Jan 17, 2018 12:00:00 PM

Adding the Science of Human Behaviour to Engagement Surveys

What is it about traditional engagement surveys that doesn’t work?  Is it because most tend to be annual (or at most, quarterly) in nature – meaning they merely record a snapshot of sentiment on a particular day of the year, rather than revealing the ‘real’ mood? Or is it that those who respond to them tend to either be unhappy employees giving a distorted view, or those who are simply too polite to actually reveal what they think?

Answers from these kinds of groups can be misleading. Ask them even a basic question – like how busy/overworked do you feel? – and not even this is guaranteed to reveal an accurate answer from them.

Outdated approach

For all these reasons, it’s not surprising that old-school engagement surveys are increasingly being seen as sub-standard. If they can’t tell the business anything useful, the only sensible question to ask is ‘why bother?’

At a time when businesses need all the intelligence they can get about their talent, it’s clear something different is needed.

Pulse surveys and sentiment analysis have both been highlighted as the savior of engagement surveys. More regular staff pulse-surveys, not only attempt to understand how pockets of people feel, but by adding sentiment analysis, they take all the leg-work out of getting to the heart of what’s on people’s minds.

Both of these will undoubtedly add to an engagement survey’s accuracy, but the fact is, the insights they produce can still run the very real risk of over-simplified analysis. This can be harmful for an organisations’ future performance.

Something Needs to Change

Why? Most engagement surveys don’t pay attention to the fact there are things that cause satisfaction and there are separate things that cause dissatisfaction. They are largely independent of each other.

This theory was first popularised by psychologist Frederick Herzberg who found that the factors deemed to create satisfaction at work (intrinsic interest, achievement, advancement) were uni-polar – ie they have hardly any link to those that cause dissatisfaction.

Dissatisfying elements, like pay, admin, and working culture, were also deemed to contribute little to satisfaction. In other words, reducing dissatisfaction requires a focus on the job environment; while to boost satisfaction, managers need to change the nature of the work itself.

From Engagement to Quality of Work Life

Surveys that fail to appreciate this will not yield accurate results. By contrast, the Quality of Work Life (QWL) Index – developed by applying this motivation theory - examines five specific categories:

  • Leadership
  • Culture
  • Skills
  • Line management
  • Processes

It also looks at the way each category impacts the other. The result, which is Scientifically proven, is one where a much truer picture of engagement and performance can be gained. Leadership, for example, can impact line management significantly.

Intelligence and Science for Business Performance

Not only is it more accurate, it can create real insights and ROI. Instead of using an average score, QWL results can easily reveal precise areas (such as physical and emotional safety), where there is room for improvement, and therefore actual productivity gains can be made. Traditional surveys hide this, by aggregating important data together, and masking the real opportunities for creating improvements. With each 1% improvement, the QWL index can show a precise EBITDA increases per full-time employee.

It’s these clear business linkages – where sentiment is a cause of performance gains – that traditional engagement surveys don’t just ignore, but miss entirely. Engagement surveys need to bring real science to human behaviour, otherwise they will remain a nice to have, but not add business value.

For more information about how the Quality of Work Life Index can transform your engagement surveys to drive business results contact us for a demo.

Employee Surveys Quality of Work Life job satisfaction human behaviour

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Posted by Juha Huttunen

CEO of VibeCatch. A serial entrepreneur, technology enthusiast and geek with 15+ years of experience in startups, sales, leadership and growing business.

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