Is the Annual Employee Engagement Survey Dead?

Now more than ever, employers must change the way they think about keeping employees engaged. How do continuous feedback, insight, and action transform the approach to employee engagement?

Is the Annual Employee Engagement Survey Dead?

15 Sep 2017 by  Stephen Hickey

Organisations are investing ever-greater amounts in measuring and improving the engagement and performance of their employees. Aon’s extensive global research, spanning 4,600 companies and an employee population of over 18 million people, demonstrates the power of employee engagement to drive business performance. It suggests that for individual organisations, a 5% increase in engagement results in 3% incremental revenue growth. Engagement analytics—with engagement-linked parameters such as customer satisfaction, financial results, market share, safety, and employee turnover—is a powerful tool used to quantify the value of engagement and improve organisational performance.

Evolving employee expectations as well as increasing speed in doing business require employers to change the way they think about keeping employees engaged. Most organisations keep tabs on employee engagement through an annual feedback survey—yet, while effective at establishing foundational practices, the annual survey is hampered by limitations such as:

  • Timing and timeliness. Is once a year really enough to determine engagement levels at an organisation? Is an annual snapshot an accurate picture?

  • Relevance. Do surveys that focus on employee engagement alone identify bigger issues such as culture, leadership effectiveness, change readiness, and organisational health?

  • Useful insights. If engagement takes a sharp drop, does an annual survey provide useful information about why it went down and when it went down—and what can be done to fix it?

  • Size and effort. Is it worth putting in all the effort into managing an annual project that is then set aside until another year is up before it’s time to bring it out again?

Annual engagement surveys only provide a gauge of engagement at a set point in time and miss opportunities to monitor the employee experience on a more regular basis. Another flaw for many organisations is that the survey itself has turned into an event that merely focuses on ’moving the needle’ on a rating or number. This means employers can lose sight of the purpose of these efforts, which is to focus on the people in the organisation and the actions to manage them more effectively.

This is why employers must change the way they perceive the employee experience (not just engagement) and how to manage it—that is, to accurately measure and manage the level of psychological investment employees put in an organisation, not just once a year, but continuously.

The Continuous Feedback, Insight, and Action Framework

Increasing technological capabilities and social hyper-connectedness make measuring and tracking the employee experience easier and quicker throughout the employee life cycle. New surveys and technologies can collect data from candidates even before they become employees and can extend after they have left the company. These surveys can be long or short, and offered as frequently as every day, if necessary, or at specific times in an employee lifecycle. Data and insights can now be gathered and delivered as close as possible to key change events. By combining rigorous data and survey science with powerful technology that provides deeper insights into the results, organisations can get a much clearer picture about how their employees feel about working in their organisations.

Evolved from the ‘continuous listening’ approach and hinged on robust technology, the Continuous Feedback, Insight, and Action Framework typically spans the full breadth of the employee experience:

Gather feedback from new employees

By gathering feedback from candidates about the recruitment process (regardless the level of the job being offered), as well as from new hires about the onboarding process, organisations can gauge their employer brand and help new starters to reach their full performance potential quickly.

Add a pulse survey or two

While the annual engagement survey offers a deep dive, regular pulse surveys are effective in ensuring that leaders more frequently understand engagement levels across the business and key working populations (such as sales staff) throughout the year. Over time, they can replace or augment these annual engagement surveys with quarterly or monthly pulse surveys.

Regular performance conversations

Engagement gets affected due to an employee’s lack of vision on his or her career path in the organisation. This is why it’s not enough to just have performance conversations once a year. Managers must regularly communicate a vision around how team members can transform their careers and grow in the organisation.

Determine change readiness

Change is ever-present, and change readiness surveys are effective in helping organisations understand how prepared key working populations are in the lead-up to a major event such as a merger or new business unit strategy.

Learn from exit surveys

Surveys conducted with employees who leave voluntarily enables organisations to better understand the reasons why good talent leave. This helps them to identify current weaknesses, strengths, and possible cultural or departmental issues.

As progressive organisations and leaders look to create a competitive edge through their people, they can’t ignore the changing work environment and the rising expectations from their employees. If engagement is a leading indicator of performance, organisations must understand engagement more frequently and quickly. Continuous listening can collect feedback about specific experiences and incidents, giving leaders a better idea of how to manage employees throughout the lifecycle. 

As organisations continue to put an increasing value on their intangible assets and embrace powerful new technology tools, continuous feedback, insight and action will represent the next stage of understanding the employee experience and help organisations to maximise the performance of their people.

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Need help with implementing an effective continuous listening strategy in your organisation? Get in touch with us.

Stephen Hickey

Stephen Hickey is a Partner in Aon Hewitt's Performance, Reward and Talent business in Australia and is the Executive Sponsor of its Engagement Practice in Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa. Stephen's areas of expertise include employee engagement improvement, leadership development, talent management and change management.

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