Dealing with negative employee engagement survey responses

Conducting employee engagement surveys helps organisations bring forth valuable information on your employee’s job satisfaction and a better understanding of your organisation’s culture.

Organisations tend to carry out such surveys on an annual or bi-annual basis. The importance of conducting them on a pulse basis is becoming more the standard (and recommended) approach for businesses. Compiling the right questions to put forward in these surveys takes time. But can, in itself, be meaningless, if not, unnecessary. This is if the organisation doesn’t invest time analysing the responses received. The responses should be an improvement opportunity.

Naturally, it is a relief to receive positive responses. However, it is also expected to receive negative responses. It can never be all roses and no thorns. And, it is those companies that invest their time in understanding and acting upon the negative responses that can claim such surveys to be a success.

How should you deal with it?

Just as much as ignoring the negative responses won’t get us anywhere, neither will obsessing and panicking. It is important to remember that no one single person can tackle or try sort out all the business issues in one go. Even if one tries to accomplish such an arduous task, very likely that the employee concerns will not be getting the deserved and desired attention.

Having strong, open communication channels with your managers and employees, is the best approach to handle negative responses. On many occasions employees may be viewing issues more negatively then they are. This may be due to other underlying issues we might be missing from our viewing point. Spending your time with them, either on a one-to-one basis or in small groups, will help you understand the primary source and real issue of their dissatisfaction.  Their real issues might well be totally different from what they would have expressed in the survey.  But we must also be mentally prepared to listen and truly understand.

Communicating effectively any follow up actions being taken on issues of concern is equally important to the analyzing described above. It is imperative that as much as information as possible, on the action, is disclosed and shared with the employees. Keep them in the loop and explain the developments and follow-up actions that are and will be undertaken in the short and medium term. The last thing we want to risk is having employees not responding to such surveys. This may be because they see them as a waste of time.

The norm is to use close-ended questions in employee engagement surveys. One might consider including a couple, well studied open-ended questions in the next survey, whereby you can receive more information anonymously.

The way forward

It is important to remember that such surveys are not meant to be one-off. Conducting them on regular and scheduled intervals should be encouraged. This regularity will provide us with the data to better understand, both positive and negative responses. Analyzing a series of past results can help us identify recurring trends and issues.

It is only by comparing past results with the latest data that we can understand if negative responses have been properly and promptly addressed. If an issue resurfaces in the following survey, it is then clear that stronger action, and on a wider spectrum, is required.  Appreciate the employees’ openness in their replies.

About the author

Maria Bartolo Zahra is Managing Director and HR Advisor at SurgeAdvisory. She has over fifteen years of human resources and business advisory experience.