Are Annual Employee Surveys Dead?

December 28, 2021 Darcy Jacobsen

Happy or Not?Last Spring, when I was leaving SHRM, I travelled through the Orlando airport. Maybe you did too?

If you did, you may have seen, somewhere between check-in and your gate, a sign posted on a small kiosk (created by a brilliant little Finnish company called HappyOrNot), that said “How was your airport experience, today?

Under the sign were four large button smiley faces that looked like the ones to the right.  As I rushed to catch the transit train, I reached out and tapped the dark green smiley. I never missed a stride. And I thought to myself: Companies should have some form of this kiosk by their front doors or in their break rooms. “Did you feel valued, today?” What a fantastic way to get a real-time sense of the employee mood, or quick answers to your burning organizational questions!

This type of quick response data capture is transforming customer satisfaction surveys in a very real and exciting way—and I think it also has profound implications for us in HR. It is a trend that will drive the decline of the annual survey—and the growth of real-time, always-on data capturing.

That means in the future you may rely a lot more on pulse surveys than annual engagement surveys. Like kiosks, pulse surveys are a low-friction way of establishing a quantitative benchmark for key HR metrics, with a minimum of effort. I recall Mark Royal from Hay Group telling us recently about a company who offered a short, three question survey as part of their daily sign-on routine, and were able to chart company mood and engagement very closely against real-time events and communiqués.

I remembered the HappyOrNot kiosk and that sign-on survey when I saw an article yesterday in my LinkedIn feed from David Youssefnia at Critical Metrics. David argued that low response rates and engagement levels for employee surveys are “leading organizational researchers to explore ways of collecting new sources of data in a less obtrusive manner that is more in-line with how data and decisions are being made in other realms of the business world.”

According to David Youssefnia there are three projections of where we will be sourcing employee data in the coming years: social networks, gamification and digitally ambient data. I believe he is right—though each of these methods has specific areas of strength.

  • Internal and external social networks –Ideal for gathering crowdsourced  information on company culture, employee behavior, relationships and opinions—offered in a real-time, voluntary and opt-in structure. Recognition data is a leading internal example of this, which is why social recognition is already such a powerful tool for culture management.
  • Gamification –A fantastic way to incentivize participation and get people to participate in something they would not otherwise enjoy or opt into. Though there are caveats. It gathers data, but it also alters that data irrevocably by adding in a competitive or acquisitive element—which is why it should be used carefully, (and always kept away from recognition and reward).
  • Digitally ambient data –This is the mining of data from the digital footprint employees leave in the workplace (emails, etc). It can be a good way of observing and predicting cultural behavior, but its “big brother” or non-opt-in qualities can raise serious ethics and privacy concerns.

Is this the future of employee engagement data?
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As I said, I would argue that always-on or pulse surveys have a role to play here as well—offering a frictionless way for employees to give their responses to a controlled set of variables in a way that is both voluntary and a low-threshold ask. Whether it is a kiosk or a simple, short web or email-based survey, they can be a powerful and targeted tool for measurement and metrics. Like social data they are entirely opt-in. But unlike gamification, they will not alter the behavior they seek to measure. And finally, they are more quantitative and easily benchmarked than ambient data (and not quite as Orwellian).

How are you measuring your employee opinions and engagement? How do you think you’ll be measuring them in 2025?

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