How to use employee engagement surveys to improve business results


By Ken Tysiac

Engagement surveys can be more than a way for employees to vent their frustrations about their boss or the food in the company cafeteria.

“If you are going to ask for opinions, it is incumbent upon you as a leadership team to act upon the results,” PwC manager Chris Ippolito said during a recent PwC Saratoga webcast.

Engagement surveys can drive change that leads to business improvement, PwC director Chris Dustin said during the webcast:

  • When employees see that their suggestions are acted upon, their engagement increases, Dustin said.
  • Increased engagement leads to better performance and decreased turnover, according to PwC research.
  • Organisations that keep engagement data can combine it with other data to create predictive analytics that can lead to sophisticated workforce planning and pre-emptive interventions.

But many organisations are missing out on those opportunities.

Eighty-six per cent of more than 300 US respondents in PwC’s 2013–14 human capital effectiveness survey report said their organisations measure employee engagement. But just 40% said directors and managers are required to develop an action plan for engagement of employees who report to them.

Benefits of engagement

Engagement is critical at a time when 58% of chief executives participating in a PwC global survey said they are concerned about availability of key skills. PwC data have shown that:

  • The rate of voluntary attrition of the most highly engaged employees was less than half of that of the least engaged employees at a 15,000-person professional services organisation.
  • Upselling and cross-selling performance rose as engagement rose among workers at a customer care call centre of about 500 employees over a six-month period.

Dustin said organisations often make the mistake of failing to act on surveys, or treating them as human resources initiatives with little relevance to the rest of the organisation.

While HR may administer the surveys, it’s important for the leadership team to use them to put together a global action plan, Dustin said. According to Dustin and Ippolito, action plans generated by employee engagement surveys should:

  • Take feedback seriously. Engagement can suffer amongst employees who believe their suggestions are being ignored.
  • Implement changes where it’s possible. This increases engagement by showing employees that management is listening to them.
  • Be transparent. The company should describe what changes are being made based on the survey. If changes are not feasible or practical, explain why employees’ feedback won’t result in action.
  • Be accountable. Tying engagement to performance metrics and including it on organisational dashboards will help ensure that engagement gets serious treatment throughout the organisation.

When surveys become predictive

As surveys accumulate over the years, there also is an opportunity to aggregate them and consider them in conjunction with other data to create predictive analytics.

Engagement survey data can be combined with onboarding and exit survey data, recruiting data, other HR data, learning and management data, customer survey data, and macroeconomic or industry data to put together an analytic data set. Analytics can then be used to predict performance, turnover, quality of hire, and other outputs based on the data.

One financial services company, Ippolito said, gathered 93 data files collected over ten years that contained a lot of trended employee opinion data. The subsequent analysis of the data resulted in predictive analytics that can drive business improvements in the future.

“You don’t just approach your employee survey from the perspective of a feel-good exercise or a check-box exercise,” Ippolito said. “When you do gather those employee opinion data, and you have them at hand, especially over a few years’ time, you have a powerful element of a predictive model already in hand, and those employee opinion data can really raise the efficacy and the accuracy of the predictions.”

Ken Tysiac (ktysiac@aicpa.org) is a CGMA Magazine senior editor.