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How Google Uses People Analytics to Create a Great Workplace

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Ever since the term “employee engagement” started being widely used in the 1990s, it’s been hailed as the key to high productivity and retention, profit increase and better customer satisfaction. Companies took notice of the benefits and sought to turn this abstract concept into a trackable metric. Many companies began administering annual employee-satisfaction surveys.

These snapshots help companies check in with team members and assess how happy their employees are in the workplace. While the practice now is widespread, some thought leaders in human resources (HR) have begun questioning the annual survey’s accuracy and usefulness.

The problem with most feedback tools.

How do you know the answers you’re getting are valid in terms of what you’re trying to achieve? A survey by Impact Achievement Group and HRmarketer discovered 48 percent of all respondents did not believe employee surveys provide an honest and accurate assessment, compared to 31 percent who thought surveys painted a true picture.

Some argue that employees are more apt to answer survey questions positively — creating a sense that everything seems fine (at least on the surface). Employees who give falsely high marks might fear retaliation or feel a general disinterest toward a survey that takes time out of their busy work day. Others might believe their answers won’t make a difference. This sense of apathy is evidenced by the simple fact that many companies have trouble achieving high participation rates.

Here’s the most revealing finding from the Achievement Group/HRmarketer study: 58 percent of respondents agreed that results did not — or only slightly — helped managers gain a better understanding of what behaviors or practices they could change to improve. If surveys don’t yield any actionable information, will their results make any difference in how a workplace is run? This loop perpetuates the apathy problem. If employees are conditioned to believe they won’t see actual changes in their work environments, what incentive do they have to fill out a satisfaction survey?

A recent LinkedIn post from Forbes writer Liz Ryan had some pretty harsh words about employee-satisfaction surveys: “Employee Engagement Surveys are the business equivalent of giving the prisoners in a penitentiary a survey to complete once a year and slide through the bars of their cells. The survey process cements an unequal power relationship.”

Is she right? Are engagement surveys an HR check-off box at the least — and a tool for damage control at most? Do these surveys simply give employees the pretense of a voice within a company? Maybe it’s time to rethink employee-satisfaction surveys and how we administer them.

How Google does it differently.

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