In the world’s top economies – all 12 of them – over half of the companies with at least 100 workers are surveying the heck out of them. Entire companies have been born simply to survey employees. In particular, these survey companies want to understand employee engagement. Their mission is to ‘make employees happier’ and they share the results of those surveys to management as evidence of where their company can improve and how they can create the perfect workplace and be rewarded with super levels of productivity.

According to many business writers, leaders are supposed to pay loads of attention to their employees’ circumstances, create a stress-free environment where happy workers produce amazing results, and then the company’s stock price goes through the roof.

According to, who surveys over 300 companies around the world every week and analyzes over 40,000 anonymous responses, there are some important trends for management to notice.

Source: 7 Vital Trends Disrupting Today’s Workplace

The results include some facts that leaders should note:

  • 42% of employees know their organization’s mission

  • 85% claim that their manager clearly outlined their role

Other factors of note from the 2013 employee engagement survey include:

  • Employee happiness is dependent more upon their co-workers than direct managers

  • Top traits employees admire in co-workers: collaboration and team playing

  • 36% of responses had peer-to-peer recognition suggesting a growing need for recognition as companies become increasingly decentralized

TINYPulse goes on to say that management should “Let the voice of the employees ring” and “each one of us plays a role in driving the employee engagement to grow your bottom line”.

Wrong Assumptions in Traditional Employee Engagement Surveys

All of these recommendations beg the question: how much value should management give to employee engagement surveys? Even further: does employee engagement have a direct affect on the company’s success?

We could start by pointing out that every organization is entirely unique, with specific challenges and goals, so failing to tailor survey content to measure the goals particular to a specific company is a critical problem with standardized surveys.

Even further, Cy Wakeman, an author advocate of Reality-Based Leadership, believes that it’s time for leadership to rethink employee engagement. In a January 14 article from this year, she outlines in Forbes the wrong assumptions at the core of traditional employee satisfaction surveys:

  1. Every employee response is equally important.

  2. Every employee opinion is credible (believable).

  3. Engagement alone drives results.

Well noted.

5 Drivers of Employee Retention Management Can Trust

There is some good news coming out of over 15 years of WorkTrends surveys (by Kenexa,, however, indicating that the principal drivers of employee retention are consistent over time. Their research identifies the following five elements as most influential on an employee’s decision to stay or leave:

  1. Confidence in the company’s future success.

  2. Satisfaction with the level of recognition received.

  3. Perceived growth and career development opportunities.

  4. Belief that the work matches their own skills and abilities.

  5. Organizational support for achieving balance with work and life responsibilities.

Just how much do these factors impact employee decisions?

Source: Six Things You Need to Know About Strategic Employee Surveys

If employees rate the five factors favorably, their intent to stay averages 42 points higher than those who rate them negatively.

Survey Scores Improve when Managers are Held Accountable

Not surprisingly, there is a strong belief that managers lose the drive to follow through on survey results. In fact, only 30% of managers share the survey results and take action on their own. Another 30% may want to take action but feel the need for leadership of their own. The final 30% are resistant to the survey process and prefer to trust other ‘harder’ business metrics.

Source: Six Things You Need to Know About Strategic Employee Surveys

Some businesses find the Behavior Change Index (BCI) a useful way to increase employee engagement because it requires survey follow-up and action plans at executive and managerial levels. BCI creates a feedback loop that demonstrates to employees the company is interested in improving employee engagement and measuring whether managers took action appropriately or not.

How a Clearly Articulated Mission and Values Affect Employee Engagement

Back to whether management should care about employee engagement or not, there is one thing that most experts agree upon. That is: a well-articulated vision, mission, and value system has a positive effect on employee engagement. It tells employees:

  1. What is important to their employer and the behavior that is expected

  2. The direction the organization is headed, why, and how it will compete in the marketplace

It also creates employee alignment and solidifies employee commitment to the organization. Again, these factors are unique to the organization and often cannot be determined through standard employee surveys.


Photo:Happy businesswoman” by Steve Wilson [CC BY] via Flickr

About the author

Matt Faustman

Matt Faustman

Matt is the co-founder and CEO at UpCounsel. Matt believes in the power of online platforms to change antiquated ways of life and founded UpCounsel to make legal services efficiently accessible. He is responsible for our overall vision and growth of the UpCounsel platform. Before founding UpCounsel, Matt practiced as a startup and business attorney.

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