As an employee retention speaker and employee retention trainer, I see the good and bad in engagement studies. As a data driven person, I tend to like them because they are another data point that enables an organization to get a clearer picture of what is going on in the organization. This enables you to deal with issues rather than sitting back and doing nothing. This data, analyzed correctly, can give incredible insight into where problems are in the organization.
Unfortunately, the data you do get may not be totally accurate. The reality is that many times people who are in departments with a tyrant boss simply will not fill out the survey or will be very neutral on responses for fear that they will be identified. This is particularly the case in small departments where depending on how the data is segmented, people CAN be identified. I know of one organization where that was the case and the tyrant boss, who was no fool, very subtly made life hell for the people she suspected of “ratting her out.”
The other side is that if people are angry enough, it is the opportunity to put their thoughts on record in a way that PERHAPS senior leadership will actually notice. In one engagement study I saw as an employee retention consultant, the nature of the comments were specific and of such a nature that senior leadership had to act. It can often be the case that leadership is clueless as to what is going on and this is the only way they hear about it. It can also be the case that senior leadership suspects something is up and the engagement study validates that so they can take appropriate action.
Another plus for doing an engagement study is that you can see the positive or negative trend the organization is on by having many of the same questions from one study to the next. This process of continuous improvement is invaluable if the organization takes the engagement study to heart and acts on the information obtained. That action sends a powerful message to employees that senior leadership will “walk the talk” and not just blow off their comments.
When asked as an employee retention author if I had to say “yes” or “no” about whether or not to do an engagement survey, my answer is “yes.” Imperfect data is better than no data and when used in conjunction with other “intel” such as strolling a facility, talking to your people, exit interviews, regular check ins etc. engagement studies can help to give you the clarity you need to act in a way that impacts your employee retention. The reality is that the engagement study is just one piece of the puzzle.