Attitude surveys lull employers into false sense of security

Warning from research expert: Employers should beware the pitfalls of surveys that rely heavily on agree/disagree scales when analysing employee engagement.

That was the message from Peter Hutton, BrandEnergy Research MD and former deputy MD at MORI, at the Institute of Internal Communication’s conference on 12th May in Chester.

Many surveys are based almost entirely on lists of agree/disagree statements. This  format makes it easier to ask questions on a lot of issues and is simple for respondents. However, problematic consequences include: some critical questions will inevitably not fit into this format; respondents cannot indicate which questions are most important to them; the format does not enable you to explain what lies behind employees’  answers. For example, while an answer may reveal that an employee does not feel that their line manager does a good job of managing them, the issues that explain why are not revealed.

In addition, by only measuring attitudes, such surveys fail to consider knowledge,  behaviour, and motivation which are all highly relevant to employee engagement levels.  

Hutton believes that the tendency for consultancies to use their own standardised survey questions is also unhelpful, because these do not take into account the business model and culture of the organisation being surveyed.

He puts the rise of such surveys down to a number of factors, including the pressure on consultancies to keep costs down and to create opportunities for follow-up work that assists clients in interpreting and acting on the findings.

 Hutton adds: ‘’Agree/disagree statements should make up no more than 10% of an employee engagement survey. Any survey that genuinely aims to understand employees and help to identify appropriate future actions, will contain a variety of different question types that have been carefully designed with the specific needs of the organisation in mind.

“To support organisational objectives, the starting point needs to be your business model and the desired knowledge, behaviour and attitudes of staff – something that is definitely not achieved by a standardised survey.

“Clearly, having the right kind of bespoke questionnaire involves more work. This even extends to survey respondents, who have to think about different question types as they go through, but this in itself is a positive as it means that they will consider individual questions carefully and cannot go into automatic mode.”

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