In defence of the annual staff survey

CC image courtesy of Michael Coghlan on Flickr
CC image courtesy of Michael Coghlan on Flickr

Is there still a place for the traditional annual employee survey?

I think there is.

I’ve been hearing a lot of backlash recently about annual surveys: that a yearly check isn’t enough; that employers should know how their people feel without surveying them; or that senior managers just pay lip-service to the results.

All of this can be true. But it doesn’t mean that the annual staff survey in itself is flawed.

Done right, the all-staff survey should be the piece that gives you the powerful set of data about your people that you can benchmark year on year.

But if that’s all you do, then no wonder you’re not seeing the benefit.

The survey should always form part of a continual cycle of seeking employee feedback. A programme of activity that includes smaller pulse checks, focus groups and discussion about employee issues in as many of your internal channels as possible. And it shouldn’t replace regular check-ins between managers and individuals.

Most importantly, is what happens afterwards. Does feedback get actioned? Does the business improve? Do employees see a genuine intention by the business to show that their feedback matters?

Unless you take action as a result of employee feedback it really doesn’t matter if you survey your people once a year or every single day.

So. If you can’t sustain that, don’t do it.

All surveys need to start with the will of the business to improve and to be a better place to work. They need to be supported by clear processes for acting on the results, and the resources to back this up. ‘We’re too busy to look into this right now’ cannot be an option.

Better still, you develop a culture where everyone feels accountable for business improvements and where everyone is empowered to make those improvements.

It shouldn’t just be the responsibility of leadership; that just isn’t sustainable.

As internal communicators, we need to continue to press our organisations to look beyond the annual employee survey. To build continual improvement into the way we work and as something that everyone is truly responsibly for.


3 thoughts on “In defence of the annual staff survey

  1. A timely reminder Anna – especially re auctioning the results. Don’t forget to report back on those actions ensure they are visible and link them back to the survey results. “If a tree falls in the woods and no-one saw it fall…” Survey results also needs to be considered with other data such as productivity and absenteeism, levels of internal email traffic and between whom, activity on enterprise social networks . I’d be keen to understand what other data people gather for other purposes but rely on / could rely on to analyse and understand culture, communication and sentiment within their organisations.


  2. Great post! I would be eager to see what people do outside of the surveys as far as pulse checks – I like the idea of having Culture Communities – an employee from each site and to discuss on going concerns – but I am not sure on how to structure this effectively with the right questions? can anyone offer some suggestions please?


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