Understanding Employee Survey Data:
A Complete Guide

Why comparative analytics is a must-have for your engagement survey

An employee engagement survey is a smart first step towards building, maintaining, and branding a culture that enables you to recruit and retain the right talent.

It’s the measure that collects the feedback you need to make data-decisions and take action. Surveys ensure your employees feel heard and offer proof you value their input. Done right, an employee survey builds the trust and confidence of your workforce, and research shows this has a direct impact on engagement.

But a survey is only useful if it provides an accurate picture of what’s really going on in your organization.

Unfortunately, not all surveys are reliable — and sometimes the consequences can be significant. In one example, the Harvard Business Review reported that United Parcel Service suffered a “spectacular” loss after its annual survey failed to uncover issues related to the increase of part-time jobs. Employees went on strike as a result, costing the company hundreds of millions of dollars.

Collecting data is the easy first step

Knowing what to do next is where it gets tricky. All too often, momentum is lost in the analysis, understanding, and sharing of employee survey results. Efforts stall and the data just sits there, collecting dust. You lose out on the opportunity to utilize valuable feedback from those who know your organization best and are left without a compass to guide your decision making. And there goes the meaningful insights, quick action, and culture improvement.

In fact, doing nothing with survey results is worse than not surveying at all. Neglecting to close the loop with your employees soon after the survey is complete provokes disengagement and erodes trust – both of which have a direct impact on retention.

Six ways your employee engagement survey will steer you wrong

Because there are many factors that go into carrying out an employee engagement survey, it’s easy to make mistakes along the way. Here are the six most common:

1.The process takes way too long.

Some survey providers take months to process and present your data. When it comes to surveying your employees, the faster you can act, the better the result. Otherwise, you’re acting on old data and damaging trust with your employees.

2.Your survey isn't backed by research.

With all of the technology available these days, it’s tempting to craft the survey yourself. And with 100+ providers out there, it’s entirely possible you’re working with someone who lacks the right qualifications to handle your sensitive data.

3.You’re comparing your organization only to an industry benchmark.

Your true culture story can be easily hidden — or even misinterpreted — if your data isn’t properly sliced and diced, taking into consideration nuances and segments such as department, tenure, and location.

4.The survey isn’t anonymous.

It’s human nature to want to resolve workplace issues at the source. But this can lead to blaming or berating people. And oftentimes, managers aren’t prepared to handle negative feedback, especially if it’s aimed at them.

5.You can’t make sense of the survey data.

You can’t make sense of the survey data. Numbers, figures, and overly complicated charts can make it difficult to truly understand what’s going on inside your culture. And that makes it almost impossible for you to move from data to insights and action.

6.Your survey asks the wrong questions or bad questions.

What your survey asks employees — and even how the statements are worded — has a direct impact on the quality of data it yields. Examples include leading or biased statements, double-barreled questions, ambiguity, and more.

Finding the real story in your survey insights

When a survey produces bad data, you’re not getting an accurate picture of what’s really happening within your culture. Bad data instigates the likelihood you’ll make bad decisions and take the wrong actions. And that can have significant consequences for your organization.

Here’s what can happen and why

Meet Jack

He’s 20 and started working for your company eight months ago. It’s his first full-time job. His pay is low but fair enough. He rents an apartment in the dingy student housing area of the city. Lots of things in his apartment do not work like they should, but it’s what he can afford. He drives an old hand-me-down car he doubts will pass the next inspection.

Now meet Jill

She’s 43. She works for your company too, but this is not her first job. As a seasoned executive, she has a wealth of professional experience. She receives a competitive salary, and over the years her role — and compensation — have increased substantially. She owns a new home that requires little maintenance. When repairs are needed, she gets things fixed right away because she can. She leases a new car that’s under warranty.

And today, your organization launched its annual survey

Both Jack and Jill were given the opportunity to respond to the same series of survey statements. Here’s an example:

Survey statement:

“At this company, we do things efficiently and well.”

Let’s say both Jack and Jill respond to this statement with “Slightly Agree.” Looking at the employee survey results, we see the same response.

But this is where things can go wrong

There’s more to the story than meets the eye, because similar survey responses don’t always tell the same story. Jack and Jill are two people at very different stages of their careers. They have different salaries and live in different environments.

Outside of work, Jack is surrounded by things in need of repair. But, when he shows up at the office each morning, everything is in working order. Jill, on the other hand, expects things to be in working order. And when they’re not, she has the means to get them fixed.

They responded to the same statement. The survey responses are the same. Yet, we see two different stories. Why?

Employees have different expectations, experiences, and priorities

When you treat the survey responses from Jack and Jill as equal, you’re ignoring the context each brings with them to work. Ignoring benchmarking at the individual level can lead to misguided decision making.

The survey statement, “At this company, we do things efficiently and well” is a great example. Our research and experience show that highly paid employees tend to respond more negatively to the “Efficiency” statement than those who are paid less. This means Jill’s statement of “Slightly Agree” should be more concerning than Jack’s. While both clearly feel there is room for improvement, Jill’s statement holds the company to a higher standard.

Let’s look at another example:

Survey statement:

“I feel genuinely appreciated at this company.”

Meet Adam

Adam is an account executive at your company who makes approximately $100,000 each year. He’s new to the team, joining your organization only six months ago.

Now meet Cole

Cole is also an account executive. In fact, he and Adam are on the same team and his annual salary is similar. The biggest difference is that he’s been with your organization for 15 years.

