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Employee survey frequency: Quality over quantity

Jeff Jokerst | Jun 7, 2018 Jeff Jokerst 06/07/18

There is a lot of buzz today regarding continuous employee surveys and how they provide the answer to better engaging employees in the workplace. Today’s technology allows us to connect with employees more easily and provokes some to conclude that “if we can, we should” when it comes to frequent surveying.

Although I’m a strong supporter of leveraging technology to enhance the experience and utility of employee surveys, continuous surveys (those asking questions daily) are a method needing further study. However, traditional annual surveys (with supplemental pulse surveys) have a proven track record of linking to business results. Most of SMG’s employee engagement clients measure at least twice a year—including a comprehensive survey and a shorter pulse survey (many are leveraging continuous exit/onboarding surveys as well, which collect data at the beginning and end of an employee’s tenure). 

So how can you think about determining the right frequency and approach to your company’s employee survey process? First, organizations should always think about the intended goal each time they reach out to their employees for feedback. Second, they should consider critical elements and moments of the work experience in order to listen and respond to pivotal points in the lifecycle or throughout the year.


Look at the big picture before establishing frequency

Let’s take a closer look at the first element: thinking through an intended goal associated with your employee surveys. As with any change initiative and especially one that involves changing your culture based on the collective voice of your employees, consistent actions will be needed following the survey.

Now, ask yourself: how long does it typically take to execute and fully implement organizational change—a day, a week, a month, a quarter? If you’re like many organizations creating alignment and executing a lasting change, it could take six months or longer. This isn’t to say organizations can’t initiate smaller changes more immediately, but too many changes at once lessens the chance of permanent impact and change. The answer to the question “How long does it take to enact change?” is a great guide to helping you determine your survey interval. After all, no one likes to be asked the same question they already answered without some sort of feedback/response to their previous response. 


Take action on continuous changes to your organization

Now onto the second consideration: what are the critical elements of the work experience? Here is where today’s survey technology provides some real advantages and where it makes sense to have a more continuous, frequent collection of employee survey data.

Take, for example, the initial onboarding experience an employee has within an organization. Hiring is happening all year long, and a continuous measurement tool that captures insights from your newest employees can be very helpful. There is valuable insight in finding locations that are doing a poor job of training and welcoming in new employees and thus driving higher-than-necessary turnover.

Exit surveys are another great example of where a continuous collection method really works. Employees leave at various stages, so it’s good to get a more customized read as to why they are leaving and if there are new trends you need to be aware of moving forward.     

Other critical touchpoints that warrant more frequent and faster feedback from employees would be surveying on the execution of very specific changes in the business (e.g., the implementation of a new POS system). It’s important to achieve the best customer experience possible and not frustrate your employees with a major change like this. These events lend themselves well to pulse surveys, aimed at understanding the impact of these critical changes in order to quickly identify red flags or opportunities to improve the adoption of the new tool.

Recently we experienced the true value of this with a client. They had invested in a new Kitchen Delivery System (KDS). Shortly after implementing, they surveyed employees for feedback about the system. What we discovered was a great deal of frustration in the kitchen. Many of the cook times associated with items were incorrect, resulting in food not being prepared as efficiently as it could have been. The company made some quick adjustments to the system, which had a positive impact on the kitchen staff and resulted in a better implementation of the new KDS.


Survey frequency is not one-size-fits-all

Consider how to best use new survey technology and beware of the temptation that “more is better” and “if we can, we should.” While I’m the first to agree that new survey technology provides a lot of great opportunities to listen more effectively to employees, over-surveying can be problematic and do more harm than good.

Take these steps to ensure the right frequency for your organization:

  1. Always consider the “why” when asking employees for their feedback. What goals do you hope to achieve?
  2. Rather than continually asking for input, consider critical points when collecting feedback makes the most sense.
  3. Don’t ask if you don’t intend to act. Taking action on feedback is ultimately where the benefits of employee surveys are made.

For more information on how to act on employee feedback in ways that drive meaningful impact, check out our white paper.


Jeff Jokerst | VP, Customer Engagement