Seriously Though

Outliers. A recent employee feedback project had a small proportion of respondents with markedly lower satisfaction scores than the rest of the group. A couple of them just marked everything at the same low numerical value. It was clear they didn’t really read the questionnaire, they were just upset. Fortunately, they included some narrative comments giving clues as to the reason(s) for their scores.

Respondents like this presents singular challenges. Should their scores be included? In this case, we kept them in the mix since the sample size was large enough to be reliable. From the client’s perspective, this presented some managerial issues. What is the value in keeping an employee with this level of resentment? Someone like this can be a negative influence on everyone around them. It is not likely employees like this can be turned around.

The question for some organizations is “Do we have outliers among our employees?” Will they cause us to lose the good employees we have? Without regular employee feedback, how would we know?

MeasuringFor in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
— William Shakespeare

Getting good survey data is a combination of art and technical skill. One of the biggest obstacles is participation levels since many people get surveyed too often. Combine that with poorly worded and ones that are too long and who could blame people from just skipping the whole thing?

The trick is getting not just responses but honest and thoughtful ones. How can this be accomplished? First, put yourself in the position of the person who (through some miracle) decided to answer your questionnaire. Make it as easy and fun as you can.
Once somebody starts answering questions, let’s hope they answer all of them and that the answers are mostly honest.

An interesting question is: how can you tell if someone is answering honestly? If you are running a survey online, put a timer on it to tell how long it took to complete. If you see one with a much shorter than average time, the respondent probably rushed through without thinking just to get it done. Those should be discarded. If answers follow an identifiable pattern (1 on the first question, 2 on the next, 3 after that) that just repeats, throw those out too.

One device often used to keep respondents from mindless answers is to make some questions clearly a negative statement such that a low number on a scale is actually a good score. If questions like this are interspersed with “regular” questions, it reduces the chance people will answer questions without thinking.
Looping back to Shakespeare, those taking the survey will evaluate your organization based on how well the questionnaire addresses their concerns. TEST your questionnaire before putting it out there. Find out if it is asking relevant questions. The “art” of good surveys involves thought and common sense.

Costly EmployeesEmployee engagement is important and lack of employee engagement is costly. Some employers seem to feel that employee engagement has little importance and keeping tabs on employee engagement is unnecessary. However, evidence shows that fully engaged employees actually increase their company’s earnings per share. Garman reports that companies with 9.3 engaged employees for every actively disengaged employee experience a 147% higher earnings per share. (Garman)

Employee engagement centers on discretionary effort, the additional effort an employee puts into their job every day. This is the proverbial extra mile. An employee who does only what is required to keep their job cost their company money. The reverse is also true. In addition, data from 2000 to 2012 (Garman 2) shows that about one in five employees (20%) were actively disengaged meaning they worked against what everyone else was trying to do. Disengaged employees tend to drive customers away by transforming your brand into a commodity. Business to business providers face an especially significant challenge since losing a customer costs many more dollars than it does for those serving typical consumers.

Collecting employee satisfaction information must be careful and deliberate. In one instance, the provider we replaced asked employees questions that were very misleading in the information generated. For example, in one question the responses were such that the client thought they had a serious problem but upon later investigation proved the problem did not exist. It pays to have an in-depth conversation with your research provider to make sure the right questions are being asked and in the right way.
Information collection and reporting will be of value only if the data collected is specific enough that it gives a clear picture of on-the-job attitudes, perceptions, and behaviors affecting employee performance. Decide on what information is essential, what is nice to know, and leave out that which is irrelevant. Finally, if information learned by the issues raised cannot be acted on in some meaningful way, don’t collect it. Doing so is like making an implicit promise to address problems outside your control.
Employee satisfaction does not mean merely that of upper and middle management. The job from the front-line workers’ point of view is the managers and coworkers they encounter every day. Middle or upper management can have a difficult time identifying bosses who are the source of employee disengagement. Think of the school-yard bully you knew as a kid. Remember how good he/she was good at hiding how they made your life miserable?
While an incompetent boss may not be a bully, they will quite naturally will make things look good in your eyes. It takes work for upper management to determine the difference between discontent caused by a low performing supervisor and employees who won’t be happy no matter what. To encourage candor, hiring an outside source to collect employee feedback is best. They have a fresh perspective and a neutral viewpoint and are not seen as part of one faction or the other. Have the consultant come on-site and talk to your people face-to-face. They can pick up on nuances you might be missing.
Real change takes place at the business unit or local enterprise level. RFG Marketing has collected data from at least a dozen different business units of a single client’s organization, and no two were the same. Each had unique strong points as well as areas to improve. One solution for all clearly would not work.
The cost of not engaged employees or actively disengaged employees can be hard to estimate without in-depth analysis. However, there always seem to be some business units that underperform. While it makes sense to look at operational issues, don’t neglect the human side. Good leadership and management always pays.


Garman, Susan Sorenson and Keri. “How to Tackle U. S. Employees’ Stagnating Engagement.” Gallup (2013): 5.

idontknowA conversation? Ever started a conversation with an employee only to find that even though you think you are on the same page, you’re not communicating? We all have from time to time. The barriers to communication are many and dissolving them can be difficult. Among the most significant barrier is culture. Managers I have talked with are well-aware of the realities of the multicultural workplace but struggle with how to get meaningful employee feedback. This is not a trivial concern. Research shows that the majority of employees (as high as 58%) (Adkins) are disengaged from their jobs.

The culture of the employee matters. The significance of diverse workplace viewpoints has become clear through experience conducting employee feedback over a period of years. In general, the pattern of survey responses for the workforce as a whole don’t reveal the undercurrents of distinct groups of employees. Employees respond differently to requests for feedback based on their own cultural viewpoints. Unique patterns emerge once individual groups from different cultural are analyzed separately. Being able to see the concerns of each group uncovers information management needs to deal with employee concerns masked by the results representing everyone.

Cultural perspectives turned out to be significant for one of my clients when collecting employee feedback. Theirs is a unique workforce. Employees come from a variety of African, Asian, and South American countries. They speak more than twelve languages. Even within the same language groups, we found distinct variations in response patterns driven by cultural differences. This particular company is better than most in fostering low employee turnover based on a combination of high performance standards, promoting a harmonious workplace environment, and really listening to their employees.

The best way to find out is to talk to people. In the current workplace environment, the most effective way to get reliable employee feedback is by gathering data on-site and in-person. An outside, neutral vendor is ideal since employees know their responses won’t find their way back to the boss. Not only that, most human communication is non-verbal so facial expressions and so on communicate important information. Internet-based feedback wrongly assume employees have access to and are familiar with computer generated questionnaires. Mailed versions historically get low participation rates. Consequently, using internet or mailed surveys means the sample received will very likely not represent your employees as a whole. The most effective forms of employee feedback and reporting are carefully crafted to allow for and uncover cultural differences. Are we really all speaking the same language? Let’s find out.


Adkins. “Employee Engagement in U. S. Stagnant in 2015.” Gallup Business Journal (2015): 5.

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