Employee engagement surveys provide valuable data to managers about levels of commitment and satisfaction among the employee culture. But should you spend valuable resources conducting a survey during bad times? The answer is “absolutely”! It may be tempting to cut survey expenses in tough economic times but such a decision may be short-sighted and costly in the long term. Employee Engagement surveys provide management with valuable data about voluntary turnover intentions and your employees’ current state of mind. It is a behavioral indicator of performance (Van Rooy et al. 2011) and discretionary effort. Pulling the plug on employee surveys to save money may be tempting but it sends a message to the employee culture that their views and opinions are only wanted when responses are likely to be positive. I call this, “the fair weather survey syndrome”. Sending any message to employees that their views and opinions are not wanted can lead to a high risk, Culture of Silence (Bogosian, 2011).
Cultures of Silence occur when employees willfully withhold valuable work related information mostly because they believe that: (1) management will not act on their advice, (2) that it is too risky to speak up, or (3) that good ideas when implemented are not rewarded. Fair weather management practices can create significant knowledge gaps when conditions improve and talent retention and engagement are on the front burner again.
Fair weather survey practices will put you behind the eight ball for retention and employee satisfaction when economic conditions improve.
Fair weather practices reduce confidence in management and stop the accumulation of valuable data (knowledge capital) during the most vulnerable times. Similarly, cutting training programs during down times can be equally short sighted. Downtimes can cause high levels of uncertainty, which is when employees are most likely to begin thinking about alternative employment scenarios. Research shows that training and development events actually increase engagement levels and reduces voluntary turnover.
Confidence in Management is a component of job satisfaction (Lovett & Otero, 2012), which is a driver of employee engagement. Integrity and understanding the needs of employees are two components of confidence in management. Both components are always important and more so during times of uncertainty like economic downturns or downward business cycles. When businesses face difficulty, employees watch management very closely to see how they behave and how they respond to their safety and security needs. The outcome of employee observations determines trust levels. Trust levels and overall confidence in management will determine how fast employees jump ship when conditions improve. Measuring these engagement components can prepare management for the next business cycle. The knowledge gained from engagement surveys can only help management know the current state of trust, confidence in management, and satisfaction levels. This knowledge enables managers to intervene in down cycles and prepare for talent retention when the tide turns. Research (Van Rooy et al., 2011) shows that 40% of companies surveyed were actually able to increase engagement scores during down times.
Although it may be tempting to cut costs by eliminating the engagement survey, doing so may jeopardize your organization’s ability to retain talent and improve engagement when things improve. Engagement surveys provide important behavioral and performance related knowledge during good and bad times. Conducting engagement surveys only when things are going well is like avoiding your annual medical exam because something might be wrong and you would rather not know about it. Eliminating this knowledge to save money can be short sighted and expose your organization to costly voluntary turnover risk and actually prevent engagement improvement potential in the future.
Bogosian, R. (2011). Engaging organizational voice: A phenomenological study of
employees’ lived experiences of silence in work group settings. UMI: Ann
Lovett, S., & Otero, R. (2012). On the importance of confidence in management in
uncertain times, Journal of Applied Management and Entrepreneurship, 17(2),
Van Rooy, D. L., Whitman, D. S., Hart, D., Caleo, S. (2011). Measuring employee
engagement during a financial downturn: business imperative or nuisance. Journal of Business Psychology, 26, 147-152.