Employee engagement surveys have become important tools for HR departments, but how often should they be conducted? At many workplaces, surveys have become just another annual HR project along with open enrollment and the holiday party.
That was the case for many years at OneDigital, a 3,800-employee insurance, financial and HR consulting company based in Atlanta. But after a few years, OneDigital's chief people officer, Elizabeth Chrane, realized that annual just wasn't cutting it.
"When we were doing [surveys] once a year, it gave me good insight as to how to build my strategy every year and what was important to the people, but it wasn't quite nimble enough," said Chrane during the June 2023 episode of the People + Strategy podcast. "I wasn't getting immediate information that I could act on and shift on and provide all of the leaders within our company feedback about how they could be better people leaders."
So three years ago, OneDigital started surveying its employees three times each year. Two surveys each year focus broadly on engagement topics, and one focuses on diversity and inclusion issues.
"I love being able to measure our progress through those surveys and also be able to pivot strategy on an as-needed basis," said Chrane. "We really need to hear from [employees] about what's important to them, what's stressing them out that day, what's going really well and the questions that they have. That feedback helps guide us every single time that we do this, and it gets updated on a regular basis."
The more frequent feedback has also allowed OneDigital's managers to take quicker action on their employees' wants and needs.
"All of our people leaders get feedback from their teams directly in that survey. We set some national strategy and goals around the [results], but every single individual leader also takes action by what they hear from our people," said Chrane. She noted that another positive byproduct of the more regular surveys is that their employee engagements scores have climbed each of the past three years.
Chrane also stressed that HR departments should avoid looking at employee survey results as one large homogenous group.
"When doing engagement surveys, it's really important that you slice and dice the data by age, understanding what it is that different people want, because the demographics are changing," said Chrane. "We have a lot more younger people in the workforce, but there's also a lot of people who might have retired now that are working longer and they want different things as well."
Note: According to SHRM's Managing Employee Surveys toolkit, here are other issues to consider when to deciding on the frequency and timing of your employee surveys:
- Avoid conducting surveys during cycles that could skew the results either positivity or negatively. For example, bonus season or high-stress periods can provide an unrealistic picture of normal employee satisfaction if year-over-year normal operating results are the objective.
- Avoid peak holiday seasons to ensure a maximum response from employees.
- Schedule the survey during the organization's historically slow periods so employees will have the necessary time to devote to the survey.
More Takeaways from Elizabeth Chrane in the People + Strategy Podcast:
"Working Parents Village" helps employees bond over kids' issues. "At OneDigital, we started an employee resource group that we call our Working Parents Village. It's run by employees who are working parents and they support one another. They share tips on how to get through the work week or they use it as a space to vent that day and they need to say, 'Okay, I'm having a hard time balancing all of this.' They lean on one another and they've formed this amazing community. And we, as the employer, have gotten a lot of great suggestions from them on different things that we can do. … It's a fairly small investment on our part, but it is something that is just that little bit of help."
Hybrid is the future, so look at your motivations for in-office work. "For employers, hybrid is definitely the place where we're going to go and you're going to get the most people and your most diverse workforce. If you're working toward having everyone inside [your workplace], you're going to be limited in what you can do. … I often counsel leaders to take a step back, look at the things that they really want in having somebody come to work. What are they trying to get out of that. If were able to manage for two years to have a remote workforce, where is it that they can give?"
Treat employees like customers. "When I talk to managers about how to be better people leaders … my main message is to treat our people like customers. Think about what their needs are, how do they keep people wanting to come back and enjoy their experience and be really active and productive and engaged members of our workforce. I think about that from the perspective of recruiting and retaining all of our people."