Using Employee Engagement Surveys to Help Reduce Employee Churn

Philip Cleave
December 2, 2019

Given that nearly four out of five (78%) of business leaders rank employee retention as crucial and the costs of replacing employees is increasing, the ability to reduce employee churn through an employee survey has never been more important.

From employee engagement and satisfaction to staff recruitment, performance and exit, the number of employee surveys is growing all the time, as businesses increasingly recognise the value of survey feedback in helping them to better understand, support and retain their staff. And given its ability to measure employees’ motivation levels, the employee engagement survey is one of the most popular and effective of these in helping you to keep your workforce focused and productive.

How Employee Engagement Surveys Boost Staff Retention

While the ability to monitor and measure workforce mood and motivation is invaluable, the insights that a frequently run employee engagement survey delivers can be even more beneficial to your company. With the right questions, it can help you to probe much deeper into your employees’ thoughts, pinpoint the early warning signs of any disengagement, and give you more time to take any appropriate actions to re-engage them and encourage them to stay.

Some indicators of disengagement are quite easy to spot, with levels of productivity dropping or complaints increasing among staff that have become disconnected. But the earlier signs of dissatisfaction, which are much harder to see are likely to be more important, because at this stage it’s easier to rectify them and prevent them from escalating and causing more damage throughout your organisation.

Areas You Should Focus on in Your Employee Engagement Survey

From their satisfaction with their workload, job duties and working environment to their happiness with their manager, colleagues and job benefits, there can be many factors that influence an employee’s engagement levels. However, given the many studies that have been conducted in the area of employee engagement and satisfaction over the years, there’s generally a consensus that the determinants of employee happiness fall into four key areas:

  • How challenged employees feel with their role and duties
  • The opportunities that are available for employees to develop in their company or role
  • Staff satisfaction with their manager and their team
  • Employee satisfaction with job benefits and rewards

By delving into each of these areas with your survey questions you’re able to see how happy and engaged your employees are. You’re also able to identify any early signs of dissatisfaction, which could lead to disengagement, or in the worst-case scenario staff leaving if their concerns are not addressed.

With research indicating that these four areas are pivotal to employee happiness, we dig deeper to explore why this could be, while suggesting questions you might like to use to examine how your employees are feeling. We look at this in more detail below.

1) The importance of being challenged in your role: for most people the sense of accomplishment in their role is a key driver of their engagement and an essential foundation for a healthy, productive and rewarding work experience.

Studies back this up, with a good example provided by the research outlined of Professor Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer in their book The Progress Principle. Having analysed 12,000 diary entries from 238 employees across seven major organisations, they found that when people consistently made progress on meaningful projects, they became more creative, productive and engaged as employees.

What’s interesting is that when it comes to an employee’s job, it’s not so much their workload, but more about the challenges they are presented with, which will influence how happy they are in their roles.

So, if you wanted to examine your employees’ sense of accomplishment in their job you may want to ask them questions such as:

“Do you feel that you are being sufficiently challenged in your role?”

“On a scale of 1 to 10, how challenged do you feel on a daily basis?”

2) Why personal development is cherished: most individuals also want to do work that helps them grow as people and professionals. In fact, it’s something we’ve heard time and time again, from mythologists such as Joseph Campbell in Hero’s Journey to psychologist’s like Abraham Maslow with his Hierarchy of Needs. The need to travel an upward path and overcome challenges to become better selves is deep in the psyche of mankind.

Given that jobs form such a large part of our identity in the modern age, it’s especially important that our organisation can support us on this path. When we feel our role is helping us develop into our best self, it can be extremely powerful to our engagement levels, as opposed to a lack of opportunities, which can cause us to disengage.

To measure how satisfied your employees feel about their opportunities for advancement and personal and professional growth, you may like to ask them questions such as:

“Do you have a clear understanding of your career or promotion path?”

“Do you believe you’ll be able to reach your full potential here?”

3) The importance of connecting with your manager and team: the ability for employees to get on with their managers and co-workers is also critical. More than just taskmasters concerned with execution and efficiency, great managers should be able to motivate and empower employees to do more.

One leading thinker in this area is Kathy Kram, now Professor Emeritus of Organizational Behaviour at Questrom School of Business, located at Boston University. In 1985, in her research publication ‘Mentoring at Work: Developmental Relationships in Organisational Life’ she proposed the concept of “developmental relationships” as a model for supportive management. Instead of lecturing or simply handing down instructions, Kram encouraged managers to embrace a two-way exchange based on expertise, equality and empathy. Her research showed these kinds of relationships could last almost 30 years.

Without this level of mutually beneficial relationship, employees can start to disengage quickly. In other studies employees reported a steady decline in management support in the months leading up to their decision to leave their jobs. While the strength of peer relationships will also have a bearing on employee engagement levels, their impact is not as profound when compared to the manager/employee relationship.

Questions that can provide an effective insight into this relationship and how supported employees feel could include:

“How frequently do you receive recognition from your manager?”

“How comfortable do you feel about providing upward feedback to your supervisor?”

4) Why job rewards are vital: besides being challenged and appreciated, most employees need to feel appropriately rewarded for their efforts, knowledge and skills to remain engaged – a sentiment backed up by behavioural psychologist John Stacy Adams in this ‘Equity Theory – Balancing Employee Inputs and Outputs’.

Stacy argues that these rewards should not only reflect the effort that they’ve put in but fall in line with what their peers receive. However, what’s interesting from his research is the desire among many employees to be able to have frank and open discussions with their line managers about pay, which Stacy ties into the employees’ sense of self-worth and feeling that their company respects them.

To measure employee sentiment in this area you may want to consider using questions such as:

“How well are you paid for the work you do?”

“Overall, how satisfied are you with the benefits package you receive at this company?”

If you need any more ideas on potential questions, whether for an employee engagement or any other type of employee survey, you may like to view our HR survey templates.

How You Can Re-Motivate Staff with an Employee Engagement Survey

Having selected your questions, run your survey and then analysed your results you may be surprised with the insights it reveals – both good and bad. However, the important point to note is that whatever signs of dissatisfaction you might see, if you’re running employee engagement surveys frequently enough, you should have time to tackle these issues and put in steps to re-engage these individuals.

When you consider the costs to your business of high levels of employee churn and recruitment expense to find their replacements, compared with the higher levels of productivity a fully engaged workforce can give you, it makes sense to regularly monitor and measure how they’re feeling. Ultimately, if you’re asking the right questions, the employee engagement survey is the most effective way to achieve this.

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