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20th Sep, 2022

Victoria Sartain
Victoria Sartain
Job Title
Senior Content Writer

It’s a key time as we recover from the ravages of the pandemic and continue to adjust to new ways of working in its aftermath. For many workers, the return to the office has been slow and, in some cases, completely forgotten as businesses seek to cut costs and realise the benefits of a remote workforce. Others are operating hybrid models with reduced workplace time to meet staff preferences for flexibility, aiming for a happy balance between home and office.  

In all this, the employee satisfaction survey has never been more important in discovering what matters most to individuals. This year’s global ‘Great Resignation’ saw millions of people quit their nine-to-fives in a bid to improve their work-life balance. Now, with the cost-of-living crisis upon us, salary is set to be uppermost as people wrangle with sky-high bills.  

It goes without saying that priorities will keep changing, and employers need to stay in step with their workforce to ensure they maintain the best talent, and their productivity and organisational reputation remain high. 

Business management consultants, People Insight, specialise in helping companies transform the way they work through innovations in employee insight. Director Carolyn Nevitte explains the importance of monitoring staff satisfaction, gathering the data, and ensuring you implement the right changes for your company.  

People Insight Director Carolyn Nevitte

Q: Is there a tried and trusted recipe for monitoring employee satisfaction?

A: Yes! Listening to employees and responding to their feedback is essential to help organisations retain and motivate their colleagues. Annual employee surveys have been a traditional, well-evidenced way of collecting feedback. However, this can be slow, and risks organisations acting on out-of-date information. The more modern approach is a more agile listening strategy. This includes annual in-depth surveys plus more frequent, lighter pulse services which help organisations keep up with change, monitor progress and consider a wide range of topics such as engagement, diversity and inclusion, and employee wellbeing.  

There’s a lot of organisational psychology expertise around employee surveys. This includes question design based on scientifically developed models, making sure you collect robust, actionable data and ensuring colleagues feel reassured about confidentiality and motivated to respond. The way organisations go about the listening programme is critical to their success. Whilst listening via surveys and reviewing results is great, colleagues will only feel satisfied, or engaged, if they see action happen because of their feedback. If they are involved in making change happen – even better! 

Q: Has there been a significant/surprising change in employee satisfaction, pre to post pandemic?

A: It’s been fascinating to see how employee satisfaction has evolved over the last few years with Brexit, Covid, lockdowns, the ‘Great Resignation’ and now the cost-of-living crisis. 

Organisations that increased employee satisfaction through the pandemic were those that led with empathy; with leaders and managers communicating honestly, frequently and informally. Leaders who shared the vision, but also the difficulties their organisation faced. Leaders and managers who accommodated the demands on individuals’ time, whether that meant health and safety adaptations for those who had to be present in their workplace, or those who had caring responsibilities whilst working from home. In fact, in all the employee surveys that People Insight carried out through the pandemic, employee engagement went up, reflecting this change in leadership behaviour. 

It’s been a reflective time, with many considering their values, their lifestyles, and making significant changes including careers. In the tight labour market we face now, the organisations with clear purpose and inclusive cultures, who trust their people to work with flexibility, and who take employee career development seriously are the ones who have the most satisfied employees.  

Q: Are there any quick wins that companies with a lack of funds/resources can do to raise satisfaction?

A: Employee satisfaction is made up of several aspects, as captured in the PEARL model: purpose, enablement, autonomy, reward and leadership. Reward is only one aspect, so whilst organisations might reach for pay as a tool to improve, other aspects of satisfaction can be more significant – or as we call them, more important drivers of employee engagement.  

Behaviour of leaders and managers has a significant impact. Creating a culture where leaders and managers treat employees with empathy, respect, and take interest in them doesn’t have to cost a lot. If line managers know their people, notice the effort their team put in, and say thank you for work well done, it has a significant impact. Similarly, trusting employees to do their job without looking over their shoulder and empowering them to make decisions creates autonomy – a real driver of satisfaction. 

Sometimes employees demonstrate low satisfaction because they are frustrated with process, don’t have resources they need, or there are other blockers in the organisation that add frustration into their day. Identifying these blockers through your employee surveys and acting on them might not cost anything! 

There’s a range of non-financial rewards that organisations put in place to support their people, and these are more effective at the recruitment stage, supporting the employee value proposition. Over time, it’s the culture and opportunities for career development including coaching, secondments, project opportunities, role swaps that can help raise satisfaction and employee retention.

Q: If a company learns from a survey that its workforce is divided over satisfaction with something, what’s the best course of action to take? 

A: Different opinions in your survey results represent a great opportunity to delve deeper. Focus groups are really useful for exploring the ‘why’ behind particular results, and getting employees involved in finding solutions is very empowering.  

You might find that particular teams, departments or groups feel a certain way, so you can concentrate action to meet their needs on a local level. 

Where there is division, it’s really important to communicate this back honestly and transparency to employees, explaining why you can or can’t take things forward for the business. 

Q: Can you name any pitfalls companies should avoid when designing/implementing surveys and acting on the results?

A: There are many pitfalls to avoid with employee surveys. Having an expert third party partner can really help avoid these.  

Your managers are closest to employees and have a big influence on attitudes and morale, so make sure they are 100% on board to avoid getting low response rates. An engaged and informed manager will champion your survey and encourage their team to take part. These managers are also more likely to commit to post-survey actions and deliver meaningful change.  

Employees might be wary about anonymity, disenchanted by past surveys, or want to take part but feel they don’t have the time. Remote, deskless and office-based staff must be able to access your surveys. These are all things to tackle in your employee survey comms to ensure a good response rate. You want your data to be robust and people to be engaged in, and trust, the whole process of feeding back and getting involved in making change happen.    

In most organisations, the employee survey is organised by the HR department. While it makes sense for one department to take the lead, the truth is that everyone has a role to play in your survey. Without the commitment of leaders, managers and employees across the business you risk your survey being seen as a siloed event, without much importance outside of HR.  

Survey data can be hard to swallow. It might challenge your views, raise uncomfortable truths, or knock an initiative that you worked really hard on. Faced with results like this, organisations might choose to dismiss the ‘bad’ feedback and look at what to celebrate instead. The consequence is that employees don’t see their feedback reflected in the results. This can undermine their faith in your organisation and future surveys.  

Finally, and most importantly, your survey is only as good as what comes next. Often there’s a flurry of activity while your survey is live which fades once it’s over. Then HR feel frustrated about chasing people for updates. Managers struggle to find time for post-survey actions. Leaders have moved on to the next business priority. Worst of all, your employees feel resentful that their feedback has been ignored. The single most important advice for organisations is to ensure that your survey is followed up with meaningful action. 

Download our free eBook: ‘Employee satisfaction: building a happier workforce’ for more information on how to increase satisfaction in your organisation.