thinking about this for, what, 12 years?
13 years, congratulations. So some of the things that I have mentioned to my clients, and I know many of them have been trying out different ones to figure out what’s most effective, but I want to ask for your input too. First of all, Slacking a lot, or whatever your instant messaging system is, making sure that you’re, as a manager and certainly as a colleague, you’re checking in, you’re talking to people not just about work, but just checking in with them personally. I do think for a remote team that really needs to work closely together, you should have some type of a daily, quick huddle. If there’s a team that’s interconnected that you’re waiting on each other’s input for you to process something, you need to at some point in the day – and it can be short, it can be five, six minutes – but just a quick huddle. What needs to get done today? What are our priorities? I love weekly virtual one-on-ones for managers to at least have open office hours, even if it’s not formalized, we’re going to meet every Wednesday at four o’clock, make sure that there’s open drop-in a couple of hours a week, so employees know that they can review things that they need to with their boss. I do like periodic social sessions, I love to play games. You know me, I love a game. But you know, having a virtual game of Wheel of Fortune or something, just to get people laughing a little bit. Food deliveries where everybody simultaneously is having some kind of a snack together. I like… I’ve seen some companies do… assign remote buddies, that they realize that hybrid’s here for good or that they’re going to keep some jobs full-time remote work, making sure they’ve got a remote buddy, somebody who they can reach out to just to connect personally with. And then for every team meeting, I don’t think it hurts to do an icebreaker, just so that that keeps reminding people that there’s a personal side, and it just keeps deepening the personal relationships. You know, one thing that I’ve seen Purple Ink do that just made me giggle the first time I saw it was “Guess the Desk.” And what they do is they – I think it’s you know, it’s optional – but any employee wants to take a photo of their workspace, they send it in to JoDee’s office manager, and then she sends it out. Everybody has to guess who desk… whose desk it is. Well, I did it, like, immediately because I thought that was a very clever thing. So JoDee, what else? I mean, you… a lot of these things I know you’re already doing. But any other ideas or maybe your clients are doing?
Well, I think you’ve listed a lot of them. I will tell you, I specifically like the one you mentioned about having a remote buddy, and I’m attending a conference this weekend and I was assigned to a buddy, so I am the person, you know, that is supposed to have the information for them. And it’s for a certain part of the conference and that some people can’t be there live, and we’re doing a live session, so I’m reporting back to my person whom I’ve never met before. And I thought what a great way for me to connect with someone new and them, as well. But also then, to share specific information about something at the conference. Very clever. Yeah, I was impressed.
It’s time for in the news. Karen Matthews wrote an AP article on May 26, 2023, entitled, “New York City makes it illegal to discriminate against weight and height.” The article noted that on November 22, 2023, it will be the law in New York City that discrimination based on body size, specifically weight and or height, will be illegal there. This new ordinance applies to employment, housing, and public accommodation. The only exception for someone seeking a job is if the candidate’s height or weight prevents them from performing the essential functions of the job. Other cities who have banned discrimination in employment based on weight or other physical appearance as of the summer of 2023 so far are San Francisco, California; Washington, DC; and Madison, Wisconsin. Just personally, I’m in favor of anything that ensures employment opportunities are open to all and changes like this that make workplaces more inclusive. Not allowing companies to decide person – a person’s employability based on how they look is, I think, a really good thing. Listeners, let us know what you think.
Yeah, I’d love to know. Well, thanks for listening today and make it a JoyPowered® day.
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