Are employee engagement surveys effective?

employee engagement surveys




Employee engagement surveys are designed to provide employees with the opportunity to tell their management team how they’re feeling at work. The good and the bad are typically reviewed in a lengthy survey of more than 100 questions. The results are gathered and analysed to build a picture of the collective ‘feeling tone’ of the office.


Sounds reasonable in theory, but do these surveys actually work?  Unfortunately, the short answer is no. Employee engagement surveys tend not to give an accurate reflection of what’s going on in the workplace. In fact, because of the way they’re operated they can actually serve to further disengage employees. Here’s why:


The data gets stale


Often, by the time leaders even see the data it can be weeks or even months old, especially in larger organisations. That data may not be a true indication of reality by the time you get your hands on it. If that’s the case, you’re making decisions based on something that’s not even relevant.


Big problems can’t be solved by a handful of individuals


In many cases, leaders fall into the trap of attempting to solve all of the organisational flaws revealed by their latest survey single-handedly. Of course, this never works. It begins a cycle of asking employees what they think, doing nothing tangible, asking them again next year, and wondering why engagement scores are tanking.


Employees have no stake in the game


The cycle outlined above not only sets leaders up to fail, it also creates a dysfunctional dynamic where employees take on a role of passive dependency“All of the existing problems can only be addressed by management and I have no role or responsibility to play”. Over time, they begin to expect leaders to serve at their beck and call. This cycle never ends well, yet we keep engaging in it hoping that we’ll have different outcomes next time.


Today’s employees want their voice to be genuinely heard


Increasingly, employees expect to have a voice in their work environment. A once-a-year survey cannot be the sole source of input employers rely on to engage their employee base. It may still have a potential value to an organisation, but not the employees directly. Employees are likely to view it as too little too late.


Responding to employee criticism with quick-win perks can have a net negative impact on employee engagement. When a worker takes the time to give thoughtful feedback, they expect to see a matching response. Free doughnut Tuesdays, for example, doesn’t show that management actually cares about an employee’s desire for paid maternity leave or more equitable work/life balance or a simpler time tracker.




Engagement tends to be viewed as a stand-alone problem. This causes leaders to think that if they could just solve the issue of engagement, they’d suddenly have have a more productive, higher-performing workforce. But genuine employee engagement is woven into the very fabric of the organisation – the leadership, culture, communication, and talent development. When you begin to create change in one of these areas, it creates a ripple that affects many others.


Low engagement is not the problem: it’s a symptom. The underlying issues causing disengagement are likely buried deeper than you can readily see.  So before you decide to address the symptoms of employee engagement with a survey, an app, or a few new workplace perks, you should think deeply about what the root cause of the engagement issues might be. Check out our previous post which explores how organisations can use genuine drivers of engagement to build a sense of employee ownership.