Brilliant Basics – Why do annual employee engagement surveys disengage your staff?


Most businesses across the UK run employee engagement surveys and ask their staff for feedback at least once per year. I regularly speak with HR and business leaders who claim to “have something in place” when it comes to employee insight. However, when I probe further it becomes obvious that the return on investment for the business and individual employees is minimal at best.

Over the last couple of years key business influencers such as Gary V and Simon Sinek have been driving business leaders towards investing into their employees – this typically begins by capturing their feedback to understand what they want and need.

This demand has driven software providers to evolve their survey offerings, particularly around something that is known as a pulse survey – essentially a temperature check of your business.

You’ll hear a lot of people describe annual employee engagement surveys as being “dead”, which I do not disagree with. The purpose of this weeks brilliant basics blog is to look at why annual employee engagement surveys do not work, the impact they can have on your business and a couple of tips on what I’ve seen work well when it comes to surveys.


Why don’t they work?

Take too long to complete – It’s 2019, everybody needed everything yesterday. Asking your employees to take 30-40 minutes out of their day, to answer the same questions that are worded slightly differently isn’t going to be the best investment of time for either party. You’ll receive a poor quality data set and the employee will more than likely have the energy sucked out of them. Try and empathise – have you ever completed a ridiculously long survey? How did it make you feel?

Poor quality communication – a large mistake that I’ve seen businesses make over the last couple of years when it comes to employee engagement surveys is a poor quality communication strategy. Dividing your comms plan into pre-comms, comms whilst the survey is live and post comms provides you with a simple framework. Pre-comms provides employees with a purpose to giving feedback and enables them to understand WHY their feedback is important. Whilst the survey is live it provides employees with a consistent reminder to complete. Finally and most importantly your post comms provides employees with a return on investment for their time. It is the changes made off the back of their feedback that will engage them, not the process of providing feedback. This is why so many annual employee engagement surveys fail, because it takes too long to review the data, set goals and action these goals.

Trust – a big learn for us over the last 18 months has been the power of making your surveys anonymous. In the past many employees have been punished for providing honest feedback, which has now resulted in many businesses having closed cultures. When it comes to surveys, the validity of data is often low, due to the lack of trust between participants and the software/tool being used. Build trust with your employees by taking feedback in the right way, not taking things personally and providing them with a platform to voice their opinions. If employees abuse this then take the privilege away or seek to understand WHY they are abusing this opportunity.



The impact they can have on your business

Time, communication and trust are just three of the problems with running annual employee engagement surveys. All of these can have an impact on your business.

Firstly, if you ask your staff for feedback and do nothing with the insight, naturally this will cause them to become frustrated. Frustration can lead to decreased motivation. Lower motivation naturally has an impact on individual performance, which then can grow to a company level. Lower performance levels naturally impact the service that your customers receive – leading to less repeat purchases and lower customer retention. Just to confirm, I’ve literally seen businesses lose customers by simply not reacting to feedback. Annual surveys can fuel this frustration.

If annual surveys are treated as a tick box exercise then this can also have a large impact on the engagement of employees. In some instances it can even result in conflict between employees, managers and the SLT.

In the worst case scenario, I’ve seen businesses lose employees and have increased absence levels. Every time you ask for feedback, there’s an expectation that changes will be made as a result. If you abuse this as a business, then please expect to be facing costs of around £10,000 every time someone leaves and £80-£100 every time an employee has a sick day.

My tips when it comes to surveys

  • Set objectives – solve problems e.g. attrition etc. Or pro-actively avoid problems.
  • Decide on how often you’d like to run surveys – we’ve found that running surveys on a quarterly basis works well. 90 cycles.
  • What you’d like to ask? Blend of quantitative and qualitative data – as well as specific questions relating to current business activities.
  • Who you want to target? Full business or specific teams and offices? We’ve found that focusing on the full business is most effective.
  • What tool you’re going to use? Although most platforms have associated costs, the time saved and potential return on investment e.g. saving 1 employee, often covers the cost of license subscription.
  • Communications strategy – pre-comms, whilst the survey is live, and post comms
  • Accountability and responsibility – who’s going to be driving this?
  • Analysis and goal setting – plan to review data and set goals within a week of the survey closing
  • Don’t use jargon! Keep it simple
  • How long to keep it open? We’ve found 2 weeks works well



From my perspective I’d really love to see the end of annual surveys. I personally feel as though there’s very little return on investment for the business or employees. Equally, as they only occur once a year, this only provides the business with a one moment in time feedback cycle. E.g. if someone’s had a bad day, their feedback may not be accurate. Quarterly surveys can help to form your strategy and measure the success of your ongoing work.

I’ve no doubts that annual surveys MAY work in some businesses but this blog has been written based on my experience.

I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts on this. Please like/comment/share with your thoughts?


Harry Wright

Employee Engagement and Client Delivery Consultant

Rencai Group