Employee Satisfaction Measured in Real Time

Ups and downs of employee engagement could be tracked like S&P 500

By Dana Wilkie Oct 8, 2013
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Imagine a stock-excha​nge-like ticker graph that measures employee engagement all year long—with spikes and dips that can be pegged to specific events.

Or, employee satisfaction surveys so individualized that managers are alerted when high-performing workers are at risk of leaving.

Such are the advances envisioned by a new white paper from the Society for Human Resource Management and the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology.

The paper, titled “The Evolution of Employee Opinion Surveys—The Voice of Employee as a Strategic Business Management Tool,” was published Oct. 2, 2013. It examines how employee surveys are evolving and how companies can use the results to make changes.

“The ability to convert data … into practical and impactful action is a critical area where most companies fall short,” wrote the paper’s authors, David L. Van Rooy and Ken Oehler. “While organizational leadership is still interested in gaining insight into their employees’ satisfaction, attitudes and commitment, the question of how to use information about employees’ level of engagement as a business indicator that drives positive action is now of primary concern.”

Oehler is global engagement practice leader for Aon Hewitt. Van Rooy is senior director for global organizational effectiveness at Walmart.

Technological Changes

While organizations in emerging markets such as Latin America and Asia Pacific still rely on paper-and-pencil assessments, nearly three out of four organizations (74 percent) now use online surveys to measure employee engagement, according to an analysis of more than 7,000 global clients conducted by Aon Hewitt.

That move has not only made survey taking faster, it’s also allowed HR managers to conduct sophisticated analysis of large amounts of survey data using online tools. These tools can, for instance, help managers pinpoint what inspires employee engagement and the attitudes that affect business performance.

“Technology-driven administration and reporting does require some investment beyond traditional research approaches, but many organizations are finding that the efficiency, scale, speed and value to internal stakeholders that can be achieved is well worth it,” the authors wrote.

An increasing number of companies are including in employee surveys “action planning indicators” (APIs)—questions that ask workers if they were told of the results from earlier surveys and if managers took steps to address employee feedback. The APIs, the authors wrote, are one way to measure whether managers are doing anything with survey data.

“Emphasis can be placed on what managers do with their results after each survey,” noted the authors, who suggested a “system that rewards managers” who follow up with action, “not just those who have high scores” demonstrating their workers are engaged.

More Specifics

The authors wrote that employee surveys are becoming far more specific, perhaps measuring workers’ emotional energy and reactions to change and stress, as well as how they view workplace inclusiveness, labor relations and wellness.

Survey results specific to each worker could produce employee engagement “profiles” to identify or even predict turnover trends.

“Imagine a scenario where the same type of algorithm that allows credit card companies to identify and notify customers of potential credit card fraud is used to notify a manager that one of her high-performing direct reports is at turnover risk,” the authors wrote.

Tracking employee attitudes may happen every few months, weeks or even days, and it may be fed back to managers in real time, the authors wrote. This could allow a “stock ticker graph” where engagement is tracked regularly, with spikes and dips that can be tied to discrete events, the authors wrote.

“This type of technology … can unlock the real promise of employee research—efficient, ongoing dialogue and feedback with individual employees at the center of the solution, as opposed to one large organizational survey event that happens once a year or two.”

Also on the horizon, the authors wrote, are increased efforts to share survey results with employees.

“For instance … an employee may receive their own individualized engagement report that provides insights into how they can also take an active role in addressing areas of opportunity,” the authors wrote. “In other words, they become part of the solution instead of relying on managers to drive all changes.”

Dana Wilkie is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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