Recently a friend showed me an email he had received from an HR representative at the organisation he worked for. In multi-coloured Comic Sans font, the email announced HR were conducting pulse surveys and would use the data to measure how employees were coping in these difficult times.
Though he was showing me this to laugh at the gaudy use of rainbow font (he probably didn’t know comic sans is sometimes preferred by some neurodiverse employees), I asked if he completed the pulse survey. He unequivocally told me he had not, and had no intention of doing so.
“They put out those surveys to look good. They don’t actually achieve anything”.
My friend isn’t alone in feeling this way. In fact, Rob Scott, principal HR Strategy & Innovation at Deloitte and member of AHRI’s HR Technology Advisory Board, says it’s the uphill battle many HR professionals are facing as they try to get feedback from staff.
“There is definitely a bit of survey fatigue at the moment. While most companies used to hope for 20 per cent engagement with a survey, we’re seeing those numbers drop considerably,” says Scott.
Employees are constantly being asked to complete questionnaires at work and in their private lives so it’s not surprising they’re a bit over it. Scott suggests HR professionals take the time to nail down why they’re putting out a survey in the first place, which will make the process smoother and more efficient.
Start by asking “why?”
“Surveying for the sake of surveying without a very specific problem you’re trying to solve should be avoided,” says Scott.
When deciding to put out a survey, Scott suggests following these steps so that you come out the other side with actionable information.
Step 1: Identify the problem or potential problem.
Step 2: Determine what information you need.
Step 3: Analyse the information.
Step 4: Decide on a solution.
Scott says all surveys should start with a problem statement, although the survey itself could be part of determining the full extent of the problem.
Let’s say your workplace provides free fruit for staff but lately, the staff have stopped eating the fruit. You’re unsure if this is because staff don’t like the fruit provided or because there is a problem with the quality of the fruit. You’ve identified the problem as “staff aren’t eating fruit” but still need to determine the parameters of the issue. This is what you’re looking for with your survey.
Once you have your problem, you need to consider what information will actually help.
“I see some surveys that are 50 or 60 questions long and this is because they’re trying to cover everything in one go. You should really narrow down the areas you want answers to right now, and come back to the rest another time,” says Scott.
Keeping the survey short is likely to encourage engagement as employees don’t feel like they’re giving up a valuable chunk of their time to complete your survey. On top of that, the shorter the survey the less data you’ll need to analyse, the quicker you can put the results out and actually act on the data.
Scott says properly analysing the data will help with future surveys as staff will feel heard. But reading data can be tricky so it’s vital you acknowledge when you need additional help.
Getting outside help
It’s not uncommon for HR professionals to wear many hats, sometimes they’re payroll, recruiters and project managers all in one. Sometimes they also need to be data scientists. If you’re struggling in that particular area, Scott points out you might have others in your organisation that have statistical knowledge you can use to get the best out of your results.
“All HR professionals should have access to data scientist or analyst skills. That doesn’t mean they need to bring on an actual data scientist,” he says.
“It’s worth trying to leverage others in your organisation that might already have that skill set. So try talking to finance because they might have analytic knowledge.”
Even so, there are occasions where bringing in a dedicated data scientist can help.
“One thing data scientists can help with, which I don’t think many people realise, is to determine whether your interventions can actually help,” he says, adding that it is something many organisations miss.
“So HR might come up with a solution or activities to solve the problem without necessarily testing whether their solutions can actually fix the issue.”
Data scientists can create models which test potential solutions using data. They’re not clairvoyants, but the modelling is based on probability so uses statistics to decide the likely outcome. This could save your organisation from instituting new procedures that don’t properly address the issue.
“I would say to organisations: if you have a data scientist work with them not just to find the problem but also resolve it,” Scott says.