When survey time rolls around, Adam and Cole respond to the “Appreciation” statement with “Agree.” That’s good, right? Not so fast. Once again, there’s more to the story, and it’s important to interpret these responses correctly.

While both answered “Agree,” Cole’s response is a more impressive score than Adam’s. This is because new employees tend to respond more positively to the “Appreciation” statement. Long-tenured employees are less likely to “Agree” with the “Appreciation” statement, making Cole’s response cause for celebration.

These are just two fairly simple examples of how you can be misled without the proper tools in place. Let’s dig even deeper.

Trustworthy surveys consider the context

To get to your true culture story, you need to go deeper than the company level. Deeper than department, tenure, or location. You need to get to the individual level — and also ensure your survey uses the right math.

Energage Insights does just that. Tapping into our database of 20 million employee surveys from well over 60,000 organizations across the globe, our AI-driven analytics gives you instant access to what’s truly meaningful and what’s just useless noise. That means you’ll move from insights to smart decision making and real change — with precision and confidence.

This unique resource is what separates Energage Insights from the rest. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office agree — that’s why we’ve been awarded multiple patents for our comparative analytics tools.

Here are some of the other things that will get you to the real truth:


Smart benchmarking

  • Individualized benchmarking: Intelligence-backed benchmarking understands employee responses differ based on their relationship with your company.
  • Mixed sector benchmarking: Some organizations don’t fit neatly into a single sector. The right solution applies the right benchmarks to each area of your business.
  • Cultural overlay benchmarking: Geographic differences affect how employees respond on surveys. These variations need to be taken into account.

Patented analytics

  • Accurate response scoring: A probability-based approach adapted from the high-stakes testing industry produces the most precise results.
  • Smart focus areas: A core blend of benchmarked score, change, and importance as well as hierarchy-awareness and “spidering,” distribution awareness, actionability, overlap, comprehensiveness, and demographic adjacency.
  • Intelligent comment analysis: Purpose-built for employee survey comments, benchmarked theming, and benchmarked true-sentiment.

Comparative analytics gives you even more power

Advanced well beyond simple benchmarking, our comparative analytics applies reference data to individual data points prior to aggregation rather than after the data points have been aggregated. Here’s what it looks like:

Traditional
Benchmarking

Comparative
Analytics

Comparative analytics leads to actionable insights

1.The green slices are where meaningful insights are found.

2.Different slices are made up of employees who have different inherent relationships with your organization.

3.Different inherent relationships drive them to respond to employee surveys in different ways.

4.These “proclivities” are adjusted to get to the real story behind your data.

5.Green slices are the output of complex math that’s been simplified for you.

6.Now with the right insights, you can take the right actions.

Comparative analytics gives you actionable intelligence. So, if your survey doesn’t utilize this science, we’re willing to bet your investment in employee feedback will have no impact, wasting valuable time and resources. It might even cause you to make decisions that do damage to your organization.

Ten must-haves for your employee engagement survey

With all of the options available, how can you know for sure you’ve chosen one that produces actionable intelligence? Here’s your 10-point checklist:

  The survey is scientifically sound and backed by significant research.

  Start to finish, the survey process is anonymous.

  There’s proof the survey is continuously tested and verified to be relevant in today’s organizational climate.

  The process is simple and insights are immediately accessible so you can take action quickly.

  Comparative analytics applies reference data to individual data points prior to aggregation.

  Insights are generated using an AI engine for employee feedback that identifies how culture is impacting your business strategy.

  Benchmarking capabilities consider employee responses at the individual level, and where needed, mixed sectors and cultural overlays.

  The data visualization makes it easy to interpret, share and communicate the results to everyone, from the frontline to leadership.

  The survey insights uncover key cultures differentiators you can use to recruit and retain the right talent.

  You have the option to use the same platform to generate shorter, more frequent custom surveys that enable you to ensure key initiatives are having a positive impact.

There’s more to culture improvement than an engagement survey

With all of the options available, how can you know for sure you’ve chosen one that produces An employee engagement survey is the right first step toward shaping a culture that mitigates risk, creates value, and delivers bottom-line results. But a survey alone won’t make an impact on culture — even if you’ve chosen the best one available.

The Energage Method is a continuous culture improvement model that couples more than 14 years of extensive culture research with a unified suite of AI-driven solutions to help you move the needle on business performance.

  1. Collect the data you need.
  2. An employee engagement survey captures feedback to identify your culture’s bright spots and blind spots. In addition to an annual event, keep data fresh with smaller, more frequent pulse surveys. This establishes a continuous conversation and ensures your initiatives are making an impact.

  3. Act with intelligence
  4. The right insights take the guesswork out of employee survey results. This is your single source of truth that can be your touchstone when it comes to making data-driven people decisions, at the company or department level.

  5. Amplify your employer brand.
  6. Once you’ve uncovered what makes your culture unique, use these differentiators to amplify your employer brand and stand out in the crowded talent market. When candidates know what it takes to thrive in your unique culture, your chances of finding that perfect match increases. And with an ongoing dialogue, they’re more likely to stay and grow with your organization too.

    Workplace culture is a proven differentiator and your only sustainable competitive advantage. With a clear and accurate understanding of what’s truly impacting your business, you’re able to take action to improve focus areas while sustaining your strengths. This, in turn, enables you to recruit talent that will thrive and take your organization to the next level.

Take the guesswork out of employee survey data so you can move the needle on culture.

Join us for the 2022 Top Workplaces USA national award celebration on Tuesday, February 1st. We’ve got an exciting lineup for the virtual event!

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