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Engagement Surveys = Junk Science



Don’t blame me for that headline.  I’m picking it up from the interwebs. 

The American Society for Quality published an article called: “Understanding Employee Engagement and Trust; The New Math of Engagement Surveys” in which the author says that employee engagement surveys are “junk science” that destroy employee engagement.

The article is behind a paywall for the publication, but the summary states that employee engagement surveys are conducted with four corrupt practices:

  • Using statistical significance to determine important findings and differences among departments,
  • Using regression analysis in creating engagement ‘models’,
  • Ranking of results (i.e.; best companies to work for), and
  • Boiling complex concepts like employee engagement down to a single number or index.

The author further says that these are the same methods used in the 1994 best seller ‘The Bell Curve’ to ‘prove’ that blacks were intellectually inferior to whites.  

It’s Not About the Survey

I’ve gone on record saying most engagement surveys are easy to manipulate and actually create the motivation for employees to provide less than truthful answers in order to drive more “perks” in their direction.  Surveys end up training employees to respond negatively so they get more bennies from the company (want doggie day-care – rate your engagement as a 1 and tell’m it’s cuz you can’t see your dog enough during the day.)

Engagement is critical to long-term success.  No one will argue that having an engaged workforce is better than not having an engaged workforce.  But surveys don’t create engagement.  Managers do. 

Managers who:

  • Create emotional connections between themselves, the company and the employee. 
  • Set high performance expectations – on the part of both the company and the employee.
  • Hold themselves and their reports accountable for their successes and failures.
  • Reward appropriate behaviors and punish inappropriate ones.
  • Promote risk taking.

It’s About the Foundation

Managers (all the way up to the C-suite) are the key linchpins for whether you have engagement in your organization.  Do your managers know how important they are in the engagement mix?  Do you teach them how to create engagement?  Do they have the tools necessary for helping connect employees to your company brand?

Or do you rely on a survey that ultimately is just one consultant’s way of driving revenue?


4 Responses to “Engagement Surveys = Junk Science”

  1. Symbolist says:

    […] Engagement Surveys = Junk Science (symbolist.com) […]

  2. Johnathan says:

    I think the danger is that people just think its about the survey. The survey provides you with one piece of data about engagement, but there are many others that cannot be measured, do people turn up on time, do people smile at each other and have fun at work. Do people bring the whole selves to work? Do you talk to them about their life goals? I personally think the biggest danger of the survey is not that it drives down engagement, but that you think you have engagement when you don’t!

    • Paul Hebert says:

      Great point Johnathan. Too often the survey becomes the single data point and all those other great clues to engagement get overlooked. Sometimes, just paying attention is a good idea. I also, tongue in cheek, suggested you could gauge employee engagement based simply by how much logo identified stuff the employees have – shirts, hats, mugs, etc. When an employee is engaged and proud of their employer they tend to want to advertise where they work. More swag = more engagement. Thanks for the comment and thanks for reading.

  3. […] Engagement Surveys = Junk Science (symbolist.com) […]

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