Employee surveys – Are they any good?

By | July 1, 2014



Lets say you are an employer and want a gauge of how your employees feel about their workplace? Your first thought would be to ask the employee directly, but that won’t work, simply because all employees will give a good feedback when asked directly. I mean, who wants to invite the wrath of their senior management who possess control over your income and even your job! Can you conduct an online survey and collate its results, probably, but what if they are too bitter to swallow? Can you realistically get back to your employees with the results of said surveys? Of course not, that would be a disaster! We don’t want to let employees know that many of them think that we are a shit company. Enter the “professional consultants”. I won’t name the companies, but we all know who they are. Those guys who send out “anonymous surveys” on behalf of your employers, promising anonymity and complete fairness. Problem is, they aren’t.

First, on anonymity. The idea that any survey can be anonymous is foolish. Even if there is no login required, you will fill it up using your companies’ network. It is not too difficult to figure out the IP address where the survey was filled from, and that leads them to you. However most surveys require you to put in a userid and password sent to you in a separate email. You really think that gives you anonymity, then good luck with the internet! There is always the possibility that you can be targeted for your honest feedback.

Now to fairness. These surveys, from the start, are designed to be unfair. The questions are mostly not related to any real problems, they are written in a loopy language that will force you to give a good feedback, e.g. Do you think that your manager performs the duties of a manager as you expect him to? Answer from a scale of 0(Very poor) to 9(excellent). Do you have a way of escalating problems ? Do you think the earth is round and shiny? Most of these questions, on close inspection have a clear bias towards the positive. When you answer on a scale of 0 – 9, anything greater than a 3 is considered to be good. Remember the last survey you took, where the results said that 90% people think their managers are good? Yeah, those 90% are the people who entered a score of 4-9 in those questions. Mostly, however, you will never see a breakup at a per-question level. You always see a breakup in terms of parameters that weren’t straightforward questions. You won’t ever see a question in a survey asking ” How happy are  you with your salary?”, and if you do, the result would conclude that over 80% of employees are very happy with their salary, which is a lie. No one is ever 100% happy with their salary, otherwise people won’t complain about not getting a hike. So, if these surveys are no more than a sham, why are they done?

The answer depends on what level you’re at in the company. For very senior management, it is important to project that the general mood in the company is upbeat. So what if there is a 20% attrition rate in a region, its just an anomaly. If you are middle management, it means you can create more action items for your managers to improve their parameters. If you are junior management/employee, the survey is there to give you a false sense of contentment. So what if you are unhappy with your manager, 80% people aren’t. So what if you’re unhappy with your salary, 80% are. Makes you think that you are a whiner, and you will be a little more appeased and quiet. And if you are HR, based on the results of the surveys, you can create more meaningless trainings that will make leaders in a 1 hour compact, role play based interactive module.

I’ve participated in multiple such surveys over the years. I’ve seen companies pay a lot of money to these so-called consultants. Consultants who know that the people paying them want to hear good news, and their job is to make this good news no matter what actually comes out in the survey. The lack of transparency in every single one of these surveys puts a massive question mark on their legitimacy. And yet, employers will continue this sham!

Keeps everyone happy at the end of the day, they say. Bullshit, says I!


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