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Are Employee Satisfaction Surveys a Waste of Time?

Employee satisfaction surveys have their critics and just conducting an employee satisfaction survey every now and then without any specific aim or without the backing of senior management then some of those critics have a valid point, employee satisfaction surveys can in some circumstances appear to be a waste of time.

Every way you slice it employee satisfaction surveys offer value, value to the senior management, value to the middle management and value to the employees working at the metaphorical coal face. The key word is 'offer', they are not on their own a panacea to resolving problems but they are a step on the road, a useful tool, a means to an end.

The aim of an employee survey should be to:

  • Identify both potential and real problems;
  • measure the moral of the workforce;
  • ensure that the business processes are correct, understood and can and are adapting to a changing world;
  • ensure that the working environment is safe and pleasant;
  • enable senior management to engage with the employees.

Senior Management Support

Without senior management backing an employee survey is unlikely to fulfil its potential to improve the business. However, if there are 'problems', then having the opportunity to record the problems is the first step in having them resolved.

HR are often criticised as the instigators of surveys, their harshest critics perhaps suggesting that they only do so to justify their jobs. It is a fact that there are good and bad HR personnel. The good will act as a proactive conduit between the employees and senior management, and can often help channel the strong feelings of employees and bring to the attention of senior management problems that many a senior manager might otherwise prefer to ignore.

HR need to be able to backup what they report and employee satisfaction surveys can be the good solid evidence they require.

Crude Metrics

A common criticism of employee satisfaction surveys is where Senior Management can demand high scores and anyone dropping below a certain threshold is then held to account.

This type of approach is reminiscent of the fast food analogy where the senior management issued a directive that anything dropped on the floor must be thrown in the bin. However, another directive ordered that the bin content was to be examined at the end of each shift and if too many items were found in the bin the shift were to be reprimanded and penalised. The net result being that items dropped on the floor were no long picked off the floor and placed in the bin but served to the customers instead.

A key objective of any employee satisfaction survey should be that the information gathered will help the organization improve. Having a policy where bonus payments and/or penalties are dished out on the basis of a satisfaction survey is to miss the point and it will only encourage employees to manipulate the results for short-term gains. The 'score five to survive' syndrome is a result if this where employees are encourage to core high so that their department or division will maintain their jobs and/or receive bonus payments.

If an employee survey highlights a problem, management should be less obsessed about the score and more intent on investigating and addressing the issue and not on initiating action that will merely supress the problems and drive any problems underground.

Another criticism of surveys is that too few questions are asked, and/or the answer options too simplistic.

It is true that closed questions do make the analysis easier, but asking for comments, allowing people to expand on their answers is important and does provide senior management with a broad mood barometer.

Allowing Employees to remain Anonymous

Allowing an employee to remain anonymous is not always a good thing. Good managers should be able to handle criticism, fair or unjust. More importantly, good managers will want to be able to address problems and to do so they need to be able to communicate with those that have specific issues.

Just because someone has a grievance it should not automatically be accepted that that grievance is justified, in many instances it is not. For unjust grievances a good manager should want to tackle it head on and put it to bed, with as much vigour as they would like to resolve just grievances.

Different Strokes

A large organization will normally be blessed with personnel with all sorts of character, some reliable and conscientious, some less reliable but creative, some slow and methodical, some quick but a little haphazard. In a time of crisis a company often relies on its mavericks, but the mavericks need the 'Steady Eddies' to keep the ship on an even keel and pointed in the right direction. A hammer may be a good tool to have but when building a house a variety of tools are needed and after all, it would be a very dull world if everyone was the same.

When canvassing a large number of employees a good Employee Satisfaction Surveys will appreciate that not everyone is the same and will ensure that the questions asked are not bias towards a specific type of employee.

For smaller companies, or for specific roles, it may be justified to have an ideal set of character attributes, but it shouldn't be underestimated that there are often many ways to skin a cat, and when analysing the employee satisfaction survey results reducing the results to a score will often not tell the whole story.


Post survey response is part of the process, employers must be prepared to make improvements in a reasonable timeframe and it is important that they communicate the changes they plan to make back to employees; employees need to know that senior management have listened, are going to address the issue, have a plan and what the plan is.

With online surveys, the time to create, deploy and collate is considerably faster than the traditional printed survey, but it is important that the analysis and response is completed in a timeframe that is measured in weeks rather than months.


It is fair to say that employee satisfaction surveys can be a waste of time. However, with management backing, by asking the right questions, allowing employees to respond in a meaningful manner, eradicating crude scoring and by acting on the findings, deploying online employee surveys is without any doubt a step in the right direction for all companies large and small and to the benefit of the employees and senior management.

For more information or to discuss how online surveys can help you please contact or visit the quick, easy and cost effective way to do online surveys.

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Martin Day is a Director of Survey Galaxy Ltd
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