Top 5 Reasons Annual Workplace Culture Survey Aren’t Effective

Employees are more empowered than ever. They favor a great workplace culture, training opportunities and career advancement over a hefty paycheck. This also means if their needs aren’t being met, they’ll actively seek a workplace that offers them what they need. So how can employers ensure they’re cultivating an environment where their staff feel valued, engaged, and appreciated?

By asking them if they feel valued, engaged, and appreciated, of course! Asking for employee feedback and gauging how they feel about their role and the company is the best way to gain insight. Employees who believe that management is concerned about them and their needs are likely to feel more fulfilled and satisfied at work. Annual engagement surveys have been the standard feedback collection tool since the ’70s, but forward-thinking HR leaders are now beginning to boycott the once a year survey in favor of more innovative solutions.

Annual Engagement Surveys

Why are annual engagement surveys no longer relevant? Well, first of all, they’re annual – which is nowhere near often enough to check in with your employees. A lot can happen in the space of a few months or even weeks in business. Most of us struggle to remember what we ate for lunch last week let alone what happened at the office 12 months ago.

1They are just too darned long

Whenthe annual engagement survey was first implemented, it was a bit of a novelty.Respondents were willing to invest the time because they were pleasantlysurprised management was actually listening.

“If myfeedback might actually add value and improve the company and they’ll listen tomy needs, sure, I’ll take the time to fill it out.”

But as more and more were implemented, many individuals have become jaded. The surveys often cover an ambitious amount of territory and require a devoted a chunk of valuable time to respond (time many don’t have with increased demands). As a result, the overall survey response rates have dipped.

Thereis a suspicion that this is particularly true for companies who haven’t beenable to mount a timely and credible response to employees (in other words, areorganizational changes made based on the feedback?).


Mostannual surveys are intended to be confidential. This is good in theory becauseit minimizes fear of repercussions. But if you dig a little deeper, are confidential surveys reallya good thing? They have problematic elements, such as:

if you work in a culture where you’re afraid to speak up, is that really a healthy organization? Is it an organization that’s going to benefit from any form of feedback, confidential or otherwise, if the employees feel threatened about sharing their candid opinions and suggestions?

Skewed results.
How constructive is feedback when it’s confidential? Just as an employee suggestion program can simply devolve into a negative, employee grievance board if confidential suggestions are allowed, it’s possible for a minority of disgruntled employees to skew survey results when empowered by the veil of secrecy in a confidential survey. Better, more accurate results might be obtained by using a non-confidential annual survey and pushing the disgruntled employees towards the HR process to manage their issues in a more personal, confidential manner.

Difficulty in taking corrective action.
When good feedback comes from employees, a healthy and natural organizational reaction is to have a conversation with the employee(s) responsible, dig deeper to understand what’s driving their experience and involve them in crafting the solutions. None of this is possible with a confidential survey.

3They are often too broad in scope to be actionable

The amount and variety of questions asked produces an overwhelming amount of data on a wide variety of themes. It can be difficult to target the right actions. The delay in getting corrective actions started can reduce the credibility of the survey process and overwhelm managers who are already dealing with their day-to-day responsibilities. As this article from SHRM points out, if your organization isn’t committed to a timely response to the survey’s findings, you may be doing more harm than good.

4Getting timely data can be difficult

Faceit, the pace of change in business is blazingly fast. New technologies, productlaunches, shifting market realities and client expectations can make it hard tokeep up. The sheer volume of data from many annual surveys takes time toanalyze, and timely delivery of data and recommendations is a challenge. Aswith the issue of scope above, the delay in getting data leads to delays intaking swift action which can put your company at a disadvantage with bothemployee and client retention.

5 Local, department-level data

Since many of the positive changes that impact a company’s bottom line take place between local managers and employees, surveys that don’t pinpoint critical issues to local managers and markets are ineffective to help an organization respond with effective corrective actions. Often, large annual, confidential surveys are not able to deliver such relevant, local feedback.

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