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Post-covid employee engagement

Fiona Passantino, October 2021

Another email in your inbox from HR.

“How are you doing? How do you feel about working here?”

Another employee survey with the headline: We care about your opinion!

Surveys are great. For management. They tick the boxes, offer information and communicate the perception of listening and empathy to employees. But they also offer valuable insight into the minds of employees and show a rough snapshot of the business culture. If done well, they offer actionable information about areas of improvement, or potential crises to come. Response rates for internal engagement surveys tend to hover around five percent[1]. HR teams shrug and chalk it up to the growing blight of “survey fatigue”.

Employees aren’t suffering from “survey fatigue”. They coming down with an acute case of “no-one’s-listening-so-why-even-botherism”. They have given terabytes of data about their feelings of value, their future and have sent any number of small, non-insane ideas about how to improve their working environment. But for years they have been screaming into the wind. A recent study by McKinsey revealed that the main driver behind low survey participation was the perception that leadership wouldn’t do anything about the results[2].

Post Covid. The Great Resignation. A time when nearly 4 million Americans are quitting their jobs; the coveted 35–45-year-old cohort[3]. Suddenly, knowing what’s troubling employees and how to keep them happy is essential to the health of a business.

The answers have been there all this time. Time for management to sit up and take notice.

Five tips for surveys that work

Tip 1: make it easy
We don’t always like to hear what people are actually saying.

Shorten your surveys to ten, crucial multiple-choice questions. Likert scales are easy to use, clicking on smiley faces feels satisfying and fun. Make sure the questions are clear and easy to read.

The whole survey should take less than two minutes to complete. Send the first question in the body of the email already, to get the ball rolling. Have one field available for open comments to gather ideas. This will save having to come up with your own ideas later.

Tip 2: shorten the loop

Often, a great deal of time goes by from the moment a survey is taken to the time that the data is made available. Usually between 3-6 months[4]. This already sends the signal that management is in no particular hurry to hear what employees have to say. Shorten this time to 1-2 weeks using software to automatically visualize and analyze the data and make the team running the survey doesn’t have too much else on their plate.

Tip 3: make visible changes

As soon as the numbers come in, pick one or two small, easy and immediately actionable, visible changes that don’t cost too much time, money and personnel to make real. Make sure these changes are permanent; if physical, make sure that they are lasting. A better coffee machine with real beans. No more plastic cups. If  changes are process-oriented, such as having fewer meetings or switching to a new communication tool, make sure they are intentionally, permanently integrated into the current ways of working.

Tip 4: communicate

Send out the results immediately, giving people access to as much information as possible. Not just the responses to the short questions, but what the ideas were. With a few ideas out there, people can also vote on their top 3 best ideas for change, as long as any one of the winning ideas are realistic, actionable and potentially lasting. Communicate the plans clearly with a timeline of what people can expect, and when.

Tip 5: listen through other channels

Surveys normally appear about twice a year. Then we’re “done” and its business as usual for another six months. But that’s the pre-covid way of thinking. Our eyes and ears need to always be open, actively taking the pulse of employee sentiment. Smaller “pulse” surveys with 2-3 questions can be run once a month or even more frequently, as long as they are quick, easy to fill out and relate to a particular topic: do we adopt Slack as a new tool? How many days a week do we show up at the office?

Most employees regularly express what they want in a variety of ways; during meetings, during 1-2-1 chats, at Q&A time after a (digital) town hall event, by email or just in passing. Make sure those ideas and feelings find their way to a to-do list and that time and resources are devoted to making them real.

Surveys have a point. They are there to discover what changes management needs to make to offer the best possible working environment. If you’re not in the market for change, then don’t bother sending them out. If changes are impossible at the moment due to time or budget restraints, then let people know. Or, run a survey when the resources are in place to make change happen.

If surveys bring about real change, then chances are, people will fill them out again next time. Who knows; they might even send a note of thanks in the open section.

[1] Fitzgerald, 2021. “Employees don’t have survey fatigue – they are tired of being ignored”, Comment, HR, Workplace Insight Magazine.

[2] Schaninger, Lauricella, 2021. “Survey fatigue? Blame the leader, not the question”. McKinsey & Co.


[3] Cook, 2021. “Who Is Driving the Great Resignation?”, Harvard Business Review

[4] Elzinga, 2021. “People don’t get survey fatigue, they get lack of action fatigue”, Culture Amp Magazine.