Employee Surveys: Why They’re Worth It

By David Brunick; Vice President of Human Resources at Goodwill Industries of Denver
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Here at Goodwill Industries of Denver, we recently completed our 2nd annual employee survey. After making the decision to go fully digital (we used both an online and a paper method last year), we were pleased to discover that participation remained high at 60%. Once again, the results have been eye opening and have given our nonprofit the opportunity to improve for the sake of both the organization and its employees.

Before considering whether your company or organization is ready to start polling its employees, you have to decide whether you’ll be ready to respond to what they have to say. Mistrust is one of the quick killers of an employee survey’s success. Your business or nonprofit needs to be up front about the fact that the survey will create results, however slight or grand they may be.

 The next step is to consider what might be the best time to approach your employees for their opinions. In the case of our organization, I made the decision to wait until after our three new retail stores were open. Not only did it mean that things were relatively calm at that time, but it also meant that we had more new employees to poll. Your company might do the majority of its hiring in January; in that case, it might make the most sense to wait until midway through the year when they’ve had a chance to formulate solid opinions about their hopes for the future of your organization.

Before you slap together a hodge-podge of questions, consider whether using a third party might be a good idea for your company or organization. While it is an added cost, a third party polling group can not only help you ask the right questions, but they can also help you make sense of the data. At Goodwill, we’ve opted to work with the University of Colorado at Denver Evaluation Center for a number of reasons. Not only do they have skilled professionals to help make the numbers mean a lot more, but they also provide another degree of anonymity to our survey. Our employees know another Goodwill employee won’t be looking directly at their survey, and that helps them trust that their answers will remain completely unknown to their coworkers and their managers. If your employees don’t truly believe their answers will remain anonymous, it can skew the results of your survey and discourage many people from participating.

Now, let’s say you’ve decided that a third party isn’t the best route for your organization. Or maybe it is, but you want to be involved in the crafting of the questions. What should you ask? Obviously, the questions will vary from company to company depending on any number of factors, but there are definitely a few vital topics that follow the life cycle of an employee:

1. Why did you decide to work with our organization?

Oftentimes, this question can help you figure out what you’re doing right in the recruiting process.

2. How was your experience in training? Do you feel that you were adequately prepared?

Initial training is crucial when it comes to retention rate and whether employees feel they were ready to tackle the responsibilities associated with their position.

3. Can you describe your relationship with your manager/the management?

Understanding how your employees connect with their managers will help you provide training and direction for the leaders in your company.

4. How could you get hurt on the job?

Even if physical labor isn’t a vital part of your company’s operations, it’s important to make sure your employees are safe.

5. Do you feel you’re able to whistle blow (speak up when someone is behaving in an unethical or dangerous manner)?

If employees are afraid to speak up, chances are that they won’t stay with your company for long. It’s important to make sure that they know it’s ok to say something if they know unethical behavior is occurring.

6. Do you plan to be working here next year? Why or why not?

Our HR department measures success in many ways, but an important one is by finding out whether employees wish to stay with our organization.

7. Do you feel that your pay is competitive with similar jobs in the market? / Which benefits that are offered do you appreciate most, and what would you like to see added?

This has been an extremely important question in our surveys here at Goodwill. In fact, we’ve made sure to make changes in accordance with what our employees have expressed. Even if they aren’t huge changes, your employees will still feel reassured that you’re prepared to meet them halfway.

After culling through the results from last year’s survey, our VPs set about creating action plans to respond to the survey’s results. These allowed each VP to address issue that might have been specific to their department in addition to the company-wide response to the survey.

In order to achieve high participation, make sure to give your employees paid time to complete the survey. Afterwards, remember to thank them! At the end of the day, an employee survey can really strengthen an organization or company if it’s conducted efficiently and if employees believe in its power. If you feel you can’t protect your employees’ confidentiality, don’t do a survey. In all other cases, though, it is an exciting way to measure the success of your organization.

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