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Why Running Your Own Employee Engagement Survey is Dangerous

Brian Deyo
Brian Deyo

Please. I’m begging you.

Don’t run your own employee engagement survey.

If you are currently doing so, please consider my admonition below. Of course, as someone who facilitates an employee engagement survey, I’m biased—but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong. The problems with running an internal survey are significant enough that I consider it a dangerous option for companies who want to genuinely understand employee well-being and engagement.

Here’s what’s at stake when you run your own survey:


Your Employees Won’t Trust You

It is nearly impossible to ensure confidentiality (and therefore trust) with an internal survey. As a leader in your organization, you are the representative of the business to your people. When they take a survey that is provided by you, it is nearly impossible to create confidence that the information that will be captured will be confidential and not shared. Even if you maintain your own integrity and refuse to look at individual results, your employees may not have that same confidence in you. If, in fact, you do get responses from your employees, it will seem no different than asking for their opinions face-to-face, resulting in feedback they think you want to hear instead of honest responses that will help you in the long run. If they don’t trust you to start with, they are unlikely to want to share an honest assessment of how they’re doing.

Employees’ lack of confidence in confidentiality will lead to bias and/or low response rates. Both are terrible for the validity of your survey. Low response rate leads to non-response bias. Both non-response bias and answer bias really alter your results and there’s no good way to know if you are getting valid insights.


Human Psychology is Messy and Complex

If I suggested that you need to have a psychometrically valid and reliable scale to assess employee engagement, would you know what that meant? Do you know how to construct survey items, ensure they measure the right underlying construct, and are valid across multiple demographics?

This is why we talk so much about how we define engagement and our model. It is critical to know what it is that you are trying to assess before you construct items in a survey that will measure that particular item. There are a lot of ditches to fall into here. One is measuring something like satisfaction which is distinct from engagement. Another is measuring behavior only and missing the heart and mind that exists in an engaged employee. This can lead to short term thinking and unsustainable engagement because it is only focused on the business outcomes that are desired and not the actual psychological state and well being of the employee.

Doing this well typically requires psychometric analysis of the survey you are running to ensure that it is getting at true engagement and doing so in a way that will be reliable.


It’s Hard to Be Objective

Many companies struggle to make sense of survey results, but even if you can produce good reporting and summaries, are you willing to assess them objectively and challenge your team to improve?

We love having hard conversations with customers. That’s why we do this. You can’t improve if you aren’t willing to face reality. At the least, we are able to provide quantitative confirmation of gut feelings, but in many cases, we are able to confront backwards thinking about how to treat employees. It is an unfortunate reality that most of the human management principles that are standard in the industry today have been formed based on a flawed view of how people work and thrive at work. We embrace this challenge and encourage specific steps to change leadership thinking based on data.


The Patient Must Prescribe the Medication

Once you have your results in-hand, will you be capable of coming up with solutions that will work to correct the uncovered issues? Sometimes moving forward is less about ideas and more about motivation.

While every organization is unique, we do think partnering with someone external to your own thinking and ideas is a fantastic way to help move forward. Just like a fitness coach, 15Five pushes its customers hard to keep them moving forward. Inherent to our value proposition is that you can change your engagement score from quarter to quarter. Our mission is to actually help more employees be more engaged. One of the ways we do this is by helping companies effectively act on survey results each quarter. A third party can help you maintain the focus to execute effective interventions.


Best Alternative

Are you really equipped and prepared to handle all the pressures that come with running your own survey? By engaging a third party with the expertise and services to properly handle everything for you, you’ll be able to better focus your time on assessing the results and deciding how to act. If you share our passion for helping employees thrive and are looking to better understand your workforce, drop us a line and we’ll see if we can help.

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