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Are your employees happy?

Are you sure? Here are the five keys to getting honest, actionable employee feedback.

Davi Quintiere and Samantha Carr | May 30, 2017

According to a Columbia University study, the likelihood of job turnover at an organisation with a strong company culture is a mere 13.9 percent, whereas the probability of job turnover in poor company cultures is 48.4 percent.

But figuring out how your company culture stacks up, and how happy your employees really are, can be tough. Here are five ways to ensure you’re getting frank, helpful feedback from your employees—so you can keep them happy.

1) Shift from annual to ongoing

The first obvious step to discovering how happy your employees are is to survey them. But it’s not quite as straightforward as it seems. Engagement surveys, the default way to get feedback, can easily become ineffective.

In most organisations, the engagement survey is an annual event that takes a snapshot of a moment in time. People’s happiness results can be distorted by many factors: if they just got a bonus, if there’s only been 72 hours of sunshine in their city in the last five months, if they just finished a big, successful project—or if they’re in the middle of a big, stressful project. People’s responses may also differ considerably depending on their position and time in the organisation. The key to getting an accurate picture of employee happiness is to get regular vs. annual feedback.

2) Select the survey writers carefully

At some companies, the same people who write the survey questions are the ones most concerned about the results—e.g, a satisfaction survey about benefits written by the HR people in charge of benefits. This leads to loaded questions and biased responses.

Ask a diverse set of people from different departments of your company to write or at least review the questions. This helps ensure that you’re covering many different aspects of your company culture in the survey. It also helps ensure that questions are clear to everyone, which, in today’s multigenerational and globalized workforce, is more important than ever.

“The key to getting an accurate picture of employee happiness is to get regular vs. annual feedback.”

3) Create a clearly confidential process

Don’t underestimate how skeptical people can be about the confidentiality of the survey. If people think there’s any chance at all that the survey isn’t completely anonymous, they won’t complete it, period. It’s simply not worth the risk to them.

In an exercise a few years ago, one major energy company was getting low responses to its anonymous online survey, and it was uncovered that people didn’t believe it was truly anonymous. Management then tried the old trick of a physical suggestion box, but that also didn't increase participation. Only when the box was moved to an area without any security cameras did feedback start to come in.

Recognize that different people will respond differently to different channels. No matter how much you emphasize that your internal online survey is confidential, some people will doubt it. Instead of using internal systems, use established, respected third-party platforms. People are more likely to trust that those platforms are fully anonymous.

Also, if the survey allows for more than one response per person, consider multiple input channels: an online survey, suggestion box, mobile app, etc. People can choose whichever one they’re comfortable with.

4) Use customer experience techniques

Once the results are in, it’s time to analyse them. We find that applying customer experience techniques to employee experience yields actionable insights. For example, segmenting employees and mapping the various employee journeys enables us to “tag” particular feelings to certain segments or career stages and plan targeted interventions.

“Consider multiple input channels: an online survey, suggestion box, mobile app, etc. People can choose whichever one they’re comfortable with.”

5) Get to the root of the problem

It’s also important to include your audience in the analysis, validate the findings, and identify the root causes for both positive and negative feedback. Getting to the true underlining reasons, especially regarding negative feelings, requires effort. One technique we’ve used is to gather teams in sessions facilitated by external experts and use online voting tools which enable participants to provide instant, unattributable feedback through their mobile phones. This has helped us uncover teams’ issues and concerns, which their managers knew nothing about. Once the results start to show up on the screen, people tend to open up and share their true feelings.

Real feedback, real change

We all want our employees to be happy. To get there, it’s essential to create a feedback process that’s unbiased, organised, and makes employees comfortable enough to share their honest thoughts and feelings about working for your company. Real feedback enables you to make real changes that will make your employees enjoy coming into work every day.

Samantha Carr is no longer with Slalom.

Davi Quintiere

Davi Quintiere is a client service partner in Slalom’s London office. Davi has been delivering business transformation projects and implementing behaviour change for nearly 20 years. Follow him on LinkedIn.

Photo of Samantha Carr

Samantha Carr is a solution principal in Slalom's London office and has a passion for people and how they use digital technologies to change the way we work. Samantha has worked on people change and HR transformation programmes for the past 12 years and is a firm advocate of HR’s strategic role in defining, shaping, and evolving talent to drive success.


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