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What’s the Best Cadence For Surveying Employees?

Nicole Klemp
Nicole Klemp

Nearly 70 percent of U.S. employees are disengaged at work, and business leaders want to know why. But getting to the bottom of engagement issues requires an understanding of employee sentiment that can only happen through a deep-dive into engagement data. We know collecting feedback is the first step … but how often should we do it?

Determining the ideal feedback cadence requires an understanding of how your company plans, acts on, and evaluates other mission-critical aspects of the organization. This allows you to integrate feedback into that cycle and align engagement initiatives with the rhythm of the business. We’ll break down the most commonly used survey types and cadences, and share our recommendations.

The annual survey

Historically, organizations have relied on semi-annual or annual surveys to gather employee feedback, particularly around morale and/or satisfaction. While giving employees a voice is always a good idea, we’ve found this cadence to be too infrequent to truly move the needle on engagement. And putting all your eggs in one annual or semi-annual basket can often result in information overload.

Unless the organization is fortunate enough to have a data scientist and an organizational psychologist on staff, creating an effective action plan based on annual or semi-annual survey data can be a struggle. Just deciding what areas to focus on and what questions to ask can prove difficult. Also, the time delay with this cadence can be especially problematic for your employees, as they’re asked to weigh in on how they’re feeling about work, but then must wait months before hearing what leaders learned—and what they plan to do about it.

Some business leaders believe an annual or semi-annual cadence is best, because anything more frequent may leave employees feeling “over-surveyed.” But the speed of feedback creates competitive advantage. The more frequently an organization receives feedback, the faster it can evaluate what’s working and what’s not, and take appropriate action. We find that when employees are feeling over-surveyed it’s usually because they haven’t seen leadership take any action on the feedback they’ve already provided. People provide feedback because they want things to get better; when it becomes evident that no one is listening, they will stop speaking up.

Frequent pulse surveys

Technology has unlocked a new capability for HR and business leaders: the pulse survey. Tedious data collection, number crunching, and chart building have been replaced by sophisticated tools and automation. So, if speed creates competitive advantage, why not survey employees every month? Or every week? Or even every day?

It might be tempting to jump to real-time feedback, particularly if your functional teams are operating around dashboards that provide immediate reporting. Real-time data can be extremely valuable, but when it comes to employee engagement, true change requires more time for intentional planning.

We’ve found that pulse surveys don’t give business leaders enough time to react to feedback and implement thoughtful change. And survey fatigue will happen if employees are frequently filling out surveys and seeing no action taken on their feedback.

While hyper-frequent feedback seems like a smart approach, it can actually become ineffective—and potentially, more harmful than doing nothing. What’s worse for an employee than not having a platform to express an opinion? Expressing that opinion, then feeling ignored.

Quarterly feedback

Plan, act, evaluate. This is the basic premise of Agile Engagement (and we would know because we literally wrote the book on it). Plan too much, and you never get around to acting. Act without planning, and you risk misapplied effort. Fail to evaluate, and you won’t know the outcome of your actions.

At 15Five, we believe quarterly feedback is best for most businesses, most of the time. Quarterly strikes the right balance between frequency and action and gives leaders sufficient time to evaluate. Most organizations execute business based on quarterly cycles, so it makes sense that employee engagement strategies would coincide with that.

It’s much harder to see the impact of any changes you’ve put into place when you have to wait six months to a year to collect follow-up feedback. And surveying too frequently can become daunting for employees and make it difficult to put any real change into action. By implementing a few key initiatives and measuring their success each quarter, you can make a more immediate impact on the lives of employees and better track engagement trends.

Demonstrate a sincere interest in employee feedback.

If you take anything away from this blog, let it be this: Employees are happy to give feedback if they see company leadership listening to and taking action on it. When a person feels their feedback matters, they’ll provide it willingly. Many of our customers are pleasantly surprised to see that rather than feedback dropping off, their employee response rates actually go up each quarter. This shows that employees are seeing leadership take their feedback seriously, and have therefore become more encouraged to provide it.

By collecting quarterly feedback, using standardized, science-based questions around the 17 drivers of employee engagement, you can simplify your action plans and narrow your focus on top priorities—and make a real, lasting impact on employee engagement.

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