Why Your Employee Engagement Survey is a Waste of Time


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Let’s start with what most of us agree upon:

  • Employee engagement is important
  • Engaged employees are more productive
  • Engaged employees provide better customer service

The benefits are there. Unfortunately, the way most companies conduct their employee engagement survey is a waste of time.

The are five primary problems.

Problem #1: “Employee Engagement” is not defined

There’s a lot of agreement on the importance of employee engagement, but not much agreement on what “employee engagement” actually means. Even the big consulting firms like Gallup and BlessingWhite disagree. 

This can spell big problems for your survey efforts. 

Without a clear definition of engagement, your survey questions will be random or poorly designed. Some companies rely on the employee engagement consulting firm they’ve hired to supply the questions, but that doesn’t necessarily mean those are the right questions.

If you want to measure employee engagement, start by defining it. For what it’s worth, here’s my preferred definition:

Employee engagement is the extent to which employees are deliberately contributing towards organizational success.

Problem #2: Infrequent Feedback

The typical employee engagement survey is done every 12 – 18 months. 

To understand how ridiculous this is, consider what would happen if you waited that long to measure anything else that was important to your business. Can you imagine…

  • Reviewing your financials only once per year?
  • Waiting 18 months to peruse your KPIs?
  • Asking customers for feedback only once per year?

How could you measure engagement more frequently without constantly bugging your employees? One solution is to divide your employees into 12 random groups and survey a different group once per month. This way, you get monthly feedback (just like your financial performance) while each individual employee only completes the survey once per year.

And, lest we forget, you can also try talking to employees directly. 

Problem #3: The Data is Easily Manipulated

The annual engagement survey doesn’t capture a year’s worth of employee sentiment. For most employees, their most recent experiences will have a far greater impact on their survey scores than what happened six months ago.

Managers know this. Some deliberately hold morale-boosting events just before the survey goes out. Others withhold negative actions, such as employee discipline, until after the survey window is closed.

The result of a survey conducted every 12 – 18 months is skewed data. One fix is to survey random samples of the employee population more frequently (as suggested above).

Problem #4: It Feels Like a Side-Project

Many employee engagement surveys feel like a side project that distracts leaders from their real work.

It’s failure by design. Look at this typical cycle:

  1. Employees are surveyed
  2. Senior leaders review a results report
  3. A blue-ribbon committee is convened to study the issue
  4. The committee reports back to senior leaders

It’s now several months after the survey. Employees are wondering if their voices were even heard. Leaders lose focus and move on to something else. The whole thing feels like a Dilbert cartoon.

Companies with highly engaged employees instill passion in their workforce through consistent, purposeful efforts. Engagement is something they do all the time, not just occasionally.

Problem #5: No Action is Taken

It all comes down to this. If you’re going to ask for your employees’ opinions, you had better do something with that information. 

If not, you’re wasting everyone’s time.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


  1. Good article but barely touched on another critical element which is ongoing communications about the feedback results and the actions being taken by leadership. Proactive communications are needed to stay in front of employees to keep them informed. I’ve worked at several companies where management sends out a lot of communications before and during the survey about its importance and often push their teams for 100% response rates, but there’s very little communication after the survey to share the results and planned actions, especially any poor ratings that reflect poorly on management and company culture.

  2. Your point #1 may be central to the problem. Employee engagement, according to research a few years ago, has similarities to the ‘ten blind men and the elephant” story, i.e. it can be defined in a variety of ways. Your definition, and the degree to which employees are aligned with organizational goals, is as good as any. More effective, we have found, is focusing on what drives employee ambassadorship: commitment to the organization (as in engagement), commitment to the organization’s product and service promise, and commitment to the organization’s customers.

  3. Very similar arguments can be made about customer experience or satisfaction surveys.

  4. Satisfaction, yes, because sat metrics don’t link very well to future behavior. Customer experience? Well, yes, if the analysis is based only on functional components of experience and not the emotional drivers of perceived experience value.


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