How to Fail Your Employee Survey Really Hard: A Beginner’s Guide

by Daniel Hannig

There are already many companies out there today who have mastered the art of creating employee surveys so complicated you need an advanced degree in literature to figure out the wording and a Ph.D. in philosophy to figure out why this survey is relevant at all. We have created this guide to function as a lighthouse to all managers and HR professionals seeking to confuse their employees with unclear agendas and incoherent follow-up measures, only to wonder why culture hasn’t improved because, after all, they have been “doing employee surveys this whole time!”.

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Find Reasons to not Invest in an Employee Survey

Here’s the situation: You’re constantly hearing your employees complain about the lack of communication with their supervisors, about how they feel undervalued and that this makes them do the bare minimum of what is required of them at work. You know what works best in these situations? Three words: Top. Down. Approach. Don’t waste your time trying to find out what your employees want. At the end of the day, you call the shots. You might be thinking: “Wouldn’t it be more effective to hear the opinion of people that are actually witnessing these problems first hand?” No. Managers – and only managers – know what’s best for the team.

Inform Nobody of the Upcoming Employee Survey

Should you still decide to conduct an employee survey, here are a few general rules that always help: Don’t let anyone know what management is planning. Provide as little context as possible. Do not inform a single person about the upcoming employee survey, the reason why you are conducting it, or how they can participate. When you are ready to start, send out the E-mail containing the survey, but be sure to make your subject line as non-descriptive as possible by heading with something like “fyi” or “:)”.

No Anonymity, No Problem

Surely you have heard about the importance of transparency when it comes to company culture? Well, an employee survey is the best platform to make use of this. Keep your employee survey as anonymous as an election in a George Orwell novel. Do this by communicating to your employees that you value “transparency above all else” and that this is the reason why their name and job title are obligatory info that must be provided before starting the survey. Not only will this guarantee a high participation rate, but this method will also reduce criticism of management by at least 50%.

Will this method lead to reliable data? Not really. Will your shareholders love the results? They will.

You’re welcome.

Bigger is Always Better

Ok, so far we have created a survey that no one has been informed of and will certainly generate completely unusable data. The next step is to define how often this survey should be conducted. Generally, the best way to go is to do one HUGE survey at the end of the year. One that also covers topics that were relevant in January and that nobody remembers anymore. Be sure to include questions that require your employees to retrieve multiple forgotten excel sheets from their archives. The cherry on top of a huge employee survey is that they regularly also take a very long time to analyze. Be sure to take your sweet time. Best case scenario: The problems being addressed in your survey have, by the time you have analyzed the results, solved themselves (by turning into different, but bigger, problems).

Follow up Measures? What Follow Up Measures?

If you are really serious about conducting an employee survey with zero impact, then you have to make sure that your follow up measures make no sense at all. In fact, just forget about follow up measures altogether. If somebody should ask what the next steps are, assert your position of power by saying something like: “Good question, Steve, but that topic is above your paygrade”. Sentences like that always instill the necessary respect and are at the same time helpful and nurturing for the manager – employee relationship.

If you do decide to go for follow up measures, make sure they have no correlation whatsoever with the data you retrieved from your employee survey. As an example, if you find out that the parents working at your company are not getting enough quality time with their families, scheduling an obligatory team building activity is the surefire way to go (remember: top. down. approach.). Pro tip: Schedule the activity on a weekend and don’t forget to inform your employees beforehand that the company will only be paying for non-alcoholic beverages.

Seriously though…

Employee surveys are a powerful tool for any business no matter the size. All the more important that you inform yourself on how to make the most of it and not spend valuable time and resources on a survey that yields little to no results.

Learn more about how not to fail at employee surveys in our Employee Survey Guide


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