The Pursuit of (Employee) Happiness

November 29, 2022

employee happiness listening

Dog with large ear listening

The first step in our pursuit of understanding employee happiness is listening.

When we set out to help companies shape happier employees, we wanted to hear from a wide range of people, not just leadership. It wasn’t difficult. Most people (adults) fit the criteria. They have been in the workforce at some point and they want to be happy.

We listened to all types of employees, Zoomed with People leaders across different industries, talked to executives and even held a couple of fireside chats (literally). With all the buzz around employee engagement and with all the new tech in the market, we were excited to hear how companies were creating happier employees.

The General Feedback

We, indeed, received compelling feedback about how companies were engaging their employees beyond the typical workday. A few examples consistently surfaced; recognition programs sometimes with gift cards, expanded benefits programs, improved training, flexible hours, friendly competitions to encourage healthier lifestyles (I’m looking at you Step Competition) and corporate philanthropy initiatives. One response we heard across the board was the employee survey. Everyone had experienced an employee pulse-like survey at some point in their career.

It made sense to us. Before you can improve something, you have to investigate, listen and identify the problem or opportunity. So that they responded “pulse survey” wasn’t surprising; it was the eye rolls and sighs of exasperation (even from leadership), at the mention of pulse surveys. What is it about pulse surveys?

What Leadership (Survey Conductors) Have to Say About Pulse Surveys

To get a better understanding of the perceptions, we thought it was important to first understand how companies defined and conducted their employee surveys.

Some HR leaders differentiated between employee engagement surveys and pulse surveys. They defined employee engagement surveys as generally having more questions, and these surveys were given less frequently; once or twice per year. While pulse surveys contained similar questions, but were shorter and were conducted quarterly or monthly. Other companies used the term pulse survey for all employee surveys regardless of length and frequency.

Regardless of the company, the survey implementation process seemed to have a similar cycle.

  1. Questions need to be crafted; some general and some specific to address known issues.
  2. Employees need one to two weeks to respond.
  3. Responses need to be reviewed, collated and distributed.
  4. When issues are discovered, leadership needs to plan and implement a course of action.
  5. Was the action effective? Good question.
  6. Start the process, again.

While companies saw the value of investing in and conducting the survey process, they also expressed some challenges.

  1. The survey process requires a big time and resource commitment for the employees, and, especially, for the HR department.
  2. Even when companies work efficiently, issues often evolve faster, rendering data outdated.
  3. When events occur between survey cycles, it is even more difficult to isolate their effect.
  4. Companies experience reduced response rates when employees are asked to complete long surveys more than once or twice per year.

What Employees (Respondents) Have to Say About Pulse Surveys

Employees said they understand why they are asked to take surveys, a mechanism for leadership to gather feedback from the team. Some respondents expressed appreciation for a company which cared enough to ask for and collect employee opinions. While others were much more skeptical about the survey anonymity and efficacy.

  1. Even the respondents who appreciated the feedback channel agreed, they didn’t like being disrupted up to 40 minutes during their workflow to complete a survey.
  2. Another common concern, even if employees believed the survey was anonymous, they also felt they could be identified based on the department and their responses. Those employees are less likely to be honest and are more likely to “craft” their responses.
  3. The most extreme skeptics felt that the surveys didn’t make a difference. To them, it felt like leadership was checking a box.

Our Takeaway

Keep gathering feedback. Keep checking in. Because even the skeptics in the group, the ones who stopped using surveys, the ones who stopped responding, and the ones who saw less than 30% response rates, DID see the benefit of listening and gathering feedback. The overarching frustration was not about the feedback itself, but about how the feedback was gathered. So keep listening, even the skeptics want to see positive change and more positivity in their organizations.

The good news is there are more and more alternatives to gathering feedback. Companies are adopting lighter, more frequent, real-time check-ins to shape happier employees. And we are here for it.

See happiness swell.

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