5 Great Reasons why your Annual Employee Survey Sucks

Employee surveys are a very powerful tool. They help create dialogue, they can unveil issues within the workplace and surveys make respondents feel ‘heard’. So why does having an annual employee survey suck? This article explains.

I was recently speaking to a colleague over coffee about her annual employee survey. I’ll call her Jane (I promised to protect you!). Jane works at a national Australian firm, with a few offices, and around 150 employees.

Jane told me that although what we were creating with 6Q was great, she just knew that her ‘head office management’ (in another state) wouldn’t go for it. They loved their annual employee survey, which she had recently just completed, and she felt they were stuck in their ways.

When asked, it was revealed the survey was more like a do-it-yourself book; although online, there were over 60 questions, three questions per screen. She admitted taking care with the first 5 pages of this complex survey form, but then skipping through the rest due to other time pressures.

Survey response rate is directly correlated to survey length or duration, we’ve seen on average a 17% drop in response rate when a survey has more than 12 questions or takes longer than 5 minutes to complete.
– Survey/Anyplace, 2018 Research

Even so, the survey took an hour to complete. Jane assumed that 80% of the organisation will spend around the same amount of time.

Now that the survey deadline has passed, Jane expects a summary to be sent around to all employees in their July newsletter, available from their company intranet. It will feature the best (most positive, that is) responses, and some fluffy ‘facts and figures’.

Jane doesn’t believe her immediate supervisor, or in fact anyone at their Western Australian office will see the respondent’s answers. At least, she has never been asked about her own responses, which are ‘mostly average’ she mentioned.

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So, this little recount of a conversation from the other day just highlights why annual employee surveys really do no good. In fact, I’ll go as far to say they suck. Here are five major reasons why.

Annual employee surveys encourage false answers

Form fatigue is real; expecting anyone to go through a 20 page digital or print annual employee survey is setting your organisation up for disaster. Studies have proven that the length of a form is directly related to a respondent’s willingness to complete it at all, let alone accurately.

I’ve heard plenty of people comment that after the first 10 or so questions, they answer all the questions with whatever default answer is available to them; they just want to exit this employee survey quickly.

This results in less employees completing the survey at all, and a higher chance of useless responses being collected, particularly towards the second half of the survey.

Annual employee surveys are at terrible intervals

You want feedback at moments of change, throughout the year. Doing an annual employee survey a month before the annual employee performance review period (another pet hate of mine – why not review people throughout the year, or at least at different times of the year?) means that of course people will mark some responses, typically around compensation or motivation, differently than if they were asked at other times of the calendar year.

That workplace issue you were concerned about in October last year? It’s likely you don’t even recall it now, although you were close to screaming about it, at the time.

This results in survey responses you cannot put your trust in.

I spend a good ten minutes a day deciding whether or not to read the results of new surveys, and, once I have read them, a further five minutes deciding whether or not to take them seriously.
– Craig Brown, UK Journalist

Annual employee survey responses are often completely ignored

This gives employees like my friend Jane, the feeling that her answers don’t really matter. She has done this same annual employee survey in previous years, and the way she spoke about it, it was a chore with little meaning, if any.

The initial excitement about being asked for feedback dissolves to bitterness that nobody cares about her opinion. This isn’t just an annual employee survey issue either; the worst action any leader or manager can do with employee survey responses is ignore them entirely.

I understand though; if I had to respond to 150 employees and their 60+ survey answers, I’d be an unhappy person too.

Annual employee survey

Image: Stock Snap

Annual employee survey outcomes are published at a snails pace

You want feedback from your team to be as fresh as possible; in Jane’s example above (and others who I have also heard of), the three month gap between annual employee survey completion and data being available to managers, means that much of it may no longer be relevant.

For all we know, in those long three months, it may be that some employees have left, new employees have started and the whole team dynamic may be different. This would render many of the responses absolutely useless for any action to occur.

In those long three months, it may be that some employees have left, new employees have started and the whole team dynamic may be different.

Annual employee surveys cost way too much

Going back to the first point I made; imagine spending an hour completing a survey like this?

Now look at your salary. Say it costs $80 an hour to have Jane employed. Let’s assume all employees are paid around the same amount; that’s 150 x $80, or $12,000 in employee costs alone (not the software costs or the time spent analysing the responses) for an employee satisfaction survey that’s ineffective, has bad data and is ignored anyway.

There are better ways an organisation could spend its money.

In Summary

I believe I have illustrated above five great reasons why running an annual employee survey is completely ineffective, and can actually produce more harm than good. To be blunt, they suck.

If you’re like Jane, and suffer through an employee survey once a year that produces no effect except wastes everyone’s time, perhaps send a link to this article to your manager; perhaps we can change how those ‘old school’ managers feel about employee engagement.

Best of luck!

Miles Burke

Miles Burke

Miles is the founder of 6Q. He is passionate about peer-to-peer recognition, company culture, employee engagement and wants every workplace to be the happiest it can be. Miles is also MD of Bam Creative, an author and public speaker.