Why Employee Engagement Surveys Don't Work for the Small Business Owner

Why Employee Engagement Surveys Don't Work for the Small Business Owner
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Are Your Employees EngagedIf you have only a few employees, you may not have heard about the online phenomenon where employees receive engagement surveys from either the HR department (yes I know, the HR department is you) or emailed from the corporate level. Surveys are completed online via URL link and all participants are given the same password to fill out the survey—so it stays anonymous.

Chrysler, LLC offers up an employee engagement survey for new hires at dealerships. The survey is short and allows the user to complete it online using a scale—strongly agree to strongly disagree. Questions are asked about job environment, supervisor support, training, and if they would recommend their friends to visit the dealership to buy a new car or purchase parts or service.

The Chrysler survey does seem to be anonymous because every new hire in each dealership is given the same password, BUT they all have to enter the assigned dealer code. So, if someone says they have a horrible boss, hate the place and would never recommend it to friends or family, once the dealer obtains the survey results—and they do because survey takers offer up the dealer code—they probably can tell who is complaining and who the “strongly agree” good boys and girls are.

But what about the small business owner? If you have three employees, it’s hard to keep surveys secret or anonymous—especially if your survey consists of some multiple choice questions and then asks the taker to comment (in writing). You’ll recognize the handwriting right away. So those EE surveys just won’t work, but what can you do? You don’t want angry and “postal” employees right?

Are Your Employees Going Postal?

Going postal are two words very common with those discontented or angry in the workplace. Think Amy Bishop, the university professor who didn’t get tenure—she shot ‘em up but good.

The U.S. Postal service recently released their employee engagement survey findings and more than not, they’re claiming most workers are content.

Both the Urban Dictionary and The Free Dictionary offer definitions for “going postal.” The Urban Dictionary says it means a person is “about to go off the deep end” and The Free Dictionary defines it “to become extremely angry or deranged, especially in an outburst of violence.”

Are Your Employees PostalIt’s great the US Post Office finally determined employee engagement surveys were really needed—the violence from postal workers in the 1980s really was extreme—but is the violence from the 1980s really over? Not according to a story by reporters Linda Dimyan and Tim Mintion of NBC New York.

They reported in 2010, “When mail-sorter David Barnett, 55, got tired of his boss busting his chops, the 16-year veteran allegedly stabbed her 7 times at a mail sorting facility at Kennedy Airport.” Not a very engaged or happy employee at all, I’d say.

The Post Office EE survey press release offers that in the first quarter of 2011, over 76,000 employees were offered an EE survey and 54 percent responded. Of that 54 percent, 64.6 percent (it’s important to note the .6 here because it’s almost 65 percent) “replied favorably.” Not bad really for a government agency that suffered those “going postal” jokes for years.

With companies like Chrysler, Toshiba and the U.S. Government using these online and anonymous employee engagement surveys and spending loads of money for the results, it sort of leaves the small business owner—as always—out of the picture when trying to receive necessary feedback.

Before you fret, the small business owner does have some options, and I do believe you can engage your employees without shelling out the bucks on surveys most employees won’t complete.

What Choice Do You Have?

I wrote an article here on Bright Hub a while back on examples of employee engagement surveys and I do believe even the small biz owner needs to find out if employees are content, motivated and happy with their jobs. But with the financial crisis and cash flow always an issue, who can afford survey companies that charge the big bucks to obtain secret results you need to address? Not me and probably not you either.

Instead of pouring over the press release from the Post Office on happy and content employees (which you do want, believe me), you do need to find a way to analyze how engaged your employees really are, especially if you want your employees to like their jobs, stay interested in the work offered and show up each day.

Small Business EE Options

Here is an IdeaWe already know as a small business owner, you don’t have cash for EE surveys. We also know if you have a limited number of employees, keeping the surveys anonymous can be tough because if an employee is not 100 percent sure the survey is anonymous, they probably won’t complete them.

I’d love to tell you to try and create your own EE survey based on Gallup’s Q12 example (there’s a link in the reference section to Gallup), but most of your employees won’t complete it in fear of reprisals. But wait! You do have other options.

Marcia Xenitelis, a Change Management expert, offered a great post on the Small Business Brief’s website—including her thoughts on using EE surveys. Actually she’s surprised about these new buzzwords “employee engagement surveys.”

What Xenitelis offers is why not just open up to your employees? What happened to talking about issues, ideas and suggestions where everyone can be equal?

Marcia says in her post, “A general look around the office or factory and tea room discussions would make it obvious to all that wanted to see it that employees are not so much engaged as they are worried about their jobs,” and I agree. A business owner has to be of the autocratic nature or blind to not see what’s going on in the workplace.

Actually, the small business owner often has an advantage over big business—they are more intimate with their employees, they know who is happy, who is having a baby, whose car just broke down and yes, they even know who the trouble makers are.

Instead of investing in something you can afford, Xenitelis suggests these steps to keep employees engaged:

Analyze Data – No matter what service or product you provide, obtain data from the previous year on what sold, what didn’t, and how many customer complaints you received. Invite all employees to a focus group and share the data with employees in a focus group format.

Feedback – Once you’ve all had a general discussion on the data from the prior year, ask each member (employee) to offer an idea on how to improve one area whether it’s a customer service improvement, a work environment modification or ideas on different products or services.

Implement – From those ideas, have the group agree on five items you could implement and do so.

Test – Once the ideas are implemented, give them 90 days and then have your focus group determine what’s working or if changes are needed.

Reorganize – The methods or processes that showed improvement should be modified or left as is if they are working.

Reward – Have the focus group come up with a fair reward and incentive program based on the new methods or processes as goals are identified and reached.

Why This Will Work

Before you say, how will these ideas engage my employees and make them happy, think about it for a minute.

First, you are allowing them to review important business data—this will make them feel important. Second, you are asking them for help in identifying areas for improvement—this makes them feel you value their opinion. Third, they are setting up fair across the board incentive programs based on goals they set—this makes them feel in control of their destiny in the work environment. See, don’t you just want to kiss Marcia Xenitelis right about now?

If you want to, you can try using employee engagement surveys but in the long run, not all employees will want to participate—remember, even at the Post Office, only 54 percent participated—and you will spend money on creating, sending and analyzing those surveys. In this economy, all small business owners understand the importance of cash flow or lack of it.

If you own a small entrepreneurial venue and you’ve found another way to increase job contentment and ways to keep employees motivated without using the EE survey process, shoot them my way in the comments section. This way, everyone can share their ideas on creating the best small business environment. If you’re a small business owner, you know we are what built America—not the big corporations.

References and Resources


The Urban Dictionary “Going Postal” definition retrieved at https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=going%20postal

The Free Dictionary “Going Postal” definition retrieved at https://www.thefreedictionary.com/go+postal.

Dimyan/Minton - NBC New York (June 18 2010) “Postal Worker Planned Attack Against Supervisor retrieved at https://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/Postal-Worker-Planned-Attack-Against-Supervisor–96694744.html

Xenitelis, Marcia – Small Business Brief - The Value of Employee Engagement Surveys as Part of a Change Management Strategy retrieved at https://www.smallbusinessbrief.com/articles/employees/010394.html


United States Post Office – Voice of the Employee Survey Results – January 27, 2011

Gallup’s Q12 Employee Engagement Brochure

Image Credits:

Office 3 Sxc.hu/yufuyf / Royalty Free License

Goodbye cruel world Sxc.hu/Catalin82 / Royalty Free License

Puppet 3 Sxc.hu/porah / Royalty Free License